What We Know for Sure
Perhaps the most enigmatic character in Final Fantasy 7 was and still is Sephiroth. Arguably one of the most popular characters in Final Fantasy 7, Sephiroth ranked up there with Aeris and Cloud as the people who truly mattered and defined the game. He was not only evil but simultaneously both cool and tragic. His past was riddled with pain, and he was living an ultimate lie.
Standing strong, cool, and resolute, Sephiroth was the epitome of SOLDIER. Possessing exceptional skills of swordsmanship with his deadly Musamune companion blade, Sephiroth walked the world on behalf of Shinra Inc. But his unnatural prowess turned out to be just that, “unnatural” as he found out 5 years ago in an expedition to investigate a malfunctioning Mako reactor in the mountains of Nibelheim.
Sephiroth was given a mission, and this mission basically is the reason Final Fantasy 7 exists. As the forefront in SOLDIER efficiency and power, he was sent along with his partner, Zack, and two escort guards on what was supposedly a heroic Shinra intervention on behalf of the citizens of Nibelheim, Cloud and Tifa’s hometown. Cloud, unbeknownst to Tifa and as a result of his failure to be accepted in SOLDIER, was one of those two escort guards assigned to act as security for the two members of SOLDIER - his best friend, Zack, and the legendary Sephiroth, his idol.
The problem at hand revolved around “brutal monsters,” which attacked and brutalized the townsfolk in Nibelheim. Where they came from nobody was sure, but the main assignment dictated an examination of the Mako Reactor in Mt. Nibel. On their second day in the town, Sephiroth and his cohorts, with Tifa as their guide, made their way to the reactor to investigate. Locked outside, Tifa wasn’t there to see what happened, and Cloud wasn’t there either - he was guarding her. His memories of the event stem from his time with Zack as their consciousnesses intermingled in the pods underneath Shinra Mansion. Always believing his mother’s name to be JENOVA, Sephiroth stumbled upon a sealed room with a plate bearing the same name. Apparently, the entity inside was being used to supplement pods with energy and biological tissue, much like a mother would for her child through the umbilical cord. Inside these pods were living organisms, believed by Sephiroth to have once been human. Knowing all along he was different than everyone else, he begins to question rather or not Professor Gast, who seemingly would have had some hand in this experiment (although the entire thing was apparently orchestrated by Hojo, his assistant and eventual assassin), had told him the full truth about his past.
Stunned, Sephiroth began to explore the secret library of Professor Gast in the underbellies of the Shinra Mansion, one room over from Vincent’s resting place. From these books and research notes, Sephiroth gathered that 2000 years ago an ancient race had roamed the Planet, with the ability to find a land of supreme happiness. They had, unfortunately, completely died out; however, a living specimen believed to be of Ancient, or Cetra, descent was found confined in the geological stratum. It was named JENOVA, and around it the JENOVA Project was built. It sought to replicate the powers of the Cetra in the next-generation SOLDIER members, who would not only have superior magic strength but would also be able to lead Shinra Inc. to the Promised Land, where a seemingly infinite supply of Mako would be sure to exist. Sephiroth was the first of these super-SOLDIERs. Sickened, Sephiroth isolated himself in the mansion, as Zack spent the night in the mansion’s upper-level bedroom, waiting for his friend’s return. Sephiroth wouldn’t, instead choosing to burn Nibelheim to the ground. Zack rushed out of the mansion to see Sephiroth disappearing through the flames towards the reactor. Cloud, meanwhile, was close to passing out, lying in the smoke between flames. Finding no survivors, Zack rushed after Sephiroth towards the reactor.
Upon his arrival, Zack found Tifa holding her slain father; Sephiroth’s deadly Musamune blade was next to the body. Swearing revenge Tifa picked up the blade and rushed towards Sephiroth, but was overpowered and slashed. Sephiroth entered JENOVA’s chamber and began to tear her out of the wall to free her, but Zack attempted to intervene. Unable to destroy his former friend, Zack too was severely wounded. It was Cloud who struck the fatal blow and fell the mighty Sephiroth. Underestimating Cloud’s strength and willpower, Sephiroth dismissed him with a stab to the chest. Cloud, however, surprised his former idol by picking the blade up and using it to throw Sephiroth, holding JENOVA’s head, over the railing and into the Mako pit below where he presumably was killed. Shinra, flexing its political prowess, managed to underscore the Nibelheim incident and initiated a cover up, dismissing the possibility that anything untoward occurred. Seeking to improve on security measures, JENOVA was shipped back to Shinra headquarters where Hojo, Gast’s protégé, continued monitoring the monster’s status. Gast, meanwhile, stayed in Nibelheim to conduct JENOVA infusion experiments on Cloud and Zack, both of whom were near death. They would spend much time in two pods together until Zack - who did not react to the cells and Mako, as opposed to Cloud who reacted violently - eventually freed them. Later, Zack would be killed at the hands of two Shinra MP’s and their commander as he was tending to Cloud just outside Nibelheim. Cloud would then pick up his Buster Sword and slowly gain composure, assimilating Zack’s memories into his own.
Although Sephiroth’s physical body was badly damaged, he had a strong enough will (partly because of his infusion with JENOVA cells) to prevent himself from becoming part of the Lifestream. Shinra’s ultimate success story would soon become their ultimate nightmare, as Sephiroth’s body was transported to the Northern Crater through the Lifestream and sealed in a Mako chrysalis. His psyche, powerful enough to actually coalesce into physical form, began to travel the land, searching for his “mother,” JENOVA. This is why Sephiroth can fly and appear transparent and almost ten times normal size at some points in the game. He can also travel through the ground at points as well. His true body is in the Northern Crater; his mind was so strong that he can move around mentally in a physical state he fashioned for himself to retrieve the Black Materia and summon Meteor.
In truth, however, Sephiroth was living a lie. His mother was not JENOVA, nor was JENOVA a Cetra. JENOVA turned out to be the “original crises from the sky,” an alien being who fought a bloody battle against the true Cetra millennia earlier. They had been able to confine JENOVA but not destroy her, and the last descendants of the Cetra assimilated into humanity as many died due to a radical virus she released upon them. Sephiroth’s true mother was Lucretia, the woman Vincent secretly loved, and his father was Hojo. Hojo, impregnating Lucretia (rather or not rape occurred is unknown), injected his own unborn son with JENOVA cells while he was still in the womb. He then subjected him to artificial aging to accelerate his growth. Unlike the monsters in the Mako Reactor he was never grown in a maturation pod, though. He had a real biological conception and birth and, sadly, he never learned this before it was too late.
- a.“Bizarro Sephiroth”
After defeating JENOVA-Synthesis, the first form of Sephiroth you engage is Bizarro Sephiroth. Taking on an appearance that almost resembles a winged larva, it is an accurate representation of what Sephiroth is aiming to do. Before emerging as the god-like butterfly, he has this pupae stage where he looks unpleasant and fat.
Most likely, this is the product of JENOVA cells and/or Sephiroth’s intense willpower. Able to manipulate things with his mind alone he is probably able to create an intimidating appearance for his body, even if it is not so. Rather or not this is what he truly looked like remains to be seen, but unless this is the result of some sort of JENOVA mutation I think it is more likely to be a psycho-kinetic projection.
The JENOVA cell mutation idea has one major flaw in it, glaring to even the most unlearned eye. Nowhere else in the game did JENOVA cells lead to an actual physical mutation. They instead seem to have a focus on the mental aspects of their host/victim. Only Hojo mutates through three forms as you fight him, but this is probably more a result of his scientific experiments than of JENOVA’s influence. Vincent’s limit breaks probably function in a similar manner, seeing as Hojo not only injected him with JENOVA but with the cells and physical properties of various monsters. And, within those injections, were other agents, probably responsible for his damaged left arm and his limit breaks. If this is not the case then I ask why Cloud does not change physical appearance at any point in the game. Nor do the reunion clones, who are most likely human beings within that cloak.
We know that it’s possible for Sephiroth to simply project the image of Bizarro Sephiroth into the minds of Cloud and company. This is obviously a plausible explanation because throughout the game the Sephiroth you attempt to track down is nothing more than a manifestation of Sephiroth’s consciousness. Since he can create the image of himself walking around to do things for his body - which is paralyzed by death and stored in a Mako chrysalis in the Northern Crater - it is obviously possible for him to make people believe he appears as a monster.
Some may argue that he looks this way because he is slowly becoming a god. True, the background music during this battle is entitled “Birth of a God,” but little else exists that would provide coherent proof to that claim. Sephiroth’s godship could only be attained if Meteor hit. Since Meteor was bearing down on Midgar, the Lifestream would gather at that point and Sephiroth would have to be there to draw on it. Obviously this is not the case for two reasons. One, Sephiroth and his physical body are in the Northern Crater. Two, Meteor had not hit yet, for if it had the entire game would have become pointless - stopping Meteor was the main goal, and the ending obviously showed Meteor hadn’t hit yet. Holy was being constrained by Sephiroth, and Meteor was just about to collide. Therefore, seeing as Sephiroth couldn’t be a God because he had no chance to absorb the Lifestream that argument is flawed.
- b.“Safer/Savior Sephiroth”
After Bizarro Sephiroth is slain by Cloud and his friends, the battle with the insane ex-SOLDIER continues on to his second form - Safer Sephiroth. There always has been and still is some confusion as to what the name means. Some say it is a corruption of Savior or Seraph, meaning angel. This of course makes sense and I usually refer to him as Savior or Seraph accordingly (Savior the majority of the times however). Others argue that Safer is a corruption of an archaic Hebrew word that has some meaning, much like JENOVA is a corruption of Yehowah (New Latin writes this as “Jehovah” which is shockingly similar to JENOVA), or the archaic Hebrew word for God (there will, of course, be more on this in the JENOVA section). Whatever the case may be, Sephiroth’s next portrait fits the bill no matter what name you use.
This time around, Sephiroth’s torso and head area, along with his left arm, remain decidedly human. The changes we see are easier on the eye, looking less hideous and more like those belonging to a being that has transcended normal humanity. In place of his legs and feet Sephiroth has four wings that gently move back and forth, keeping him suspended in the sky. His right arm is replaced by a purplish wing that doubles as an attack claw for physical attacks on the good guy party. All in all, he lives up to his theme’s name; he is, a “One Winged Angel.”
Barring the fact he looks to be a God or becoming a God the same holds true for his Bizarro form. He may indeed appear to have gained his godship (graduating from his pupa form to that of a butterfly) but this, clearly, cannot be so. The same environmental facts are true now as were true during the battle with Bizarro, and as a result there was no Lifestream Sephiroth could absorb. Therefore, Sephiroth must be using his mind abilities once more to replicate an image of himself befit to his godship.
In the end, the real purpose was to release Holy, but to do so Sephiroth had to be destroyed. Or so the short form goes. In actuality, Sephiroth was already destroyed. His body was destroyed by Cloud Strife in Nibelheim five years before any of this happened. Sephiroth wasn’t tackling Holy and holding it down. No, he was rather using his mind to cripple it and keep it sealed away (represented by the red, earthy substance that contained it in the first scene of the ending before Bizarro). Thus, the idea that you are in actuality fighting telekinetic projects of Sephiroth’s psyche makes far more sense in practice than does the idea that you are fighting Sephiroth’s physical form. To free Holy you need to destroy Sephiroth’s will, not his body, because his will is holding it back. Sephiroth’s body was, and still probably is, encased in a Mako chrysalis in the Northern Crater. The only functioning part of it was his mind, and it wouldn’t be until he could utilize sufficient Lifestream that he would be able to be reborn a God. Special emphasis on the term “reborn,” I might add.
Since Lifestream is the source of all life, and is necessary for creating living organisms, Sephiroth’s dead body could, therefore, be revived with it. This doesn’t work normally because nobody had the will like Sephiroth. Instead of, however, using only a small amount of it to bring himself back to normal physical life (as he was before he was killed by Cloud), he plans on using a massive quantity (released by Meteor’s impact) to bring himself beyond normal limits. His psyche is used to tame the Lifestream and make sure it is HE who is reborn, instead of some new organism.
- c.“Purging Sephiroth”
After the encounter with both of Sephiroth’s two final forms, the party moves out of the crater, thinking Holy will eventually emerge and combat Meteor. Cloud states “all right, everyone. We did our best. That's it. Let's go home proud.” The crew moves out of the crater but Cloud suddenly has spasms and holds his head, obviously in pain.
Cloud: ...I feel it...
Cloud: He is still...here.
Cloud then is propelled through his own thoughts to combat Sephiroth; but this is not the normal Sephiroth everyone else fought. This is, instead, Sephiroth as lodged in Cloud’s mind. This incarnation is Sephiroth’s final effort. His last ditch chance to win by using Cloud. Calling Cloud to battle was a challenge for supremacy over his body. Unfortunately for Sephiroth, Cloud’s mental fortitude has increased dramatically, with the help of Tifa Lockheart during their Lifestream encounter. As a result, Cloud easily dispatches his former idol with a massive volley of slashes - also known as his fourth limit break, Omnislash. As Sephiroth steps back bloody, he realizes he is beaten and his body explodes. Thus ends Sephiroth’s will power, fully destroyed by AVALANCHE. All that remains is a crippled body in a Mako Chrysalis, somewhere deep in the recesses of the Northern Crater.
We know that the Sephiroth Cloud fights is not physically there for certain. He is at this point too weak to manifest himself in a form that all can see. We also know that Cloud is fighting him within his own mind, because nobody else can detect Sephiroth. To them, Sephiroth is finally beaten. Tifa acts confused (as seen in the excerpt above) because she doesn’t feel him. Additionally, when Cloud is flung off to engage Sephiroth, Cloud is also seen holding his head next to Tifa still. This shows that the part of Cloud that is flung away was not his physical body, but his psyche. This type of event is used throughout FF7 to show what is going on in Cloud’s mind as opposed this body - when Cloud has a spasm there are usually two Cloud’s overlapping but slightly out of synch.
Further backing up the claim that Cloud is fighting only for supremacy of his mind is shown right after the battle. He is not in the center of the Planet, as he would have to have been had he actually been moving. He was instead still standing on the platform with Tifa (although slightly below her because she managed to move off the platform they were on as it fell and he didn’t because of his spasm).
Because Sephiroth still existed in some way he was able to hold back Holy. But since he was weakened by the battles he could not use Lifestream as he meant to. Therefore, he needed Cloud’s body to be able to do this. This is supported by the fact Holy is released and moves immediately after the battle with Sephiroth in Cloud’s mind and not before. Before the battle starts it seems Holy is still dormant and everybody walks off hoping it will start up on its own. We know that Sephiroth is too weak to manipulate Lifestream because of the form he presents himself to Cloud in. He is normal. He is unable to replicate an intimidating body for the first time, and this probably is because his will was severely damaged by AVALANCHE in the first two assaults on him as Bizarro and Safer/Savior.
An obvious counter argument to this, however, would be that Sephiroth’s normal form itself looks intimidating. That said, Sephiroth may have just been showing himself to Cloud in that way because he wanted to. Still, there is more evidence to show his weakened state. He is unable to show himself to the entire party, but only Cloud instead. This of course makes it a one-versus-one battle instead of a one-versus-three battle. Sephiroth was able to hold his own against all three previously but now lost to just Cloud. Not only this, but Bizarro Sephiroth holds his own against the entirety of AVALANCHE. All your members, for once, fight him at the same time. Safer/Savior only fights three of your guys, signifying weakening already, and finally Mental only fights one. This shows his steady deterioration. Barely able to contain Holy he needs Cloud’s mind and body to amplify his own psyche so when Meteor hits he is able to tame the Lifestream. Otherwise, his efforts are futile.
That’s why the final battle occurs. It is unfortunate for Sephiroth that Cloud’s mind was so much stronger than it was when they first met in the Northern Crater and he forced Cloud to hand over the Black Materia.
But of course everything has a contrasting perspective. Some argue Safer/Savior has more powerful moves than Bizarro. This is, of course, true, and I’m not going to say it isn’t. However, there is a trend in Sephiroth to underestimate his opponents. His arrogance may have blinded him and forced him to fight with only a fraction of his power as Bizarro. When he realized he couldn’t win as easily he showed himself only to three and used everything he had. We know of his underestimating habit because of what we know of the Nibelheim incident five years ago. He severely underestimated Cloud and as a result was killed. We also know Sephiroth was confident in his abilities because he showed them off so prevalently right before the battle with Bizarro. The amount of flashes, bells, and shockwaves he used on Cloud and company are reminiscent of a child who can do back flips showing his friends tens of times. He was, simply, showing off because of his arrogance. This of course helped lead to his downfall not one (Nibelheim) but two times (Ending).