Hirinobu Sakaguchi has always been a man of great spirit - the genius who gave us the Final Fantasy series has shown us through stories of happiness and sadness, stories that can make us laugh, or reduce us to tears. However, underneath all those stories is a hope - the hope that death is not the end, and the hope that love will return. In voicing this hope, Sakaguchi-san created what is basically the 'religion' of the FF series - the Gaia Theory.
Although the Gaia Theory is most prominent in The Spirits Within, the same basic concept can be seen in nearly all the Final Fantasy series, especially the PlayStation games. In Final Fantasy VII, the Gaia of their planet is known as the Lifestream, which features prominently throughout the entire story. In Final Fantasy VIII, Gaia is less prominent, but there are hints to it in certain sections, and the concept of reincarnation. In Final Fantasy IX, the Gaia is represented as a very physical force, centered around the mysterious Iifa Tree.
However, there is one question that remains unclear in the minds of many a Final Fantasy Fan…that, what exactly is this Gaia business all about? Well, although there may be not one explanation, as Gaia changes from game to game slightly, but in general, it is this; every planet, or moon, or meteor, has its own Gaia. The Gaia contains the spirits of all the people, plants and animals that have ever lived on that planet. When an organism dies, its 'spirit' returns to Gaia, until it is either returned to earth in a new form, or it is ascended to a higher plane of existence. Now, this may seem very similar to Buddhism…however, there are some very notable differences.
In Final Fantasy, the spirit is a physical thing…well, a bioetheric thing anyway. That is, although it is not tangible in the true sense of the word, it can affect things around it. In FF:TSW, the spirits of the Leonid meteor, the 'Phantoms', can affect the people of Earth by killing their spirits. In FF9, the trapped spirits are represented as fog that covers the Alexandrian continent, but then spreads to cover the world. Also, the Gaia itself can be seen as a collection of these spirits - in TSW once again, Dr Aki Ross and Captain Grey Edwards see the Earth Gaia after falling into the Leonid meteor crater. Also, the alien planet's Gaia is shown as the Leonid meteor is destroyed. In FF7, the 'Lifestream' is shown often - most notably, as Mako energy, and after the destruction of Mideel, when the Lifestream is brought to the surface.
However, there is also more to the Gaia than meets the eye…the stability of life upon the entire planet is dependant on Gaia. Therefore, if the Gaia is damaged, life on Earth begins to suffer. When Shin-Ra corporation begins to extract Mako Energy, that worlds Lifestream, or Gaia, is weakened - although Barret did not know this until Bugenhagen explained this later, it was a feeling (maybe a premonition from the Gaia itself) that made him form AVALANCHE, to protect the planet. Also, the Gaia of Earth was so weakened by the blast from the Zeus Cannon in TSW that the alien Gaia managed to overpower it, and almost destroy it. Protecting the Gaia is therefore of the utmost importance - without it, life cannot survive. However, it also represents hope - even if all life upon the planet is destroyed, if Gaia remains, the world can rebuild itself…and can recover from whatever pain has been inflicted upon it.
So, basically, the Gaia is a collection of ghosts - the spirits of the world who have not yet transcended for some reason. It is the hope that the Gaia is a place for true love to meet again…and that death is not the end. Whether it be Cloud and Aeris meeting up in the Lifestream, or Gray Edwards coming back as a hawk, we can be rest assured that characters in Sakaguchi's world never die…they are simply taken somewhere else, somewhere where we will meet them again…
Free the Dream Within
The Stars are Crying
A Tear…A Sigh
Escapes from Heaven
…And Worlds End
- "The Dream Within" Fabian / Goldenthal / Rudolph FF:TSW