More Final Fantasy essays, metas, and examinations can be found here.
The Book of Revelation could easily be considered a metaphorical maelstrom rife with symbolism, prophecy and/or a madman’s dream. The number seven itself (ignoring repeated sevens in the same verse) occurs no less than 49 times therein. The finale to the New Testament is far from alone in its prognosticating of end times. There is not a culture in the world that doesn’t have its own vision of the endless abyss, and in apocalyptic narratives, Revelation is a goldmine and hale foundation of darkness.
Final Fantasy VII is a religious allegory and veritable storm of symbolism in and of itself. Numerous treatise could be written on the nature of the number and how it relates to the game’s religious iconography alone; 777 being considered the number of perfection across many monotheistic models.
The Book of Revelation is often simply known as Revelation or The Apocalypse of John. The fore named (whose identity is wildly speculated) is given the prophecy by one of God’s angels who is described thus.
“His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.”
This white haired angel with blazing eyes is the herald of Revelation, and there is an earlier line in 2 Corinthians 11:14 that states:
“And no wonder for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”
This invokes the infamous White Hair, Black Heart trope. It should be noted that both Jesus and Satan are described as having white hair in their heavenly/angelic forms, which shallow examination might render blasphemous, though it is anything but. Both Christ and the devil are “Morning Star” deities (a concept which is discussed at length by Lucifer Means Lightbringer in his ASOIAF Mythical Astronomy essays and podcasts). Using such a motif in FFVII, an apocalyptic narrative (in part) about an angelic character who attempts to become God but falls as the Antichrist, seems more than apt. The white-haired Revelation angel is the herald of the apocalypse, and he was entrusted with passing down the apocryphal knowledge so given by God to man. This is what Sephiroth both tries to do and tries to become, in the latter, violating his position as angel and messenger, though the paradigm was already corrupted, because what he thinks is deity (and his mother, which can be viewed as one and the same “Mother is the name for God…”) is a horrifying abomination.
The Four Horsemen
The first Four Seals spoken of in Revelation 6:1-8 indicate the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a common motif regardless of your creed: the bowman on the white horse named for conquest or pestilence; the rider of the red associated with war, the horseman of famine on his black steed, and finally Death on the pale horse, the only one to be named.
In Final Fantasy VII there are four weapons, which are unleashed when Cloud gives Sephiroth the Black Materia. They are named for precious gems of the earth, but the parallel of their titles to the riders should hopefully come clear. Ruby (red) and Diamond (white) are simple. Emerald is obviously green and the color of Death’s horse from the Greek translation was green/greenish-yellow or pale/pallid. Based on the way the word was used in Greek medical literature, scholars surmised it referred to the color of a corpse, and in many modern renditions, the horse is distinctly green as “pale” is a description of a color and not a color itself. As for Sapphire such stones are normally considered blue, but black sapphires are not unknown, and there really aren’t any distinctively black precious gems (unless you count onyx and obsidian), and the black stone in the game is saved for a very specific purpose. The horsemen are unleashed to wreak havoc on earth and warn the faithful and unfaithful alike of dark tidings. The weapons are guardians of the planet set forth when there is dire need, but they fulfill the same tasks of the horsemen in regards to havoc showing a glimmer of what horrors may come.
But there is more to be said about the Horsemen than mere color correlation…
War is easily divined from VII’s narrative since it is (again in part) a story about a corrupt corporation that created super soldiers for its own private army. The game opens in media res, starting several years after the war with the nation of Wutai, though this is by far not the only reason FFVII warrants such a description. The table was laid for tragedy long, long ago. The concept of super soldiers themselves is one of the many ethical centers of story, especially considering quite a few of them were not made voluntarily nor were all of the side effects known and/or disclosed. Sephiroth would be a perfect example in this, as well, as he was augmented in utero, but neither Cloud nor Zack were saved from use and victimization though their “treatment” came later. Though the former did dream of First Class glory, the effects of the procedure were devastating, and the latter was lucky he did not live to see what he might become. The prequel Crisis Core, at the very least, suggested that such was going to be the fate of them all.
Humans are injected with alien cells and exposed to Mako to create the enhancements, but they eventually mutate: growing one wing, changing from round pupils to slits, and suffering serious mental effects. They are influenced by Jenova, the alien entity that crashed into the Planet 2000 year prior and proceeded to mutate the Ancients living there at the time, driving them mad before destruction. It eventually corrupts all life on the world and then moves on.to the next. Jenova (which is the name the Ancients gave it; it is truly a nameless thing, a diabolus ex nihilo of sorts) is a mental manipulator and hive minded entity insofar as wherever its cells are, it can call them back together in what is known as The Reunion. When Mother calls you, you have to go…
Returning to the idea of super soldiers, it is difficult to locate a narrative where such are made with no deleterious effects. Though Steve Rogers (Captain America) was mentally unaffected by the process Johann Shmidt (The Red Skull) was driven insane. Of course this could be explained by the type of men they were prior and is indeed a major point on why Steve was chosen. Bucky was obviously not mentally sound after his forced transformation, and though one could argue that the way America proceeded with super soldier creation was far more ethical than the Germans (and you must forgive me. I’m only going on the movies as that’s the only media I’ve consumed. If you’ve read and are well versed in the comics, I would love to read your comments on such), the fact that there were flaws and horrors regardless of where makes the procedure questionable.
There is also a Star Trek: TNG episode entitled “The Hunted” where soldiers are conditioned to be perfect killing machines by their government, but when the wars were won, they very people who had sent them off to fight, refused to do anything to help them reintegrate back into society. Instead, they sent them to a lunar colony in an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that only served one side. When one former soldier, Danar, escapes and the Enterprise is commissioned to recapture him, he uses his conditioned cunning to not only lead the Federation’s flagship on a wild chase, but also makes the crew realize what really happened to him and his fellows. This is a narrative of the throwaway, but the reason that occurred was for fear their conditioning and enhancements would make them snap.
Finally, there is George R R Martin’s short story “The Hero.” While it is difficult to think of Kagen the titular reference, as such that is what he would be considered. It’s not even that he does particularly terrible things. He’s a soldier and he does his job, but the narrative smacks of humanity’s imperialism, and though Kagen isn’t a “bad guy,” it’s hard to say he doesn’t work for them. The tale opens with a battle that we find out is his last of twenty years for he wishes to retire, but *spoiler* there is no retirement, *end spoiler* which is similarly indicated in FFVII, the latter which has the added futility of retirony. Kagen puts in a request to be sent to earth after his duration is done, nor does he allow Major Grady to persuade him otherwise though he’s originally from another colony that has double the earth’s gravity. He also has the typical super soldier enhancements, and he believes he’ll be received as a hero on earth since he’ll be the strongest and fastest person there. Reluctantly, the major agrees to honor his request after his words to either keep Kagen enlisted or retire elsewhere fail. He’s discharged and boards a transport to earth; *spoiler* however, he never makes it there and is killed quite brutally before the craft even reaches altitude. *end spoiler* He is portrayed as a hero though in the only place that matters, the media, though in a way it’s hard to blame the organization. They were preempting a similar situation to VII. Like so many military organizations, the one Kagen works for disposes of both its problems and blame in a way that leaves them with clean hands.
Why the difficulty in finding a positive super soldier narrative persists is tragically obvious. Because the foundation of it is war. Why create the perfect soldier if he’s not meant to kill and lay waste? That…changes you. To mention Martin again:
“‘Why do you hate that title so much? You were a hero then.’
‘I was never a hero. That’s just how they justify war.'”
–Northern Lights, Chapter 6
Anything created specifically for war will always fall into corruption. This is not a slight on the creation itself for in no way can it be full blamed. It would not exist save for the greed of its creator in needing its being.
There is some dispute about whether or not the White Horse is Pestilence or Conquest. Many Biblical interpretations favor Conquest, whereas Pestilence is common in popular culture. Some translations of the Bible do mention Pestilence in regards to the riders:
“They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
But whether this passage refers to all of the riders (it mentions famine, which is a direct name of one) or just the white is a matter of debate. For my examination, I will look at the White Horseman as Pestilence because Conquest and War seem too similar to need two representations, and connecting pestilence to FFVII is nearly as easy as connecting War where my main point was already brought up with Jenova.
I will quote directly from the wiki:
“Approximately two thousand years ago an alien creature landed on Gaia, having traveled through space on a meteorite. The impact created the North Crater. The creature approached the Cetra (Ancients) and used its mimic abilities to destroy them: those who were taken victim were infected with a virus (hinted to be genetic material from the creature itself) that mutated them into monsters. The creature would take the form of the fallen Cetra, and so get close enough to destroy their loved ones.”
“Jenova’s genetic structure is a two-way conduit: it can both take in the traits of its prey, and insert its own genes to turn other organisms into violent monsters. Once Jenova lands upon a planet it will destroy every form of life it finds. Jenova can absorb its prey’s memories and form, hiding as their loved ones to destroy them.”
This process is literally called being given “the virus” in the game. It is a process that mutates/changes you, turns you into a monster, and ultimately kills the majority of those infected. Succumbing to death is a far better fate than living changed into horror forever.
Out of all of them, I believe this is the most horrifying for everyone naturally shuns those who are sick lest the plague fall upon them. It’s a primal fear and invokes an involuntary disgust whenever we look upon the physically diseased or the dying. Phlegm, bile, and other bodily fluids more foul are viewed with trepidation because we instinctively know that certain secretions can carry particles to make us ill. They are shunned without thought due to pathology. It’s the reason in A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, George R. R. Martin’s prequel to A Song of Ice and Fire (review for the former here), that Dorne and the Vale of Arryn closed off their borders during the Great Spring Sickness, and other canny (if ruthless) lords did the same.
The Uncanny Valley is believed to have grown out of (or dipped from) this idea, because we have hard wired detectors set to pick up the slight inconsistencies of something not quite human that is trying to play the part. It is why zombie movies disturb us, because rotting corpses have the semblance of human beings, but they no longer are, and the putrefaction and sloughing off of recognizable features is terror inducing due to our deep set understanding of knowing how it should be. Seeing something so close to human that has something off if but slight sets us naturally on edge and is one of the reasons the below sends a chill down my spine even as I’m oddly fascinated by it.
Pestilence calls fear even beyond death for none want to see their loved ones twisted by disease before they succumb, and this terror bleeds into self-preservation. Out of all of the horseman motifs presented, FFVII exemplifies Pestilence the best. It is the catalyst to the entire tale, what begins it, what drives it, what lurks in the corners, and what was unleashed by human greed.
The fore mentioned horseman (War and Pestilence) have all been mostly represented by the horror that fell to earth (War engendered by super soldiers who were made/enhanced with alien genetic material and Pestilence due to the very same), but for Famine we have only humanity to thank. This one was initially a puzzle for there really is no famine to be found in the game, but then I started to equate famine with poverty where there are those who feast and those who starve, and the truth became quite clear.
FFVII makes fantastic and fairly blatant social commentary about the elite and the downtrodden in the main city of Midgar, which is from the Norse Midgard, “middle-earth.” It is the mid ground, the battlefield where judgment will fall. The “true” city in VII was built as a luxurious and high tech paradise on top of the old, locking the people left below in what became the slums where not even sunlight could fall. It’s as if the Rapture instead of ascending the righteous up instead brought Heaven down to earth to trap those unworthy in Hell, but unworthy in this case means merely poor, which is the antithesis to the meek inheriting the earth. Such a perversion was put into place by the same corrupt corporation and ipso facto government that created super soldiers by using the very eldritch abomination that mutates men into monsters and destroyed the elder race.
The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” was mentioned above in the War section in regards to another government that attempted to keep its problems and immorality hidden, and this phrase is more than apt here. It is more than likely those living “above the plate” knew about those condemned to dwell below, but, like in our society, it’s not troublesome unless it gives the powerful trouble. Having privilege gives one the luxury of ignoring the needs of those who don’t
Allow me to be a shameful narcissist again. In Northern Lights there is a conversation about the slums that hopefully enhances my point.
“And those who could afford to live above never gave a thought to the true cost.”
“Wh-What did the elite think of the slums?”
“They didn’t think of them at all. It was all just accepted. There were people below, and they lived down in darkness, but suffered in silence so none could see…so long as they didn’t see it, it didn’t exist.”
Northern Lights, Chapter 9
Ursula K Le Guin’s influential short story The One’s Who Walk Away from Omelas speaks on this far more brilliantly. It is not an extensively long story, but it is immensely powerful. It centers around Omelas, a city of wonders and dreams where everybody is rich, happy, and prosperous…everybody except for one. I shall not spoil the horrifying crux of the tale. The story is at the end of the above link. It is a stark example of what complicity can bring and how the cost can be too much to bear.
Sweeping people under the rug to placate the populace and lull them into a delusional state of all is well speaks of panem and circenses. The first part of the Latin phrase is the name of the nation in the Hunger Games where the Capitol reigns supreme as the Shinra does in VII. The citizens of the former have little to no idea of the suffering in the districts. So long as they can pretend it doesn’t exist they can lead their lives and not feel complicit in a system that routinely kills children for their pleasure, but the fact of the matter is you can be inculpable in ignorance when the truth remains unknown and inaccessible. They have the luxury of this status because they’re not faced with the realities of the situation unless they choose to be. They walk above like the elite, opting whether to offend their senses by figuring out what’s rotting beneath.
Out of all of the Horseman with its parallel in VII , Famine is the most troublesome in terms of social injustice, because it is something those above can choose to ignore. They can also choose to blame those impoverished for their situation and woe. The implications and unfairness of this are far too large to manage in this essay, but I’ll close this section with a quote from VII itself, as it sums up poverty and destitution in a thorough yet succinct point.
Where there is war, famine, and pestilence, there will always be Death upon his pale horse,
and a particular death is of great interest and controversy in FFVII even after all of these years.
Death is no stranger to the narrative of VII. This will be discussed at length in later essays, but there are a plethora of missing mothers in addition to those slain by war and flame. An easily glossed over yet extremely clever in game references is one of Sephiroth’s attacks is called “Pale Horse,” invoking the very vehicle of death, and there are few who could argue that the fore mentioned fallen could not be considered an angel of death, but there will be more upon that in the 5th…
The 5th, 6th, and 7th Seals
Revelation 6:9-11 presents the 5th Seal:
“When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls who had been slain because of the word of God, and the testimony they had maintained.”
The fifth seal speaks of the martyrs…those who shed life’s blood for what they believed in. The martyrs cry out for justice and that there blood be not spilled in vain.
Aeris was killed on the altar in the City of the Ancients praying for Holy to save the world. According to Gustav Davidson’s Angel Dictionary, Sephiroth is “in The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses, a power angel of the 5th Seal…invoked in cabalistic conjuring rights.” So he is the angel associated with the seal of the martyrs, and in the narrative of the game he makes a martyr of (arguably) the most important and powerful person there. Power does not have to come from physical prowess, and Aeris’s death was imperative to fulfill the goals of the (arguably) true villain of the narrative.
She was the last of the race of people who withstood Jenova and managed to seal it away though at great cost. The only reason the horror was released was because of humanity who hid upon its initial arrival, showing their cowardice and uselessness both and later their selfish desire for power and blatant ignorance or caring to what disaster such desire will wreak. Aeris was killed because she had the power to stop it, martyred for mysteries she held. Power is often hidden in the least likely of places and in this case it was a seeming slum girl, foundling/orphan with the ability to grow flowers without the sun. There are almost always clues.
At the opening of the 6th Seal in Revelations 6:12-14, various disastrous events occur, but the one that stands out for my comparison is “the stars in the sky fell to earth” in Meteor, which is a portend of the 7th Seal in Revelations 8:1-6: God’s final judgement. The end of FFVII has Holy arriving from the earth to contend with the Meteor from the sky, but this is not to save humanity but rather the Planet, which we’ve been ravaging long before falling stars.
Initially before the numerous sequels, prequels, and reiterations, there was an ambiguous element to the end of FFVII where it was unknown whether or not humans survived Holy’s cleansing. Were we judged worthy enough for yet another chance? In the Biblical account only a certain number will be saved, but owing to what humanity has continually and disastrously wrought, should anyone be spared? The only reason it occurred in Final Fantasy VII at all was because of Aeris’s prayer, which we see at both the beginning and the end. And even if the slate were to be wiped cleaned who is to say the same situation will not again arise? The past can be forgiven but never forgotten, but will we forget again how we were saved?
Long ago, humans hid from falling horrors, while the elder race perished to save the world and them, and the cowards reaped the benefits. Then two millennia later, they spat in the face of the sacrifice in meta unknowing for knowledge so lost, unsealed the eldritch abomination and attempted to use it for their own ends. This nullified Ancient sacrifice and required another to be done…and it was without resentment or regret. This time perhaps the innocent blood will not be shed in vain, because this time the world will remember, and the best stories are about memory.