Final Fantasy VII is probably not going to be the first thing that pops in to your mind this long Easter weekend, but it should be. The seminal Squaresoft JRPG enjoys a reputation that borders on religious fanaticism, and the comparisons don’t end there. FFVII actually follows the story arc of Jesus’ resurrection, albeit with an important twist.
In Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth is Jesus. Sure, he might be a darker messiah, and FFVII may be the worst Easter on record, but in the end the takeaway is the same. The son of Jenova, Sephiroth’s life, death, resurrection, ascension, and apocalyptic second coming teach us that even though some very bad things (crucifixions, magic meteor apocalypses) are unavoidable, life will persevere. And in the end isn’t that what long Spring weekends are all about?
Like the story of Jesus, Final Fantasy VII begins and ends with a prophecy. While Christ’s coming was foretold to the masses by crazy old John the Baptist and he eventually departs with a promise to return, Sephiroth’s advent was never spoken, but it was known.
In Final Fantasy VII, the opening FMV begins with the camera on the stars. It moves through them, changing perspective before focusing on Aeris Gainsborough, last of an ancient race, walking through the slums to meet Cloud Strife for the first time. The game ends with an apocalyptic cataclysm: a divine object from the heavens collides with the planet, but a holy life force prevents its impact. What happens afterward is unclear (as long as you discount the retcons and subsequent cash-ins). The screen is bathed in white light and we are shown the same face from the beginning.
The implication is that Aeris knew everything. She knew Sephiroth was coming. She knew she would die at his hands. She knew that he would ascend and come back to judge the living and the dead. She was John the Baptist and John the Revelator all wrapped up as one beloved white mage that died too soon.
The Anecdotal Life
The story of Jesus is told four separate times in the Bible. Though they all capture the essence of the man, each contains a slightly different account of Mr. Of-Nazareth’s life.
Sephiroth has his own Gospelites, people who witnessed his death under various circumstances and are able to retell it in different ways. We hear the story twice, first from Cloud Strife, then from Sephiroth himself as Tifa remembers it. Shocking plot twists aside, the main points are consistent and mirror the narrative in the Bible.
According to both stories, a divine cosmic entity – Jenova or Jehovah – has a child. The boy grows up with knowledge of his divinity. Never fitting in, and with a strange relationship to the state, he finds himself betrayed by his fellow man around age thirty. He is killed.
Later, the man returns, makes select appearances, and performs miracles. He ascends above the mortal plane but a part of him lives on in the bodies of his followers around the world. These people speak in tongues and make pilgrimages to be closer to their deity, knowing that one day he will return to this world, bringing with him a cosmic judgment.
Resurrection is the most important point of comparison between Jesus and Sephiroth (that, and being lithe, sexy icons in their respective media). Without Jesus’ return from the grave, there is no story and no Christian faith, just a rad dude that could rock a beard and invented the chair before getting tortured to death by the state. Similarly, FFVII can’t happen without the resurrection of a controversial dead man.
Sephiroth’s renaissance is the primary story arc of Final Fantasy VII. He has died (at least symbolically) before the story begins, having gone mad with the knowledge of his own divinity, burning a town to the ground in a fit of demigod puberty rage and falling into the depths of a mako reactor. During present tense gameplay, the silver haired, androgynous man in black that keeps throwing pieces of his alien mother at you is not the man that died in Nibelheim. He’s something more, an image of the one true Sephiroth.
The first half of FFVII parallels the time between Jesus’s rebirth and his ascension. Just as Christ appeared to his apostles performing miracles, Sephiroth shows himself to those following him to a Promised Land. The difference is that while Jesus brought with him hope and fishing tips, Sephiroth spread news of his return though death, destruction, and the murder of a main character you spent hours training (all that exp… gone forever).
His final act before ascension is a warning, a countdown clock in the form of a summoned meteor that hangs in the sky for the duration of the game. It’s a harsh reminder that the next time we see Sephiroth – just like the next time anyone sees Jesus – a lot of people are going to die.
Like Jesus, Sephiroth is part of a divine trinity, one of three aspects that make up a larger, more complex holy being. They are simultaneously Gods, humans, and infectious possessors of mortals.
For Christians, the Holy Trinity is God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit which spreads the good news and impregnates virgins. For Final Fantasy VII players, Jenova is the god, Sephiroth is the son, and the many Jenova cells that failed to build super-soldiers through experimental cloning procedures act as the Holy Spirit. Like the Holy Spirit, Jenova cells play a role in Sephiroth’s immaculate conception and motivate his reunion-obsessed apostles.
Though similar in function, the Holy Spirit and Jenova are opposed in intention. Affected by the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension, the apostles are compelled to travel the world and spread the word of God. Those who are infected with Sephiroth’s influence, however, come from all corners of the planet to converge on his location. Instead of searching for converts, the black cloak clones are called to a reunion, aiming to make whole the deity that possesses them at the cost of everyone else’s lives.
When the holy spirits are done their work, the time of reckoning comes. According to Christian mythology, when Jesus makes good on his promise to return, shit is going to get magical. The dead will rise from the grave and his followers will ascend with him to Heaven. Everyone else will face the void.
If you set aside the subsequent FFVII retcons and treat the game proper as the true word of Sephiroth, the crash of Meteor acts in the same way. The life stream, FFVII’s version of the afterlife, physically comes out of the planet and, working with the cataclysm, brings about an unthinkable (or at least unshowable) end.
Unlike the abandonment promised by Christianity, Sephiroth’s rapture does not forsake the planet. His is the end of a story, not of the world, and that makes it more hopeful. All we are left with is the picture of Aeris’ prophetic face, and an epilogue to assure us that life goes on after the unavoidable horrors of a resurrection. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.