So I’ve already given an overall review on the plot of this game, but for any of you who either didn’t read that or didn’t play the game, here’s what the plot boils down to in its simplest form: some asshole’s mother tells said asshole to summon a meteor to murder the Planet, so he does it without question. Of course, that doesn’t really do the plot justice, because as I said last time, Final Fantasy VII can become really complex, especially when we take into account the setting and character backstories.
Furthermore, VII did something completely unexpected and shocking: It killed off a main character.
This is not something that often happened in games at this point in time. The death of Aerith has to be one of the most memorable moments in video game-dom. Unfortunately, though FFVII did succeed in giving Aerith’s death meaning, her passing is still surrounded by plot holes.
According the FFVII wikia page, designer Tetsuya Nomura was not a fan of the “perennial cliché where the protagonist loves someone very much and so has to sacrifice himself and die in a dramatic fashion to express that love.”
Furthering that, director Yoshinori Kitase said:
In the real world things are very different. You just need to look around you. Nobody wants to die that way. People die of disease and accident. Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad. It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. When you lose someone you loved very much you feel this big empty space and think, ‘If I had known this was coming I would have done things differently. These are the feelings I wanted to arouse in the players with Aerith’s death relatively early in the game. Feelings of reality and not Hollywood.
I am going to have to agree that I’ve spent long hours bawling my eyes out for Aerith and thinking back on what happened, cursing the writers who offed her, and wondering if there had been anything the characters could have done different to save her. In that regard, for me personally, Aerith’s death was a success, as it has been a constant traumatizing moment in my life since the age of nine.
This death feels real, and no longer having her in your playable party is a hole to the other characters. On the menu screen, such as when you’re buying weapons, there is even a blank spot where Aerith’s picture and stats are supposed to be. And because she’s the healer of the group, the game actually feels harder without her there to limit break everyone back to full health during battle.
I know I was not the only player to feel so empty at her untimely death. When FFVII first came out, people didn’t know how to react to this. They replayed the game, trying to do something different, anything to save her. Some of them broke down crying. Others quit playing entirely. Aerith’s death matters, damn it!
In some ways, I feel ripped off that I cannot save her every time I replay FFVII, and countless times through this game, I still cannot help my distress at seeing her murdered over and over again. Like all things, however, I take issue with her death: not just because Aerith is my favorite character, but because her death could have easily been avoided… (but mostly because she’s my favorite character).
The setup goes that Sephiroth, our main antagonist, needs something called the Black Materia, a magical stone, in order to perform Meteor, which will summon a giant meteor to crash into the Planet and kill everyone. Aerith—being the last surviving member of an ancient race of people, the Cetra, who could talk to the Planet—has something called the White Materia, which can cast a spell called Holy. Holy is powerful enough to destroy Meteor. Naturally, Sephiroth takes issue with this, and so, while Aerith is summoning Holy, Sephiroth stabs her.
Before stabbing Aerith, Sephiroth needs to get ahold of the Black Materia. This is the first step in Aerith’s death that I have to question, especially because if our party had not followed Sephiroth to the Temple of the Ancients—a Cetra temple where the Black Materia is kept—Sephiroth would not have been able to get a hold of it. It takes at least two people to get the Black Materia, and one of those people has to die. The entire Temple is in fact the Black Materia, and at its center is a pedestal with a tiny little replica of the whole temple floating above it. In order to shrink the Materia down to a usable size, someone has to take the replica off the pedestal, meaning that that someone will be crushed to death in the process. It’s been five years since Sephiroth set out on this “kill everyone by using the Black Materia” quest, and he has yet to find a solution to this problem until Cloud comes around.
There are numerous people whom Sephiroth can control like Cloud—he has the ability to invade the thoughts and minds of anyone infused with Jenova’s DNA—and in five years, never once did he think about using one of these people, whom he views as useless pawns, to go shrink the Black Materia down for him. I’d say the only pawn he has around at this point in time is Cloud, but that’s not true, as we see one of the other unfortunates right before entering the Temple. Shinra, our evil corporation, has even sent some men to this Temple. Sephiroth attacks the one, but he doesn’t think to coerce him or force him in some manner to grab the replica.
So you might be thinking that Sephiroth’s planning on using Cloud, because I guess he’s more special than all the other pawns for some reason. While it’s true that Sephiroth does begin to control Cloud here, the other members of your current party snap him out of it. The team eventually gets the Black Materia by using the character Cait Sith, who’s a robotic cat, and the person controlling him has extras, so it’s not really a loss. After the temple’s shrunk, only then does Sephiroth begin to control Cloud again in order to get the Black Materia, which he does at this point.
The fact still remains that if the party had just left the replica where it was, Sephiroth would not have gained the Black Materia and Aerith would not have needed to use Holy. Clearly, this would have prevented just about all the world’s Sephiroth-related problems, because it took him five years to figure out how to get ahold of the Black Materia, and even then, it was less of a plan and more of circumstantial convenience.
Following this, Cloud gets knocked out. While he’s unconscious, which I’m assuming is about a day or so, Aerith leaves the party to go to the City of the Ancients on her own, where she plans to pray for Holy with the White Materia.
Here’s the thing, Aerith didn’t have to go alone. I can, however, understand why she may have wanted to. When Sephiroth finally figures out that he can control Cloud, he uses Cloud to beat Aerith up. Cloud just starts pounding on her, while the third member of your party watches for a whole minute before knocking him out. While Cloud is unconscious, the other members of your party—this is seven characters, if you decide to get them all, otherwise it’s five—don’t think to look for Aerith after she runs off. They actually wait until Cloud wakes up to tell them what to do.
Before Cloud wakes up, however, he has a dream involving Aerith. The dream, though, is less of a dream and more of an actual conversation Cloud has with Aerith, since she can apparently communicate with people in their sleep. I’m not sure what this ability comes from. I think the ability to invade dreams might be Aerith’s power, or it might just be Cloud being special.
Now, I suppose we can argue that the other characters needed Cloud to find Aerith, since Aerith tells him where she’s going in his dream, but they don’t know that. They could have at least tried to look for her. I’m sure they would have managed. The one character, Vincent, is an ex-Turk—meaning that his previous job required him to track down people for assassinations—so he probably could have figured it out. Another character is literally a dog-lion hybrid thing.
Between Vincent and RedXIII, I’m pretty sure the other characters could have found her. Then again, Aerith is apparently a master at travel. She goes from point A to point B in about a day without a plane, a boat, or any means of travel.
But seriously, why did she go by herself? It is at point B where Sephiroth kills her, right as Cloud and the others finally manage to track her down. Following her death, Sephiroth flies off, Cloud buries Aerith in a lake, and then the party leaves the City to go after Sephiroth themselves.
The thing here is, though, I don’t know why Aerith had to stay dead. This is Final Fantasy VII, one of many Final Fantasy universes where it’s possible to raise the dead back to life. I had eight Phoenix Downs and the Life spell at the time Aerith dies. Don’t even try to tell me that those don’t bring the dead back to life and only revive knocked out characters. The items are called Phoenix Downs—phoenix being a symbol of birthing new life from death—and barring that the spell is Life and not Be Awake. It is part of the Final Fantasy mythos that these things revive the dead. The first so many times I played this game, I literally couldn’t stop screaming “just use Life, damn it!” between sobs. Now that I think about it, murder should not be a problem in any Final Fantasy universe because of this.
I realize that this entire post exists solely because I didn’t want Aerith to die, and I’m not trying to take away from the meaning behind her death; I just really wish she hadn’t died. I’ve spent the past fifteen years thinking about this over and over again. I suppose from our characters’ perspective, they didn’t know about Sephiroth’s complete inability to get the Black Materia, and so they wanted to get a hold of it before he could, but everything involving this magic rock makes no sense to me. Even after Aerith dies, the characters had numerous opportunities to stop Sephiroth from summoning Meteor.
Later on, they find themselves in possession of the Black Materia again, only for Sephiroth to possess Cloud and take it right back. Any one of the characters could have stopped Cloud. They could have killed him even, if need be.
And if you don’t want to acknowledge Advent Children as proof they could have stopped a possessed and rather sluggish Cloud from giving Sephiroth the Black Materia so he could summon Meteor, Barret or Vincent could have at the very least shot Cloud. I know that would mean they’d be shooting their friend shortly after another was murdered, but Barret’s part of a terrorist organization that’s more than willing to kill people to save the Planet. The very beginning of the game is about helping Barret and Tifa blow up reactors, which more than likely resulted in numerous deaths and left thousands of innocent people without any form of electricity. They don’t give a shit about life when it comes to the Planet. Cloud might be their friend, but Sephiroth’s about to summon a Meteor to kill everything. That poses a significant threat to the well-being of the Planet.
So yeah, Aerith’s death is both shocking and a little contrived. I understand the reasons why the decision to kill her was made, but it could have been avoided. In some ways, the death further feels real because it comes about from dumb mistakes on the characters’ parts, but that just makes it all the more avoidable.