Spoiler alert! Keep in mind that the following article is intended to look at very specific key moments in classic Final Fantasy games, so if you don’t know certain twists, turn away now and never look back. The article will look at moments in FF6, FF7, and FF8.
For those of you who love this franchise and want to reconsider the games, keep reading.
The following article is not in any particular order or ranking.
1. Sephiroth’s Sword Is a Key Plot Device for the Female Protagonists
Final Fantasy 7 has one of the most complex love triangles in all of video game history. Cloud, Aeris, and Tifa make up a large part of the plot, and what’s unfortunate is that both Aeris and Tifa are likable and are friends. This means there isn’t really a weak side to the love triangle. (Aeris is also referred to as Aerith.)
There wouldn’t be heated debates about who is the better partner for Cloud more than 20 years later if either Aeris or Tifa didn’t make sense for him. The makers of the game were clever in masking the horrible fate Aeris would endure about halfway through the game. Before Final Fantasy 7’s plot became common knowledge, people really thought the game was headed toward developing a romance between Cloud and Aeris.
After Aeris’ death, the game focuses more on the connection between Cloud and Tifa. Players have the choice to increase the pair’s bond into something deeper or as more of hometown friends.
What’s fascinating is that both Aeris and Tifa confront fate with Sephiroth’s sword.
Near the end of her life, Aeris became aware of her destiny as the only Cetra alive. She secretively left the group to pray for a powerful spell, Holy. She wanted to use Holy to prevent the forbidden spell of Meteor.
Sephiroth headed off to find her. The antagonist was also aware of Aeris’ power as a Cetra. He tried to manipulate Cloud into killing her. I would argue Sephiroth didn’t hate Aeris, but she got in his way. Sephiroth impales her with his long sword. Despite the gruesome scene, he didn’t stop her wish to save the planet. The holy spell still arrives at the end of the game.
Here’s where things get interesting. In a pivotal flashback sequence, we learn that Tifa finds Sephiroth’s sword stuck in her father’s corpse. Angered by the events in Nibelheim, she attempts to use the sword to kill Sephiroth before he enters Jenova’s chamber. For backstory, Sephiroth had descended into madness while learning about Jenova from a secret library at the Shinra Manor. He destroyed Nibelheim in a fire. This was the origin of his villainy. Before this, he was an acclaimed hero of SOLDIER.
During the Nibelheim incident, Sephiroth mistakenly believes Jenova is his mother, and that he is the last Cetra. Jenova was actually an alien that the Cetra had contained millenniums ago. Ironically, Sephiroth’s master plan was to take back the planet for the Cetra. He killed the last Cetra — Aeris.
Tifa doesn’t get far in attacking him; she ends up crashing down the stairs of the Mako Reactor where Jenova is kept. Her fall is much like how the holy materia in the Forbidden City falls. Tifa lays unconscious, but more like a sleeping beast who eventually will help defeat Sephiroth (again, much like the holy materia).
In the game, by the time the player gets to the flashback scene of Tifa holding the sword, there’s been so much story development that Aeris’ death, though not forgotten, is not so much in our mind as the sword. Aeris is slain by the sword; Tifa uses the sword to fight. These female counterparts are much more intricate than would seem on the surface.
As for what happened after Tifa attacked Sephiroth in the Mako reactor: Zack goes to attack Sephiroth, but he fails to stop him. Sephiroth overpowers Zack.
Cloud, in a surprise attack, uses Zack’s buster sword to stab Sephiroth in the back. Cloud goes to attend Tifa, and then Sephiroth emerges from the chamber with part of Jenova’s body. Cloud confronts him on a catwalk over a Mako pit. In the fight, Cloud is stabbed with Sephiroth’s Masamune. Sephiroth is pushed into the Mako pit — he is consumed by the Lifestream.
Side note: there are several different versions of this sequence in the FF7 spinoffs. I’m sticking to the original narrative.
2. Is Squall Actually Dead?
The case for Squall being dead in Final Fantasy 8 is surprisingly valid. The belief is that, during Squall’s encounter with Edea, Squall fell to his death after getting hit with an ice spell. The rest of the game is his subconscious or dying dream playing out until the end.
There is also the theory that what happens after the ice spell is split between two timelines. There is the original timeline of defeating Ultimecia and another timeline that reveals how the sorceress succeeded in vanquishing the hero. It’s time travel, the powers of the mind, and our narrative expectations all being turned into a crazy amount of possibilities.
Part of the reason people think he is dead is that the ending of the game focuses so much on cutscenes that happened up to the point when Squall is hit with the ice. Therefore, there is the possibility in the real first timeline that Squall and his friends succeed, but in another timeline, the sorceress knew what would happen and killed Squall before he became too powerful. Consider this ending video.
3. Kefka’s Love for Celes Chere
Final Fantasy 6 villain Kefka is honestly the god of all villains. At the beginning of the game, he acts as the second in command to Gesthal the emperor, but he quickly sharpens his abilities as a Magitek Knight. In the beginning, he is somewhat puny, qualms over sand on his boots, and then he really shows his true colors by poisoning Doma.
The Magi War took place 1,000 years ago. Three statues on the Floating Continent are artifacts from that time. One could take the statues as figurative representations for Gesthal, Kefka, and Celes.
While on the Floating Continent, Kefka asks Celes to be his bride for the new world he wants to create for Magitek Knights, for the more perfect magic-using race. It’s pretty sinister because what he wants is eugenics. Magic users are in, normal everyday people are out.
Kefka hints at his attraction to Celes throughout the first half of the game. He is also dismayed multiple times by her choices. At one point, he tells Celes that ruling the planet is her “birthright.” On the Floating Continent, Kefka overthrows the current ruling power, Gesthal, then proclaims himself as the new order… and what the game suggests is that through Celes he would have been able to create Kefka spawns of perfect magic users.
Unfortunately for him, Celes doesn’t see things the same way.
Throughout the first half of the game, Kefka desperately believes that Celes is a traitor to the Returners. He wants to believe she is bad, that she is plotting against the heroes because her actual nature is like his. She was previously a General of the Empire, and she was infamous for an attack on the city Maranda.
During the first half of the game, Celes questions her identity. She has to think beyond how she was created through the Empire’s experiments. She is in a sense a dual protagonist with the other female lead Terra, who also has compelling magical abilities, but from being a half-Esper.
- Terra takes charge of herself after removing a controlling crown device from her head. She was manipulated by the Empire to be a weapon.
- Celes comes into her own by standing against the Empire, which results in her imprisonment in South Figaro. Locke saves her, and her story with the heroes begins.
Kefka’s plan for how to sustain Magitek Knights is ruined by Celes. She takes the sword that is offered to her to stab her friends and instead uses it to harm Kefka. Enraged, Kefka decides to rule the world without a queen. He changes the balance of the world by moving around the three ominous statues. He destroys the world, and the second half of the game is about the heroes rising up from its ruins.
A year later and into the World of Ruin, Kefka succeeds at being the god of the world, and he stands on his mighty tower of rubble and casts his light of judgment on the towns beneath him. Dragons ravage the planet along with other terrifying new monsters. And from an isolated corner of the world, Celes attempts to regain her strength. She spends a year on a solitary island.
She lives on the island with the one who transformed her into a Magitek Knight, Cid. Celes, on pitiful square one, is the catalyst to reunite the Returners to defeat Kefka.
In the game, if Celes fails to keep Cid alive, she attempts suicide, but her heart changes at the last moment when she finds a bandana that reminds her of Locke. In the end, Kefka is killed by the woman he once loved, and she finds the motivation to kill him partly because of the real authentic love she has for Locke. Ironically, Kefka may have haphazardly introduced Locke to her by having her imprisoned in South Figaro.
4. Sephiroth Isn’t Pulling the Strings in Final Fantasy 7; It’s Professor Hojo
Hojo is Frankenstein, and Jenova is his star pupil. Sephiroth just happened to have looked at the alien body, saw the nameplate, and went crazy not knowing his real mother was Lucrecia Cresent, his father was Hojo, and he was infused with Jenova cells as a fetus. Sephiroth wasn’t a Cetra; he also wasn’t the son of an advanced extraterrestrial that nearly destroyed the world thousands of years ago. He was the son of two Shinra scientists.
30 years before the events of Final Fantasy VII, Shinra located an alien creature inside the North Crater. Professor Gast Faremis believed it was a Cetra and named it Jenova. Shinra wanted to use the alien to monopolize mako energy. The mega corporation commissioned the Jenova Project, which was meant to create a new order of Cetra who would help lead Shinra to a land flowing with mako.
The project was divided into two branches: Project S was led by Professor Hojo; Project G was led by Dr. Hollander. Project S produced Sephiroth. It was deemed the superior project. Hojo then became the leader of the Science Division of Shinra.
In the game, Hojo lets the events play out as he studies various special species such as Aeris the last Cetra, and Red XIII. What was Hojo really doing? He was a mad scientist who likely wanted to control the world through his ingenuity. He worked for Shinra where he could receive the proper funds for his experiments, but he probably would have been hired by Wutai if they gave him a better offer— he has no allegiance.
He had no remorse when Shinra’s president was murdered — Sephiroth’s Masamune was found in his corpse. Instead, Hojo was excited for the return of Sephiroth. The villain went missing after the Nibelheim incident, and Shinra in its records figured he was dead.
Scientist Gast found the real last Cetra, Iflana, and they had a child named Aeris. Hojo tracked down the family to Icicle Inn. He murdered Gast, and he held Iflana and Aeris hostage. Iflana eventually escaped with her daughter, but she died of her injuries. On the steps of the Sector 7 Slums station, she gave Aeries to Elmyra Gainsborough.
Hojo was the man behind the Jenova Reunion Theory. He believed Jenova’s cells instinctively wanted to be back together. Hosts carrying the cells would then try to reunite.
Hojo could have left things alone after the Nibelheim incident. Instead, he infused Sephiroth cells into surviving Nibelheim townspeople. He tried this on Zack and Cloud, but the experiment essentially failed, partly because Zack had already been introduced to Jenova cells through SOLDIER and Cloud got mako poisoning from the dosage. As for the Nibelheim townspeople, they had weakened mental integrity and became mindless drones who reverently worshiped and obeyed Sephiroth.
Even with the coming wrath of meteor, rather than make plans to help the planet, Hojo injects himself with Jenova cells, but it’s too late for him to have a masterful metamorphosis… like his son’s.
5. Relm Arrowny Can Erase Your Game (Literally)
Ten-year-old Relm Arrowny of Thamasa is one of the most powerful characters in all of Final Fantasy lore. She wields a paintbrush and likes to take portraits of monsters, which can end up attacking foes. She also comes from a town of magic users, so her magic stats are some of the best in Final Fantasy 6.
What is fascinating about this character is that she breaks the fourth wall of the game. Strangely enough, she waves to the user at the beginning of some battles. But the real breaking of the fourth wall is a glitch; due to a lack of checking her functions in beta testing, in the original release of the game, Relm’s sketch function could actually cause all kinds of malfunctions from erasing game data, giving the user all the best items, raising stats, freezing the game, and creating graphical mayhem.
I once rolled the dice with this glitch and ended up with all the best items (times 10). But others I know ended up with all their data erased.
The bug is in the original FF6 release for the SNES. It is one of the most infamous bugs in the franchise, if not the most infamous.
6. Shadow Is Relm’s Father
Shadow in Final Fantasy 6 is a loner; he decides when he comes and when he goes. Depending on how you play the game, Shadow will enter your party or join the Empire. He is a freelance assassin. If you play the game just right, you’ll enter into Shadow’s dream state where he reveals his past. He doesn’t comment much in person about who he is, what he desires, or where he is headed.
There are four dreams you can find in total by visiting inns. There is one last dream found in the World of Ruin…. and a sixth dream is available if you let Shadow die on the Floating Continent. Shadow’s real name is Clyde, and he shared the name “Shadow” with his train robber friend Baram. Baram was unfortunately killed, but Clyde escaped to Thamasa.
Clyde ended up falling in love with a woman and fathered Relm, but he left the town before his past could catch up to him. Interceptor, the town dog, ends up following and staying by Clyde’s side. Later, both Shadow and Relm can use the Memento Ring, which is said to be laced with the love of a departed mother — Shadow’s wife and Relm’s mother.
In the sixth dream, Relm cries out to Strago, her grandfather. She asks about her father’s whereabouts. The game developers considered having another dream sequence where Shadow revealed his face to Strago at a bar.
© 2013 Andrea Lawrence
Jeremy Gill from Louisiana on April 05, 2015:
Great article, Andrea. I'm a big fan of Final Fantasy, and I even posted an entire hub examining the "Squall Is Dead" theory. I have another one exploring the "Rinoa equals Ultimecia" theory, also from Final Fantasy 8. And I like your section about Celes; she's a very relatable character. Isn't it amazing how these fantastic moments, characters, and theories keep us coming back years after the games have been released?
NeoCrimson on July 22, 2014:
About the theory "Squall is dead" of FFVIII, in my opinion...
Squall not dies in the game. (spoilers) If he die on Disk 1 everything that follows from disc 2 onwards would not make sense, we would not know the role of Edea, the connection with Laguna, Ellone, etc.
Squall does not die in disc 4 (spoilers) because the the video where Selphie and Irvine filmed the celebration after beating Ultimecia, everyone is happy, that means that everything went well (include Squall alive).
Also, Kitase in the interview in the Ultimania says that in the game there is a happy ending.