So it’s time to go on a delightful pleasure cruise.
And by delightful, I mean grueling, and by pleasure, I mean horror.
The entire party’s managed to stow away on this ship that’s carrying Rufus across the sea to the western continent in search of Sephiroth. Somehow, they’ve all acquired Shinra uniforms (not that surprising since the Shinra grunts just assumed that Cloud was out of uniform when they caught him sneaking through the Junon airbase), including Red XIII who has suddenly developed the ability to walk on his hind legs (albeit awkwardly) and pretend to be human. He’s pretty convincing except that his tail sticks out the back, which would be a dead giveaway except that apparently everyone on board is so worked up over not looking bad in front of the new boss that they’re all being incompetent at their jobs (hey, social commentary in a video game!).
This turns out to be a much bigger problem than anyone could have imagined, because in addition to the party, Sephiroth is apparently stowed away somewhere. This leads to the natural consequence of half the crew being murdered horribly, and Cloud and company finally encountering Sephiroth face to face.
Well, we think it’s face to face. Cloud demands Sephiroth explain what he’s doing, but the man in the black cape doesn’t have much to say other than indicating his vague recognition of Cloud before he knocks everyone over and flies away. Then we get a boss battle with a piece of Jenova.
At this point we get another nod toward the ongoing ‘Life’ theme that the creators highlighted in talking about the game. Jenova is a recurring boss throughout the story, usually at key points where Sephiroth appears, kills someone, and then flies away to do more dastardly deeds later precisely when the party catches up with him. Each time we fight Jenova, we’re actually just fighting a piece of her body that’s been cut off and allowed to regenerate its own cloned version of the original (Jenova cells, we’ll learn as we get deeper and deeper into this mystery, are extremely resilient). This clone is called Jenova-BIRTH, indicating the life cycle that we’re going to follow through this ongoing arc. Later on, we’ll encounter versions called LIFE, DEATH, and SYNTHESIS (remember, all caps means the game thinks it’s important).
Jenova does have larger significance to the story overall, seeing as she’s the catalyst that drives Sephiroth insane, but this early in, we’re only getting glimpses of how important she is. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet that should probably be addressed is the odd Christian-like motif that is overlaid on Sephiroth and Jenova.
Clear parallels appear throughout the narrative that suggest Sephiroth sees himself as some kind of Christ figure with repeat cruciform poses, his birth under unique circumstances, and his belief that he’s the heir to the Promised Land (which in this game is about as far from Canaan as you’re going to get). Of course, Sephiroth’s the villain, and as we learn more about his history we’ll see how deluded and mistaken he is, but for now it’s an interesting parallel. For Jenova’s part, so far she has connections with the Ancients and regenerative healing powers. Her name is also a portmanteau of Jehovah (a common romanization of the Hebrew Tetragrammaton; I prefer Yahweh myself) and the feminine Latin word nova, meaning new. She is, quite literally, the New God, at least from our perspective on the narrative and its various real world allusions. All that will get twisted around later on, but for now we’ll stick with that understanding to help show Sephiroth’s Christ parallels.
At the same time, we also have the pervasive angel motif surrounding our villains. In depictions of Sephiroth that chronologically occur after Final Fantasy VII (there’s a very extensive mythology surrounding this particular game, in case you didn’t know) he always has a single black wing on his right side. I think it’s kind of a stupid design feature, but the visual shorthand is clear enough: Sephiroth has divine aspirations, but he’s little more than an imperfect copy of the real deal (exactly who that might be within FFVII‘s world is left ambiguous). From our brief glimpses of Jenova’s body in Shinra HQ and during Cloud’s flashback to Nibelheim, we can see that this feature of Sephiroth’s design is actually a call back to a similar feature on Jenova. She has stubs of wings on her back (with one being much more pronounced), though they don’t have any remote resemblance to the typical feathered angel wings that we recognize.
The use of perverted divine imagery to highlight a villain’s megalomania isn’t something that Final Fantasy VII innovated, but it strikes an interesting contrast with the more Buddhist thematic elements that are at play on the heroes’ side of the story. Yeah, there’ll be some crossover with more Christian iconography later, but right here with these early glimpses of Sephiroth, we get the sense of something sinister in the Christian conception of the Godhead. It’s probably a cultural artifact from Japan where Christianity is a minority religion, and tends to be treated as a useful creative resource akin to any other mythology.
Anyway, the more I think about Jenova and what she does, the more creeped out I get by the whole concept. She’s a great monster (you guys did figure out that she’s a monster by now, right?) in the same vein as The Thing. I think it’s one of the great shames of Final Fantasy VII that there are just stupendous elements of body horror in the original game that can’t be fully depicted there because of hardware limitations (even fifteen years later, I still get freaked out by the monster cinematics in the Nibelheim flashback way more than anything Sephiroth does to the town), and that those elements get downplayed in later entries into its canon.
But turning from all of these heavy things, we next land at a resort town where we can’t afford anything because I spent all my money on saving the condors, followed shortly thereafter by an amusement park where we can’t afford anything because, again, I spent all my money on saving the condors.
Being environmentally conscious sucks.