So now that Aerith’s dead, it’s time for everyone to pick up the pieces and head north to catch up with Sephiroth again (most of this game’s plot revolves around chasing after Sephiroth, and after a while, it does tend to get a little old; at least, it would if the writers didn’t keep spooling out new reasons we should care about chasing Sephiroth down).
Fortunately, we now have some interesting questions to try to answer. Perhaps most pressing is the statement that Jenova (her only attributed line in the game) makes just after the party defeats another part of her body, Jenova-LIFE. As she dissolves into whatever alien parasites dissolve into when they die, Jenova tells Cloud that he’s a puppet.
There are some interesting implications here, because whenever you call someone a puppet, it’s not a good thing. Puppets are just facsimiles of living creatures who give the impression of being alive while their controllers manipulate them. Cloud’s definitely done some weird stuff lately that might suggest he’s being controlled, what with the homicidal urges towards Aerith and handing over the Black Materia, which is definitely disconcerting, but it’s not as damaging as the suggestion that Cloud’s identity is just a facade.
Of course we know that Cloud’s a real person, because he has a hometown that we can visit and–
Oh, right. No one there remembers him.
Well, there’s Tifa; she grew up with Cloud, and she can corroborate his story about–
Oh, yeah. There was something about that story that she wasn’t quite comfortable with.
Okay, well maybe Cloud is just a puppet.
Now, I’m sure everyone can figure out that Cloud’s backstory doesn’t add up with the details that we’ve come across so far, but he is a real person, and it’s reasonable to assume that some parts of his story are legitimate, since Tifa really is a childhood friend. Nonetheless, this one line from Jenova sets up the major psychological tension of the second half of the game. Before, we were chasing down Sephiroth because he was killing people all over the place and the natural thing for a group of heroes is to try to stop a villain from being villainous. Also, there was the whole thing with undermining Shinra, though I feel like the ecoterrorist plotline gets shoved aside pretty consistently once Sephiroth’s on the scene (this is to be expected, because while Shinra’s evil, it’s not seeking godhood). Anyway, the motivation for the chase strikes me as pretty thin, and seems like a rather standard reason for adventure.
Pulling the narrative reverse here where we find out that the hero we’ve been playing as might not be who he says he is (a very novel concept, considering that the typical JRPG formula up to this point was to have a hero who acted as the player’s avatar within the game world; as the person playing the game, there wasn’t supposed to be any mystery surrounding your own player character) is pretty compelling stuff. I’ll be honest that I find Sephiroth to be a rather lackluster villain in a lot of respects (much of it may have to do with Square’s overuse of him in their crossover properties), but the idea that he’s going to screw around with the hero’s head and make him doubt his own identity is really fun stuff to watch. From here on out, as I’ve said before, Cloud’s just going to get more and more depressed and disconnected from who he thought he was.
Anyway, that’s enough babbling about characters, we have a snowboard to get!