Published on February 8th, 2013 | by Nichomaxwell1
Valentine’s Special: The Truth Behind ‘Aeris’
(WARNING FOR NONPLAYERS: ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS)
Although we’re about a week ahead of Valentine’s Day, February has always jumped out to me as the month that celebrates everything red and pink. That includes hearts, roses, and…for the morbid variety…blood.
Well drink up heathens, because the tragic heroine in Final Fantasy VII has all of that.
Ah yes, the lovely Aerith Gainsborough: the red-and-pink-clad flower girl who taught gamers how to cry. Even non-gamers are somewhat aware of the stir that her death created in the gaming community. She’s the only character I know of whose death caused people nationwide to send a petition to her creator, Tetsuya Nomura, begging him to bring her back. But he, along with the game’s director and scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase, were adamant that bringing her back from the dead would kill what has made her such a special character.
“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,’” said Kitase in an interview with Edge in May 2003.
“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 of Hollywood.”
Nomura concurred, calling Aerith’s sudden death “natural and realistic” while ironically finding satisfaction in fans’ reaction.
“The fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character,” said Nomura in Issue No. 196 of Electronic Gaming Monthly in October 2005.
“If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn’t an effective character,” he added.
Nowadays, Aerith has a devout following of cosplayers, a leitmotif that has become a favorite song to play amongst gaming musicians, and several online shrines, including one called “Ressurect Aerith” which claims there is a non-cheating way to save the beloved character.
In short, Aerith is immortalized through her death. Which, given she comes from the extremely well-known cast of Final Fantasy VII, is saying something.
But there are dissenters out there. Many of them compare her to Tifa and believe the latter is the better character (sometimes for quality of personality, and oftentimes for “quantitative” reasons). Some say that Aerith was a “waste” because you build her up just to lose her at the end. Several online threads include users who say they practically scrapped her on the second playthrough. Some just couldn’t stand her flirtatious behavior.
Quoth one friend of mine: “She was always going after Tifa’s man (Cloud).”
And then there are those who misunderstand Aerith completely. I’ve heard “she’s weak and useless” get thrown around from time to time. I’ve also known people to describe her as the passive, helpless female of the game.
Well, this month of February, which is all about the red and the pink, I’m straightening out facts and dispelling myths about the pinkest and second reddest (Vincent wins that category hands-down) character in Final Fantasy VII. Ladies and gentleman, meet the real Aerith Gainsborough!
Truth Point 1: Aerith’s name
She’s the only character aside from RedXIII (showed up as Red VIII) to have her name mistranslated in the English version of the game. Thus, we in the States have been led to believe that her name is spelled “Aeris.” The transliteration, however, wasn’t completely misguided.
Aerith’s original Japanese name was エアリス Earisu. The “su” in the game is commonly used when transcribing “s” and “thetha” (th) to Japanese. But in a 1997 edition of Famitsu, the developers preferred the “th” on the end and used it in all of their material because “Aerith” is a near-anagram of Earth.
Aerith is indeed protrayed as “earthly” and nature-oriented with her green eyes, flower-selling ways, the maintenance of her garden and the natural inclinations of her race, the Cetra, which is to live in harmony with The Planet (as evident in the Shell Village with its gigantic tree) as well as its Lifestream.
Truth Point 2: Aerith’s femininity
In contrast to Tifa Lockheart, often described as a “tomboy” character, especially with her fighting style, Aerith is visually depicted as the more “feminine character” with her red and pink clothing and long dress, which purposely contrasts with Tifa’s miniskirt. This conception presents Aerith as the more conservative, ladylike character whereas Tifa looks as if she wants to run with boys…in some respects anyway.
Literary symbolism in the color of her appearance is also to be noted. The color “red” tends to symbolize passion, love and rage. Aerith is a love interest as well as source of rage for the player after she is killed by Sephiroth. White, which is the color of the dress that Aerith wears in Crisis Core, symbolizes innocence. Although not naive, Aerith is portrayed as possessing a pure heart and yearning to see the best in mankind, yet is either unaware or oblivious to the tendencies that draw men and women around her to evil.
The ‘white mage’ charcertization of Aerith is mostly highly accentuated during the scene when you first recruit her in FFVII, as you meet her in a church.
Also, on a slightly more specualtive note, it can be inferred that Aerith is a virgin at death, conjuring images of the sacrifcial virgin as she dies while trying to summon a holy form of magic to save the planet.
True, without a statement from the developers, it’s hard to say if Aerith and Zack, her first love, even kissed off-screen during the events of Crisis Core. There is evidence in FFVII, albeit not solid, that they didn’t.
Dialogue from Cloud and Aerith’s playground scene:
Aerith: Just the same as him.
Cloud: The same as who?
Aerith: My first boyfriend.
Cloud: You were…serious?
Aerith: No. But I liked him for a while.
However, it is never stated if she dated anyone other than Zack. Tseng has been rumored, but based on dialogue, Aerith’s relationship with him has been one of trust and not of love.
But in returning to the discussion of symbolism, Aerith’s principal color is pink, which represents pure love and a child-like personality.
Aerith is also characterized as a fun-loving character. It’s her idea to dress up Cloud in something “cute” (a la gets him to dress up as a woman) in order to sneak him into Don Corneo’s mansion in Sector 6. She reacts with less concern than her fellow party members to dangerous situations, as she once told Cloud that she was “used to it” after being chased constantly by the Turks.
In many respects, Aerith, with her independent and outgoing personality, transcends the cliche “damsel in distress.” Yes, it’s true that Cloud helps her get away from the turks as a “bodyguard,” plus he rescues her from Shinra HQ.
But Aerith, who is practically the modern-day version of the princess character, pokes fun at commonly used tropes depicting princess-like characters as helpless and submissive.
When Aerith leads Cloud to the Sector 6 gate, Cloud wonders how she will get home.
“‘Oh no! What will I do now?’” Aerith sarcastically pines before asking Cloud: “Is that what you want me to say?”
Her pluck and sincerity are unusual for a character depicted as “feminine” as she is in the world of gaming. She even has a foil to draw attention to her cliche-defying behavior in Tifa, who is perhaps the more “feminine” character as far as the storyline is concerned.
Tifa’s “accentuated” features aside, Aerith is shown to be a “straight-shooter” while Tifa is shy about sharing her feelings for Cloud, as well as debating whether or not she is strong enough to save the planet.
Consider Tifa’s dialogue during the “Golden Saucer Date.”
|Tifa: “Ok, I’m just going to go ahead and say it…”|
|Tifa||“Aeris would be able to just come out and say it, probably.”
“Sometimes being old friends is hard.”
“I mean, timing is everything.”
|Tifa||“Cloud I really had fun tonight.”|
|Cloud||“By the way, what did you want to say a minute ago?”|
|Tifa||“Oh, look at the time. We should be getting back.”|
Meanwhile, the Gold Saucer date between Aerith and Cloud:
Aerith ".........first off, it bothered me how you looked exactly alike." "Two completely different people, but look exactly the same." "The way you walk, gesture..." "I think I must have seen him again, in you..." (She shakes her head) Aerith "But you're different." (She looks down again) Aerith "Things are different..." (FMV sequence. The entire exterior of the Gold Saucer is lit up with fabulous, starry fireworks displays. Aerith continues to speak.) Aerith "Cloud..." "I'm searching for you..." Cloud "............?" Aerith "I want to meet you." Cloud "But I'm right here." Aerith (I know, I know... what I mean is...) "I want to meet..... you." Aerith's language is more assertive and she makes her point, even if it's a little ambiguous to Cloud at the time. Also, let us not forget that she has been the one asking him out. Pretty emasculating for Cloud!
Truth Point # 3: Aerith’s wisdom
Even in death, Aerith’s actions are crucial in helping the characters save the planet. She is the one who summons Holy to prevent Meteor from crushing The Planet while Cloud and the party rush to defeat Sephiroth. When the light of Holy blinds everyone on The Planet, Aerith’s essence is “awakened” to guide the Lifestream in protecting mankind and destroying Meteor.
In addition, Aerith is Cloud’s guide to finding Tifa and, again, is the one who finds a way for him to sneak in. Also, when Cloud begins catering to the will of Sephiroth, her faith in him never waivers, unlike the other characters when it is suggested later in the game that he is a failed Sephiroth clone created by Hojo.
As Cloud fights off Sephiroth’s commands to behead her while she is summoning Holy, she simply looks up and smiles.
Aerith’s lack of fear throughout the game indicates a resolve towards her fate, as well as a resolution towards saving the Planet even if it costs her her own life.
Aerith can certainly be seen as the game’s “tragic hero.” Her personality can be compared to that of Gandalf or Dumbledore, the wise leaders who eventually must depart to allow the rest of the party to become stronger. In many ways, she is the guide who keeps the player safe.
If used right, Aerith can keep the party invicinible through several boss battles toward the end.
But when she dies, gone is her reliable healing. Gone is your party’s optimist. Helplessness settles in as you then realize the great loss that was Aerith in giving you that feeling of security.
Unless, of course, you never used her. But I digress.
Truth Point # 4: Aerith is not weak and helpless
As far as beaters go, Aerith ranks near the bottom. Her physical stats are not very high, and she starts in the back row of your party by default.
However, her lack of physical strength encourages the player to use her for her magic. Her staves tend to possess many materia slots, which show her to be the most suitable for casting spells and summoning mystical creatures. Furthermore, if the player steals the Striking Staff in the train graveyard, she can become a useful physical attacker.
Ultimately, Aerith could be viewed as the strongest character in the game due to her ability to achieve an invincibility limit break. And although several familiar gamers automatically think of “Great Gospel,” which grants the user invincibility and restores vitality to 100 percent, she achieves Planet Protector at Level 3. Planet Protector doesn’t heal the party members, but it does grant them (limited) invincibility. And despite the fact that Aerith has to kill 160 enemies individually to achieve the potential to use Great Gospel, her propensity towards magic spells makes it slightly easier for her as she can combine magic spells with “All” to dispatch of multiple enemies in three or less moves.
If it weren’t for her “untimely death,” Aerith’s Great Gospel would in fact break the game.
Truth Point # 5: There is no non-cheating way to bring Aerith back to life
A section on The Unoffical Final Fantasy VII website labeled “Resurrect Aerith” speaks of a (surprisingly detailed) way of bringing the Ancient back to life in which you need 4 tissues from the Gold Saucer arena, the Buster Sword, 1.5 million A.P. and a mastered Revive Materia. You must then embark on a rather long quest that takes you back to Midgar and the Ancient City. Eventually, after you complete everyhting you’re supposed to, you find Aerith, alive and breathing, in the church of Sector 5 where you first met her. The whole section is complete with screenshots of the quest as well as associated dialogue (http://finalfantasy7.freewebsites.com/resurrectaeris.html).
However, no other website has confirmed this “sidequest” to be true, and the assertions from Kitase and Nomura maintain that there is no non-cheating way to bring her back.
So for those who wish to bring her back for the fun times in Discs 2 and 3, you best follow the advice given by xkcd at http://xkcd.com/299/.
To me, Aerith is akin to a god or goddess from Greek mythology coming down to Earth in a human guise to guide her favorite heroes to a favorable solution. She transcends the typical desires of the human flesh for food, fame and sexual pleasures. She is Final Fantasy’s Siddhartha Guatama, trading the body for a heightened soul and a choosing an existence where she interconnets with The Planet, The Lifestream and all of its inhabitants, living or dead. She is the human incarnation of Gaia, a motherly figure with an intricate understanding of the earth and the benefits of life.
Call Aerith what you will, but there’s no denying that the ingenious minds of Nomura and Kitase left us with a character who in spite of her in-game death, lives in our minds forever, as evident in the 2012 Disney film Wreck-It Ralph.