In the English and North American game manuals for Final Fantasy 7 on PlayStation, the main antagonist, Sephiroth, has a bio.
Included in that bio, his place of birth and most of his important details are omitted entirely. Only his height and the fact he fights with a longsword remain. In the Japanese manual, even his height is marked with a “?”.
The Final Fantasy 7 Remake is just one part of this original story - the first few hours of disc one of the PS1 JRPG, taking place entirely in Midgar. During this time, you never actually meet Sephiroth - he’s a ghost in a black cloak.
He’s mentioned as this legendary figure, a war hero, but you only have the picture you’ve built up of him in your head. There’s a section towards the end of Midgar, where you and your party are locked in a prison inside the Shinra Building - the hub for the evil corporation sucking power from the planet.
During your incarceration, you awake to find the cell door has been opened and there’s a trail of blood and bodies snaking through the building. Sephiroth has been here. He freed his mother, a single piece of an alien entity called Jenova - this headless abomination has slithered through the building murdering everyone it finds. But for some reason, it allowed you and your team to escape.
It’s a genuinely unsettling moment that I can’t wait to see replicated in the remake, but I worry that the lack of mystique might take some of the impact away. So much of that scene is left to your imagination, and that’s creepier than any Unreal Engine-powered cutscene could ever be. You don’t even know what Sephiroth or Jenova look like - you only know what they’re capable of.
The Final Fantasy series is generally bloodless, but here violence slicks every surface. It’s an unexpected moment of bleakness in an otherwise cutesy world.
We’ve already had a smattering of trailers for Final Fantasy 7 Remake and we’ve seen glimpses of Sephiroth where the silver-haired nutter never popped up in the original game. These could be flashbacks or visions that haunt protagonist Cloud, but I worry that they might strip Sephiroth of the thing that makes him so iconic.
There’s a moment when you first leave Midgar and you’re forced to get a chocobo - a giant, rideable chicken - so you can run across a stretch of marshland patrolled by a giant snake called the Midgar Zolom. If you try to fight the snake, you’ll likely die.
The chocobo breeder tells you that there was another man who walked across the marshes - a man in a black cape. When you finally make it across, you find the body of another Midgar Zolom impaled on the husk of a tree. It’s implied that Sephiroth simply picked that bad boy up and power slammed it, impaling it through the trunk. This, the thing that can kill you and your party in one hit, was nothing to the man in the black cloak. Something in his way.
Can Square Enix successfully translate this air of mystery into the Final Fantasy 7 Remake? Is it even possible to surprise people in the same way in a remake of a game over two decades old? I’m not sure what the answers are, but the remake will likely introduce a whole new generation to a story and characters that already mean so much to many, and I hope the developer can bottle this specific aspect that makes Sephiroth such an iconic villain.
In the meantime, here’s why many voted for Final Fantasy 14’s Emet Selch over Sephiroth in an official Best Villain poll.