Analysis: Sephiroth in Crisis Core

This post was originally inspired by the #IHaveaTheory challenge on Square Enix Amino.

To that end, I’ve set my sights on Sephiroth. You know, the man we all first knew from Final Fantasy VII as the guy you’d never invite to a fireside chat.

WARNING: FINAL FANTASY VII AND CRISIS CORE SPOILERS AHEAD

But before that in game canon, there was Crisis Core. Where Sephiroth was young and had friends and absolutely no desire to crush us all with a meteor (probably). We start at the beginning: Sephiroth was raised and trained as an intellectually and physically exceptional child with no immediate family.

While there’s no canon information on his childhood, some of his behavior in Crisis Core reflects what his mentality likely was.

Unlike many real life students with exceptional skills, Sephiroth had all of the special instruction and resources he needed to prosper. By the time we see him in Crisis Core, Sephiroth was entirely confident in abilities he’d been building on his entire life.

Yet when Genesis expressed jealousy over Sephiroth’s fame, he told Genesis he could have it. This is an indication that his confidence was self-contained rather than something he got from or held over other people. In short, fame or the lack of would not affect him at all.

This connects to another issue that exceptional people face in their upbringing. According to a guide by the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), “specific provisions for [gifted and talented students] stir heated controversy regarding whether or not they need special attention”.

Zack himself displayed this skepticism just before his mission with the Turks that Sephiroth was originally assigned to. Upon hearing that he refused to go, Zack asked if they were being too soft with him or babying him (depending on language/translation).

You can see the scene here at about 6:40.

For Sephiroth, this kind of controversy led to his abilities defining him to others in one of two ways. His status as the best First Class SOLDIER led people to believe he was either a hero beyond their standing or he was entitled more than he deserved.

Let’s consider that in conjunction with the immense value he placed on his friendship with Angeal and Genesis.

To have two friends who treated him as someone on their level, whether positively or negatively, meant a great deal to Sephiroth. There were few people who wouldn’t judge him based on his reputation since he had no family.

The bottom line is that Angeal and Genesis (and later Zack) gave him something his reputation could not: a sense of belonging.

And that feeling overpowered everything else Sephiroth held as important. He refused the mission that Zack went on because it was an act directly against his friends. When he was on his way to Modeoheim, he put his current mission off to go out of his way and talk to Zack – even though Zack was upset with him at the time.

Full clip here.

Sadly, this value Sephiroth placed on belonging was his undoing in the end.

To be human and exceptional separated him from nearly everyone, even others who were First Class. But at least he had that in common with people – humanity.

His discovery of the truth took that last bastion of hope away along with two of his closest friends. (The below video shows Sephiroth’s struggle as he tried to hold onto his humanity and the particularly painful way he found out he wasn’t human after all.)

Full clip here.

Failing that, Sephiroth had utterly nothing in common with anyone insofar as he knew. What meant most to him in life was inaccessible to him forever (or so he felt).

All that remained to fill the void was his greatness. In his mind, that had defined him to everyone else throughout his life, and he only thought he’d been defined by something more to those he cared for.

With his feeling of belonging gone, Sephiroth had to face that he would never truly belong among humans.

That combined with inevitable rage at the deception and horror at the truth of his origin… Sephiroth turned to godhood to embrace what he had originally tried to reject.

He was exceptional and he did not belong among these people; he never would. Grieving it in solitude could drive him mad or…

Sephiroth could choose not to grieve, instead empowering himself by believing he never really needed to belong. The feeling was simply another deception by the lesser beings of humanity.

And so, he rationalized godhood as his destiny.

and I’m still sad about it after all these years
#BlameHojo

Thank you for reading!

 

May Your Heart Be Your Guiding Key

In response to the philosophies prompt on the Square Enix Amino, I’ve analyzed a recurring phrase in the Kingdom Hearts series, but specifically in Back Cover.

“May your heart be your guiding key.”

WARNING:

Spoilers Abound

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The one time the meaning of this phrase is explained is by the Master of Masters, who claims to say it all the time. In the Case of Invi, he tells her that “you ultimately need to do what your heart feels is right”. (He also says it to Aced during the Case of Aced, although he doesn’t explain it then.)

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But this is a fairly open definition. Its true parameters are defined by the heart, so each person is allowed to decide for themselves what it means. Add in context and you’ve got yourself a mission statement that can be perceived to mean anything.

So who says it when? What does it mean?

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After Ira’s announcement that he believes one of the Foretellers is a traitor backfires, Invi tells him this phrase as a comfort. In this context, Invi offers this familiar saying of their absent master to remind Ira that he did what he thought was right. And even if it didn’t turn out to be right, Invi wanted him to trust his heart.

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When Aced had to fight Ava, Gula, and Invi, Aced said the phrase to himself. For him, this phrase is to express certainty in his convictions.

Throughout the game, he frequently mentions that the Foretellers are comrades – this means a lot to him. To have them almost unanimously think that he is the traitor could not have been painless.

But saying this phrase to himself, the one their master repeated to them all, was a reminder to Aced that there are things more important than that. His heart told him to fight for what he believed, and so he did.

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Gula said it to himself after Ava refused to help him summon Kingdom Hearts in a ploy to make the Master return.

To understand the context of this phrase said here by Gula, you need to know his opinion of Ava. Before asking her to help him summon Kingdom Hearts, he tells her that she always does the right thing.

For someone whose role required him to trust no one, this is impressive. Gula holds Ava as a moral paragon. When she said she wouldn’t help him, it was as good as telling him that he’s morally wrong for wanting to summon Kingdom Hearts.

But still, he believed with all his heart that it was the correct choice. Maybe it wasn’t the morally right one, but his heart told him it was what needed to be done.

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Ava said this to the Keybearers she was training just before the war broke out. Until this point, all of the other Foretellers had done what they felt was right but several had deviated from the Master’s teachings.

In the earlier scene with Ephemer at the fountain, Ava said to herself that she would be glad to leave the future to those who see the world the way he did.

In this case, I believe that Ava told the Keybearers she trained to have their hearts be their guiding key because she truly believed they would make the best use of that phrase.

These Keybearers were the ones she regarded as the best of all unions. It’s not just their talent as fighters, but their perspectives that she valued. Their hearts could be their guiding keys because she believed they had the best, truest hearts.

I love Ava’s characterization, surprise surprise.

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Lastly, Luxu also said it as the final spoken line of the game (while hefting a box in the desert, no less). This meaning is a bit harder to interpret, but I think that’s the point of it at this stage in the story.

Nearly everyone else who used the phrase had gone against the tasks set before them, playing right into the prophecy (which I doubt was a mistake).

Does this mean that because Luxu was separate from the others, he actually succeeded in his entire role? Or did he “fail” as the others had, and open the box? The fun of this is that ultimately, we can’t say with what we see in this game.

In lengthy conclusion…

“May your heart be your guiding key” was the mission statement of the Foretellers, but it steered most of them in the wrong direction either inadvertantly or knowingly.

The intent of the phrase is to encourage people in dark times, but it was also used to justify bad decisions as good ones made as a personal sacrifice.

And that’s just in this game; the phrase comes back with the Wayfinder Trio. But that’s a subject for another post!

Dorian Pavus: Coping Study

Greetings!

Though I’m not finished with Inquisition, Dorian is easily one of my favorite characters and with this piece, I’d like to pull back the curtain and show the coping mechanisms behind the man.

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SPOILER ALERT

And now, on we go!

• • • • •

Quick summary for those who need the recap: Dorian Pavus is a human mage of the Atlus caste in Tevinter society. The Altus are considered to be descended from dreamers/magisters that could speak to the Old Gods when in the Fade, and they are exceedingly well regarded in the Tevinter Imperium.

This influences him growing up as it would anyone– both with the pressure to meet that ideal and also being considered great from birth, particularly because he’s from an affluent family as well.

He had a natural talent for magic, and of course, he’s Dorian… So he flourished under the envy, at least on the surface. After being expelled from a Circle at 9 years old for injuring a Magister’s son in a duel, he continued to rotate through mentors and Circles, each ending in a new fiasco.

It wasn’t until Alexius found Dorian and offered to take him as an apprentice that Dorian found the focus he needed to truly prosper. And that he did, earning merit and stations inside four years of study in the Minrathous Circle.

…then Felix, Alexius’ son and a dear friend of Dorian’s, got the darkspawn corruption and Alexius’ wife died in the same tragedy. Two years, Dorian poured into finding a cure for Felix. But a fight between Alexius and Dorian severed their ties and immediately, Dorian was off the path to greatness again.

Between reveling in excess and loudly rejecting every flaw in his homeland, Dorian faced only hardship and scandals from then on in Tevinter. His father tried to use blood magic to “cure” his homosexuality, keeping him hidden as he slid back into old habits after his fight with Alexius…

This is the state he’s in when he joins the Inquisition. An outcast in his own nation, his trust in his own family destroyed, and completely adrift. [Backstory recap source]

So what does this all mean for Dorian’s coping mechanisms? He’s known to be very sure of himself and prefers wit on nearly every occasion, and let’s see how he uses both his bravado and humor throughout his backstory, either successfully or not.

Consider his first expulsion from a Circle at 9 years old, which was caused because he injured another child in a duel. A Magister’s son, no less, and at this point you can already presume that Dorian had a difference of opinion with most of his countrymen while still absorbing the doctrine of holding life in alarmingly low regard.

Whatever their disagreement was, Dorian would not yield. Although I’m sure he wasn’t as adeptly cunning as a child, it’s a safe bet that he pushed buttons with the Magister’s son until it came to a duel… Which he would not back down from to the point of actually injuring a fellow child.

Now there is where you behold two sides to Dorian: his general belief in morality and his inevitable acceptance of certain parts of Tevinter culture.

If he backed down from the duel, it wouldn’t be mercy, but weakness. Because it was a Magister’s son, he was expelled from that Circle… But the damage was done. He’d harmed a child in what was likely an intellectual disagreement.

And intelligent as he was, he knew that he could’ve been the one hurt or worse had the Magister’s son sucked a little less. And if that had been the case, Dorian would probably still have been the one expelled because he’s not a Magister’s son.

Dorian was an intelligent, gifted child who knew something was wrong there but didn’t have the direction, the guidance to figure out how to change it– simply how not to be affected by it.

If he was bound to expelled from the Circle regardless, and he knew he was once that argument began, why not at least show the brat his place? This is where bravado and humor comes in, and where Dorian’s… unsavory… behavior continued.

Tevinter is inherently a place where you can trust no one once you reach a higher standing, which the Pavus family held.

But ambition only doesn’t work for Dorian. A man of heart, he is internally and externally destructive without connections and a greater purpose. Given his backstory, with family alone as he is before Alexius, he’s reckless and overly aggressive. With purpose alone as he is after Alexius but before the Inquisition, he’s reckless with no regard for himself.

In the Inquisition and the Inquisitor, he finds both. Of course, this doesn’t change who he is or how he faces the world. Even as he confesses friendship with the Inquisitor, he leans on humor to make it safely through his honesty.

Such honesty was a serious risk in Tevinter culture, and factoring in the betrayal of his father and Alexius – two people he trusted most – and he’s opening himself to that all over again by admitting out loud that someone is his friend in this context:

“Perhaps it’s odd to say, but… I think of you as a friend, Inquisitor. I have precious few friends. I didn’t think to find one here.”

When the Inquisitor goes to respond, Dorian cuts them off to say, “Don’t speak. I detest confessions, and I’d like to get this over with.” He’s half kidding, mostly serious, but honesty suits Dorian far more than ambition and more than he’d care to admit.

And he needs that humor to bond over his genuine friendship with the Inquisitor. Dismissing a serious matter as light reduces its weight on him and makes him feel less threatened by the rules of the culture he grew up in: one where you don’t trust anyone and seek only power.

He can confess to being close to someone and all the solace that provides as long as he has redirection and hospital humor to get him by. And it’s not the only instance where he used these tactics to cope, not by any stretch. It’s nearly constant.

For example, in the Templar timeline, Dorian appears to warn the Inquisition at Haven. His first line of dialogue is, “if someone would open this [the gate], I’d appreciate it”. When someone does, he’s on the verge of falling over and held up only by his staff.

After trying to stand and falling onto Cullen, using his help to stand, Dorian describes himself as “a mite exhausted” and says “don’t mind me”. These are all examples of how Dorian uses levity to draw attention away from the issues he’d rather be hidden. In that case at Haven, he was on a time crunch to put it lightly, but the mentality stands.

Of course, there are those who don’t understand his perspective and view it as arrogance at best, indifference at worst. But this is part of the beauty and complexity of Dorian, and while I could go on… That concludes this study. Perhaps another time, my friends!


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Nosferatu: A Study

Hello everyone!

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Welcome to my possibly unnerving study of Nosferatu through the ages.

Firstly, a definition of the spell book is in order. It’s a tome, as most offensive magic is in Fire Emblem, and it always drains health from the target and restores that amount of health to the caster.

But what has changed for Nosferatu over the years? 

Yes, it used to be called Resire, but there are more compelling changes for the spell. For example, consider spell type where games in the series include it. In five of the games, Nosferatu is considered a light spell. In six of them, it’s considered a black or dark spell. (For the remainder, it’s simply referred to as a tome or other title.)

But these are two very different schools of magic. Light magic in Fire Emblem is mostly associated with characters from the church or godly descent.Dark magic as a contrast is often construed as evil. Some good people use dark magic and evil people use light magic, but these are there reputations.

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Bet you can’t guess which one is the dark mage.

So what about this spell in particular makes it walk the moral line of light and dark? To grasp this, we need to understand what the use is for Nosferatu in the context of both kinds of magic.

For light magic, note that Nosferatu is an offensive form of healing. If a healer is to be used most effectively and able to protect themselves in a pinch, Nosferatu was their best option. And it would be more accessible for them to learn than anima magic since it is based in the manipulation of health.

As for dark magic, it’s simply a way to heal oneself. Most dark mages are with other dark mages in combative situations. Whether this is because of stigma (in the case of Knoll in Sacred Stones) or through having no other options (as with Henry from Awakening), they likely don’t have a healer nearby for them.

And to reference Knoll again, he says that knowledge is the source of dark magic’s power, not the desire to harm others. So a typically religious class like a cleric or priest would be able to manage a spell like Nosferatu.

And yet…

There have been restrictions on this spell in other games in Fire Emblem. In Mystery of the Emblem, Nosferatu could only be used by female units. And in many Fire Emblem games, only dark mages can use this spell.

So why these restrictions? Most likely, the reasons are cultural or religious.

The women only restriction is more difficult to explain, but I believe it’s rooted in taboo rather than the idea of “purity”. While the real world Western history often considered women incapable of harsh acts like murder , I don’t think this belief applies in Fire Emblem culture as a whole.

Consider instead people like Witches from Echoes, who are women who offered their souls to the god, Duma, in exchange for their powers. There does seem to be a gradual process for becoming a full witch, soulless and only existing to serve, and death is their only redemption.

In being killed, their souls return in their final moments and then they can rest . My theory is that this restoration of the soul is only magically extended to women for as of yet unconfirmed reasons.

It seems likely to me that the soul of a woman is at least believed to be more easily adjusted and therefore more easily saved when a Witch is finally killed – and so, in matters of dark spells, it would make sense to restrict their use to women in the case of corruption (whether you were an evil or benign caster of dark magic).

As for restricting the use of Nosferatu to dark mages or sorcerers, I believe this is due to lack of access (such as in Sacred Stones, where dark magic is exceedingly rare and only a few Nosferatu tomes exist in the game) and moral grounds. Dark magic has an enduring negative reputation, and religious figures would naturally avoid an affiliation with it.
It’s not that they can’t use dark magic, it’s that they refuse to. After all, this spell can also be used to murder a god in the original game, Gaiden, and that would be heretical on its own.

Then why do some light mages use it?

Using Echoes as an example, all spells cost health for the caster. Even healers. So if you want your healer to not consume all your supplies while keeping your soldiers alive, they need an efficient way to restore health for themselves.

And so, all healers have Nosferatu in their repertoire​ in Echoes from the beginning.

Now dark mages do exist in worlds where Nosferatu is useable by light mages, and they have a similar skill set as light mages (warping, summoning fighters, etc.) but they seem less powerful.

A dark mage can only summon terrors, which are basically magic zombies, but a light mage such as Genny needs only a high HP expense to cast Invoke and get the same soldiers out of what seems to be light made real (and far less offensive to the senses than a rotted corpse).

So while a dark mage cannot heal you, only themselves, and Witches can only warp themselves, and both can only summon terrors or other Witches, the light mages of Echoes have learned to:

  • Warp others only
  • Heal themselves with Nosferatu
  • Heal other adjacent units or from afar
  • Summon units to fight

In conclusion on this point, a light mage can learn dark magic through a light method, but a dark mage cannot reverse this process. Is it any wonder that the evil units using light magic chose to learn the “purer” of these two schools of magic, then?

Knowledge is the power of dark magic, and knowing light magic first opens more avenues to a dark mage or sorcerer than light alone could. Although due to cultural and religious tensions, as well as differing worlds, this knowledge seems to appear and vanish from Fire Emblem games.

Otherwise Henry in Awakening would have a very different backstory indeed–

In any case,

Thank you for reading!


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