In Final Fantasy VII Remake’s first chapter, a black feather drifts through the air and lands on the floor. This is a beautiful way to foreshadow the appearance of the final boss: Sephiroth, a war hero with a single black wing. Unfortunately, the rest of the game’s hints aren’t so subtle.
Sephiroth frequently appears before the final clash, blunting his mysterious aura and tarnishing his shock value. This is not a suggestion that FF7 Remake is a bad game. In fact, it’s my favorite game right now. But there are three problems with the Sephiroth foreshadowing: It’s too obscure, too direct, and too frequent.
Give the Player Background
We learn that Sephiroth was supposed to be dead in Chapter 2 when Cloud mutters it during one of his visions. We don’t learn that Sephiroth was a war hero until the middle of the game in Chapter 8. By then, the villain has already been foreshadowed six times.
The writers should have emphasized that Sephiroth was a god-like warrior earlier than Chapter 8. This would make his threats feel more dangerous to the player. It would also provide enough background about his identity to keep the player from getting frustrated that a white-haired man keeps appearing without explanation.
The writers had a fantastic chance to insert this background information in Chapter 2. The player successfully destroys a Mako reactor causing extreme damage to the city around it. The people on the train and in the streets are grieving about the loss. A cutscene could easily have a distraught citizen say, “We need a hero like Sephiroth…”
Instead, the Sephiroth appearances get annoying when we see him for the sixth time and still have no idea who he is.
Following the smooth sequence with the black feather in Chapter 1, the game’s Sephiroth foreshadowing becomes more direct. Only a few hours into the game, he’s literally in your face:
For context, Cloud is wandering through the destruction of the city described above, and a fire triggers a flashback of his hometown burning. Then, outside the flashback, Sephiroth appears before Cloud. We learn Sephiroth was responsible for burning down Cloud’s home and killing his mother. He vanishes, leaving Cloud mysterious instructions to “run away.”
There’s more downside than positive from the information learned in this scene. The fact that Sephiroth is so direct about being the bad guy makes it harder to see him as a realistic character. “Hello, I killed your mother,” is a lot less believable a personality than “I found out I was an experiment, adopted this philosophy, and it motivated me to destroy a town, which included killing your mother.”
Still, that’s a lot of lore to dump on the player at once. Characters like Sephiroth are ideally suited to a slow build up, where the player learns about him piece by piece.
I would reduce this entire scene to two things: (1) The cutscene of Cloud’s hometown burning and (2) Sephiroth’s voice-over shortened to, “Can you bare to see the planet suffer?”
Later in Chapter 2, Sephiroth freezes time and stands next to Aerith. You can see the scene at 14:40 here:
I would cut this scene because having Sephiroth appear once per chapter is enough early in the game. More importantly, the ghosts flying around Aerith are their own mystery, and it’s bit overwhelming for the player to be bombarded with several mysteries at once.
In Chapter 3, Cloud wakes up to strange noises next to his apartment. He knocks on the neighbor’s door, gets no response, opens the door, and finds… Sephiroth.
I would keep this scene. Sephiroth doesn’t speak at all, and the fact that Cloud gets so worked up, almost killing a guy that’s hasn’t said anything, is a great way to leave mystery in the player’s mind.
You can see the scene around minute five here:
It’s difficult to explain why Cloud’s apartment neighbor is wearing a black hood, has a number tattoo, and mutters “Reunion.” In fact, the game might benefit if Tifa gave a surface-level explanation of the black robe “cultists” then and there. It would keep players from juggling too many mysteries at once — they were already wondering about Cloud’s past, Sephiroth, and the Whispers.
Regardless of the robed man, our edited build up toward the main villain is smooth. In Chapter 1, we saw a black feather. In Chapter 2, we heard a mysterious voice. In Chapter 3, we see a mysterious figure that Cloud’s violently afraid of. It’s left to the player to connect the three later on and that’s more satisfying.
The last scene I’d scale back is when we see Sephiroth leaving Hojo’s lab with Jenova’s body:
Rather than directly showing the player that Sephiroth has some plan for the body, the writers could have simply shown the body was missing from its tank. It’s more dramatic for the player to independently realize that Sephiroth stole Jenova’s body.
Sephiroth shows up so often toward the end of the game that he starts to lose his mysterious glow and feel more like a regular villain. Here are a few scenes that can be cut from Chapter 16 and 17.
Sephiroth Appearing in Shinra Propaganda Film
The idea that Sephiroth somehow hacked a film projector to show clips of him killing Cloud’s friends and destroying Midgar isn’t very practical. There’s no indication that Sephiroth is skilled with technology. There’s no reason why a villain would show you footage of his long-term evil plan when it’s far from completion. And there’s no other character (we know of so far) who could have made the film.
Beside the fact that the film’s existence is highly questionable, Sephiroth appears frequently enough in the late chapters that the video doesn’t add much beside letting us know the villain plans to destroy civilization with a giant meteor. The player just learned about the Ancients and is also dealing with saving Aerith, the Whispers, the mysterious voice of Zack, and Cloud’s confused past. Adding a giant meteor to the mix makes things even more overwhelming. Cut it!
Sephiroth Walks Passed Palmer
Seeing Sephiroth walk around the building before his encounter with Cloud makes it less astonishing when the player comes face-to-face with him. I do enjoy seeing Palmer talk about tea, but it’s not worth sacrificing Sephiroth’s shock value.
The Feather Before the Elevator
Cloud sees a feather drop before the elevator in Hojo’s lab closes its doors. A minute later, he finds Sephiroth standing before Jenova. The feather might be good foreshadowing in isolation, but under these circumstances, it ruins the surprise of encountering Sephiroth seconds later.
In an interview, FF7 Remake producer Yoshinori Kitase said,
There are two main reasons. Firstly, the way we handled Sephiroth in the original Final Fantasy VII was to hide him — hold him back.
You may not know this, but I was inspired by the movie Jaws which took a similar approach of teasing this powerful presence, but never fully showing you the shark until later in the story. We wanted to build him up as this really big, powerful character in people’s minds. By only referring to him indirectly, it created this feeling of fear and oppression–so when he makes his first appearance, it’s a big deal.
But for the remake, that doesn’t work so well–partly because everybody knows who Sephiroth is (laughs)! We didn’t think it would be as effective to have him held back until later on in the story.
Secondly, Sephiroth is this massively overarching presence that looms over the whole Final Fantasy VII saga. We wanted to make sure that aspect of him was present in this first game in the project — that’s why we have introduced him much earlier in the story now. (Source)
Sorry for the long quote, but I think it’s better to have full context about where the producers were coming from.
To address his first point, even if most players already know who Sephiroth is, giving him the “Jaws” treatment doesn’t stop being good storytelling. I was more excited when I saw that black feather at the beginning of the game because I knew what it represented.
To address the second point, with the foreshadowing edits in this article, Sephiroth keeps his slowly-building “feeling of fear and oppression” and can still be the final boss of Final Fantasy VII Remake’s first episode.
The producers did a fantastic job with the game, and I can’t wait for the second episode. If we spend the rest of the series chasing Sephiroth, I hope we rarely make direct contact. We shouldn’t need to see him because with good foreshadowing, we’ll feel him.