Aerith from Kingdom Hearts II
Aerith Gainsborough is a female protagonist in SquareSoft's (now Square Enix's) role-playing game Final Fantasy VII. In Final Fantasy VII, Aerith is a 22-year-old woman who joins AVALANCHE. As the story progresses, AVALANCHE pursues the antagonist Sephiroth (and by proxy, JENOVA); along the way, the player learns that Aerith is a Cetra, or "Ancient", the first ever race to live on the planet. She was designed by Tetsuya Nomura with influence from Yoshinori Kitase, Hironobu Sakaguchi and Yoshitaka Amano. Aerith has also appeared in the later-released Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, and in the Kingdom Hearts series.
Her voice actors are Maaya Sakamoto in the Japanese versions of the Kingdom Hearts series and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, singer and actress Mandy Moore in the English version of Kingdom Hearts, and actress Mena Suvari in the English versions of Kingdom Hearts II and Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. Aerith and the events surrounding her in Final Fantasy VII have met with an overall positive reception from critics and fans.
Creation and Influence
Aerith was designed by Tetsuya Nomura with influence from Yoshinori Kitase and Hironobu Sakaguchi. Yoshitaka Amano created conceptual artwork of Aerith for Final Fantasy VII, which also helped to influence her design. She has green eyes and long brown hair tied in a braid with pink ribbons. She wears a long pink dress, a bolero jacket, and brown hiking boots. The long dress was designed to appear ladylike and as a contrast to Tifa Lockhart's miniskirt. Her green eyes were meant to symbolize nature and also served as another contrast to Tifa's brown ones. Nomura re-designed Aerith similarly for Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, but her design was updated in Kingdom Hearts with the removal of her bolero jacket, which reflected Amano's original designs. Other changes included the addition of bracelets and a belt. Nomura modified her dress in Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII to add white and green colors, and that version was used as a base for her design in Kingdom Hearts II.
In early planning stages of Final Fantasy VII, Aerith was to be one of only three protagonists. Before this, Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura decided that one character would have to die, and after creating the three characters, decided on Aerith after a long debate. Nomura stated in a 2005 EGM interview: "Cloud's the main character, so you can't really kill him. And Barrett... [sic] well, that's maybe too obvious". This was not changed after other protagonists were created. While designing Final Fantasy VII, Tetsuya Nomura was frustrated with the "perennial dramatic cliché" where the protagonist must dramatically sacrifice herself to express her love for someone. He found that this appeared in both films and video games from North America and Japan. "Is it right to set such an example to people?" Director and scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase concludes:
|“||In the real world things are very different. You just need to look around you. Nobody wants to die that way. People die of disease and accident. Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad. It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. 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.' 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 Hollywood.||„|
|~ Yoshinori Kitase, Edge Magazine, May 2003|
While reflecting on the game, Tetsuya Nomura claims that "Death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aerith's death seemed more natural and realistic," and "When I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn't an effective character." Rumors have circulated that Aerith can be resurrected in Final Fantasy VII or that the possibility was removed in development. "The world was expecting us to bring her back to life, as this is the classic convention". A lengthy petition asking for Aerith's revival by Japanese players was sent to scenario writer Yoshinori Kitase. However, Kitase states that "there are many meanings in Aerith's death and that could never happen".
Final Fantasy VII
Aerith Gainsborough is introduced as a flower girl, when she collides with Cloud Strife, a mercenary who is fleeing from the bombing of a Mako reactor by himself and AVALANCHE. The two later meet in Aerith' church in the Sector 5 slums, where she is faced with the possibility of being captured by the Turks. Aerith asks Cloud to be her bodyguard for the cost of one date. She is eventually apprehended, but once again rescued by Cloud and company. Aerith then joins them in the pursuit of Sephiroth, while simultaneously embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
After a failed attempt to foil Sephiroth's theft of the Black Materia, Aerith ventures alone into the Forgotten City for an unknown purpose. Cloud and his companions give chase, eventually finding her praying at an altar. As Aerith looks up to smile at Cloud, Sephiroth appears and kills her with a single thrust of his sword. The materia given to her by her mother, which she wore in her hair, falls from the altar into the water. After fighting an incarnation of JENOVA, Cloud carries Aerith's body out into a lake in the Forgotten City, and releases her back to the Planet. Her death enrages Cloud, who vows to defeat Sephiroth.
The party later learns the reason for Aerith being in the Forgotten City; through her White Materia, Aerith was able to summon Holy, the only force capable of repelling the ultimate destructive magic, Meteor. Though Aerith successfully casts Holy before her death, it is released too late to function as effectively as it should, for Meteor—already summoned by Sephiroth and set on a collision course with the Planet—has come too near the Planet's surface. While Holy clashes with Meteor, attempting to prevent its impact, the gravity of both Meteor and the Planet pulling on the spell in opposite directions weakens it, leaving it with too little room to take effect. The Planet's Lifestream then flows forth from within the planet, acting as a battering ram to push Meteor back, giving Holy enough room to properly destroy it. This scene is followed by a vision of Aerith within the Lifestream's energy, an indication of her final efforts to save the planet, as are detailed in Hoshi wo Meguru Otome.
Related Final Fantasy VII Appearances
Aerith makes several appearances in the CGI film Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, as Cloud's spiritual guide, urging him to move on in life and to forgive himself for the tragedies that were beyond his control, and that she never blamed him for her death. During their spiritual reunion, Aerith speaks to Cloud in an open meadow laden with flowers, cheerfully and kindheartedly poking fun at how he needlessly burdens himself with the past, but acknowledging his suffering and offering kind words of support.
One of Aerith's interactions with Cloud comes when each member of the original game's party helps in Cloud's final attack against Bahamut SIN. She appears as the last of the party members to lend a helping hand. She also appears in the final scene of the movie, along with Zack, where she gives Cloud more words of encouragement, before she and Zack turn and walk into the light. Near the end of the film, it is discovered that water mixed with the Lifestream flows beneath the flowerbed in Aerith's church. It is here that a cure for Geostigma is discovered. The film's developers also acknowledge that the water is a symbolic representation of Great Gospel, Aerith's final Limit Break from the original game.
Hoshi wo Meguru Otome, a novelization written by Benny Matsuyama and appearing in the Final Fantasy VII Ultimania Ω Guide, follows Aerith immediately after her death in Final Fantasy VII. The story reveals that a Cetra's strength of will and understanding of the planet allow their consciousness to exist within the Lifestream. Aerith journeys through the Lifestream, encountering characters that died in Final Fantasy VII. The story confirms that in Final Fantasy VII she used the Lifestream to aid Holy in defeating Meteor, also revealing that the deceased Dyne, Zack and members of AVALANCHE assisted her as well. Through this story it is also revealed that Aerith truly loved Cloud, and watches him from afar.
In Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII, several years before the main events of Final Fantasy VII, Aerith becomes the target of AVALANCHE, who seek to prevent the Shinra Corporation from being able to make use of the last Cetra. They also intend to learn the whereabouts of the Promised Land from her for their own purposes. It is then up to a member of the Turks to protect her. Aerith also appears in Final Fantasy VII: Crisis Core. At the age of 17, Aerith met Zack, for whom she developed feelings during his stay in Midgar. For the next five years, Aerith helped her adopted mother earn a living by growing and selling flowers, a job that results in her meeting Cloud in the beginning of Final Fantasy VII.
Aerith's character has also appeared in games outside of the Final Fantasy VII continuity. In Final Fantasy Tactics, Aerith appears as a flower girl. Later, a group of criminals harasses Aerith for the money that she and her mother owe, but after pleading for a postponement, Aerith is told to sell her body instead of flowers. Cloud appears and the player engages in battle with the group, letting Aerith escape. Itadaki Street Special and Itadaki Street Portable feature a playable version of Aerith, as well as other Final Fantasy VII characters Tifa Lockhart, Cloud Strife, Yuffie Kisaragi and Sephiroth.
Due to the allowances provided by Kingdom Hearts being an alternate universe independent of the continuity of Final Fantasy and Disney, Aers makes an appearance in the series. She is a member of a group dedicated to defeating the Heartless; the group also includes other Final Fantasy VII characters. The design of Aerith's attire had minor changes from Final Fantasy VII. In the plot of Kingdom Hearts, Aerith suggests and helps with a method for defeating the Heartless to protagonists Donald Duck, Goofy and Sora. Throughout the game she gives advice to the player. In the game's credits, she is shown reuniting with Cloud Strife at the library of Hollow Bastion. She also appears in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories as a perceptive figment of Sora's memories. Aerith returns in Kingdom Hearts II wearing a modified version of her dress in Before Crisis: Final Fantasy VII. Aerith, Leon, and Yuffie run a restoration committee for the town of Hollow Bastion.
Aerith has received an overall positive reception. GamesTM referred to her as a "gaming legend". WomenGamers.com stated that "you can't help but like her" and that she has a "very detailed persona and is fundamentally complex in nature." They criticized that she was "a little bit of a damsel in distress" and that she seems "a bit too naive for her role". On the other hand, RPGamer stated that although Aerith "represented the token damsel in distress", she "broke the mould in terms of personality", possessing "an admirable pluck that was not brassy nor off-putting". Aerith has also been included in most of GameFAQs's "Character Battle" contests, though she progressed only a few rounds each time. In February 2007, she was listed in Tom's Games list of "Top 50 Greatest Female Characters in Video Game History", citing her death scene and the beauty of her appearance and personality. In late 2007, Aerith was named 5th best character of all time in Dengeki PlayStation's retrospective awards feature about the original PlayStation.
Her death in Final Fantasy VII has received a great deal of attention. Players commented on message boards and blogs about the emotional impact the scene held. Fans also submitted a petition to Yoshinori Kitase requesting her return. GameSpy numbers her demise as the 10th greatest cinematic moments in video game history out of a list of 25. Their readers voted it the second most cinematic moment in video games. GamePro considers her death sequence to be the greatest of all gaming moments, being number 1 out of 55. Tom's Games called the scene "one of the most powerful and memorable scenes of the Final Fantasy series - or any other game, for that matter." Edge magazine called her death the "dramatic highpoint of FFVII". They also commented that reintroducing her through the related Final Fantasy VII titles "arguably undermines this great moment". In 2005, Electronic Gaming Monthly listed Final Fantasy VII number six in their list of "10 Most Important Games", citing that without it, "Aerith wouldn't have died, and gamers wouldn’t have learned how to cry." GamesTM commented that her death helped establish the popularity of Final Fantasy VII.