“FF7 is not just a visual enhancement, we’re also going to go back and see what needs to be improved in changing the game”
In the early plans for the Final Fantasy VII story, Cetra were different from what they ended up in the final version. Final Fantasy VII Ultimania Omega reveals that in the early story drafts Cetra, or Ancients, were an extinct race, who were said to have written a book detailing the unknown workings of the human brain—and the race who created Materia.
According to legends, Ancients could use magic without Materia, and had an advanced magical civilization. It was believed that the race of regular people also existed at that time, and that there were wide-ranging exchanges between them, or that the non-magical people were made into slaves.
The Cetra served as the Planet’s caretakers until their race was nearly reduced to extinction by an extraterrestrial shape-shifting entity. The alien arrived on the Planet some 2,000 years before the events of Final Fantasy VII, crash-landing on the northern continent within a meteorite.
Once the alien emerged from the impact site and approached the Cetra settlements, it gleaned their memories and emotions and adopted the forms of their dead relatives to get close to them. The alien released a virus upon the Cetra (in actuality, its own cellular material), a substance that drove the Cetra mad and transformed them into monsters.
A small band of unchanged Cetra mounted a final assault on the being they referred to as “the Calamity from the Sky,” sealing its body at the alien’s point of arrival, the North Crater. Two thousand years later the alien would be excavated by Shinra Electric Power Company scientist Professor Gast Faremis, and be mistakenly identified as a Cetra and would be named Jenova.
Thirty years before Final Fantasy VII, Shinra located the frozen remains of the alien creature that nearly wiped out the Cetra inside the North Crater. Professor Gast Faremis mistakenly identified the alien as a Cetra, and named it Jenova.
Two branches of the Jenova Project were created, led by Gast’s colleagues Professor Hojo and Dr. Hollander. Hojo led Project S, while Hollander led Project G and the two branches competed to produce a superior specimen first. Sephiroth was the product of Project S. It was carried out in Nibelheim’s Shinra Manor
Jenova is an ancient organism Shinra excavated from a 2,000-year-old structure, and Professor Gast drew the wrongful conclusion that Jenova was a Cetra. Shinra sent Hojo and Lucrecia Crescent to assist him in his research to create the Jenova Project. Gast’s research led Hojo to inject Lucrecia with Jenova cells to make a new race of Cetra through Hojo and Lucrecia’s unborn child. This child was called Sephiroth.
Gast left the project upon discovering Jenova is not a Cetra, and continued his research on the Cetra in his laboratory at Icicle Inn. When departing Shinra he helped a captive Cetra, Ifalna, the true last remaining Cetra, escape. This detail is revealed in Crisis Core Complete Guide. After leaving Shinra the two migrated to Icicle Inn and went into hiding.
Gast records the interviews he conducts on Ifalna, where he learns the truth about Jenova and the Promised Land. He falls in love with Ifalna, and they have a daughter: Aeris. They are tracked down by Shinra, and Hojo kills Gast while capturing the Cetra. Hojo keeps Gast’s true fate a secret from Shinra, and what happened to Gast’s body is unknown.
Lucrecia, once a Shinra scientist, worked as an assistant to Vincent’s father, Grimoire Valentine. They discovered two Weapons developed by the Planet used as part of the Lifestream’s emergency function. Together, Grimoire and Lucrecia discovered the cave where it was thought Chaos would awaken at the appointed time. The newly-discovered Chaos killed Grimoire and Lucrecia’s research was discarded as nonsense.
Lucrecia was appointed to work on the Jenova Project along with Gast Faremis and Professor Hojo and Vincent Valentine, a member of the Department of Administrative Research (which would later be known as the Turks) was assigned to supervise the project. Lucrecia recognized Vincent as Grimoire’s son and was shocked Shinra would assign the son of her deceased mentor to supervise her. As time wore on she began spending time with him when the two were off work, although she concealed having known his father, and the two grew close.
When Vincent found a document pulled up on Lucrecia’s computer telling of her time working with Grimoire he confronted her and she revealed her culpability for his death. Vincent—not seeming to think Lucrecia was responsible as much as she did—attempted to counsel her, but Lucrecia’s feelings of guilt only intensified straining their relationship, and she sought Hojo for comfort.
Lucrecia became romantically involved with Hojo and married him. She became pregnant and agreed to use their unborn child as a test subject for the Jenova Project. Hojo injected both the pregnant Lucrecia and her fetus with Jenova cells, but the cells had an unexpected side effect: Lucrecia would have visions of her son, Sephiroth, and of the future atrocities he would commit.
Aerith was born to Ifalna and Professor Gast Faremis in Icicle Inn on February 7th, 1985, making her half-human and half-Cetra. When she was barely twenty days old Professor Hojo tracked Gast down, killed him, and captured Ifalna and Aerith. The two became subject to numerous experiments at the hands of Hojo and Shinra as they researched the Cetra.
Seven years later, in 1992, Ifalna and Aerith escaped the Shinra Headquarters, but Ifalna was wounded and only made it as far as the train platform in the slums under Sector 7 before collapsing. Elmyra Gainsborough was there to wait for her husband’s return from the Wutai War, and before passing, Ifalna asked her to keep Aerith safe and so Elmyra brought Aerith home with her.
For years Elmyra raised Aerith alone as her adopted daughter in the slums of Sector 5. Shinra relocated her, and Tseng of the Turks, who considered Aerith a friend, attempted to persuade her to join Shinra willingly instead of capturing her, but Aerith refused. At the time, the Wutai War ate up most of Shinra’s resources postponing the Neo Midgar project—the project Shinra primarily wanted Aerith for.
Hojo hypothesized that when Jenova’s cells are separated, they will instinctively attempt to reintegrate, and human hosts carrying Jenova’s cells will be compelled to gather together.
Five years after the destruction of Nibelheim, Sephiroth’s body at the North Crater sends out a call for the Jenova Reunion. The main body of Jenova kept at Shinra Headquarters awakens, escapes, and takes on Sephiroth’s form. It attacks President Shinra, and in the chaos Cloud and the members of AVALANCHE imprisoned in the building are freed. Recognizing Sephiroth’s Masamune near President Shinra’s body, Cloud and AVALANCHE pursue the shapeshifted Jenova across the Planet to settle Cloud’s grudge with him. Unbeknown to them, the reason Cloud is driven to chase Sephiroth is due to the call for the Reunion influencing his thoughts. At this time the other Sephiroth Clones begin to move, some seeking the Black Materia Sephiroth needs for his plans.
Sephiroth intends to use the Black Materia to call the Ultimate Destructive Magic — Meteor — to heavily injure the Planet. By placing himself at the center of its impact zone, Sephiroth intends to merge with the Lifestream as it emerges to heal the Planet’s wound, and become a god.
Cloud acquires the Black Materia, but Sephiroth exerts his influence over Jenova’s cells that reside within Cloud, and takes control of him, forcing him to hand the Materia over. Realizing she may be the only one able to stop Sephiroth, Aeris ventures to the Forgotten Capital to use the White Materia to summon Holy, the only power able to counter Meteor.
While designing Final Fantasy VII Tetsuya Nomura was frustrated with the “perennial cliché where the protagonist loves someone very much and so has to sacrifice himself and die in a dramatic fashion to express that love”. He found this appears in both films and video games from North America and Japan. While reflecting on the game, Tetsuya Nomura comments that “Death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aerith’s death seemed more natural and realistic. 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”
FF7 Engine speculation