Riddle of the Promised Land
By Peter J. Marcroft
Disclaimer: - I own only the theory of this game, I in no way own the actual game and do not make any claims that I do. This essay was wrote as a purely philosophical take on the Squaresoft produced game in question.
Quite possibly one of the most intriguing aspects of the videogame Final Fantasy VII that was produced by Squaresoft, is exactly where is the Promised Land? In the game numerous theories are provided, yet none are actually answered, or so we believe. This essay aims to try and provide a possible solution to the riddle of the Promised Land and ultimately where it lies. Be warned all new gamers that this essay may draw upon numerous plot spoilers taken from the game and only those who have finished this classic should carry on reading.
The Promised Land, three short words that carry the gamer away on a journey towards happiness that is never provided. Indeed, the location of this legendary place is never actually revealed in the game. No conclusive theory has been crafted and no concrete evidence has been told to us. Instead we are forced to try and seek out the answer for ourselves, drawing on the world of Final Fantasy VII and what the game says to the player. No theory can ever be conclusive but surely there are some places that can be credibly pointed to as locations of the Promised Land? In the first segment I aim to examine the most solid theory of the Promised Land, proposed to us by the game's villain, Sephiroth. At the end of Disc 1 the gamer sees the tragic death of the character Aeris and one of the many aftermath quotes Sephiroth makes is that "All that is left for me to do is venture to the Promised Land beyond these snowfields " So in the mind of Sephiroth the Promised Land is located through the snowfields in what we call 'The North Crater.' The idea of this being a promised land is quite possible, the area certainly has great amount of the spirit energy that is contained within the Lifestream. Not only this but the Planet's very own WEAPONS are also to be found within this place, so the link to the Cetra's journey and power of the planet is profound and plausible. However it is unfortunately an area objective observers must disregard. The main reason being that this crater is actually a wound to the planet that threatens its very existence through the constant use of Spirit energy to try and heal a non-curable wound. Crucially in the videos within Icicle village the gamer also finds out that this site was where an alien entity crashed to earth and started to corrupt the land, commonly argued as being Jenova. To Sephiroth the crater is the perfect Promised Land as it is an instrument of destruction and power leeching. It is the site where he attempts to implement the plan to become a god and so to him it is a land of power and promise, but to the actual world and the people of it the place is nothing more than a scar and a symbol of destruction.
If the crater is not the location of the Promised Land then what other alternatives are there? I aim to now move on and examine the possibility that the Promised Land is in a more obscure location. Namely the isle that contains 'The temple of the ancients'. There are numerous reasons to believe that this theory is the correct one. Firstly there is a concentration of Ancient spirits, which suggests that this was where they ended their journey. Not only this, but there is still a ghost of influence from the ancients with the presence of the guardians of the temple. Crucially it has an abundance of images of life on Earth and of course possible disasters that could befall it, which suggests that the ancients had set up residence within this Promised Land and had planned to preserve it at all costs, indeed the fight against the original crisis proved to be the end for the Cetra. However this temple is also the location of the black materia, which Sephiroth refers to as "The ultimate destructive magic." Aeris confirms this grim apocalyptic viewpoint with her description of its powers when she says, "It finds small drifting planets with its magic. And then collides with them. This Planet might get wiped out entirely..." If this temple really was the Promised Land why then would the Cetra house within it the seeds of its own destruction? It is possible to argue that it was a desire to prevent the disasters prophesised within the murals on the temple walls, indeed when Aeris communes with the spirits while stood near the model of the temple she stresses how the puzzle could only be solved inside the building, meaning that no person could solve the puzzles and then steal the materia. But the fact the materia was contained rather than destroyed shows that it is difficult to conclude that this was the utopian Promised Land everyone perceived.
So far then I have failed to find a location that strikes me as the place that the Cetra would have called the Promised Land. I am now going to examine a location that is a very surprising choice as a potential example, namely the metropolis, Midgar. Many veterans of the game would instantly dismiss this location as a potential location of the Promised Land, but a deeper analysis shows that maybe, just maybe, this polluted city is the Promised Land. The first thing to examine is how the city affects the character Aeris. Aeris manages to pull off a pair of miracles that are related to flowers, as the game says flowers are practically impossible to grow in Midgar. Yet Aeris first of all is able to grow them in the ruins of a church, but crucially they sprout like a natural field right next to her location. It seems then that the city does have an effect on her talents, is it possible the faint spirits of the ancients is attracted to her powers and crucially responds to them? As well as Aeris we can also link Midgar to the Promised Land through the analogy offered to us President Shinra. Before he dies the President mentions how the Promised Land will be an abundant source of Mako energy and will be the place where his corporation can construct Neo-Midgar. Take a look at the power of Midgar, eight Mako reactors are found here, near enough twice the amount of reactors found throughout the rest of the world! The final clue to this being the possible Promised Land links to the epilogue ending '500 years later.' Here we see Red XIII and a pair of cubs jumping atop numerous cliff faces before the image centres on a new form of Midgar. The structure is still a two-tiered monstrosity, but it is now buried beneath lush trees, animal activity and rivers. Is it possible that after the Meteor hit humanity saw the folly of their actions and abided by a new lifestyle that did not rely on Mako energy? If this is so then perhaps the drained potential of the Promised Land was finally allowed to flourish into the Utopian world foretold to us? Suffice to say this theory is an interesting one, and the idea of the Shinra having the Promised Land beneath their noses but failing to find it adds some satisfaction to the player that the Shinra were being led around by the nose, by not only the player's team but also their own arrogance. However there are flaws in the theory. First of all why is it that Midgar is the first target for Meteor? Well of course it is possible to say that Meteor's best strategy would be to target the greatest source of life on the planet and the Promised Land would certainly fit such a description. But still with such balance potential within it surely there would have been some safeguard for the Promised Land? Especially since it has remained an unsolved riddle for countless years. Also we have Aeris's speech in the prison cells of the Shinra tower, 'Not very well, it's all noisy and I can't make out what it is saying, my mother said I should get out of Midgar that is my real mother " Did Aeris's mother, Ifalana, know then that Midgar was not the Promised Land and that the destiny of both Aeris and the Ancients lay elsewhere? The final problem with this theory is that there is next to no knowledge of the ancients and certainly no artefacts as mementoes of their legacy. Besides some files that lay in the Floor 62 library the Midgar people knew very little about the race and as such I believe the answer to the Promised Land's location lies outside of Midgar.
Again then, we find ourselves in the same situation, locations that seem likely fail to provide all the answers. Let me now look at one of the most obvious locations that could be considered the Promised Land, namely, The Forgotten Capital. This location is one of the very few in the game that excites me as a possible answer to this riddle. Let us look at the facts of the Promised Land and ultimately the quest for it. Sephiroth in the 'Cloud's Past' sequence reveals how the Cetra undertook an arduous journey to find the Promised Land and ultimate happiness. Well the first major characteristic of this location is that it was undoubtedly the most prominent place that the Ancients resided within. Aeris felt the pull of the planet here at its strongest and indeed this is the scene of her sacrifice. Secondly the location is forgotten and crucially hidden, the Promised Land was meant to be the symbol of ultimate happiness and balance of nature. By being hidden behind 'The Sleeping Forest' the capital remained free of corruption. We only have to examine the very constructions to see how natural and balanced the place is. Huge shells that had minor holes bored into them and comforting artefacts lay in place, here there was no attempt to suck energy from the planet or pollute the air. Not only is there a natural equilibrium within the Capital there is also the fact that this location was where the planet's ultimate survival weapon, Holy, was summoned forth Natural balance, peace and planetary survival were are the key factors that give rise to this location being the potential solution to the riddle. While this is not a completely concrete set of proof of where the Promised Land lies it does seem the most logical. It was close to where the original disaster befell upon earth and as such it would be prudent to say the Cetra sacrificed themselves and knowledge of the Promised Land to save the very life of the Planet. It was natural rather than Mako driven, therefore meaning that nature's corruption did not happen. Finally it is the real legacy of the Ancients, with many mirrors emanating voices that only Ancients understand, which leads me also to believe that before her death Aeris's quest would probably have been to eradicate the evil of Sephiroth and maybe lead the people to the Promised Land, as the Cetra tried two thousand years before her. As convincing as my own opinion is however we cannot be led to believe that it is the totally correct answer, after all if this was the fabled Promised Land then why is it that a set of people reside within the Icicle Village near to the Great Glacier? While we can point to the barricade that is the Sleeping forest as a way of barring access to the citizens of the southern continents we cannot use such an analogy for these people as they reside to the North. Of course there was a difficult set of cliffs to traverse in order to reach the city so maybe that is why no one ever made it through the this citadel? After all Cloud and company do not make the trek over the Coral Valley until at least 2000 years after the Cetra had all but died out, who is to say that the path was never accessible until thousands of years later when the rocks could have realistically been worn through by rainfall? Suffice to say this location does seem the most likely however as with every other location so far mentioned I doubt we will ever know for sure.
So far then I have only been dealing with the physical realms in the world of Final Fantasy VII. I am going to move onto the final part of this essay now and consider a final side to this Promised Land debate by considering the abstract and metaphysical locations within Final Fantasy VII. Let me start with the lifestream. This is an exciting answer to the riddle as it does match all the possibilities of where the Promised Land lies. Firstly as I have stated before, the Promised Land is referred to by many as a place of ultimate happiness. The lifestream, as stated by Bugenhagen in his lectures on planetary life is where the spirits of the dead return to the planet. Chances are that after a lifetime of enduring pain and struggling to find happiness the spirit of the dead flies into the lifestream and joins it. Here there is not likely to be any unhappiness as the spirits are all free of the constraints of life. Not only this we also have the fact that the Cetra constantly moved around the world in search for the Promised Land. While they physically came to a halt in the region of Knowlespole where the Forgotten Capital lies they spiritually would have come to a rest within the Lifestream. Indeed Sephiroth says in the game that he became superior to the ancients by travelling the lifestream and gaining all the forgotten knowledge of the world, as such is it not feasible to consider this place as the Promised Land? We have the ancient spirits, we have the forgotten knowledge and we have the spirit energy. But is this enough to conclusively say that this is the Promised Land? I do not believe it is, after all the fact that you had to die to reach the Promised Land makes it seem like a futile cause to believe in. The main problem I have with this idea is that it makes the Promised Land seem like a divine afterlife where devotees of religion will travel for their eternal reward. While the game does have the undertone of faith and gods I am not sure as to whether we should append one of the greatest mysteries to it. The fact that Aeris states, "You wander until you feel it and you just know, this is the Promised Land." Makes the fable seem all too physical for words, while a nice theory that owes a lot to traditional religion, I doubt it is the answer that we are looking for.
There are still some other locations that could possibly be called the Promised Land. One such possibility can never be reached in the game by the player, in fact we do not even see it for very long. I am talking about what I can only describe as the yellow sphere that appears in the game when Cloud's spirit traverses towards the location of the final one on one battle with Sephiroth. This is a possibility because according to the game's script the Cetra were a nomadic race. A common argument that I have encountered is that the Cetra had the ability to travel in space at some point during their journey towards the Promised Land. This theory was generated by the way that the game used an unusual word to categorise the Cetra. If this theory is true then perhaps the yellow sphere is some form of planet that exists outside of the FFVII world and is the Promised Land? While a fanciful theory I like the romantic nature of it and the way that the Promised Land is situated far from a place of potential corruption. The only difficulty I foresee with this theory is exactly how did the Cetra cross space? In the game the only references to space travel include the incident involving the huge materia and Shinra no26. The failed space project YA-79 and the tapes of Ifalana explaining how Jenova came to crash into the Northern Crater. On the whole I would not be one to advocate this theory due to the lack of real evidence in its favour, though I would not openly demand for it to be disregarded as there is no real evidence against it.
In conclusion then we must be open-minded about the location of the Promised Land, while this essay has attempted to consider numerous possibilities, whether they are obvious ones such as the northern crater or more obscure ones such as Midgar, I cannot say that I have reached a definitive answer. While the forgotten capital does seem the most likely location it does not mean that it is the Promised Land. Squaresoft are renowned for this game being the one Final Fantasy that failed to tie up absolutely everything from the plot and thus left it open to intellectual and philosophical debate. This location of the Promised Land essay is but one of the many discussions of the game that are currently being undertaken. I conclude that the 'Forgotten Capital' is the most likely position for a utopian Promised Land to be formed, but thanks to the in-game differences of opinion about what to expect from the Promised Land, we will never know for sure, only the gamer can decide their own beliefs, I have mine and no doubt that you have yours. Squaresoft's refusal to tie things up makes this game so fascinating and original yet also very annoying to study, in a similar way to the University lecturers with Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's tale, we are forced to analyse the game and generate theories on it while only having mere fragments of the whole solution within our grasp. One thing is certain, Squaresoft have made a game that has stayed in the minds of its audience for six years and with the constant message board demand for philosophical and intellectual debate I doubt we will see such a game forgotten. On the whole the location of the Promised Land is lost on us as a place in the game that we can point to. Instead we are forced into making up our own minds and identifying our own beliefs.
Created 28th August 2003, by Peter J Marcroft, England. All rights reserved, theory sole property of Peter J Marcroft. Any use of this essay without permission or referencing prohibited.
IcyBrian's Fanfic Resource -- Final Fantasy 7
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