Waifu Wednesday: Aerith Gainsborough

While her castmate Tifa is arguably a more popular character — primarily due to her more obvious “sexiness” — I’ve always been an Aerith man, myself.

At least part of this may be down to the fact that on my first playthrough of Final Fantasy VII on PlayStation I changed her name to that of someone I really fancied at the time, but there was definitely a lot about the character that appealed to me.

And that appeal has successfully transitioned from the questionably translated, text-only dialogue of the original to Final Fantasy VII Remake on PlayStation 4, too. So let’s take a closer look.

A stunning Aerith drawn by Stanley Lau on livestream. Show this gorgeous art some love on Twitter!

Aerith (or Aeris, as she was known in early English localisations) really works as a character because she simultaneously confirms and subverts a lot of expectations you might have in your mind based on your first impressions of her. She’s the first character we see in the original Final Fantasy VII’s introduction sequence, and there’s obviously something “mystical” about her as we see her praying to the Lifestream before wandering out into the busy streets of Midgar.

When Final Fantasy VII protagonist Cloud Strife first encounters her — while he’s on the run after participating in a bit of eco-terrorism — she introduces herself as a slightly pushy flower girl, yet she’s not aggressive with her sales pitch. She’s assertive but clearly also kind and gentle, and it doesn’t take long to determine that she derives a great deal of joy from attempting to toy with the rather stoic Cloud.

An obscenely smug Aerith by Carlos Eduardo. Show this piece some love on Twitter!

It’s a while before you encounter her again in the game; once again after Cloud has participated in a bombing mission for Avalanche. In this instance, Cloud comes crashing through the roof of a disused church in the Midgar slums after an escape plan goes somewhat awry; Aerith happens to be there tending a bed of flowers and is a little surprised by the sudden visit.

Once again, her seemingly gentle nature is played up as she explains how she enjoys caring for the flower bed, and that mystical side comes up again as she reveals that the church is one of the few places in the otherwise rather barren Midgar undercity where greenery grows. But this is quickly followed by proof that she’s able to spring into action when necessary as Shinra’s Turks attempt to track her down; she and Cloud successfully make an escape over the rooftops to leave her pursuers behind.

A beautiful Aerith by Sheiyue. Find the original on Pixiv.

This latter sequence is somewhat fleshed out in Final Fantasy VII Remake, and it really helps with Aerith’s characterisation. At this point, those encountering Aerith for the first time will doubtless feel concerned for her and want to protect her; she plays with this expectation by faking losing her balance while crossing a narrow beam, and outright states to Cloud at one point that she’s “not a princess that needs rescuing”. As if to emphasise this point, she follows this up almost immediately with a muttered “shit!” as the rusty ladder she’s trying to climb up comes loose. This is the one and only time she swears in the entire game.

As Aerith grows more comfortable with Cloud, she becomes considerably more flirtatious and cheeky with him, and this is probably her most likeable aspect. She never crosses a line into becoming outright annoying, but you can tell she’s getting great joy from attempting to elicit a reaction from him. Cloud, meanwhile, does his best to try and remain cool and calm because he very much has an image to maintain — for reasons that, of course, become very apparent much later in the original game’s narrative — but you can practically feel him straining at times. The new “high five” sequence that unfolds over the course of Final Fantasy VII Remake is a particularly good example — as well as proof of him gradually softening over time.

Aerith scrubbing up nicely, courtesy of Nemoto Yuuma. Find the original on Pixiv.

These light-hearted opening hours of your relationship with Aerith are what make the drama that comes later with her all the more effective. Her mother Elmyra’s story of her background is a genuine tearjerker in both the original game and Final Fantasy VII Remake, and the sight of her remaining absolutely resolute in the face of the odious Hojo before breaking down completely when she’s all by herself is absolutely heartbreaking.

And then, of course, there’s that moment. For the benefit of those out there coming to Final Fantasy VII for the first time with the Remake — I’m sure these people exist! — I’ll refrain from mentioning anything more on the off-chance that you’ve somehow missed one of gaming’s most notorious “spoiler” moments over the course of the last 23 years. Suffice to say, everything that leads up to that moment makes it all the more impactful when it does happen.

A very “moe” Aerith by Hong-BsWs. Show it some appreciation over on DeviantArt.

A lot of the emotional attachment to Aerith is a result of her music, of course. Her theme is one of Nobuo Uematsu’s most memorable, enduring, engaging works, and it’s heard in several different forms over the course of both the original Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VII Remake. In the original, there’s a more commonly heard gentle mix that plays up the ethereal, mystical, gentle side of her personality, and a more orchestral version that tends to signify more emotional moments. For those of less than stoic emotional constitutions, just those opening piano notes can be enough to bring a tear to the eye.

Don’t get me wrong, Final Fantasy VII’s other leading ladies all have their own respective appeal elements. But for me personally, there’s always been something incredibly, particularly special about Aerith. She was one of many aspects of the original Final Fantasy VII which made me feel like I was truly playing something special — something that stirred the emotions like no game I had ever played prior to that point — and will always be a part of me.

A stunning Aerith in her natural habitat by tdsuke. Find the original on Pixiv.

I’m delighted with how well they realised her in Final Fantasy VII Remake, and incredibly happy I’ve had the opportunity to reunite with her like this after nearly a quarter of a century.


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2 thoughts on “Waifu Wednesday: Aerith Gainsborough”

  1. Yeah, she was great — I love that smug-looking Aerith art too. I haven’t played Remake, so I don’t know how it measures up in terms of story and characters, but I’ve heard good things here and elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

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