FF7‘s Sephiroth has been depicted in multiple Final Fantasy side stories, films, and spin-off titles, as well as the Kingdom Hearts series. Sephiroth is an iconic character, but not the most interesting villain to emerge from the Final Fantasy franchise. FF7 was a leap forward in presentation at the time of its release, and its cinematic approach to storytelling reinvigorated the RPG genre. This has made Sephiroth one of the series’ most well-known antagonists, but other Final Fantasy games have featured even more compelling and interesting villains.
Though Sephiroth made for an intimidating rival for Cloud, his backstory leaves him largely ignorant of his own origins and acting on a mistaken premise. Sephiroth grows up having been told that his mother is Jenova, whom he believes to be one of the Cetra people, an ancient race that held an innate connection with the planet. Sephiroth lashes out against humanity for their betrayal of the Cetra, unaware that Jenova was not one of them, but an alien invader that was responsible for the destruction of the Cetra race. When he sees the monstrous results of other attempts to fuse humans and Jenova cells, he becomes unhinged. After that, he follows the voice of his “Mother,” acting as a pawn following the will of a destructive extra-terrestrial entity, rather than enacting his own plans and agenda.
The theme of alien invaders juxtaposed with fantasy elements is a reoccurring motif in Final Fantasy titles. Zemus, the main antagonist of Final Fantasy 4, was one of the Lunarian race, the people of the moon. As a powerful psychic, Zemus viewed humanity as inferior and wished to eradicate all humankind. Zemus acted against the wishes of the other Lunarians, manipulating Golbez into helping his plan to end all human life. After Zemus was killed by the magic of Meteor, his will and hatred were so powerful that they lived on after the death of his body as Zeromus. Zemus was an alien threat, like Jenova, whose powerful will to destroy defied death itself. Sephiroth’s role as a pawn for an alien intelligence showed far less agency than Zemus, who acted on his own hatred, against the will of his people, and even beyond death.
Kuja from Final Fantasy 9 was another otherworldly threat, though he was created as an experimental weapon, much like Sephiroth. Kuja took the reigns of destiny, however, rather than being manipulated. Garland, the ruler of the dead planet Terra, created Kuja as the vanguard to foment chaos on Gaia, paving the way for the assimilation of the planet, and replacing Gaian souls with Terran souls. Kuja was meant to be a temporary measure before Zidane ascended as the perfect Angel of Death for the Terrans. Kuja learned of his intended role in Garland’s schemes, as well as his own mortality. Kuja rebelled against death itself, destroyed Terra, and killed Garland. He then summoned Deathguise, and later Necron, a manifestation of Kuja’s fear of death that would have destroyed all life to end existential dread for all living beings, once and for all.
Kefka Palazzo, the notorious villain of Final Fantasy 6, initially acts as a pawn for others, much like Sephiroth and Kuja. Kefka was an early Magitek experiment, driven mad by the process. His cruelty was infamous even in the Empire, and despite his unpredictability, Emperor Gestahl relied on Kefka for crucial missions. Kefka was even imprisoned for war crimes committed at Doma. After discovering the world of the Espers and the origin of magic, Kefka betrayed Emperor Gestahl and caused a cataclysm, leading to the latter section of the game in the World of Ruin.
Kefka usurped the power of the Warring Triad, making himself a god and the source of magic. Kefka ruled the devastated world for a time, worshipped by cultists and feared by survivors, as he commanded the Light of Judgment, an unparalleled destructive power. Final Fantasy 6 was among the series’ best, and Kefka is arguably one of the best villains, as he went from an experimental weapon to a living god, decimated the world, and ruled with fear and absolute power, all of his own mad volition.
The Sephiroth in FF7 Remake appears to have more self-awareness than his original incarnation in the PlayStation original and perhaps will transform the character into a more interesting antagonist as the series unfolds. Given the rich history of complex villains in the Final Fantasy series, many of them stand out above Sephiroth as foes who acted on their own drives, instead of existing solely as the pawns of a greater power.