The Lifestream. That's what we call the river of life that circles our planet, giving life to the world and everything in it.Marlene, in the prologue to Advent Children
The lifestream (ライフストリーム, Raifusutorīmu?), also known as spirit energy, is an ethereal substance that streams beneath the surface of the planet of Gaia introduced in Final Fantasy VII. When within the planet, it is shown as many separate bands of green-white fluid flowing as a whole. In several places, such as Mt. Nibel and Mideel, mako springs shoot out of the ground, creating a local spectacle.
The concept of lifestream was one of the earliest ideas envisioned for Final Fantasy VII, as it was already in place in Hironobu Sakaguchi's first story draft, which was drastically different from the final story eventually completed mainly by Yoshinori Kitase and Kazushige Nojima. Sakaguchi has noted the game's central theme of "life" dating back to when his mother passed away while he was working on Final Fantasy III (uncertain whether the interview is referring to Final Fantasy III or Final Fantasy VI), after which he always wanted to explore the theme of "life" in a "mathematical and logical way to overcome the mental shock."
The lifestream is an early part of the trend to use a supernatural substance to explain magic and other phenomena in the Final Fantasy series. Other instances include Mist, pyreflies, aether, phantoma, chaos and miasma.
We will all join the lifestream... you are no exception.Genesis Rhapsodos
The lifestream is green or blue effervescent and luminescent liquid substance that exists on the inside of the planet. In liquid form it is mainly stagnant, and forms pools of mako. When active, lifestream appears in waves or threads and can erupt through the ground. Earthquakes may reveal large deposits of pure lifestream. The exact structure of the inside of the planet is unknown, as it appears in places like Cave of the Gi that aside from the lifestream, the planet also holds within itself magma.
In places where the lifestream is close to the surface it may rarely erupt from fountains that become known as mako springs, and coalesce into materia. Areas abundant in this type of energy are known as being especially verdant. Coming into direct contact with pure lifestream is hazardous for living beings, however, as one's mind can collapse in a phenomenon known as mako poisoning.
The Cetra were a race of people who had a special affinity with the lifestream and were able to control it to an extent, and thus became the ones to cultivate the life on the planet. The Cetra called being in communion with the lifestream as "talking to the Planet". Lifestream is referred to as the life of the planet itself, and it may be sentient in that an entity known as Minerva appears to represent the will of the lifestream.
The essence and afterlife
Look always to the eternal flow of time which is far greater than the span of human life. It will teach you more, than staying here in the valley... What you will see will eventually become part of the life's dream.Bugenhagen
The lifestream contains the essence of the planet and the memories, emotions, and knowledge of all who have lived on it. Portions of the lifestream are believed to be used to create new life on the planet, and the energy of a person returns to the planet when they die, bringing with it the emotions, memories, and knowledge they obtained during life. Depictions of how this happens vary: in Final Fantasy VII the dead remain on the physical plane, and the existence of cemeteries in places like Gongaga further suggests the bodies do not simply vanish when the soul returns to the planet; however, in Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- the dead disappear by dispersing into light, although it is implied they were "called" by a spirit already in the lifestream. In Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children entities constructed of lifestream disperse into threads of it upon death, and this matter flows into the sky rather than directly returning to the inside of the planet. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, defeated monsters and humans disappear into the air in green wisps, as do the ghost children of the Train Graveyard. While in the Train Graveyard, the party can witness the wandering souls as floating white lights, akin to the hitodama of the Japanese folklore.
Lifestream acts as an afterlife for the conscious spirits of the planet's inhabitants. Certain souls remain sentient after having returned to the planet, and gain control of the lifestream, becoming able to affect the physical plane from within it, and even able to communicate with those still living. Those who die and hold a resilient will and attachment to the living world in a place of negative disposition can return as ghosts and evil spirits.
The novella Hoshi o Meguru Otome expands on the purpose of the lifestream, equating it to an afterlife with a concept of Heaven and Hell. Those who led good lives join with the lifestream and their minds fragment and join the collective, while the sinful remain intact and must exist with the knowledge they cannot find absolution because of their actions. Aerith Gainsborough helps many of these people, including Dyne and Biggs, Wedge and Jessie, find peace, and allows them to approach atonement.
As the planet's immune system
Spirit energy is the planet's "immune system", flowing to and healing scars. If the planet is in danger of being destroyed, it summons the Omega to destroy the remaining life on the planet so it returns to the lifestream, and takes the lifestream itself, launching into the cosmos to find a new planet on which life can exist. The life energy of a planet returning to the cosmos upon the planet's destruction is also a concept in Final Fantasy IX.
Mako and materia
The Shinra Electric Power Company devised a way to refine the lifestream into an electricity supplier, erecting mako reactors around the world to extract the spirit energy from under the planet's crust. Shinra calls this energy source "mako".
Shinra discovered that injecting humans with pure mako enhances their abilities, and created an elite warrior class called SOLDIER using mako-enhanced humans injected with Jenova cells. However, over-exposure to mako causes mako poisoning.
Because the lifestream is the source of life to the planet, depleting the energy this way atrophies the area surrounding mako reactors. This is most evidenced at Midgar, where the wasteland that surrounds the metropolis is barren of life. The air and water in Midgar are polluted, although it may be the pollution of the reactors themselves and not a result of the lifestream being drained.
Condensing mako energy produces materia. Materia allows the holder to access the lifestream's knowledge and power and channel it, manifesting as "magic". Most of the time, Materia is artificially produced by forcibly condensing mako, but at a few places, such as Mt. Nibel, natural mako springs create natural materia. It is never established if there is a difference between artificial and natural materia besides their production.
Meteor and Holy
The White Materia is used in a last-ditch attempt to cleanse the world of anything threatening it with the ultimate protective magic, Holy. Some believe that even humans and animals are liable to be destroyed by Holy if they are judged a danger to the planet. Opposing the White Materia is the Black Materia, which can summon the ultimate destructive magic, Meteor, to critically wound or even destroy the planet.
During Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth recovers the Black Materia and calls Meteor, his plan to wound the planet so deep the lifestream would gather to heal it. Sephiroth plans to place himself at the center of the gathering and absorb the spiritual energy and become a god. Cloud Strife and his allies kill Sephiroth before Meteor falls, and Holy emerges to fight it off. The Meteor's gravity so close to the planet causes Holy's energy to be too unfocused, and Aerith calls upon the lifestream to push Meteor back, giving Holy enough time to gather its full power and destroy Meteor.
The ultimate fate of the White and Black Materia is unknown. The White Materia was last seen in the lake under the Forgotten City, while the Black Materia was last seen in Sephiroth's hands in the Northern Crater before it collapsed.
When the lifestream burst from the planet to save the world from Meteor, Sephiroth's spirit in it remained, and Jenova's remnants spread over the planet, infecting many with the fatal disease Geostigma. Two years later, in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, the remnants of Sephiroth plan a second Jenova reunion using children afflicted with Geostigma.
It is hinted that the remnants are made up of "negative lifestream" tainted with Jenova's memetic legacy, and they can summon shadow creepers from this dark lifestream. Kadaj acquires Jenova's head and Sephiroth is reborn, explaining that, when those infected with Geostigma die, their tainted spirit energy will return to the Planet, and Sephiroth will use his influence over Jenova to take control of the lifestream. Sephiroth summons the negative lifestream over Midgar during his battle with Cloud, but once he is defeated, it fades. It is unknown what happened to the negative lifestream afterwards, though the "Lifestream: White" chapters mention that Aerith would heal the spirits that make it up, presumably causing it to diminish, if not outright disappear.
In Dirge of Cerberus -Final Fantasy VII- the Omega Reports state that a naturally occurring deposit of similar lifestream (termed "terra corrupt") was found in Lucrecia's Cave. How such deposits are created is not stated, but it is mentioned as being stagnant, and implied in Hoshi o Meguru Otome and Lifestream: Black that certain emotions in a spirit prevent it from flowing properly. This lifestream forms a being known as Chaos.
"Lifestream" is the second track of disc 3 of the Final Fantasy VII: Original Soundtrack. It plays during multiple scenes at Cosmo Canyon Observatory when Bugenhagen explains the workings of the planet and the lifestream. Its motif also plays at the very beginning and very end of the game, when Aerith's face appears surrounded in a green glow.
The spirit energies in the aetherial realm of the Source are called "Lifestream". The Main Scenario Quest Lost in the Lifestream mentions the Lifestream several times, and is described as a flow of aether and souls.
The Lifestream returns as the BMS for "J-E-N-O-V-A".
Behind the scenes
Many world cultures contain beliefs of a natural force that transcends all life. Japan's native religion, Shinto, purports that all things have souls. In traditional Chinese culture, qì is an active principle forming part of any living thing and is frequently translated as "natural energy", "life force", or "energy flow". The lifestream is also an iteration of the ancient Hellenic philosophical concept of the Absolute or the World-Soul, an infinite wellspring of spiritual energy. All human beings possess a fragment of it which returns upon death. The description of the lifestream's afterlife is also consistent with Neo-Platonic belief. This concept of the Absolute would, over a millennium later, become part of Jewish Kabbalist belief, which inspired many elements of Final Fantasy VII's story and world. All living things contribute to the overall soul of the planet after they depart and "return to the lifestream". The planet breeds new life from this soul in a process similar to reincarnation.
Final Fantasy VII was conceived a fantasy world with fantastical concepts, which were deliberately made abstract enough to be superimposed to counterparts in the real world. Yoshinori Kitase, the director of Final Fantasy VII has commented for Final Fantasy VII Remake that though the environment and people's attitudes toward it have changed between 1997 and 2021, the concept of the "life of the planet" remains a timeless issue. He hopes each player can come to terms with the issues facing them through the story of Final Fantasy VII.
Experiencing the lifestream is commonly depicted as being on a featureless boundless space, usually bathed in light. In the end of Final Fantasy VII when Cloud reaches for Aerith's hand emerging from the lifestream, everything is empty around them. He never manages to catch her hand before being snapped back to the corporeal realm, but in Advent Children the two complete the union seemingly as a call-back to the Final Fantasy VII scene by grasping hands when Cloud is being propelled through the air toward Bahamut SIN by his allies. In Advent Children, when Cloud dreams of Aerith they are on an endless flower field bathed in white light. In Final Fantasy VII Remake, the party arrives in a light-filled featureless void with still water on the floor during their trip in the singularity of fate. In Episode INTERmission, the dying Sonon Kusakabe imagines being with his sister in a dark boundless void , but whether this is a depiction of the afterlife in any manner is ambiguous, as all other depictions of the lifestream have been light-filled. The area has small blinking lights, however, sometimes used to represent the souls of the dead in Japanese culture.
Allusions in other media
When Cloud Strife comes into his cameo in Final Fantasy Tactics, he says he remembers a "great current", possibly the lifestream. It can be speculated that Cloud was whisked away for a while from the lifestream into Ivalice, possibly by way of the Void.
The lifestream is the basis of "the Gaia Theory" in the film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Dr. Sid speculates all living beings hold a spiritual presence inside themselves, and when they die the spirit energy returns to a collective whole within the planet that is then used to birth new life.
- FFVII Not Being Remade -- Nomura (Accessed: March 25, 2020) at IGN UK
- Final Fantasy VII: An Interview With Squaresoft, Computer and Video Games, issue 191, October 1997, pages 53-9
- King, Jade (2021, July 6). "Final Fantasy 7 Remake Interview: Yoshinori Kitase, Naoki Hamaguchi, and Motomu Toriyama On Recreating A Classic". From The Gamer. Archived from the original on 17=4 July, 2021.