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In Final Fantasy 7, after Aerith is killed by Sephiroth, Cloud and the rest of his friends can do nothing but cry and pay their respects to her.

However, there is an item in-game called the Phoenix Down that allows teammates to revive downed teammates. According to the FF wiki:

The down feathers of a Phoenix would return people from the dead as a Phoenix itself does. The Aletap Rumors of Final Fantasy XII says that the Phoenix Down works by being offered to appeal to the mystical Phoenix itself to allow a lost soul to return, with the quality and overall beauty of the current feather being a crucial factor.

Being that Phoenix Downs can be used to return people from the dead, story-wise, why Cloud have used a Phoenix Down to revive Aerith from the dead? Seems rather odd to have this glaring plothole in game?

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  • Perhaps he didn't have any in his inventory? Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 6:08
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    In-game, characters are only "KO'ed" during battles, not killed. Phoenix Downs revive KO'ed party members. Aerith was killed.
    – phantom42
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 6:42
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    @phantom42 Right, as a game mechanic, but story-wise it doesn't make sense when Phoenix Downs can be used to revive dead people yet Cloud didn't have the mind to revive Aerith at all
    – yuritsuki
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 6:53
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    @happybirthday Wiki's aren't a great source of info, and the FF one generalises across games (as it kinda has to). Can you find any source in FF7 specifically that states that Phoenix Downs "return people from the dead"?
    – DavidS
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 8:43
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    Gameplay and Story Segregation which is so common it's hardly noteworthy, leading into Plotline Death which has half a dozen entries for the Final Fantasy series alone. Looks like there's over a hundred other examples. Revenant's answer looks closest, although sparse on details; there is no canon answer, and few games take care to weld plot with game mechanics sensibly.
    – Radhil
    Commented Jun 15, 2016 at 19:22

5 Answers 5

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There seems to be no in game answer to this question, so one may only guess: maybe there are some hidden requirements for using the Phoenix Down item (or any other Materia that could have the same effect. I wonder what would have happened if Aerith had Final Attack + Phoenix slotted in on her armor while she was praying...)? Some argue that during battles characters aren't killed but just "knocked out" (FF7 itself marks in-battle dead characters as KO'ed, but one should check the original Japanese wording to be sure), some other prefer to think that Phoenix down is useless when the wounds are too serious OR too much time has passed (which still isn't exactly coherent with the in game mechanics) but no official statement seems to have been made on the matter.

Each way, the whole "Aerith's death" incident is crucial to the plot (while maybe not as crucial as Squaresoft like to portrait it - I still believe that if it wasn't for added drama the plot could have worked out something different) so the whole scene is clearly to be taken as a classical example of story / game mechanics segregation: you should be able to revive a character using a resurrection item, but the plot need you not to be able too. Sadly, in this specific case it also fail at explain why.

That said, I wanted to point out that this is not the first case of such segregation in the Final Fantasy series. Following are just some examples that come to mind:

  • Back in Final Fantasy 4, some characters I am not going to name will get turned into stone at some point of the game. This is an important part of the plot, and for story purpose it is pretty important that they stay statues. After their death, another character tries to break the spell, only to fail "because they wily turned themselves to stone". This is reinforced by the game offering the player the ability to try to use an item on the stoned characters - any item will produce a generic "No effect" message but Golden Needle (an item only present in the Japanese release of the game and allegedly removed to avoid to confuse the players just because of this event) which is used to remove the Petrified status in battle produces a different "This can't work because the characters sacrificed themselves and turned into stone by their will" message. All fits so far... Until the characters are restored near the end of the game by another mage who breaks the curse after the game stated that it couldn't be broken when the first mage (who should be more powerful than the latter one, at least plot wise) tried the same thing... Such event can only really be explained with "plot-needs" and "characters-too-good-to-be-used-all-the-game".

  • Another character in Final Fantasy 5 follows the same destiny and dies after single handed facing a powerful enemy. The rest of the party tries to use magic to heal him (and I seem to remember that they try a curative item - maybe even Phoenix Tail / Down too) only to fail because "he is too dead for magic/items to work".

Following all above examples and for sake of an in-game explanation, I am going to suggest that Phoenix Down doesn't have the power to revive a killed character in some extreme situations (to much time passed, the body is too damaged, external factors keeps the soul from returning etc) and Aerith death should be considered one of such cases.
Maybe the planned PS4 remake will fix this (small) plot segregation. For example they could expand the scene to show the other characters trying to revive her only to fail for some reason they cannot understand, until the end of the game when they discover that she can't come back because she casted Holy to save the planet and her souls was busy in the Lifestream all the time...

Or maybe it won't have to...

However, young one.. The important talk starts here. What I have been talking about now.. is about the 1997 Original game. BUT! What we do from here on.. will happen in the new 2020 Final Fantasy Remake! FF7 of 2020! In FF7!
Has the past changed? no... Or it stayed the same?

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  • Script-logic strikes again!
    – Ben
    Commented Jun 16, 2016 at 0:38
  • tries to revive Nooooo! If only Aerith wasn't quite so dead. Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 22:01
  • You also have the person forever laying in a bed in Final Fantasy 6. Until a certain event bring them back, but only shortly.
    – Clockwork
    Commented Mar 27, 2021 at 20:34
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Out of Universe the writers wanted a main character to die and stay dead so ignored the fact that you could revive dead people

In Universe I dont believe it was ever really mentioned so there is no canon answer but its possible that a phoenix down only allows a soul to return if they wish to return and Aerith for some reason or another did not wish to return to the mortal coil or knew that in order for events to proceed she had to stay dead

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    Can you provide any evidence to back up these bold statements?
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 15:20
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The answer is quite simple. Phoenix Down only revives a KO'd party member. The description in VII is that it restores life. That is different than bringing someone back from the dead. Also, in VI I remember that after battle if someone was still down, the status would show "wounded" not dead. When characters go down during battle, they are only wounded, but not mortally wounded unless all characters go down and no one can revive them. In Aerith's case, he was mortally wounded. I guess maybe it's not that simple, but it's a fantasy game. Make the story work.

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Maybe he did, he tried off screen to use it but she didn't want to come back. She knew she needed to die to be able to do the things she needs to do to save the world.

It's not that he didn't use it, it's she didn't want to come back.

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    Do you have any evidence for this, such as a quote showing she didn't want to come back, that you could edit in?
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 10:31
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    Can you also provide evidence that Phoenix Down can't revive someone who doesn't want to be revived? I wasn't aware of any such restriction in Final Fantasy lore.
    – F1Krazy
    Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 11:36
  • Sadly not, merely a guess as to why if such a thing was used it would not work. Looking through the replies here the rules on phoenix down only serve the plot and not any set rule which seems kind of... Well I'm not keen on it. I do not think Aerith could have done what she did without being in the life stream and dying, coming back only to have to die again seems nightmarish at best. Commented Apr 10, 2019 at 0:55
  • Can you provide any evidence to back up these bold statements?
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 15:20
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Simply put, Phoenix Down revives a character from KO status, not death. It doesn’t revive dead people. If that were the case, no one would ever die.

Aerith was dead. Phoenix Downs wouldn't work on her.

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    Can you provide any evidence to back up these bold statements?
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 15:19
  • Hi Nergigante Hunter, welcome to the site! You may want to take the tour.
    – Raj
    Commented Mar 12, 2020 at 15:20

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