Screenshot via Square Enix YouTube

Sephiroth’s deadliest appearance wasn’t in a Final Fantasy game

Even Disney characters aren't safe from the reach of Sephiroth's blade.

There’s no question that Sephiroth is an icon, striking fear into players even remotely familiar with the villain. Just the opening notes of his theme song, One Winged Angel, are enough to get the heart racing. But Sephiroth didn’t make a name for himself with Final Fantasy alone. A particular Disney and Square Enix collaboration, Kingdom Hearts, introduced the villain to a new era of fans, and his appearances in that series are just as menacing, if not more so, than his Final Fantasy 7 presence.

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If players missed out on Sephiroth’s 1997 Final Fantasy 7 debut, it might be hard to discern why fans go gaga over the character. Heralding a planet-ending event and haunting protagonist Cloud Strife throughout FF7, Sephiroth presented himself as a fearsome villain from the get-go. However, for some of us, Sephiroth’s anxiety-inducing encounter in Kingdom Hearts is what truly cemented him as a terror.

In 2002, found myself on the other end of Sin Harvest, and it was in this Disney amalgamation that the One-Winged Angel left an impression that still lingers. See, I wasn’t really old enough to get on the FF7 wave when it was hot, and it wouldn’t be until years later that I experienced the title. So, for me, Kingdom Hearts was the game that introduced Sephiroth. And man, what an introduction that was.

Sora’s Platinum match

Sephiroth as he appears in the first Kingdom Hearts
Screenshot via Square Enix YouTube

As players near the end of Kingdom Hearts, they can revisit the Olympus Collesuem to participate in new tournaments. One of these is the Platinum match, which sheds many of the boss fight conventions experienced up to that point. It pits Sora against Sephiroth in a fight most players will initially lose.

Until encountering the Platinum match, I barreled my way through enemies without much preparation. Sure, some grew a little tedious, but after retreading a few zones to nab a few easy levels, I cleared obstacles in a flash, though nothing prepared me for a fight requiring speed and quick-thinking to match a demigod. 

After starting the Platinum match, Sephiroth teleports into the arena and wordlessly readies his weapon as his theme song builds. The powerful villain doesn’t sprint or engage in a reckless assault. No. Much more hauntingly, Sephiroth slowly walks towards me as if to say, “Oh, are you here too?” as One Winged Angel blasts over the arena. This unabashed display of badassery sets the tone.

Sora taking a hit from Sin Harvest in Kingdom Hearts
Screenshot via Square Enix YouTube

Thanks to his massive sword, Sephiroth could reach me from nearly anywhere, and his impossibly fast sword swipes met me whenever I faltered. If I tried to close the distance with a brute-force approach, he would completely ignite his surroundings in a fiery tempest. Alternatively, if I tried to play the backfield, Sephiroth could teleport and leap around the arena to line up an attack. There was no safe footing. 

By some miracle, I was able to push the One-winged Angel enough to start taking me seriously. Then the big attacks came out, summoned meteor showers or, even worse, that Sin Harvest move that takes Sora down to one HP and zero MP in the blink of an eye. It’s all I can muster to stay alive through the assault, meekly chipping at his health here and there. All the while, it doesn’t even look like Sephiroth breaks a sweat.

Faster than I realize, it’s already over. Sephiroth catches me in the center of one of his fire attacks, and in my haste to heal, I stop right in front of his sword. The first time I lost the Platinum match, it felt unwinnable. But that’s precisely what drove me to throw myself at it again and again until I eventually scraped by.

Sephiroth’s Dark Depths

Kingdom Hearts 2 Sephiroth, holding the masamune
Screenshot via Square Enix YouTube

While Kingdom Hearts might have led to me think I knew what to expect from Sephiroth, his second appearance continued to throw curveballs. The battle occurs in a rocky area with more room than the previous bout, but maneuverability worked against me. Throughout Kingdom Hearts 2, I unwisely neglected the painstakingly-slow-to-unlock movement and traversal abilities, and that made my Sephiroth rematch all the more imposing. The villain moves around a lot more in Kingdom Hearts 2, often teleporting behind or taking to the sky, and I had no means to defend against these hit-and-run tactics.

In stark contrast to his previous appearance, Sephiroth charges as soon as the fight starts with an attack that’s only avoidable via an unexpected quick-time event. This wasn’t the only time he tried to catch me off guard with the deadly strike, it randomly happens throughout the fight. It’s something I had to always stay on the lookout for, as the blow has the potential to end the match instantly. Without giving me a chance to counterattack, Sephiroth moved back to familiar tactics, teleporting and leaping around, testing my defenses with his blade.

Kingdom Hearts 2 Sephiroth versus Sora fight
Screenshot via Square Enix YouTube

Difficulty felt exaggerated by the fact that nearly all of Sephiroth’s attacks could bring me down to critical HP, and he’d unleash onslaughts back to back without care. This quickly backed me into a new game of attrition, with Sephiroth effortlessly whittling away my health while I scrambled to keep my head above water. We danced around that arena for what felt like hours, with Sephiroth laying out one spectacular display of strength after another and me panic healing and scratching slices off his health with quick combos.

When I finally bested Sephiroth again, a scene shows him literally brushing some dirt off his armor like he’s brushing off our maddening encounter. In the ultimate insult to injury, Sephiroth concludes that only Cloud can offer him a real challenge before sending me off to fetch the ex-SOLDIER for him. Ouch man, that hurts.

Reintroducing Sephiroth

Sephiroth challenging Cloud in Kingdom hearts 2
Screenshot via Square Enix YouTube

The Kingdom Hearts series offered Square Enix an opportunity to grow Sephiroth’s fame and notability. The character was already a fearsome antagonist to those who first met him in FF7, but Kingdom Hearts would open the door for the One-winged Angel to transcend his own universe. It would have been easy to use Sephiroth for a throwaway cameo like Tidus or Selphie, but the more substantive approach paid off.

Before Kingdom Hearts, Sephiroth only existed to me as an enigmatic legend I heard about from friends’ older siblings or on online forums. But once Kingdom Hearts presented the terrifying foe, his reputation suddenly made sense. Going through the toils of preparation and practice to beat Sephiroth in these Disney games is forever cemented in my memory. It forced me out of my comfort zone and got me thinking in a game that primarily encouraged button mashing. And no doubt, whether players like the character or not, Kingdom Hearts ensured Sephiroth lived up to his hype.


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Author
Jonathan LoChiatto
Jonathan LoChiatto is a writer, editor, and creator with content across Destructoid, GameRant, SVG, and more. Jonathan is the creator of The Dorkweb podcast and continues to dabble in entertainment. When he's not streaming Destiny 2, he can be found digging into RPGs, strategy games, and shooters.