• 7/11/24: Still combing through my old web stuff--trinkets, fanart, and various links.
  • 7/08/24: More new old artwork and trinkets. I also shared an old Japanese webring I found for Aerith fans down in links!
  • 6/20/24: Added a bunch of old web fanart from my latest old web adventure.
  • 4/21/24: Pictures in the gallery now link to their full size!
  • 4/18/24: Lots of new stuff--shared my rambles about Cloud/Aerith, added a bunch of new art to the gallery, and new goodies from my old web spelunking.
  • 3/10/24: Reorganized and moved files for this!
  • 2/14/24: Happy Valentine's Day! Some old web fanart and icons have made their way home!!
  • 2/10/24: Was bored today so I channeled my nervous energy for Rebirth into making a moodboard for Aerith, tally-ho!
  • 1/23/24: Today's the launch of Princess Guard, yay!! Pardon any dust as I continue to tweak things!
Welcome to Princess Guard: An Aerith Gainsborough Fanshrine. As the name implies, this is a space dedicated to the deuteragonist of Final Fantasy VII and my favorite character of all time, Aerith Gainsborough. Before we jump in, let me give you a few heads up!
  • There will be unmarked spoilers for both the OG FFVII title from 1997 and the FFVII Remake.
  • This shrine will focus on Aerith's appearances from the OG FFVII and the FFVII Remake. Truthfully speaking I'm not a fan of the majority of FFVII's spinoffs. It's nothing personal at all if you enjoy them, but they aren't to my particular tastes!
  • This page is a super big WIP so please check back for updates!!

Character Profile

Introduced as a flower peddler who lives in the slums of Midgar, Aerith Gainsborough is the last living descendent of an ancient people called the Cetra. Due to her heritage, she is hunted by the Shinra Electric Power Company who seeks to exploit her for their greed. Shinra is on the hunt for a place in Cetra legend called the Promised Land, which they believe to be rich with mako energy. Despite this, Aerith maintains an outgoing, plucky, and compassionate attitude that guards her against her life's difficulties.

The protagonist and player character of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife, first meets Aerith after participating in a bombing mission conducted by Avalanche, an eco-terrorist group seeking to protect the Planet from Shinra’s havoc on the environment. They later meet again when Cloud falls through the roof of an abandoned church that Aerith spends a lot of time at. It is there and her home where she grows her flowers, the only two places in Midgar where they bloom.

Not long after Tifa, a childhood friend of Cloud's and associate of Avalanche, meets Aerith, Shinra's black-ops team catches up and apprehends her, taking her in the custody of their science laboratories. She is later rescued by Cloud, Tifa, and Barret (leader of Avalanche), escapes Midgar, and joins them on their pursuit of the villain Sephiroth. While Aerith is quick to take the helm on this quest, hers is also one of personal self-discovery to learn more about her Cetra heritage and their role with the Planet's history.

This journey comes to a head much later at the Temple of the Ancients. Sephiroth manages to steal an object called the Black Materia which can be used to summon the “ultimate destructive magic” called Meteor that has the ability to destroy the entire Planet. Because Aerith is a Cetra, she is the only one who can stop the Black Materia’s magic, and she ventures alone after Sephiroth to prevent him from doing so. Eventually, Cloud and his companions find Aerith at the Forgotten City alone praying on an altar. Mere seconds after Aerith looks up to smile at Cloud coming for her, Sephiroth descends from above and stabs her through the torso, murdering her. Everybody’s grief for the loss of Aerith’s life is insurmountable.

After some time, the party discovers why Aerith went to the Forgotten City: using the White Materia, a materia she had inherited from her biological mother, Aerith was casting a spell called Holy to stop Sephiroth's Meteor. Though she was able to finish casting it before dying, the magic's effects are lying dormant due to Sephiroth's will blocking it.

Cloud and his friends are able to defeat Sephiroth and allow Holy to be released, but Meteor has grown too powerful and threatens to destroy the Planet despite Aerith’s efforts. However, at the very end, Aerith is able to command the Lifestream from beyond death, the souls and spirits of the Planet aiding her to push back against Meteor and finally destroy it.

It's then that Aerith’s spirit curls and wraps around Cloud. She reaches her hand towards him, her presence forever among him, Tifa, and the rest of Avalanche. In his heart, Cloud knows he will be reunited with Aerith in the Promised Land.

My Thoughts

As you can probably guess, Aerith means a lot to me––like, to say the least. My love for her has only blossomed as I’ve aged and come to understand the nuances of her character more deeply. Not only is she my favorite character in the Final Fantasy series as a whole, but she’s now one of my favorite characters of all time.

There’s so much to love! Her lively demeanor, her sense of humor, her compassion, her impatience and intensity and independence, her resilience...

And a strength of character comparable to the tenacity of a flower blooming in the slums.

Despite the darkness that permeates her life, Aerith refuses to fall into the depths of it. Shinra seeks to exploit her powers due to a familial heritage she had no say in being a part of, which would enable the company to further its environmental destruction. Yet in spite of it all, Aerith and her garden flourishes, the only places where greenery grows among Midgar’s blight. Unable to leave Midgar or have proper employment thanks to Shinra’s constant surveillance, Aerith works out her restless energy by selling flowers for cash and embracing the community she does have. Even when trapped in the Shinra labs with her biological mother as a child, no doubt tormented by a variety of unethical experiments, she found a box of crayons and scribbled a mural roaring with color and life on their prison walls. The safeguard she has towards this darkness isn’t born out of faux cheerfulness that masks sadness or empty optimism, either; she isn’t naive, but rather realistic about the difficult circumstances of her life. No, it’s instead a genuine determination to explore herself and the greater world, making the most of both. What Aerith does is direct this pain inward and make the explicit decision to thrive no matter what.

Aerith never stops trying.

When on the road with Avalanche, her pain doesn’t manifest as a desire for revenge against something or somebody else necessarily. She’s neither not angry nor a pacifist, and she stays true to these values. Just as she refuses to be defined by the darkness in her life, Aerith refuses to dwell in the negativity of it. While compassionate with her loved ones, understanding that they are on their own journeys regarding their thoughts and feelings and emotions, this doesn't mean she always humors defeatism. Sometimes this can spark conflict due to differences in thinking. Constantly trying to understand herself, Aerith probes at what makes her uncomfortable and tries to live authentically in response.

And she never stops trying!

Each day is fresh and new and full of opportunities, and oh, will she seize each and every one. The other characters and players alike learn to expect the unexpected from Aerith.

The unexpected is apparent in both her character archetype (the party healer and white mage) and design. Pink dress, pink hair bow… when judging Aerith on her own, players are often surprised at how spunky she actually is. But that’s the idea: for as stereotypically pink and feminine her appearance is, Aerith is feisty, plucky, and at times overly confident. In her words, she’s “used to danger”, whether that’s all the danger you would expect to find in slums of a city, or the powers that be from Shinra. The dichotomy of her personality and appearance only makes her more memorable. I think people have a tendency to judge others based on their appearances alone, or tend to assume certain things because they dress and express themselves in a certain way. I’ve certainly experienced this due to the way that I present myself! While personal style does express certain qualities, we’re so much more complex than that.

And that’s the crux of Aerith’s character: it’s the way she’s so human. Aerith is lively and determined but it is also just as impulsive and stubborn. She’s private and independent due to the circumstances of her life, but longs for love and acceptance and to be authentically herself. Her complexity and apparent contradictions make her who she is. She’s imperfect and messy, but still tries to do what’s right and stay true to her beliefs. Can’t we say the same about all of us?

Across the last several decades, many secondary depictions and fandom interpretations of Aerith have totally flanderized her, to the point of the essence of her character being misunderstood. The common misconception is that Aerith is the stereotypical “party healer.” So often she is put on a pedestal as a pure, naive, virginal force of utmost goodness, always kneeling at an altar, hands folded in prayer. This isn’t helped by depictions of her present in certain supplementary material, but I’ll save my salt for later lmao. What matters is that treated as somebody fearful or meek when she’s anything but. And there’s nothing wrong with characters with those traits either, but it’s such a misinterpretation of Aerith! Because of this, what makes her such a compelling character gets lost.

(Sidenote: it’s wild to me when people claim that the Remake that made Aerith “finally cool” when it’s like no….. She was always cool in the OG but suffered from so much misconstruing. Honestly on this subject while I do have mixed feelings about certain aspects of the Remake, I do really like it overall and am curious about the next installments!).

It’s impossible not to discuss Aerith without discussing her death. Eventually I want to write about how she's most certainly not a martyr or a messiah figure in my meta section, but for now, I’ll talk about why it’s so meaningful to me personally.

Personally, I find it deeply inspiring to consider a woman becoming so powerful that her soul persists beyond death to protect her loved ones and her planet. Honestly? It’s a stunning metaphor expressing the power that the dead can command. If you think about it, the dead are on our minds constantly: the people who came before us, what they did, and how that trickles down into our present lives. It’s why we care about history so much; we care about what we inherit. For better or for worse, we turn to the dead, and the narratives created around the dead, to guide us.

We all have different conceptions of the afterlife, or if there is any at all. Without getting too into it, I do believe that those who have passed before us continue to have a presence in our lives. Nobody is ever really gone, and they can persist through the power of memory. When we engage in the memory of somebody, they come alive all over again. And it brings me deep joy to see how beautifully this is expressed with Aerith and how she is remembered.

Meta & Analysis

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Cloud/Aerith

God. OTP like you don't even know. They really deserve a shrine of their own but I have to spotlight them here!

Quick Disclaimer

I do not hate Tifa; I do not hate Cloud/Tifa as a pairing. I'm uninterested in discussing the LTD; I'm uninterested in debating if Cloud/Aerith is "more canon" than Cloud/Tifa or vice versa. Cloud loves both Aerith and Tifa, and the "endings" and narrative arcs regarding each relationship are open to player interpretation. Thus, they are both canon and one isn't more canon than the other.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get onto the fun stuff!

Word from the wise: the things you were obsessed with at the age of 12 will define your taste for the rest of your life. I got into both Titanic and Cloud/Aerith at that age, and that's why I'm the way that I am. And don't even mention how pandemics can reignite your interest in something.

Okay, seriously--Cloud and Aerith are my super duper faves. Both are wonderful characters on their own, and their relationship highlights what makes them so compelling. They are opposites who are not so opposite at all. Their love for the other drives the narrative forward while also enabling personal self-discovery and transformation. Carrying pain from their pasts, Cloud and Aerith are uniquely positioned to understand why and how the other hurts. This allows them to see past the walls they each project as a means of defense, in-turn giving each other the greatest possible gift, the thing they have lacked for most of their lives: unconditional love.

What really draws me into this ship is this level of perception and understanding. Throughout their lives, Aerith and Cloud have been ostracized and outcasted from wider society. They are both "others." Others due to them existing at the margins of other people, and because of innate traits that are totally out of their control. In Aerith's case it's her Cetran heritage and the subsequent medical abuse at Shinra's hands. For Cloud, it's due to his childhood peers rejecting him, and not conforming to a certain masculine ideal that he desperately tries to compensate for, inadvertently leading him to similar mistreatment and experimentation as Aerith. From a narrative perspective, it's utterly gripping that they both share the same abuser (ie., Hojo).

To cope with this, you have Cloud continually grasp (and fail doing so) at this masculine ideal by projecting this cocksure SOLDIER persona designed to keep others away and to protect him from getting hurt; and then you have Aerith, who is cagey and stubborn and buries her innermost feelings about her heritage inside herself: traits born out of the desire to protect herself and her loved ones from being targeted and hurt by Shinra. But because of this level of perception they have regarding the other and their behavior, this innate understanding on an emotional level, they can let down their walls and simply be.

On a macro level, I think that Cloud and Aerith’s relationship represents a peaceful conclusion of sorts to the Jenova and Cetra conflict. Aerith is the last descendent of the Cetra, and Cloud is the victim of unwanted assimilation with Jenova thanks to genetic splicing. These aspects of themselves do not need to fight or doom the other. And yet!! And yet!! They're still sitting at opposite ends of the same concept!! They're both one step outside of the normalcy that they'll never be able to truly reach!!

AND YET!! They still maintain this vulnerability and acceptance for the other, holding vigil for the person the other is rather than who Shinra or anyone else wants or expects them to be!! It drives me!! Insane!!! God tier ship!!!

All of this doesn't even touch the sense of humor they share, their easy banter, the screwball comedy of moments like Aerith convincing Cloud to crossdress. Or how kind they are to each other, how they defy and play around with gender roles, how you have fun personality dynamics…

There’s the matter of Aerith’s death and how that affects things, too.

Strictly from an angst standpoint, it's delicious that there's this deep undercurrent of tragedy that's threaded through the ship. Cloud and Aerith are physically separated from the other, unable to consummate the relationship in that fashion. From a narrative perspective, this creates a sense of tension and yearning that can never be resolved, where the player and character alike spiral around an eternal "what-if." Once I joked with a friend that a ship isn't at its apex unless somebody dies, or at least cannot fully be together in a substantial way, and, well.......,,,,

Alright alright alright. I'll be honest--I may differ from others in my interpretation, but I don't think Cloud would stay single as a mourning widow for the rest of his life, even though it IS fun to explore that scenario. To me, the beauty of the Clerith ship lies in the transformative power of people and relationships.

In life, you can and likely will love more than one person. Not at the same time necessarily, but at different points. And these loves will mean and represent different things for you as you evolve and develop. Love in this context can take on various meanings, including platonic and romantic forms. FFVII, a game where a major theme is memory and the power of it, presents this idea that because of the party's memory of Aerith, her life has meaning even beyond death. This is further emphasized by Cloud continually thinking about her and her goals, actions, thoughts, and overall presence. Cloud's memory of Aerith plays a large part in his decision to keep going and trying. While Cloud and Aerith may be physically separated from the other, this love persists because love is the one thing stronger than death. In turn, this enables a personal self-transformation that allows him to see that the Planet and AVALANCHE's future is indeed worth fighting for.

Even after a person dies, they don't cease being important. Your relationship with them doesn't cease, either. It transcends death and continues to affect you. And that’s what makes Cloud and Aerith's relationship so good: it transcends barriers. Ephemeral as a lifetime is, isn't it lovely that a story exists where the characters are able to share something like this? Again, I don't doubt that Cloud finds love again; that's probably what Aerith would want for him. But Cloud will always love Aerith too and what that relationship represents and! That's okay! It's okay and normal for this to coexist! I don't want to talk too much about this because like... of course it's totally fine if somebody doesn't ship Cloud/Aerith, we all have our tastes. What bothers me, however, is when others indulge in a major LTD talking point that argues that Cloud and Aerith's relationship is somehow lesser because she dies. This strikes me as very insensitive, especially to those who have lost a loved one.

There's really a ton more I can say but like, that's what a dedicated shrine is for! Or for when I'm not tired and feel like writing more lol.

TL;DR Cloud/Aerith is about two lonely weirdos finding freedom and love through each other, and making themselves better. Thanks for entertaining my delusions, you're all great!!

Ships

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A gallery of official artwork of Aerith throughout various titles she's been in!

Final Fantasy VII Concept Art

Itadaki Street Special

Puzzles and Dragons Collab

Final Fantasy VII: Ever Crisis

Fanworks

Old Web Fanart

I will link back when I can! Thank you to my friends who so kindly shared some of these beautiful pieces from their own stashes! ⸜(。˃ ᵕ ˂ )⸝♡











My Merch

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Moodboard

Moodboards made by me, images sourced from Pinterest (lmao)

Old Web Trinkets

A treasure trove of old web Aerith trinkets. Final Fantasy VII was enormously popular in the days of web 1.0, with tons of little fansites and shrines dedicated to it and its characters and ships. Here's what I have dug up or has been so kindly shared with me from friends. I'll link back back when I can!

Sprites

Dolls

Icons

Banners, Graphics, and Signatures

Goodies

Aerith related goodies

Friends Forever An oldweb fanshrine dedicated to the friendship of Aerith and Tifa and debunking myths surrounding their relationship and the love triangle. In a fandom (still!) rife with a ship war, this is really refreshing to see.

Credits

  • Header Art by Yoshitaka Amano, edited by me!
  • Side Art by MAZEiro0
Flowers Blooming in the Church ❀ Nobuo Uematsu ❀ Arrangement by Dracula9AntiChapel