A sword far heavier than any sword has rights to be

Curator's Note

The Buster Sword is an egregiously large blade first featured in the beloved Squaresoft PlayStation console game Final Fantasy VII (1997). It appears in the opening scene on the back of hired mercenary, Cloud Strife, who is employed by the eco-terrorist group Avalanche. Avalanche battles to save the planet from the corrupt megacorporation Shinra: a global energy supplier, pharmaceutical company, political enterprise, arms manufacturer, and private military company.

The Buster Sword enjoys supra-franchise status. It’s a resonant feature throughout Final Fantasy’s expanded universe—appearing in mobile and console spin-offs, animated films, a recent remake, and in adjacent Square Enix properties.[1] Appearances in unaffiliated franchises and broader pop culture are often endearing wink-and-nods to both the sword’s highly unrealistic size and FFVII’s lasting fandom.[2]

The game’s initial eco-vigilante scenario would have struck a chord with audiences of the late ‘90s: 1995 marked the hottest recorded year on the planet, and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change insisted “a discernible human influence on global climate.”[3] In addition to climate anxiety, FFVII also addressed mental health in response to trauma. The main character is revealed to have severe PTSD from his employ in Shinra’s military program as a 3rd Class SOLDIER. Both the player and Cloud himself gradually realize his life’s narrative is a fiction woven to compensate for acute memory loss brought on by witnessing numerous violent deaths.[4] His Buster Sword originally belonged to one of these casualties, Cloud’s mentor Zach Fair (who received it from his own fallen mentor). After Zach’s death, Cloud’s emotional and cognitive trauma leads him to unwittingly appropriate Zach’s career as a 1st Class SOLDIER.

Cumbersome as it is, the Buster Sword is a hybrid symbol of nostalgia (both within and outside of game play), friendship, inheritance, and the mental and emotional “Strife” of its wielders. An ever-growing archive of weapons enthusiasts and cosplayers attempting to re-make this impossible object is a testament to its varied legacies and to individuals’ corresponding desires to take up and wield all that this heavy burden has come to represent.[5] While the Buster Sword is seemingly laid to rest at the end of FFVII: Advent Children, it’s continued re-emergence ensures its weighty legacies remain in flux.


[1] The Buster Sword has its own Wiki, which includes an account of the sword’s narrative history, a comprehensive listing of appearances in affiliated and unaffiliated franchises, its appearances in pop culture, and broader merchandising initiatives (including a mini chocolate replica of the Buster Sword that comes with a parfait sold in Square Enix’s Artnia Shop and Café in Tokyo). The title for this essay comes from the in-game description of the sword provided in Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. See “Buster Sword,” Wikimedia Foundation, last modified 17 June 2022, 07:24.

[2] See Mattias van Ommen, “Emergent affect in Final Fantasy VII and Japanese role-playing games,” in Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds Vol. 10.1 (2018), 21-39. See also Rick and Morty S6E3, “Bethic Twinstinct”; Adventure Time S6E33, “Jermaine.”

[3] Fred Pearce, “Global warming ‘jury’ delivers guilty verdict,” New Scientist No. 2007, 9 December 1995, 6. Archived online. Robbie Sykes constellates Slavoj Žižek’s ecological thought with FFVII in order to address and critique “earth jurisprudence”: this area of legal philosophy “[limits] human intervention” and therefore offloads human accountability for the planet into law, thereby “[absolving] humanity of responsibility towards the world.” See Robbie Sykes, “‘Those Chosen by the Planet’: Final Fantasy VII and Earth Jurisprudence,” in International Journal for the Semiotics of Law/Revue internationale de sémiotique juridique Vol. 30.3 (2017), 455-476.

[4] See Sabine Harrer, “Of Limit Breaks and Ghost Glitches: Losing Aeris in Final Fantasy VII,” in Games and Bereavement: How Video Games Represent Attachment, Loss, and Grief (Bielefeld: transcript Verlag, 2018), 69-84.

[5] See, for example, Michaelcthulhu, “REALer Buster Sword,” michaelcthulhu YouTube channel, 11 October 2010; Man At Arms, “Cloud’s Buster Sword (Final Fantasy VII),” AWE me YouTube channel, 20 May 2013; tygarlily, “Cloud’s Buster Sword Tutorial – FF7 Remake,” tygarlily YouTube Channel, 15 March 2018; Forging Smores, “FFVII Remake | Buster Sword,” Forging Smores YouTube channel, 26 May, 2020.

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