In Final Fantasy VII Remake, an immersive remake of the 1997 video game, one question has spurred conversation among players of the game, which sold 3.5 million copies in three days: What does Mako smell like?
In the game, the evil Shinra Corporation harvests a substance called Mako from deep within the fictional planet of Gaia. The game’s protagonist, Cloud Strife, is hired by a group of environmental activists called Avalanche to help destroy Shinra’s Mako Reactors, which are draining the planet of its life force. Final Fantasy VII Remake runs on Mako: Much of the game is set in the metropolis of Midgar, a city of technological advancements that runs entirely on Mako power.
The overwhelming aroma of Mako is mentioned often in the game but what exactly it smells like — gasoline, sulfur, chlorine? — is left to the imagination of players.
We polled the Inverse community and were overwhelmed by the imaginative, clever, and persuasive suggestions for what exactly this mysterious substance smells like. Thank you to the more than 500 people who submitted their ideas that make up this story.
Warning! Spoilers for Final Fantasy VII follow
In the world of Final Fantasy VII, Mako functions as both crude oil and electricity. It powers virtually every technological advancement, including the magical orbs of Materia that let you hurl fireballs or summon an obese mystic chicken to smother your enemies.
For all its benefits, harvesting Mako is destroying the planet; We see as much in the barren wasteland that surrounds Midgar. But we don’t know for sure whether it smells bad or good, sweet or bitter. When you descend into the depths of a Mako Reactor for the first time, Avalanche’s leader Barret Wallace says: “Goddamn…”
“I can practically taste the Mako in here.” Much later in the game, as you emerge from the sewers, he says, “Taste that sweet Midgar smog!” That smog definitely comes from Mako exhaust fumes.
Lines of dialogue like these inspired fans on Reddit to speculate about what Mako smells like — and it’s why we decided to ask our readers the same question. In a Reddit AMA, actress Britt Baron, who voices Tifa in FF7 Remake, writes, “I imagine burning plastic mixed with rotten eggs … two of my least favorite smells!"
We know the scent is strong, but is it that unpleasant?
What is Mako?
To talk about Mako, we have to talk about the Lifestream.
When Barret yells about the planet dyin’ in FF7 Remake, he’s right. Mako is the liquified form of the planet’s Lifestream, a vast network of ethereal tendrils that run deep underground, containing the essence and memories of every person that has ever lived. If the planet is a body, the Lifestream is its soul and blood.
Consider Mako a magical force of nature marred by industrial processing. Aerith examines a Mako pipe in the opening scene of the game, and she doesn’t seem to mind the smell. When she later says a person who dies “returns to the planet,” that’s because their soul literally returns to the Lifestream, making it a subterranean graveyard for souls.
Essentially, Mako is the magical magma bi-product, a river of energy generated by dead people. What could that possibly smell like?
Inverse asked, and you had some very clear ideas.
We offered 21 suggested scents that included obvious options like gasoline and sulfur, but also two variations of Mountain Dew, both Honey and Honeysuckle, and a few in-world scents like Roasted Chocobo and Burnt Sephiroth Hair. We also left a field for write-in answers. (We’re going to mostly ignore the jokesters out there who answered “An Ancient’s fart” or “Wedge’s underwear,” funny as they are.) Here are all of the responses broken down into top, heart, and base scent notes.
Top notes of gasoline and industrial chemicals — The vast majority of people who responded chose gasoline — the closest real-world equivalent to Mako — as what we can call the top note. In perfumes, that’s the initial layer of fragrance you get immediately, how you perceive it at face-value. Mako’s top notes probably smell similar to gasoline or other industrial scents.
Gasoline includes over 150 different chemicals, one of which is benzene, the bit that’s responsible for the oddly sweet odor some people find pleasant. Sulfur was the second-most popular response, but the scent we think of when we talk about sulfur comes from compounds called mercaptans in skunks or the hydrogen sulfide of rotten eggs and stink bombs. (Rotten eggs was in the top 12 most popular answers as well.)
“Sharp punch of Formic Acid,” one anonymous reader writes. That’s a naturally occurring ant venom that one person described as something that “smells like getting hit in the head.”
Rayne Dakkar from Maryland offered the very specific “Aqua Velva,” an aftershave that according to one review, leaves “a nice, clean, masculine smell that's heavy on the menthol, but also includes hints of vanilla, lavender, and oakmoss.” Between these comments and other artificially sweet substances like Mountain Dew and Jolly Ranchers being very popular, a sickeningly sweet and unnatural scent seems accurate — but also one that's marred by the industrial process and a hint of metal.
Heart notes of organic decay — Bart from the Netherlands took issue with our inclusion of “dead matter” in our initial description.
“It is the life force of the planet, a physical interpretation of a spiritual concept,” he contends. “How you thought it would be rotting corpses is beyond me.”
The heart or middle note of a scent gets to the core of the aroma, and what's better for Mako than the reminder of death?
After gasoline and sulfur, the next-most popular answers offer a colorful mixture of organic corrosion and vibrant natural life. Briny seawater came in third, blood in sixth, and burnt Sephiroth hair in eighth. The stale stink of briny seawater comes from dimethyl sulphide, a gas produced by bacteria that digests dead phytoplankton. (Yes, the ocean stinks because of dead stuff!)
Santana from California also suggests, “The smell when you dissect a frog/alcohol/cleaning supplies.” That substance is probably formalin, but strong-smelling chemicals mixed with different kinds of corrosion and organic decay seem appropriate across the board. Mako reminds people of things that are dead or dying.
“Peat, which is also a dense conglomeration of decaying matter,” an anonymous reader writes. A dense packing of vegetable and organic material, peat is burned to give scotch its characteristic smoke. Pungent decay is definitely a pervasive theme when it comes to Mako.
Base notes of “petrichor” and vibrant organic life — The Lifestream and Mako have deep connections to the natural world, implying a degree of vibrance that resonates with sweetness and organic growth in terms like Moss (4th), Grass Clippings (5th), and Pine Trees (7th). The base notes of any fragrance are the foundation of the whole experience, so a connection to the natural world is fitting here.
I wasn’t expecting to learn a new word that would haunt my dreams when we started this project, yet “Petrichor” feels like the perfect word to describe the scent of Mako. Petrichor is the term for that vague but pleasant smell that comes when a fresh rain hits the dry earth. The etymology behind the word involves the Greek roots “stone” and “the blood of the gods.” The connotations here feel spot-on when it comes to Mako, a mystical conceptualization of death and rebirth within the natural world.
A handful of readers wrote the word in, while many more circled around the meaning of this obtuse term without actually using it. “Fresh smell of dirt and grass after a rainstorm,” wrote Matthew from Singapore. Yet another anonymous reader suggested “fertile soil after a rain.”
“Probably like rich composted soil — depending on circumstances, good OR bad,” one reader wrote. “Baking in the hot sun, or in a warehouse? After a fresh spring rain? That lovely rain-on-dirt smell.” The circle of life is pervasive in the way we perceive Mako and the Lifestream. Even though it's a fuel with a myriad of everyday uses, its core purpose runs much deeper than that.
“Smells like a combo of ozone, mineral pitch, and fresh spring water,” a reader calling themselves enkidude wrote. “BUT I think what they are really smelling is the reaction process, whatever it is?” (Nice Gilgamesh reference in your name, enkidude!)
Ozone is a form of oxygen that’s described as the “sweet, pungent zing” that hits your nostrils just before a storm, and it seemingly goes hand in hand with Petrichor.
Final Verdict: Mako smells like Gasoline, Ozone, Blood, and Petrichor
As an enigmatic energy source from the world of Final Fantasy VII, Mako has been around for more than 20 years, and we still don’t really have any concrete idea of what it smells like. Representatives from Square Enix have declined to comment directly on the matter, so we’re left to crowdsource assumptions based on in-game character comments and how the substance relates to similar real-world odors.
The Lifestream and Mako is a spiritual concept like heaven that exists in nature as a kind of magical petroleum, so it makes sense that most of us would compare it to something like gasoline — and why it has such a connection to organic decay and the subtle scents of nature.
Mako isn’t going anywhere any time soon, because FF7 Remake is just the first part in a much bigger story that’ll continue in Part 2 and beyond, so perhaps one day we might finally get an answer regarding what Mako smells like. For now, we’re left to assume it smells like a weird collision of Gasoline, Ozone, Blood, and my new favorite word: Petrichor.