Final Fantasy 7 Remake takes some significant twists and turns in the late game, and we really need to talk about it.
In this discussion, Alex Donaldson and Kirk McKeand will discuss that ending, and the ramifications it might have on the future games. Some amount of knowledge of the events of the original game will be assumed.
Full Game and Detailed Ending Spoilers follow. ‘Cos we need to talk about it. Don’t scroll past Barret in the sailor suit unless you want spoilers, or have already finished the game. If you read this, we respectfully ask you respect other fans and use the knowledge sensibly. We know many of you have had early copies for a week, but still - don't ruin things for others. This article, and its comments, are for spoiler discussion.
We're not joking. After this line there are whole-ass, full-game spoilers. Turn around... or don't. Here is Barret again. Sailor outfit. He's deadly serious.
First: a quick recap. Throughout the game, the main cast are set upon by a collection of entities called Whispers. These are not present in the original, and they’re revealed to be the embodiment of fate - making sure the story plays out as it did in the original. It’s all very meta.
At one point, they even resurrect party member Barret after he’s skewered by Sephiroth’s sword, as that isn't how things are 'meant' to go. It all gets a bit meta.
As the story comes to a close, the characters decide to fight fate, quite literally, battling it in a void against physical embodiments of their destinies. They also battle Sephiroth in a fight that’s similar to the actual ending of the full original game, even though this remake is meant to only be the first part. By the end of the game, the key players are in the same places as they were at the end of the Midgar section of the original FF7, but the context is entirely different, and the characters might even be in a new world where things will play out completely differently going forward.
Let’s kick off our conversation with Alex:
AD: So, I guess I want to start by saying that in some ways Final Fantasy 7 Remake has more in common with Final Fantasy 13 than it does with the original Final Fantasy 7. I mean this in thematic terms; the original FF7 is about life, death and reincarnation, but because of the section of the original story the remake covers, those themes don’t really get a chance to get going.
Those themes are touched on in the original game’s Midgar, but only in a way that exists to set up the scenes in Cosmo Canyon that really kick that whole thread off. It’s the same here, but of course you don’t get to Cosmo Canyon… so it makes sense that the game offers up another core theme instead. I just didn’t expect that theme to be fate, destiny and predeterminism, which was basically the core theme of FF13.
It’s fair to say that the people involved have an interest in this, I suppose. Story co-director Motomu Toriyama directed FF13, and writer Kazushige Nojima wrote FF13’s general scenario, so those guys are visiting the same themes again. Tetsuya Nomura’s Kingdom Hearts has a fair amount of this stuff, too.
So let’s start by asking - Kirk, what do you think of it? The idea that’s presented in the game is that there’s a ‘set version’ of history - it’s described as “the will of the planet itself” and “the flow of the planet from inception to oblivion” - and that the version of events in the original game is that predestined version of things. Every time events are about to change away from the original significantly, these ghost things show up and intervene to try to make sure people go to the right places, do the right things and even die at the correct times.
But then at the end of the game the crew do what Lightning and friends did and decide to try to fight fate to change the future. Do you think it’s too meta?
KM: It is too meta. Up until the end, all the small changes added something to the original story that fans came to experience. These ghostly apparitions that intervene, called Whispers, were the main new mystery, but I assumed they were tied to the Jenova clone experiments like Cloud and Sephiroth themselves. The spirits wear dark cloaks not unlike the ones of the numbered test subjects that make the pilgrimage to Nibelheim for Reunion in the original game. However, it turns out that the Whispers are just a device for the writers to move the game away from its original vision entirely.
The big question hanging over this remake was how Square Enix planned to do the rest of the story - how would the game be split up? We already knew this was going to be Midgar, but the original game’s map is vast and varied, full of different biomes and cities with distinct architecture. From a development standpoint, at this fidelity - because, let’s be honest, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is gorgeous - packing all of that in seems like a nightmare in terms of assets. The Whispers don’t feel like they’re there to support the existing story - they’re a get-out clause so the upcoming games can veer wildly from the original vision.
At the end of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Cloud and company fight fate, like you say, somehow changing a future that hasn’t yet happened. We see glimpses of Aerith’s death, we see Red XIII as Nanaki running with his cubs in the aftermath. It suggests all of that will change. Hell, even Biggs somehow survived the Sector 7 plate being dropped, despite apparently bleeding out halfway up the supporting pillar. I understand that the writers wanted to leave some surprises in there, but these changes are far-reaching and, in some instances, completely baffling. Like, the game ends with you fighting Sephiroth, but he’s not been fleshed out at all. I imagine new players will wonder what his role even is. And Aerith suddenly knows everything about him, while Cloud and Tifa - who have dealt with him in the past - barely say anything about him at all. How did you feel about the whole Sephiroth sequence?
AD: It’s funny you mention thinking the Whispers were part of the Reunion, as in early development of the original game there weren’t Sephiroth clones, but rather the black-cloaked ‘people’ were pieces of Jenova floating magically under the cloak - which is why they’d be trying to reunite, to become a whole being again. They cut that, but I too thought they were bringing that back - apparently not.
This is where the ending confused me a bit, to be honest. Before they make the decision to fight the Whispers, Aerith says “We’ll be changing more than fate itself. If we win, we’ll be changing ourselves” - and then you go ahead and do that, but then the ending of the game is the same, in a sense. The crew are still leaving Midgar on a journey to chase Sephiroth.
Other pieces have moved around - Biggs is definitely alive, Wedge might be? Wedge’s fate is that the Whispers appear to throw him out of a window to his death - which is interesting in itself as that’d mean he dies in the same way but in a different place - but it does fade to black, so we don’t know for sure.
But the big one… there’s a suggestion that Zack is alive, too - but after what it was built up to be, I thought the ending was going to be more dramatically different. In a sense the two are at odds: it builds up the team changing history, but then nothing major comes of it for them personally. Despite showing us flashes of Red XIII from the original ending, of Aerith’s death, of Meteor and suggesting these things may not happen or may happen differently now, the ending sets the core players on the same path they were on before.
KM: Does it though? I’m not sure it does. For those who don’t know, Zack is the guy who was a SOLDIER 1st Class. Cloud was an ordinary Shinra troop who idolised Zack and wanted to be him. He saw Zack die in front of him, took up his buster sword and basically stole his identity. Trauma made him believe this lie of a life he’d created for himself.
In the scene we see with Zack, he survives the encounter where he was supposed to die. Even Zack is shocked, he’s like “Huh, that was all of them?” when he realizes all the soldiers are dead. This poses a big question: did this happen in the universe we played in throughout the game, or is Zack only alive in this new universe where fate has been severed? And if the latter, does that mean another version of Cloud exists in this same world? Is there another Barret, Tifa, and Aerith? Are we now in an alternate dimension completely?
If Zack survived that encounter, Cloud would have never taken up his sword. Aerith presumably would have carried on dating Zack. The butterfly effect means this one change could have massive implications on the state of the world, and I think things will play out very differently in the next couple of games because of this, despite the crew ending the game in basically the same place. What are your thoughts?
AD: I guess this won’t be answered until the next game, but I do want to note when the team step through the ‘singularity’ - which is what the game calls it - they come out in an identical-looking Midgar. So one wonders if they stepped into an alternate universe there.
I want to note that when we see Zack has survived the onslaught he’s meant to die to, we briefly see the ‘Stamp’ dog that’s been seen on graffiti around Midgar to help Avalanche, but the Stamp in the Zack scene is a different breed of dog to the Stamp we see throughout the game otherwise - so is that a hint this is a different universe? It all does feel a bit like JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movie, where they create a branch in the timeline so they can retell old stories in a different way while keeping the old canon intact.
Just in this branch Zack is alive… if not absolutely, then at least he lives longer than he did before. To quote another time travel and continuity-focused series, Doctor Who, “There's a man alive in the world who wasn't alive before. The whole world's different because he's alive.” It changes everything. Biggs too.
The simpler answer might be that this is just a retcon and now Zack takes Cloud to Midgar and perishes in some other way, too. Cloud still has his sword, after all.
I do think there’s a butterfly effect from the small changes, though. Biggs surviving takes the wind out of Avalanche’s sacrifice, doesn’t it? Even if Wedge doesn’t survive, which is unclear, I think they moved his sacrifice to a less interesting place. The wonderful scene in the original where at Cosmo Canyon Barret has an introspective moment lamenting the loss of his friends is massively weakened now. I think it also takes the teeth out of the plate falling in general - there shouldn’t even be any bodies to retrieve from that, but the ending even suggests Jessie was recovered (her headband and gloves are on Biggs’ bedside when we see him recovering).
In the ending, any time something has been changed there’s sparkles in the sky. We see them over Zack when he survives - in fact they explode into view, knocking Zack over. We see them over the people of Sector 7 as they begin to rebuild, which never happens in the original. We see them over the surviving Biggs.
I thought the Whispers might be a recurring element throughout the entire remake series, but now I’m thinking they could easily be the main villain for this first part only. Now they’ve been defeated, the future can be freely changed… which like you said, is an in-universe excuse for them to make the subsequent games as different as they want, which could solve all sorts of development problems. Like, is that a problem? I actually really like the idea of them doing something really different. The original game is still there for us. But then again, I’m one of the people who never particularly wanted a remake in the first place. I would’ve rather been playing FF16 this week, much as I’ve loved the remake.
KM: I get you, even if I can’t believe you quoted Doctor Who to get there. I’m excited to see what they do with it, but at the same time I feel kinda bummed out. Every scene I was looking forward to seeing recreated is here in Final Fantasy 7 Remake and done well, and I was looking forward to many more in the next couple of games. Will Cid and his rocket be in them? Will Red XIII’s backstory with his dad? The Golden Saucer? The prison beneath it? And even outside of all those things that might not happen, I feel like the change at the end of the remake will make absolutely no sense to any newcomers.
I also want to touch on your point about Cloud still having the buster sword - I don’t think that means Zack is dead. He is dead, but only in the universe that our Cloud comes from. I think in this universe he’s alive and so is another Cloud - evil Cloud, anyone? Man, that would be lame.
Anyway, as I was saying about newcomers - we as fans of the original already know who Sephiroth is and why we want to fight him, but it’s never explained to the players. The game doesn’t earn that final fight with him. In the original, he’s this unknowable threat for a long time, then you slowly uncover who he is. Final Fantasy 7 Remake trips over its own status as a classic and expects the audience to care just because this iconic villain is back. But he’s not iconic to new players - he’s just a dude in a cloak with a big sword who turns up and does things that you don’t understand. I also hate what they did with the blood trail in the Shinra Building, turning it into blue goo from Jenova, Sephiroth’s alien mum, instead. It completely strips the horror away from that sequence.
I dunno. The end just felt rushed, and many of the characters there were underdeveloped. The main cast is so good that it stands out even more. They have proper character arcs and they grow as people. But then you’ve got this cast of bad guys we know nothing about. Even President Shinra’s son, Rufus, is a bit disappointing, right?
AD: I think this is the core problem. FF7 Remake is a great game - like you say in the review, best 3D combat in a Final Fantasy game, wonderful character development, a beautiful vision of its admittedly limited world… the shortcomings don’t take much away from that. But while we as fans are debating the implications of the ending, I can’t help but think that those who haven’t played the original will just be hugely confused.
Like you say, nothing really gets its time or resolution in this game. I suppose we knew this going in. But Shinra is still active. The President is dead but Rufus is clearly a bad guy and is now in charge instead. Sephiroth - you fight him and he escapes. The only thing that has changed is that the party has defeated the ghosts that were trying to force them to take the same actions and path as the original game… and all that is a bit meta.
Like, when the Whispers show you glimpses of the original game’s most iconic moments - Aerith praying, Meteor over Midgar, Red XIII and his cubs from the ending, even Cloud laying Aerith to rest… Red XIII calls this “glimpses of the future if we fail here today.” For us, that’s exciting… the idea that these iconic events may now no longer happen because they won, or may happen differently this time around. Exciting and a little bit scary, sure. But what does that even mean to somebody coming into FF7 Remake with only a casual knowledge of the game?
Same for the Zack revelation at the end, right? The shock and mystery in that requires you to have played Crisis Core, or seen an optional, easy-to-miss scene in the original FF7.
As for Rufus, man, I was bummed. I loved his fight - one of the best in the game, a real stand-and-bang duel that requires strategy - but I was really disappointed he doesn’t have a megalomaniacal rant like in the original game. He only has a handful of lines; you don’t get much of a feel for who he is as a person at all. So, yeah, underdeveloped… which I think is pretty true for a lot of the non party-member cast, because of course their development has to be saved for the next game.
What a cast that main cast is, though. So well written and delivered. Just brilliant. I suppose that’s the take-away for me. These new changes might work or they might not, and they might get better or get worse, but it’s been a hell of a journey to see them executed like this. I'm into the change, personally. I know you like it a bit less. More than anything, it’s made me want to replay the original again.
KM: Yeah, it’s still an amazing game. And, hey, it’s got us debating and talking about what it all means. It’s got me thinking about how excruciating it will be to wait three years or so to see what happens next. I’m excited about the future of a series I love, and maybe that’s enough.