FFVII tells a beloved story, but it’s convoluted. FFVII Remake has balanced that out with considerably more character development than the first time round; but does that drastic left turn of an ending threaten to derail the fun train before it properly leaves the station?
Warning: Significant spoilers for the plot of FFVII and FFVII Remake follow!
We’ve known for a long time that the much-anticipated Final Fantasy VII Remake was going to be delivered in episodes. The original, released in 1997, spanned four PS1 discs at the time. Recreating the scale and length of the story, though portrayed through 3D computer graphics (the first game in the series to do so!) would be a titanic undertaking.
And, for the most part, that’s how FFVII Remake has been marketed to the fans. A true to life, bit by bit remake in episodes, bringing Cloud’s epic story to new life. They’ve used the opportunity to flesh out the surrounding world – AVALANCHE members get way more screentime, with personal flourishes of character. There are sidequests which give you the opportunity to explore the dystopian underbelly of Midgar.
But there are hints of something else – deviations from the original plot – that are hinted at heavily up to the final act. We’re hounded by mysterious entities called Whispers throughout, powerful wraiths determined to keep the timeline moving forward on its predestined path. They injure Jessie’s foot to ensure Cloud goes on the ill-fated second bombing mission instead. They bring Barret back to life after Sephiroth unexpectedly slays him.
They are never presented as an entirely malicious or beneficial thing – they just are, like a force of nature. What the presence of the Whispers suggests is pretty simple. Things are different this time. Something is working to undo the normal procession of time, and that’s never more obvious than when Sephiroth shows up much earlier than expected.
He was a subtle presence for much of FFVII‘s original release. Sephiroth was a figure shrouded in mystery and menace. His plans for the world certainly weren’t made so abundantly clear before the gang had even left Midgar to tackle what the wider world had in store. Before Cloud and his allies take on the final fight in FFVII Remake, Aerith warns that this is the point of no return – that the potential for great freedom lies ahead.
Is she talking purely about liberation from Sephiroth’s schemes? Or hinting at even greater changes to the story to come?
What does FFVII Remake lose by changing the timeline?
The worry (for me, at least) is that Square will be using this as a reason to strip back and mix up the story so they can cut down on all the plot to come. That, to me, feels slightly disingenuous – like fans have been reeled in with a promise of something that isn’t actually going to be delivered.
The other possible implication is that Tetsuya Nomura is simply overegging the pudding again – just look at the absolutely cursed Kingdom Hearts series. There’s a game that has so much story it went right back around to having none at all. It is word salad in the gaming medium, a lot of words to say absolutely nothing. FFVII did not need to be altered or remixed, and the plot needed more layers like Cloud needs a bigger sword.
The most egregious change from my perspective is the sudden introduction of Sephiroth. Cloud starts seeing visions of his nemesis a couple of hours into the story, and it slowly starts to rob one of the series’ most iconic villains of his menace. I’m not a diehard FFVII fan (I’m an odd one, my favourite of the classics was FFVIII) but knowing so little about who he was and what exactly he wanted to do was a big part of what made the original’s story compelling. It was overly complicated, it was vague and meandering, but so much dramatic momentum came from Sephiroth’s enigma.
Now, we know who he is. We know that he’s bad news, and that we must stop him even if it means defying fate itself. We’ve even beaten him once already – or, at least, one his supposed four forms present in FFVII Remake. We’ve heard One-Winged Angel, and we have a party that is completely resolved to kill this man before they’ve stepped one foot out of Midgar.
Before fighting Sephiroth, the group takes down a vast, powerful manifestation of Whispers – does this mean that the Whispers no longer have a firm, unassailable grip on Destiny? (Yes, Tifa, “destiny with a big D”.) Despite Cloud’s repeated attempts at resistance, the Whispers always got their way until the penultimate boss fight.
What does it mean for the future of FFVII Remake?
It could mean anything. Good or bad. Much of FFVII Remake is still to come, even if they manage to consolidate the entirety of the remaining plot into a single sequel.
Let’s start with the pessimistic outlook (because of course I’d start with that). Remaking FFVII with a purist approach is too big an undertaking for Square, who simply have too many irons in the fire. Final Fantasy XIV has been steadily gaining popularity over the last few years. Final Fantasy XVI is on the horizon, and there’s probably more visually impressive but narratively messy movies to crank out.
With Aerith’s “point of no return” comment, the groundwork has been laid for massive changes. We could end up skipping huge chunks of FFVII‘s story now, basically playing through a “Cloud’s Greatest Hits” montage of moments. The story could morph into something else entirely, becoming an unexpected (and unnecessary) quasi-sequel. Major plot points could be subverted entirely – will Aerith die, as fate has in store? That was a huge moment, back in the day. She was dead and gone for good. The game didn’t care that you’d spent hours levelling her up, that girl was toast.
It was tragic and momentous and drove Cloud forwards to victory against Sephiroth, even when the latter stood at the precipice of godhood. But now it’s a very real possibility things just aren’t going to happen that way. Aerith might still be standing beside Cloud til the very end, and with the overt hints that Zack Fair is still alive, that could make for interesting changes indeed.
Aerith is a great character, and her death in FFVII is a landmark moment in JRPG history. Would Square really go so far as to change that? Probably not. But anything could happen from here on out, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The optimistic take is that the whole thing is just a way to keep these small chunks of a greater story feeling more coherent, more rewarding. It’s possible that long-time lovers of Final Fantasy VII would feel like they’d missed out if Sephiroth wasn’t present for two of the games, especially with such a long wait inbetween them. By bringing him in earlier, there’s more of a payoff – less waiting around for something exciting to happen.
It’s also likely that quite a few people playing FFVII Remake have never touched the original, but have always wanted to. It’s a fantastic game, but definitely shows its age these days, especially compared to Square’s more recent titles. The battle system isn’t for everyone, and there’s a lot of unvoiced dialogue to wade through if you want to experience the story in full. For these players – who probably have a vague knowledge of Sephiroth – it’d be pretty confusing to play an entire thirty hour game without a single glimpse of the big bad guy.
By setting up the whole Reunion thing nice and early, the next instalment of FFVII Remake can move forward with purpose. Fans of the original get to see more of Cloud and Sephiroth’s bitter rivalry, new fans are kept interested in future instalments. That’s what we have to consider here – not everyone that plays Remake has played the original, and it would feel odd to just cut things straight off at the gang escaping Midgar.
We still don’t know much at all about the rest of this project. We don’t know how many instalments it’s going to come in, we don’t know when the second one will be out. If the developers hadn’t mixed things up a bit, this first episode might have felt particularly unsatisfying, especially after the five year wait from announcement to release.
Regardless, FFVII Remake 2, whatever they end up calling it, will presumably mark another commercial hit for Square when it eventually launches. By October last year, FFVII Remake had topped five million units, and had become the company’s highest selling digital release. I just hope that they continue to do VII‘s remarkable world justice in the wake of a really strange ending.