FAIR WARNING: THIS ARTICLE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FOR FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Final Fantasy VII Remake has had a long road to completion. Well, at least the first part of it anyway. It started development all the way back in 2014 prior to being officially unveiled to the public at E3 2015. After PSX 2015 in December of 2015, the game went dark for over a year and a half, at which point we received the news that Square was dissatisfied with CyberConnect2's work on the remake and had brought its development entirely in-house, rebooting the project at the same time. It would be almost exactly two years from that day until we saw the game again, but upon its re-reveal prior to E3 2019, hype skyrocketed once again and expectations were high. Now that the game has officially released and I’ve had a chance to play through it, I can safely say that it satisfied all of my expectations and I am eagerly awaiting Part 2, which I expect will take no more than three years provided there are no serious delays caused by COVID-19 currently or in the future if it becomes a recurring issue just like the seasonal flu.
If there is one thing however that has many people scratching their heads, it’s the changes made to the story throughout, and the way in which those changes all come to a head at the end of the game. Many people expected a 1:1 remake of the original FFVII, merely expanded, but what we got is in every sense a remake. It both is, and is not, the same story we got all those years ago. There are many reasons for the changes they’ve made and the direction it’s heading in, not least of which is that Square themselves have said in the past that merely remaking the game exactly as it was would be boring, it wouldn’t be worth it, at least to them. This was their way being the creative’s that they are, while also still giving the fans most of what they wanted. And what I want to do right now, is shed some light on these changes so that you too can hopefully understand exactly what it was you were seeing.
As explained late in the game by Red XIII and Aerith, the Whispers of Fate are a manifestation of the planets will. Fate or destiny is set in stone and kept on track by these beings. They will correct any deviations, ensuring that events proceed as the planet dictates. They take no sides in the conflict between the party and Sephiroth, merely wishing to keep fate intact.
It is because of Sephiroth, however, that these beings even appear in the remake. You see, the remake is technically a sequel to the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. In an unfortunately explained twist, the Sephiroth we see in the remake is from the future. He has knowledge of all that will transpire, including his own defeat multiple times over. Sephiroth is also aware of the Whispers existence and that so long as they exist, they will continue to force his defeat in the future. So he gives the timeline a push by delaying Cloud’s meeting with Aerith for the first time. This causes the Whispers to appear and hold Aerith in place so that she can meet Cloud as preordained by the planet.
This delay causes a ripple effect throughout the game, causing the Whispers to appear time and time again to try and keep the flow of time on track. In the original game, Cloud goes with Barrett and Tifa to the Sector 5 reactor, however in the remake they opt to not take him. This is not supposed to happen. So the Whispers force Cloud to oversleep and then attack Seventh Heaven. This results in Jessie’s injury and Wedge being left to look after her, forcing Barrett to bring Cloud along to the Sector 5 reactor. As the story progresses further and further, the Whispers become more and more aggressive, increasingly agitated by everything veering off course and having to be corrected. And finally, at the end of the game, the Whispers come out in full force, an event that transcends time and space. Aerith, who has been able to see the future this whole time, knowing of her eventual death, communes with the planet and begs it to give them a chance to prove themselves and break away from fate. And so it does.
Knowing that his defeat at the hands of Cloud is entirely guaranteed by the planet and there is nothing he can do to stop it on his own, Sephiroth decided to force a confrontation between Cloud and the Whispers. By defeating the Arbiter of Fate, and thus tossing aside the fate the planet set out for them, Sephiroth, and by extension Aerith, are set free from the chains that bound them to their destinies. Aerith is no longer fated to die, and Sephiroth can now succeed. The defeat of the Whispers ripples throughout time, causing past events to shift. Biggs(And implied Jessie) survives the destruction of Sector 7 despite his apparent death, and Zack’s death, the whole reason Cloud becomes who he is, is wholly averted. Because of Sephiroth’s prodding, the world is now free of its fate, for better or worse, and those who died as a result of the Whispers interference now live and can forge new paths for themselves.
This of course brings up questions. The defeat of the Whispers has created a new timeline, so shouldn’t characters memories match up with this new timeline? After all, Zack’s death creates the Cloud we see in the remake, it’s also how he gets his buster sword which originally belonged to Zack. So if Zack is now alive, where did he go? How did Cloud still end up confused about who he is? Did Zack leave the buster sword with him? Did Aerith know that undoing fate would save the life of her love? Why did Stamp’s breed change? Are these actually two separate timelines and not one merged timeline? All these questions are likely to go unanswered for the next few years.
As stated by Aerith at the games end, the future is now a blank slate. Anything can happen. While the developers at Square Enix have made it clear in the past that Part 2 will still follow the story set out by the original FF7, this ending shows that they are willing to take creative liberties with that path. At Shinra HQ they wanted to prove a point with Barrett’s apparent death. Because of the Whispers, he could not die until his appointed time, and so the Whispers revive him. That will no longer happen going forward. Anyone can die, anyone can live, anything is now possible. Aerith’s survival may sound predictable, but is it really? They could find other ways to conceal that she’ll die again, make us think she’ll live, and then pull the rug out from under us. They have now set this precedent that anything can change, and it can and will be used against us for the sake of telling a familiar story, but in an unpredictable manner.
This, in my opinion, is even better than a straight remake. With a straight remake you get a story you already know, but with a fresh coat of paint. While seeing familiar events with an HD coat can feel fresh to you, you’re still expecting everything, it still loses something. But now, while you can expect the story to hit those familiar beats, the road to get there, and what may result from them, is no longer set in stone. This could, in turn, lead to increased player input on the story, having decisions you make dictate some of the twists and turns the story takes. The first part of this remake has already experimented with that to smaller degrees, and perhaps now is the time to ramp it up and really make that mean something.
I’m excited for the future of Final Fantasy VII Remake far more now because it’s hard to predict exactly what they’ll do. I can see how this sort of ending might frustrate or anger others, I completely understand, but having come to an understanding about the story and the developers intentions, I cannot bring myself to feel the same way. I instead believe that choosing this course was the best course of action and only time will tell if it truly was worth it.