The secret meaning of the Final Fantasy VII Remake
OK guys, spoilers inbound. Major spoilers. Like serious spoilers for all of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Turn back now if you have a problem with that.
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If you completed Final Fantasy VII Remake you have probably noticed that the game didn’t quite play out the way you remembered in the original Final Fantasy VII. In fact, something felt a lot more… Kingdom Heartsy about it. In the end of the Midgar section of the original FFVII you simply raced to the end of a highway and fought a robot. Here, you end up fighting a giant time-destroying arbiter of fate, along with Sephiroth himself.
What the heck is going on!?
Well let’s talk about these arbiters of fate. Known as the “Whispers”, these strange hooded ghostly figures, which are clearly legally distinct from the Dementors of Harry Potter fame, are one of the biggest new additions to the FFVIIR storyline. They show up at random points to harass or help your party, and it’s never quite clear why. That is, it’s never clear why until the very end of the game.
There, Red XIII reveals that the Whispers are arbiters of fate, protectors of the timeline. They exist to make sure that events happen the way they should. For a while, it’s not entirely clear what this means, until, that is, you go through the final fight and play through the game again.
In the final fight, the Whispers get very upset with you and you end up fighting three figures who, when assessed, are revealed to be entities that come from a future timeline and are fighting to protect the timeline that created them. So now it’s clear what the Whispers are trying to do. They are trying to make sure a certain future comes to pass. What future is that?
The future of the original Final Fantasy VII timeline.
Diverging from the original timeline
Over the course of the game, Cloud has weird blurry glitchy visions, and at the start you might be tempted to think that this is all mako poisoning and Jenova cells screwing with his amnesia rattled brain… and it might be. However, partway through the game he starts having visions of things that have not yet come to pass, like Aerith’s death in the city of the ancients. Not only has that event not come to pass, it doesn’t even happen in this chapter of the remake.
Cloud also eventually gets visions of Meteor coming down on the planet, an event that doesn’t happen until the very end of the original Final Fantasy VII. At no point in the original Final Fantasy VII was it said that Cloud or anyone with mako-enhanced powers had future sight, so either this is something completely new for the remake or something else is going on.
It’s a bit of both.
Later on, in the final fight, the whole party starts receiving these strange visions, and it’s revealed that they come from the Whispers themselves. Red XIII reveals that these visions are a glimpse of the future “if they fail here today,” and that is a particularly interesting line. You see, these visions are all from the original FFVII timeline. There was a fight with Sephiroth that mimicked a scene from Advent Children, a scene of Red XIII running up a cliff which happens in the Final Fantasy VII end movie, and of course scenes of the final confrontation with Sephiroth and Meteor. If the party were to fail, then the events of Final Fantasy VII would come to pass as we know them.
But the party doesn’t fail. They fight against the Whispers and proceed into what Aerith describes as terrifying freedom.
The Whispers try to get things back on track
This might prompt you to look back on the Whispers' actions over the course of the game and see them in a new light. The Whispers make Aerith freak out in the early game, making Cloud notice her just like he did in the original FFVII, but then they chase her away to prevent her from following him back to sector 7. Barret is about to do the bombing run on reactor 5 with Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, but in the original he goes with Cloud and Tifa, so the Whispers injure the other Avalanche members to force Cloud and Tifa to go. In the church, when Reno gets the upper hand on Aerith and Cloud, the Whispers intervene to allow Cloud and Aerith to escape, and even save Aerith when she was about to fall to her death.
Every point at which the Whispers show up is a point at which they are trying to retain the timeline. We see them swarm around Biggs, Wedge, and Jesse when it looks like they might survive the fall of the plate, and when Wedge does in fact survive, the Whispers hunt him down Final Destination-style. When Sephiroth gets a bit too eager and kills Barret, the Whispers bring him back from the dead since he has to survive until the end of the OG FFVII timeline. At the end of the game, the Whispers swarm around Midgar to protect it from destruction so that the heavy mako cannon can eventually be built, allowing the barrier at north crater to be broken.
And let’s talk about those Whispers you fight at the end of the game for a second. You fight one Whisper with a sword, one Whisper who fights barehanded, and one Whisper that fights with a gun-arm. Sound familiar? These are future versions of Cloud, Tifa, and Barret, come back in time to protect the timeline they came from, a timeline where everything does end up OK.
The connection between Aerith, Sephiroth and the Whispers
Now let’s talk about Aerith for a while. Aerith seems to have an innate understanding of the whispers. Red XIII tells her that she imparted all the knowledge of the Whispers to her with a simple touch. What is this knowledge though?
I’d say that it’s plausible to think that Aerith can see the future, or at the very least see the original FFVII future. When she uses her strange relaxation powers on Marlene and Red XIII, we see the same graphical effect that happens when you have visions from whispers. Marlene is crying during the chaos of the falling plate, but Aerith touches her, shows her the future where her dad comes home safe and sound, and she calms down. Red XIII is ready to attack you all, but Aerith touches him, shows him the future where they battle against Sephiroth, and he calms down. We see her use the same powers when she opens up the gate at the end of the road, saying that this is the point at which you can choose to break free of destiny. She in particular is afraid of this uncernatiny, because she knows of a timeline where everything ends up OK, at the cost of her life. The world might not be so lucky in a different timeline.
Sephiroth also seems to know this. He constantly waxes on about having Cloud help him fight against destiny. He even makes sweeping poetic statements like “those who see with eyes clouded see only shadows” which in this case might be referring to the shadows of the former timeline that you are seeing.
What does Sephiroth want in all this? Oddly enough, exactly what the party wants. He wants to change the timeline. In the original FFVII timeline, he loses. The murder of Aerith by his hands actually ends up being the catalyst to summon forth Holy, which will eventually be his undoing. In the original timeline, all of Sephiroth’s plans are foiled and he ends up dying time and time again, all at the hands of this one party.
At the beginning of the game when Sephiroth says “I am dead” the player is lead to believe he is talking about his murder at the hands of Cloud at Nibbelheim reactor. But that’s the thing. Sephiroth doesn’t die during that confrontation. He flows through the life-stream to North Crater where he stays, alive, manipulating anyone infected with Jenova cells. He tells us he’s dead because he is dead in the original timeline, and he wants to change that.
So what’s the conflict? The party wants to defy fate. Sephiroth wants to defy fate? Can’t we all get along?
Well, no! Sephiroth is still a an insane evil super soldier pumped full of mako energy and alien cells controlling a hive mind toward his own ends. The conflict here isn’t going to be “join forces with Sephy and have a tea party” (although I do think there is a non-zero chance that Sephiroth might join your party at some point in a later episode). The conflict is “find another way.”
The Final Fantasy VII Remake will be about finding a different way
In the original Final Fantasy VII all of Avalanche’s terrorist runs were done with conviction. They caused a lot of death and destruction, but they had to be done for the sake of the planet. FFVIIR plants the seeds of doubt in the very same scenes, however. Instead of having conviction, Avalanche feels conflicted. They wonder if they could have saved the planet but in a different way, a way that didn’t end up hurting everyone, a way that didn’t take as much sacrifice.
That’s going to be the main theme of Final Fantasy VII remake: finding a different way. Finding a happy ending without sacrificing those who are close to us. In fact, this mirrors a quote from the original Final Fantasy VII where the party wonders if Aerith knew she was going to die in the city of the ancients, but Tifa refutes it, saying she probably thought she was going to come back to us all along. Add to this the fact that the original FFVII team has frequently discussed how they originally planned a way to let Aerith come back from the dead and rejoin your party but couldn’t do so due to time, budgetary, and technological constraints, and we finally get a picture of where Final Fantasy VII remake is going.
The story of Final Fantasy VII Remake is the story of saving Aerith. It’s the quest that everyone has wanted since the original. It’s the quest that everyone asked about and made fake guides about, the quest that people made gameshark codes for, the quest that eventually inspired an entire mod that recreated the whole story just so that you can use a phoenix down at the fated scene. The story of Final Fantasy VII Remake will be the story of defying fate such that Aerith can live, while still saving the planet in the process. Victory without sacrifice, just as they thought of after the first few bombing runs.
And we are already seeing evidence of this timeline change happening. At the end of the game you see a scene with Zack Fair, facing off against Shinra guards. This is a shot-for-shot remake of the end of Crisis Core, where Zack dies and gives the Buster Sword to Cloud. However, after the party defeats the Whispers, an explosion rocks the cliff where Zack is, and we see that Zack survives. Yes, Zack Fair survives! We then see a close-up of a potato chip bag with a picture of Stamp, the Shinra dog mascot on it, but it’s a different breed of dog from the same dog we have seen on the same potato chip bag earlier in the game. This is the proof that we have entered another timeline. Time has changed.
Zack is an extremely important character. At the end of Advent Children, which was the last real definitive chapter in the FFVII storyline, we get to see a touching scene where Zack and Aerith are together in the afterlife. However, one half of that duo is not dead now! Since this game confirms that the extended FFVII canon are all part of that one timeline, what with the flash forwards to events from other games, it’s clear that we are not in some rendition of the timeline that simply doesn’t sync up with anything that happened in the original.
Which means… who the heck knows where chapter 2 is going to go!? We might not visit all the places we originally visited in the original. We might not have the same conflicts. We might not get the same party. Everything is up in the air. Square Enix spent an entire game telling you that, no, this isn’t going to be a traditional remake. This is going to be something new and they, the original FFVII design team, want it to be that way. It's a bold decision.
So that’s where I think we are going to end up. A climactic moment of the complete Final Fantasy VII Remake will be us saving Aerith, even against her wishes, and finding another way to save the planet, without Holy. What will that way be? Who knows, but I can’t wait to play the later chapters to find out.