How Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Improved On Its Most Tragic Scene
Screenshot by Siliconera

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Improves the Most Tragic Scene

While Final Fantasy VII Rebirth largely stays faithful to the 1997 original, it takes some major risks with Aerith in its ending that will likely be divisive with some fans. However, I believe that Rebirth’s final act not only lived up to FFVII’s most infamously tragic moment, but it was a major improvement in a few key ways.

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Editor’s Note: This piece contains spoilers for FFVII Rebirth Chapters 12 through 14 and the original game.

Like millions of players around the world, I was left traumatized by Aerith’s death for decades after playing Final Fantasy VII back in 1997. For many of us growing up in the 1990s, it was our first experience of a major protagonist dying in fictional media. Whether the moment is technically classified as a “twist,” it certainly felt like one to me at the time, because I just didn’t see it coming and it completely blindsided me. I think Aerith is also one of the purest characters ever to be put into modern fiction, which made her death all the more shattering. It just felt wrong on a visceral level.

Over 25 years later with Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, Square Enix had the challenge of Aerith’s death looming over it at every step of the game’s development cycle. It is this watershed pop-culture moment that everyone now knows about and expects. This left many wondering, would developers play it safe and just deliver the scene faithfully line by line? Or would the team do the opposite and save Aerith, as many theorized after Final Fantasy VII Remake revealed that Zack was still alive due to the introduction of a new timeline? Instead, Square Enix did something completely different and managed to subvert our expectations and surprise us all over again.

At the end of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, it’s revealed that there are not only multiple timelines that exist alongside each other, but an actual multiverse of infinite worlds. This plot device is demonstrated in a key moment when Zack has to decide between saving Aerith, Biggs, or Cloud. After choosing to save Cloud, we are given a visual cue that this pivotal decision resulted in the creation of another timeline. Or as Sephiroth puts it: “When the boundaries of Fate are breached, new worlds are born.”

This major revelation has a profound impact on the story of Aerith, as it alters Final Fantasy VII’s most traumatic scene in a major way. Like the 1997 original, we see Sephiroth soaring down from the sky as his katana is slowly aiming for Aerith’s back. Square Enix understands that the audience knows what is about to go down, but in an interesting twist, it’s revealed that Aerith also knows what is about to happen and purposely accepts her fate.

In another shocking moment, we then learn that Cloud sees a timeline where he stops Sephiroth from killing Aerith. Now, I am not going to pretend to fully understand the ending of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, as the multiverse plotline is pretty complex and there are still a lot of unknown factors. Is Aerith actually still alive in other timelines, and is she reaching out and communicating with Cloud in the world where she died? Can Cloud see into other timelines? Or has he just lost his sanity and is instead talking to the “spirit” of Aerith to cope with her death?

Regardless of what the truth is, none of that matters to the point I’m trying to make. In my opinion, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth improved on the death of Aerith because it gave the character more agency in her own story. Instead of Sephiroth just killing her for the shock factor, Aerith chooses to sacrifice herself because of her love for Cloud, Tifa, Barret, Cait Sith, Cid, Yuffie, Red XIII, and all her friends and family. While it could be argued that Aerith always knew of her fate in the 1997 original, FFVII Rebirth actually makes that more clear this time around and gives us one of the franchise’s most emotionally powerful moments.

In the lead-up to the game’s final chapter, Aerith convinces Cloud to go on a date with her in another world. Again, the technical explanation for this scene is not really important. What matters is that Aerith knows what is about to happen. All she wants to do is spend one last day with Cloud, getting to know him better on a date before facing her own fate. The FFVII Rebirth chapter felt like a scene out of the finale from the hit TV show Lost, which ended in 2010. In the final Lost episode “The End,” protagonist Jack Shephard is denying reality, as he wants to hang on to one final moment with his friends as they gather in a church.

Similarly, Cloud’s date with Aerith ends with them returning to the Sector 5 slums church, where she often tended flowers and prayed. Like Shephard, Cloud knows something is wrong and that the world he’s in isn’t what it seems. Aerith then confesses that she “really likes him” and then throws herself into Cloud to hug him. While holding him tightly, she whispers, “I’m sorry. Whatever happens, don’t blame yourself. This isn’t about me, though. It’s about saving the world… and you.” She then releases Cloud and pushes him out of the timeline so he can exit the church safely. As Cloud is falling, he sees Sephiroth open the church doors as he slowly moves toward Aerith.

Like Lost, the Sector 5 Slums church is a symbol of the passage between life and death. At this moment, Aerith is literally saving Cloud by sacrificing herself. This scene alone had me in tears. However, it also made the inevitable “tragic scene” with Sephiroth and Aerith all the more powerful. Because as Sephiroth is driving his sword into her, Aerith is defiantly praying and confronting her fate head-on. When she is finally slain, there is actually a beautiful moment where she is the one comforting Cloud as he holds her body in his arms.

I know there are colleagues of mine and fellow players who aren’t in love with the ending of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Most of the criticism I see centers around the multiverse and multiple timelines. Or because Cloud still sees Aerith alive, they feel the impact of the tragic moment is lessened. However, I strongly believe that FFVII Rebirth improved this moment by giving control back to Aerith. By the writers allowing her to sacrifice herself to protect the ones she loves, Aerith is changed from a helpless character who was tragically killed for the sake of moving Cloud’s emotional growth forward to her becoming her own hero.

Again, I know some fans of Final Fantasy VII will argue that the original game heavily implied that Aerith knew what her fate was always going to be. But I think the remake does a much better job of fleshing that concept out and allowing her to have a say in the way her story ends. I’ll admit I don’t know where the trilogy is going with the whole multiverse plot line. However, I still believe the actual death was handled much better in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth because of that incredible scene with Cloud and Aerith in that church.

Circling back to Lost, I also find the comparison fitting since the finale of that show was also incredibly divisive. In the case of Lost, I will not deny the fact that the show had a lot of problems. In particular, the showrunners committed the ultimate writing sin of having too many plot holes, unfinished story threads, and not wrapping up the mysteries they set up. But I also always believed that the finale of Lost absolutely nailed the “character” portion of the show.

I’ve always argued that the actual conclusion of each character’s arc in Lost was beautifully done. So, in that same vein, I would argue that Final Fantasy VII Rebirth also nailed the character aspect of the original game’s story. While people may get hung up on the lore, multiple timelines, and the multiverse, they are missing how beautifully the game handled the game’s character moments. Aerith not only went from being one of the best characters of all time but is now one of gaming’s best heroes.

Part of the credit for this goes to Briana White, who voiced Aerith, and Cloud’s voice actor Cody Christian. Both artists delivered stunning performances in the English adaptation of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, which truly humanized these characters in a way we’ve never seen before. The actor’s gut-wrenching portrayal of these iconic characters was a big reason Square Enix was able to improve on what has become one of gaming’s most devastating scenes of all time.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is now available on PlayStation 5.


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Author
Brent Koepp
Based in California, Brent is an Editor at Siliconera and has been a journalist since 2010. When he's not playing JRPGs or catching 'em all in Pokémon, you can find him spending time with his wife and two dogs.