Gamer’s Diary: Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Twist Ending Makes a Bold Statement on Remakes (Part 1)
Square Enix is doing something different with their Remake project and it has piqued interest in the series again
WARNING! THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR NOT ONLY FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE BUT FOR THE ENTIRE COMPILATION OF FINAL FANTASY VII SERIES INCLUDING THE 1997 ORIGINAL VIDEO GAME. IF YOU’RE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE THAT REALLY (x3) HATES BEING SPOILED (even though this is a 23 year old series) THEN TURN AROUND NOW, SHIELD YOUR EYES AND BAN YOURSELF FROM THIS ARTICLE. If you don’t care, then just keep that in mind and proceed with caution. Okay? Cool. Moving on then.
So I finished playing Final Fantasy VII Remake earlier this month and I got to say it was quite a ride. The game — while far from perfect — met and exceeded my expectations in terms of presentation, music, story, voice acting, and overall quality. It excelled in some areas and disappointed me in others. I steadfastly enjoyed jumping back into Midgar again with Cloud and his friends and saddened by the fact that the game had to end.
And yeah…I have to talk about that ending.
The twist ending of Remake definitely made my jaw drop to the floor and nearly made my head explode. I literally shouted three letters during the end credits sequence: WTF? It was definitely something I was NOT expecting and I needed time to think things over. I was riding high on emotions and when a good friend of mine asked how I felt, I gave an honest answer but failed to properly express my thoughts in full since at times it seemed like I was being contentious about my feelings even though that was far and away the case.
After beating the game, I made sure to listen to every podcast, read every article, and watch every YouTube video I saved from several journalists, critics, fans, and media personalities alike because EVERYBODY came away shocked with that twist ending. While I had my perspectives on the matter, I wanted to hear what others thought about it as well and see if it aligns or contends with my own beliefs on the nature of the ending and where the series might go from here. It’s fascinating to see so many people spend weeks talking about that ending and even theorizing how the series will play out for the rest of the project.
For better or worse, Square Enix succeeded and got people talking about Final Fantasy VII again.
So what exactly happens in the ending?
To briefly summarize, Final Fantasy VII Remake decided to get “meta” on us and feature the most mind-screwy twist ending this side of post-modern art. Turns out the ghostly figures that have been harassing Cloud and his friends throughout the game are called “The Whispers: Arbiters of Fate.” Their job is to ensure that the timeline stays its natural course and that Destiny remains in tact. In other words, their role is to make sure the story flows exactly like it did in the original video game from 1997 (no seriously). Sephiroth, from the look of things, has been trying to alter the timeline since he has clear knowledge of his defeat in the future. The Whispers have actually been attempting to stop the Seph-Dawg since his shenanigans have been screwing up the timeline.
After escaping Shinra HQ, the party runs into the Seph-Dawg himself at the end of the expressway. He opens a dimensional portal and encourages the party to follow him so that they can “defy Destiny together.” However, Aerith retorts that he’s wrong and they shouldn’t follow him. Instead, she opens a separate portal near the one Sephiroth opens and encourages the party to accompany her to defeat the Whispers. She warns Cloud and the others that if they win there will be serious consequences. They will not only be changing their futures but also themselves. When Tifa asks what’s on the other side if they win, Aerith puts it beautifully: “Freedom. Boundless, terrifying, freedom.”
They enter the portal and go all Kingdom Hearts by way of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children by fighting and defeating the Whispers in an intense, multi-phase battle. They later face off against Sephiroth and while he easily could’ve killed them all, he strangely lets the party live. He also seemingly absorbs (destroys?) the Whispers into his being. The Seph-Dawg later separates Cloud from the others and tries to once again get him to join his side, speaking in a surprisingly formal manner and showing the young spiky-headed hero respect. Of course, Cloud rejects him and he ends up back in Midgar with the rest of his friends. As noted earlier by Aerith, dire consequences have indeed taken place because of their actions. The timeline has seemingly split into three separate ones. One timeline contains the events of the original Final Fantasy VII video game along with its entire Compilation (Before Crisis, Crisis Core, On the Way to Smile, Advent Children, Dirge of Cerberus.). This new, current Remake timeline is no longer manipulated by the Whispers so the future now has a blank slate. Finally, a third, unique timeline is created where Zack Fair survived his final stand against the Shinra Infantrymen that were hunting him and Cloud and they manage to make it to Midgar together. Biggs, who died in the original game, survives in the Remake timeline and is recovering at the Sector 5 orphanage. Rufus Shinra ascends to the throne as the new President of the Shinra Corporation like he did in the original game and begins to break down his plans to his Board of Directors and the Turks. Dr. Hojo gets excited and laughs manically as the “Jenova Reunion Project” takes a surprising turn. Sephiroth is still out there and now has an opportunity to ensure his victory since he’s no longer bound by Destiny to fail. The party leaves Midgar to pursue him and to save the planet. As Cloud and the others head out to the nearest town to recover, it begins to rain and Aerith somberly says, “I miss it. The steel sky.”
What exactly does this ending mean?
This means that instead of getting a 1:1 remake and events playing out exactly like they did in the original game, we’re about to enter an entirely new story with these set of characters in this setting. This doesn’t necessarily mean that most events won’t play out like they did in the original game as the key plot points are likely to remain (flashback at Kalm, Rufus’ Parade at Junon, Gold Saucer date, etc.). However, the path to get to said key plot points and what exactly transpires during said plot points is what’s likely to be different. The OG game’s plot is still being referenced as a skeletal base for the story going forward. So it’s not like Square Enix is going to abandon everything and just go off the rails (yet).
Remake’s producer Yoshinori Kitase — who also served as the original director of Final Fantasy VII — explained in the Ultimania guide that fans are still getting their classic moments with just new elements added into the mix.
“We’re not drastically changing the story and making it into something completely different than the original,” Kitase said. “Even though it’s a Remake, please assume the story of FF7 will continue as FF7 always has.”
Some journalists and media personalities have interpret that quote exactly the way I suspect it to be in that even though it’s an entirely new story, the same plot points are still likely to happen.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be changes with this approach as the possibility is always there during the development of the Remake series so we’ll see how things play out. For now, it’s a new story that still has the same characters and the same story beats.
How did I personally feel about the game’s ending?
Before I played the game, I heard from multiple people online that if I played the original Final Fantasy VII in its entirety, there’s a very good chance that I may hate this ending. This was something that had me intrigued and at the same time had me very nervous. After playing this game, I loved the twist ending!
BUT I didn’t like how it was handled. It felt like it was shoe-horned in at the last minute since the Whispers were never really the focus of the story. They were an annoying outside force that the party never officially confronted until the end of the game and there wasn’t much build up to them being the focus of the plot since the bulk of the story was primarily on Cloud and his friends’ war against Shinra. So the last two chapters where they ended up being the most prominently featured felt tacked on at the last minute and it probably could’ve used a few more chapters to better flesh things out or they should have been properly built up earlier in the story.
I’m not the least bit surprised that the ending is as divisive as it is considering who the game’s leading director is. I happen to be a huge fan of Tetsuya Nomura and his art. He already has an established reputation as one of the best game directors in the industry and has usually delivered on making entertaining games. He is a true “auteur” and should be respected as such. However, his eccentricities can be irksome to some people and due to him being a serious in-demand director, he can always be too busy to ensure that his projects have his full attention and at times they may not pan out the way most people would hope. I often make the joke that he is the end result of what happens when you genetically splice J.J. Abrams, M. Night Shyamalan, MC Escher, and Hideo Kojima into one being. Based on his directing style, you could probably get the joke of each of these references. He is responsible for the Kingdom Hearts franchise, a series that — while financially successful and critically acclaimed — is notoriously known for its incoherent plots, weird characterizations, poor use of foreshadowing, and mind-screwy, nonsensical twists. So it’s actually understandable why there would be some skepticism in regards to his directing at times.
I wasn’t sure how I would react to what crazy twist he would come up with in Remake but I was intrigued all the same because I like a good surprise to catch me off guard. I slowly started to realize what the twist might be around Chapter 8 when the Whispers were forcing Cloud and Aerith to leave the church the same way they did in the original game. Chapter 17 was when it finally confirmed what I suspected and that Final Fantasy VII Remake decided to turn into Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.
For those who don’t understand the context, MGS2’s meta-twist was a commentary on sequels in video games. Hideo Kojima, the series creator and director of the game, wasn’t particularly interested in continuing Solid Snake’s adventure and decided to dupe players into thinking they were going to return to playing the role of Snake once again in classic Tactical Espionage Action with modern graphics and gameplay only to switch over to a different protagonist and a different story and have him be the focus with Snake relinquished to the role of supporting character. This twist — much like Remake’s — was extremely controversial back in 2001. Nobody in video games attempted to do something like that before and while social media tools like Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist back then, forums on websites like GameSpot and IGN were filled with players EXTREMELY divisive on that ending. Nowadays, it’s revered as a brilliant twist that should be taken as a great commentary that deals with the nature of sequels in games and how we shouldn’t expect simple continuations of stories with these characters. It’s a possibility the same could happen with Remake down the road once the project is completed.
Why would Nomura bother with that plot twist if he wanted to change aspects of the story anyways?
There are a few reasons why I suspect Nomura and his team went with the direction that they took even if it wasn’t completely necessary. When you look at it from their point of you, it’s actually pretty understandable but some of you likely won’t care. Keep in mind these are guesses based on what I’ve read in regards to the game’s development so don’t take them as definitive answers:
A.) Difficulty of incorporating elements of the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII:
If it wasn’t clear from several key plot points of Final Fantasy VII Remake, Nomura and the game’s script writer Kazushige Nojima have been trying to add several story contents from the Compilation into Final Fantasy VII’s main plot while modernizing it for today’s audience. You could see that based on the references in the game such as Avalanche HQ (Before Crisis), Kyrie Canaan and Leslie Kyle (Final Fantasy VII The Kids are Alright: A Turk Side Story), Kunsel (Crisis Core), G-Cells (referencing Genesis, the main antagonist in Crisis Core) and so on. From the look of things, they probably want to add more but if they stick closely to a 1:1 format of remaking the project, it’ll be increasingly difficult to do so, especially if Advent Children and Crisis Core are being further integrated into the main story. So why not come up with a concoction of a plot twist to justify “breaking away” from doing a 1:1 format and simply telling an entirely new story using all these elements without restraint?
B.) Sentimentality of an old work:
Nomura is one of the “old heads” at Square who worked on the original Final Fantasy VII game as the character designer, co-writer of the story, and battle designer. He, along with Nojima, Kitase, co-director Motomu Toriyama, music producer Nobuo Uematsu, and music composer Masashi Hamazu are the only ones who worked on the original game and are back again for the Remake. Only person missing on this project is Hironobu Sakaguchi, the franchise’s creator and Nomura’s former mentor. Nomura is known to be strongly attached to his work and greatly cares for his craft. The last thing he would want to do is create an art that’s supposed to be some sort of replacement for the old one. Not to mention, he probably wouldn’t want to disrespect his former mentor’s old work as well the original crew who made the game. So instead of having Remake replace the old game, he would prefer to evolve the project to let it be its own thing. In this case, Remake can be seen as a “companion piece” to Final Fantasy VII. Think of it this way: Remake is the “anime adaptation” to Final Fantasy VII’s “manga format.” That way, he has the creative freedom to have fun with the Remake while keeping the original Compilation in tact and respecting the old team’s work to boot.
C.) You can’t recreate the plot of Final Fantasy VII in the digital age of storytelling
Final Fantasy VII hit its mark in 1997 with not only its gameplay and graphical presentation but a pretty good story that covers themes of spiritualism, environmentalism vs. capitalism, consequences of corporate greed, identity, life and death. With that said, its story structure is very 1990s. There’s no way its plot would be remotely plausible by today’s standards. For example, Cloud just can’t keep saying he was a SOLDIER First Class and expect people to just accept it. Employees at Shinra would certainly recognize him if that were the case. As hinted by responses from Reno and Dr. Hojo, Cloud is either delusional or — in the latter’s case — lying to cover up a harsh truth about himself. It worked for its time but you can’t hit the same beats the same way. A LOT of things need to be contextualized for this current generation. Remake displayed that this approach actually works and if they want to go above and beyond Part 1, then they will need to break away from the old game’s story format entirely.
Why does Square always have to get weird with their games? I just want a simple remake of my favorite game! I don’t care about this meta-twist crap!
Well if Square didn’t get weird with their games, you probably wouldn’t buy them in the first place. Can you imagine a world where game like Nier Automata didn’t exist? I encourage Square to get weird!
That said, I truly empathize for those of you who wanted a simple 1:1 remake of FF7. Heck, it probably would be the easiest cash grab Square could ever think of by doing so. It’s not fair that you don’t get to enjoy the game the way you want it to and considering the circumstances we are living in right now, you want to feel like you got your money’s worth when it came down to it. So now you don’t get your way and you feel like you’ve been lied to by Square and the trust is broken. I very much understand and I feel bad for those who have been disappointed by this creative decision from the team.
However, contrary to what people might say they would likely get bored by this series real easily if they were to go with that 1:1 approach. It’s no fun if you know exactly where the story is going. It’s comforting and provides relief that you’re getting your “nostalgia fill” but it doesn’t really create much of an experience if it’s simply rehashing old ideas with a fresh coat of paint. Remakes are a tricky medium. You change nothing and people will wonder why bother doing a remake in the first place. You change too much and the project becomes unrecognizable and may alienate those who enjoyed the original piece of art. In today’s market, remakes and remasters are manifesting as a marketable medium in order to cash in on people’s love for nostalgia. For example, Disney has been going hard on remakes of their classic animated films. The most recent remake was The Lion King which was released last summer. While entertaining and a nice nostalgia trip, it was criticized for not doing anything different. It literally was pretty much the same film from 1994 just with fancier CGI animation. That’s it.
You could even say the same for Resident Evil 3 Remake, which was released a couple weeks before Final Fantasy VII Remake. While the game for the most part was fine, it didn’t really do much to amplify or provide a new experience. Capcom just made some minor changes, expanding a few areas but overall it was pretty much the same game from 1999 just with modern graphics and gameplay. While some enjoyed the experience, there were a lot of people who ended up being disappointed because it felt boring. But that’s the end result when you decide to stick to the standard script and not do anything different. It is what it is.
Another example — and one that people have seemingly compared FF7R to — is Rebuild of Evangelion. It’s a film series that happens to be a remake of the original Neon Genesis Evangelion television series but with modern animation. The first film follows the same plot thread as the first few episodes of the TV series with some alterations here and there. The second film featured an immense plot twist that didn’t happen in the original TV series and that’s when it went completely off the rails. The third film featured an entirely new plot with new characterizations with some familiar plot beats and that didn’t sit well with fans who harbored resentment towards it even though the film also had its supporters who wanted to see where this story would go. It didn’t help that there were some questionable narrative changes that impacted the story and one has to wonder where is it building up to. This is an example of an old work manifesting into something completely different and not everybody being on board with it.
Square’s Remake Project has a lot of tricky goals to accomplish. You need to deliver an exciting new story while keeping the spirit of the old. The actions of the characters need to be justified while keeping post-modern themes within the story. Nomura has never been known to shy away from a challenge so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles this. I don’t know if this will be a success but you can count me in being invested in it.
As of now, I’m very cautiously optimistic about the whole project. Although I’m very much excited to see where the story goes, I also have my questions and concerns in terms of how they will handle everything from here on out. This could turn out be one of the best meta-commentary stories in video games, a flawed but thoroughly entertaining experience that introduced new ideas and concepts that may not have come together correctly but still managed to deliver a positive experience, or it could end up being a mitigated disaster, The 3rd Birthday-style. So it can go in any of these directions. However, let’s not be rash to judge this project a failure. It’s understandable that you won’t be getting the game that you want but let’s see how they handle things from here on out. For now, I trust Nomura and Square Enix based on the quality of this game alone. Final Fantasy VII Remake is doing something that I haven’t seen a video game do in a long time and that’s force a discussion on a specific theme and a subject matter that’s relevant to today. After all it’s said and done, I can confidently say that Remake is arguably the best (and sexiest!) Final Fantasy game released on the modern generation of games since XII. It is one of the best games of the year, one of the best games on the PlayStation 4, and worthy as a contender for Game of the Year (even though I’m personally betting on Cyberpunk 2077 to eventually take that crown). As the E3 2015 trailer stated, “the reunion at hand may bring joy. It may bring fear. But let us embrace whatever it brings.”
*Stay tuned for Part 2 where I give some of my predictions for where Remake Part 2 might go*