It’s time to accept and embrace that the Final Fantasy VII Remake trilogy isn’t a tweaked retelling - it’s going full Kingdom Hearts
With yesterday’s Final Fantasy VII 25th Anniversary stream bringing with it several new announcements, we now finally know what the future holds for the FF7 universe, including confirmation about certain aspects of the remainder of the retelling of that classic game’s story kicked off with 2020’s Final Fantasy VII Remake.
The most splashy news was the announcement of the second game in the series, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. But the most interesting news was undoubtedly the confirmation that the ‘FF7 remake’ series will be three parts, and made up of three games - FF7 Remake, Rebirth, and one final title that we’ll learn of at a much later date. Buried within all of this was an implicit confirmation of something that fans have been debating since credits first rolled on FF7 Remake’s first part - this time, things are going to be different.
Full spoilers for FF7 Remake (2020) follow.
In a sense, the ending of FF7 Remake was unambiguous in its presentation. After hours of a narrative that mostly played by the rules of the original, with mysterious ghostly figures nudging the characters back onto the ‘correct’ path any time they might venture off it, a need to adhere to the original story was eliminated.
Barret dies, and then is revived. The ghosts engulf Midgar itself. There’s clearly more than one Sephiroth, and one of them appears to have knowledge of future events - and is probably actually the Sephiroth from the ‘original’ game further down the timeline, possibly from even after Advent Children, traveling back in time to manipulate the past.
Remake’s Aerith is genuine, but she clearly had read this script before, and probably has the inside track from convening with her older, deader self inside the Lifestream, or something like that. Slowly, the railroad tracks of FF7’s established story as we know it begin to buckle under the weight of these differences.
At the end of the game, the bow breaks. The party are the ones to break it, actually - fighting a representation of the ethereal forces that will try to hold them to a preordained fate. By beating those final battles, the party’s future is unlocked - and in a sense, the remake is no longer a remake. The final words of the game, flashed on screen, are “The Unknown Journey will continue”. FF7 on PS1 is the known journey, of course; but now, the characters step into the unknown.
Or is it? At a literal level, Remake means “to make anew” - and that’s what this is doing. It’s making this story. Same thing, but different. But still same.
Some fans have been in denial about this. I’ve seen some suggest this was just a conceit to get a Sephiroth battle into the first game of the series, to give the first game a more bombastic ending. Grand stretches have been made to justify the end of FF7 Remake while maintaining the second part will be more faithful throughout. This was a fair way for people to cope with disappointment in changes when they wanted a raw remake. But with the new reveals, the time has now come to let it go.
Moreover, the time has come to embrace the madness - whatever it brings. It's an exciting new story in a universe we love, with characters we adore. It might not be the remake some wished for - but it's still thrilling. That very first trailer said it best; "The reunion at hand may bring joy, it may bring fear - but let us embrace whatever it brings."
Much of this was likely the brainchild of original FF7 director and Remake producer Yoshinori Kitase, who is on the record as saying he thought it boring to make exactly the same story and game over again. He wanted to make something new - and that is what this twist now allows them to deliver.
We should probably know what to expect from this brave new world. FF7 series Creative Director Tetsuya Nomura is, of course, the man behind the labyrinthine plots of Kingdom Hearts. This isn't to say that the remake trilogy's storylines will directly mirror Kingdom Hearts - but more that we know that Nomura and writer Kazushige Nojima both have a predilection for particular kinds of winding, mind-bending narratives that challenge a player's perceptions of events as they currently understand them. And from these trailers, it sure feels like the Remake series - and the surrounding titles - are going to go ‘full’ KH, for better or worse. This is no longer your father’s FF7. Or, if you’re in your late twenties or older, this is no longer your FF7.
The first trailer for FF7 Rebirth asks a few questions, all of which feel evocative of similar Kingdom Hearts trailers. What will become of the planet? What is Sephiroth’s endgame? What is fact and what is fiction? I’m half expecting Cloud to ask “if any of this is real, or not?”
In the same story, we know the answers to these questions. Sephiroth’s motivations, in particular, are very clear to us. Except now they’re not. If the Sephiroth that appeared to Cloud in visions in Remake is indeed one from later down the storyline, after his third defeat at Cloud’s hands in Advent Children, we now no longer know what he wants. Or what he might do. This, combined with Aerith’s dialogue about how a future, even one already written, can be changed, shows where this game is going. Many pieces in the FF7 universe are already left irrevocably changed by the end of the first part of the remake.
People who should be dead are alive. Certain people - but not everybody - could see the ghost onslaught on Midgar. How do the priorities of Rufus adjust given what he has seen? What does Biggs do with his life after platefall? What does a living Zack actually mean? Science fiction media loves to play with the concept of the butterfly effect, where one small change can ripple out and have enormous repercussions. Some of the changes FF7 Remake makes to the universe are less like the subtle flap of a butterfly wing and more like a hand grenade going off in the middle of the narrative. These repercussions are likely to dominate both future games.
But it’s not even just that the trailer that feels like how Kingdom Hearts operates. In the newest trailer for Ever Crisis, which has been touted as ‘another possibility for a remake’, there’s another tease. Ever Crisis is an episodic mobile remake of not just the original FF7, but the entire compilation - meaning you’ll be able to replay chunks of the stories of Dirge of Cerberus, Advent Children, and beyond. It looks cool - but the trailer closes with a curious tease as we see the iconic image of Sephiroth in the flames of Nibelheim - but the shot flickers back and forth between Sephiroth and a mysterious short-haired figure in the same spot.
Based on comments from Tetsuya Nomura, this appears to be a younger version of Sephiroth, as in a Famitsu interview last year Nomura promised an all-new story within Ever Crisis that “covers what happened before SOLDIER was established”, including a storyline about Sephiroth’s youth. Even though Ever Crisis has been touted as a more faithful remake, we now have a tease of how that game is also expanding and fiddling with established lore further. Moreover, here’s some sort of seemingly significant lore bomb being teased as present in a mobile spin-off - exactly the sort of thing the Disney cross-over is big on.
For some people, this is inevitably going to be crushingly disappointing. Many wanted a straight-up remake of Final Fantasy VII. Equally, however, many didn’t - I was one of the people who argued that I’d rather all that Triple-A development talent, time and cash went into new Final Fantasy games instead. To someone like me, this is the next best thing - taking a familiar universe and deconstructing it to do something new.
If it’s something good remains to be seen, of course - it has a hell of a legacy to live up to in the original FF7. It might not be as good as the original. I'd chance my arm and wager that it won't be, in fact. But it will be interesting, and different, and new - which is exciting in itself. As for wanting a pure remake? Well, for my money, the original FF7 is still unassailable and brilliant - especially with a few fan-made PC mods to clean the original version up a touch.
The idea took some getting used to, but I’m finally ready for it, and embracing that great unknown. While I’m sure the journey of FF7 Rebirth will tread familiar locales, revisit familiar scenes, and hit the same beats, I’m also now ready to see it weave those moments between a very different narrative that references the greater FF7 universe at large. It’s time to let go of the straight remake dream - and enjoy the wild ride. After all… there ain’t no gettin offa this train we’re on, right?