Facing Destiny: On Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Ending

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MajorMitch

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Edited By MajorMitch

SPOILER WARNING: This blog assumes you are familiar with everything that happens in both Final Fantasy VII Remake as well as the original Final Fantasy VII. As such, there are massive spoilers below for both games (and this blog may not even make sense if you are not familiar with their plots anyway). Additionally, I give brief spoilers for the endings of the first Mass Effect, Star Wars: A New Hope, and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Enter at your own risk :)

Final Fantasy VII Remake contains all of the hallmark moments of the opening hours of Final Fantasy VII. You go on the famous bombing mission to blow up Mako Reactor 1. You fall through the roof of the church and into Aerith’s flower bed in the sector 5 slums. You cross-dress to infiltrate Don Corneo’s hideout and interrogate him. You witness in horror as Shinra drops the sector 7 plate, mercilessly claiming countless innocent lives. You infiltrate the Shinra headquarters, save the girl, and make a daring escape from Midgar.

Yet as the credits roll, none of that seems to matter.

It was great to see more of characters and places that were only hinted at in the original.
It was great to see more of characters and places that were only hinted at in the original.

But let’s back up for a moment. When it was revealed that Final Fantasy VII Remake would only cover the Midgar portion of Final Fantasy VII, I was both skeptical and hopeful. On the one hand, it felt like a cheap ploy to needlessly extend a beloved classic into multiple, full priced parts, almost certainly by way of a lot of filler. On the other hand, if done well, it was a chance to flesh out the complicated world, characters, and story of Final Fantasy VII in fascinating ways; there was potential here to craft one of gaming’s grandest opuses. For most of Remake, we see both the bad and the good of this approach. There is indeed substantially more filler than I would like: Remake stretches a 5 hour portion of Final Fantasy VII across 40+ hours, thanks in large part to excessively lengthy and grindy dungeons, and rote side quests that have you perform the most banal of RPG jobs. But Remake also adds in welcome depth to the Final Fantasy VII lore in effective ways. I loved getting to know characters like Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie better, who were minor side characters in the original but get a lot of spotlight here. I loved the additional exploration of the way Shinra uses propaganda to influence its citizens, especially as it expands upon the war with Wutai that took place before the game. I loved getting to spend extra time with Aerith, and getting a much better study of her character; not to mention her new buddy routine with Tifa. I loved most of the new characters as well, and how much more we get to see what life in Midgar is like for the average person living there. It’s one of gaming’s most iconic cities, and that we get to see this city in ways that were only hinted at in the original is wonderful.

Most of all, I loved the way Remake positions the fight between AVALANCHE and Shinra as its core throughline plot. It not only makes sense as a plot with an extremely well-defined arc: you start out making inroads blowing up reactors, hit a strong moment of crisis when the plate is dropped, climax with the infiltration of the Shinra tower, and set up the next game with the dramatic revelations you have there. But it also serves as a great way to give the spotlight to one of Final Fantasy VII’s core themes that, in the original game, quickly becomes overshadowed by other concerns (read: Sephiroth). Final Fantasy VII is, at its core, a game about saving the planet. For the first 5 hours of the original, you attempt to save the planet from an evil megacorporation that is literally bleeding the planet dry so that it can profit off of cheap energy, and you take the fight to them in their home base of Midgar. But once Sephiroth is introduced at the end of those 5 hours, Shinra takes a back seat while the main characters chase Sephiroth around the world. Remake, however, had the chance to dig deeper into Shinra and their evil ways. They are a huge threat to the planet -- certainly a big enough threat to pose as Remake’s primary antagonist -- and Barret and his team of AVALANCHE members serve as clear protagonists to root for in that fight, as they directly oppose everything Shinra stands for.

Some of my favorite moments in Remake were between Barret and Tifa.
Some of my favorite moments in Remake were between Barret and Tifa.

My favorite moments of Remake are the ones that dig deeper into that fight. We get more insight into Barret’s dedication to the cause, and just how extreme he is willing to be. We get more insight into Tifa’s concerns, and how she acts as a more moderate balance to Barret’s radical nature. I especially appreciate the dialogue between the two, as they both clearly share the same end goal (to stop Shinra), but differ on the best way to get there. Barret, the radical, wants to blow up Shinra at all costs, even if it means innocents die in the process. Tifa, the moderate, doubts if it’s worth sacrificing lives for change, and questions if there is a better way more than once. When those lives are inevitably lost, you can see their different philosophies come out in who they blame: Barret blames Shinra, Tifa blames herself and AVALANCHE. It’s a poignant and relevant moral dilemma worth discussing, and I’m happy to see Remake explore it further. Even past those two leads, we also get to see more about why their supporting characters are in this fight. In one of Remake’s best new chapters, we get Jessie’s backstory and learn why she fights. It turns out it’s not just the poor people of the slums that Shinra exploits, but also their own workers up top. These added stories and details are my favorite additions to Remake, and go a long way to flesh out the primary conflict of the Midgar portion of Final Fantasy VII, a portion that serves as the entirety of Remake's narrative arc.

That brings us to Remake’s ending, which has nothing to do with Shinra, AVALANCHE, Midgar, or really anything else that Remake focused on for the vast majority of its runtime. For its last few hours, Remake shatters the proverbial fourth wall to become a story about, well, changing the story of Final Fantasy VII. You learn that the whispers that hounded you throughout the game exist solely to preserve the original Final Fantasy VII timeline, and Aerith opens a portal to another dimension where you fight the “boss” whisper, which Aerith more or less describes as Destiny itself. (Oh, and you fight Sephiroth there too, just ‘cause.) Now with this literal manifestation of destiny defeated, the characters of Final Fantasy VII are not bound to what happened in the original. We see that Biggs and Wedge survived the collapse of the sector 7 pillar after all, and we see that Zack also lives, a character who originally died even before the start of Final Fantasy VII. This is a clear statement of intent from the developers of Remake: they can and will change things about Final Fantasy VII’s story going forward (not to mention that there’s a good chance multiple timelines are in play, and some characters like Aerith and Sephiroth clearly know more than they are letting on). Hell, even as you defeat the whispers, you see “flash forwards” of important events such as Aerith’s iconic death, and Red XIII running through the fields years after Meteor destroyed Midgar (the ending scene of the original game). The implication is that these events are no longer set in stone. The future is now open to any number of possibilities, and the game closes with that as a tease for ensuing installments of the Final Fantasy VII remake project.

You literally fight
You literally fight "Destiny" at the end of this game.

Yet that tease for the future left me wanting for the present. Remake spent most of its time focused on the conflict between Shinra and AVALANCHE, and portrayed that conflict so well, and had me so invested, that its abrupt change in focus was disheartening; when it never went back to give the Shinra-AVALANCHE story arc any kind of closure, I wondered what it was all for in the first place. It all felt meaningless. When I think about my favorite first installments of larger franchises, I think of things like the original Mass Effect, Star Wars: A New Hope, or The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. In each of those cases, they were part of a larger work that did not wrap up everything in a tidy bow; there was clearly more to do in their respective fights after their first parts. But they did provide excellent closure for the smaller arcs contained within those first parts that stood well on their own: Saren was defeated, the Death Star was destroyed, and the fellowship was dissolved in favor of Frodo travelling to Mordor with only Sam. Remake, however, does not. Instead, it breaks the fourth wall right at the end, which completely disrupts the story arc it had been expertly telling for dozens of hours. It’s a whiplash inducing shift, and I think this first part of the story suffers without some sense of closure to (or at least a smoother transition from) the Shinra-AVALANCHE arc that dominated so much of its runtime. The most frustrating part is that I think Remake could have had it both ways. I think it could have both provided a meaningful closure to the Shinra-AVALANCHE arc as the series transitions to Sephiroth, while also indicating that future parts will break further from the original Final Fantasy VII canon. Those are not mutually exclusive goals, and the fact that future parts will change aspects of the original is, to me, a very exciting idea. Teasing that is a great way to keep people like myself hooked for the future. But in its execution, I think Remake dropped the ball for the present. And that’s a real bummer.

Back in the Xbox 360 days (and probably still today, but I’m no longer in the Xbox ecosystem), you could look at your friends list and not only see what game they were playing, but also a short status message about what they were actively doing in their game. Usually it was something generic like “Mission 2” or “Going on a raid” or “Team deathmatch on Strike.” But there was one game whose status message always made me chuckle: Final Fantasy XIII simply stated, at all times no matter where you were in the game, “Facing destiny.” My friends and I poked fun at how overly dramatic and silly it was, but Final Fantasy VII Remake takes the idea of facing destiny to another level. By making Destiny itself the final boss, Remake confronts and defeats its own 23 year old legacy, which sets up tantalizing possibilities for the future. I’m as excited as anyone to see where this journey goes, and when all is said and done this remake project could still be something special. But I can’t help but feel that in its execution, it came at the expense of telling a complete and satisfying story arc for this first installment. That it got so close, and told such a good story for so long, only makes that lack of closure even more disappointing. Final Fantasy VII Remake has prioritized confronting its own legacy over telling a complete story today, and until it delivers on its promises for the future, the events of the present ring hollow.

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Arcitee

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I'm not convinced Zach is alive as that ending shot was almost identical to the one from Crisis Core before he dies of his wounds. It could be he is, but I think we might have to wait and see.

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MajorMitch

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@arcitee: True, it's possible Zack isn't still alive. My read of that scene was that the story has changed such that he did live, if not in the primary timeline then at least in an alternate one. Comparing that scene directly to the equivalent Crisis Core scene shows him living at least a little longer, and also why show that scene in Remake unless Zack has some role to play going forward, as he should be dead already? But you also hit on one of my main thoughts/concerns coming out of Remake: we'll have to wait and see on a lot of things, because they left it so open. I feel like only once we see where this all goes can I fully judge/analyze this first part.

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I'm not a gigantic fan of the ending myself. Part of that is the structure they've chosen - I get that they didn't want to invest so heavily into a full remake unless this first bit was successful but doing it this way just leaves things feeling incomplete. I don't think I'll get additional chapters until all the chapters are actually out, and given the pace Squeenix tends to work, who knows when that's going to happen?

The other part I find hard to describe. I have issues with what I view as . . . a lack of narrative economy? Smugness? The sense that the devs are kind of giving fans of the original the finger? I generally hate 4th wall breaking in stories because I think it's usually detracts from the overall narrative and this is no exception. If one of the goals of this project was to redo significant parts of the story then they could have done that without a bunch of hooey about destiny and shadow time-beasties and probably had a better narrative.

I get that they need to have a story that works for both newcomers and people who played the original, but they could have done that by just . . . changing the story? Personally, I think it would have been better if Barret had just been straight up killed. Boom. Dead. Done. That would give newcomers a spiritually similar experience as the original (Sephiroth murders a party member) while signaling to the old-guard "Hey, this is doing things differently. Expect more surprises." If they're going to make large-scale changes, then they shouldn't have felt this overwhelming need to justify it somehow. Just change it.

The issue they now have is that they need to provide closure to the arc they started. That means they've basically committed to continuing with the large scale world-altering time-ghost/multiverse stuff over the more character focused narrative of the original, which personally I find way more compelling.

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@therealturk: I agree with a lot of these points. The fourth wall breaking definitely hurt the story they were telling up until that point, which was the main thrust of my piece, and that story needed better closure. But you lead into another point I was tempted to get into here, but didn't to keep the blog length down: if they want to change the story from the original, they could just change it without making a big fourth wall breaking spectacle out of it. The fact that they did make the simple act of saying "hey we're going to change the story" such a big deal makes me think they are more interested in the meta ramifications of those changes than they are in the actual story they are ostensibly telling. It has me a little worried about future parts, but ultimately I can't fully judge this whole thing until we see where it goes. But the character focused story they started telling (which is the story I preferred) needed closure, and that's a bummer.

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The only excitement I have for Remake is the possibility of going further with weird bullshit. If the second hard swerve is "And now its FF7 again" I'll be real bummed.

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Arcitee

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@efesell: I sort of agree, I have played OG FF7 many times since it first came out including a platinum trophy on PS4, seeing different unexpected things interests me...but I want to see slight twists while still visiting all the areas and seeing the basic story structure.

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I think (and hope) that there was no full closure to the Shinra storyline because that storyline is going to continue. You said yourself that it takes a back seat to Sephiroth in the original game, but this series is going to be much longer than that one game was, and they may be planning on making Shinra more relevant to the later parts than it was in the original.

What would a satisfying resolution to this game even look like? You stop Shinra once and for all? That would be even more disruptive to the old game's storyline than what they already did. The difference between this game and the other media you cite is that those things were always intended as series. Everyone making Star Wars knew that there would be a big stopping point at the end of the first movie.

FF VII (the original) was a singular work, so the plot wasn't designed that way. The Midgar section is an intro, not the first part of a trilogy, so it has no self-contained plot structure. You learn about the city, do a bunch of stuff, try to fight Shinra, things go sideways, you end up on Sephiroth's tail. They repeated that structure here, just drawing it out more. To make it a satisfying self-contained story they would have had to change a lot more (like introducing a new temporary antagonist for you to defeat and put the focus on him or her.)

I think the issue is that FF VII Remake does not work very well as a standalone game. You kind of have to have some attachment to FF VII in order to get a lot out of it. Otherwise a lot of the choices they made (like Sephiroth's role) don't make a lot of sense and aren't resolved at all.

As for the actual last battle in the game...it's kind of silly and disconnected but they did it to provide a huge finale RPG battle sequence. It gives the game the play structure of a more normal RPG, if not the plot structure. You use all your skills and abilities from the rest of the game to defeat some big bosses. What this means for the narrative of the rest of this remake series...we'll have to see. I think it's kind of pointless to speculate because I doubt Square Enix knows either, which is probably not a good thing, but I'm willing to give them a chance.

I really loved FF VII Remake. I loved the character moments, the setting, the music, and the revamped gameplay. I think the plot was always a mess and JRPG plots are almost always big messes, so the plot issues didn't bother me that much.

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MajorMitch

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@bigsocrates: I agree that a full closure to the Shinra storyline wouldn't fit because they should still be present in future parts, and I don't want them to write Shinra out of future parts either. That's not what I'm asking for. In fact, I think it would be cool if Shinra does play an even larger part going forward than they did in the original, as you suggest they might.

What I do think is that, if they are choosing to break up FF7 into multiple parts like this, I wanted them to find some way to make this first part stand on its own. Because right now I don't think it does. The ending sidesteps the story they were telling for a divergent final boss section, and then says "the future could be anything!" without having any closure to anything. Yes, "full" closure to Shinra wouldn't really work. But I do think that they could have done something to address that AVALANCHE is effectively disbanded, and the conflict between them and Shinra has reached a natural end. To use another example I gave above, from The Lord of the Rings, none of the primary bad guys were defeated at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring, and the party's goal didn't really change much either. But its ending was a meaningful inflection point that gave some satisfying closure to a story arc (the pitfalls of a fellowship) while clearly setting up the next part. I think FF7 could have done something similar: Barret and AVALANCHE more or less "lost" the fight against Shinra in Midgar, despite doing some damage (and Shinra himself is dead). The ending of Remake had an opportunity to address the fact that that particular fight between AVALANCHE and Shinra has wrapped up, and the group is transitioning to other concerns (Sephiroth). That doesn't mean Shinra as a whole is defeated, or that they won't be around later, but things are different now. And some closure on that side of the story, which dominated most of Remake's runtime, would have gone a long way for me. Instead we got no closure, an abrupt transition to a completely different topic, and a huge cliffhanger.

I do agree that FF7 doesn't really have a ton of natural breaking points to split it into multiple parts, but I do think the ending for this game could have still been handled better to help it stand as a satisfying $60 game. And if it couldn't, maybe they made the wrong choice to break it up here. I do like a lot of things about Remake -- combat, lots of good moments and dialogue, characters, etc. I just come away from it feeling like this first part will only be worth it once we see the next parts, which is a bummer.

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#9  Edited By Mezmero

Yeah while I was largely positive on the game overall I definitely throw my hat in with the crowd that does not dig the ending sequence. I've not looked too deep into thoughts about it on the internet just yet but the few people I've seen speak highly of this ending come at it from sort of a schadenfreude angle in a way that doesn't feel productive. There's a claim to wanting to see crazy bananas changes to the plot but if anything the way the ending plays out just does not feel very creative even in terms of being a spectacle. Like there ARE changes with plot points in this entry and I'm down for em' but I don't need to be told in-game and in-story that they're changing the future, it feels like such a needless detail motivated by Nomura's insecurities. I'd rather be surprised by such changes as they come. That being said I thought there was way too much Sephiroth in this entry, and that admittedly is me being a purist for how the original game handled it but it's one of those details that feels like it's only going to dull the impact of future events depending on how they proceed from here.

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I personally don't need to see the same story with a fresh coat of paint, so I'm all for any changes they want to make. It's been 23 years since the original, we all know what happens in FFVII. In that respect, I say let's see something new and different. Obviously that will piss off a certain subsection of fans that just wanted to see the OG story told again, but I think that's just a sacrifice you have to make if you want to do something actually interesting and new.

It's what I would want, but I don't think they will ultimately go down that path. I think they will try to skirt the line between doing something new and staying faithful, and as a result not end up really completely nailing it on either end. I'd say look at the Ultimania interviews to get an idea of where they are going, but veteran Japanese developers are notorious for being misleading or outright lying in interviews for their future projects. Knowing that, there's really nothing out there that indicates where they are going to be going with the story, so speculation is meaningless currently.

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bigsocrates

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@majormitch: I think they kind of tried to do that. At the end of the game you're outside the city, having fought your way through Shinra and done a bunch of damage (and fought so...many...bosses) and the characters are kind of trying to figure out what's next. I agree that it wasn't a super satisfying ending, but I'm not sure how they could have done that except...do it better? Have more conversations among the characters about how they feel? I guess I can't really think of an alternative that doesn't radically change the story of the game from both what they did and what the original game did. Maybe some more time driving things home and showing changes in Midgar would be good.

I agree that the game doesn't work that well as a standalone product. I think that's true in a bunch of ways (including the limited amounts of magic/summons available) and is problematic, especially for people who never played FF VII. I guess I just liked the stuff that was there enough and have played enough games with bad endings that it didn't bother me that much. Plus I did play FF VII so I kind of understand the broad arc of that story (if we're still following it) so I wasn't expecting this to be a major conclusion point.

The whole point of the Midgar arc is a tutorial/world building and then the big reveal that Sephiroth is out there and he's this big threat. It's not meant to have a satisfying conclusion it's meant to launch the adventure.

LOTR was built as a trilogy with mini arcs that were meant to be satisfying. This would be more like if you made a Lord of the Rings movie where you end the first movie right after they leave the shire. It would be hard to make a satisfying stand alone tale out of that.

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