Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Fails Its Most Important Moment
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Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Fails Its Most Important Moment


Warning: this article contains significant spoilers for both Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth and the original Final Fantasy 7.

For almost its entire runtime, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is a masterclass. It sports the series’ best-ever combat, wonderfully-crafted open-worlds, and beautifully written characters. But despite all that good, the best Final Fantasy in over two decades stumbles at the exact moment it desperately needs to remain strong. Aerith dies at the end of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. You’d be forgiven for not realising that, though. The story’s finale does everything in its power to obfuscate the tragic events, using conflicting sequences, confusing editing, and even having Aerith fight alongside you as tools to hide the truth. But what Square Enix presumably intended as surprising is instead misguidedly cryptic, convoluted, and clumsy. It turns the story’s most powerful moment into a needless puzzle, trading raw feelings for head-scratching logic. It fails not only Rebirth’s most important moment, but Final Fantasy 7’s entire emotional core.

Rebirth concludes at the Forgotten Capital, where Aerith was killed by Sephiroth in the original Final Fantasy 7. Square Enix revealed this in the run-up to release and the intent was obvious: With Final Fantasy 7 Remake establishing that the events of the original story could be changed, Square purposefully generated speculation around the possibility that Aerith could survive. It’s a re-writing of fate fans have wanted for decades, even going as far as to modding it into the original game, something I explored last year in the IGN documentary Resurrecting Aerith. And so all this new discussion lent the moment a revitalised sense of power; the most famous death in video games could be rewound. And that’s exactly what Rebirth tries to convince you has happened.

Cloud prepares to deflect Sephiroth's killing blade.
Cloud prepares to deflect Sephiroth’s killing blade.

As in the original, Sephiroth drops from above, sword angled to pierce Aerith through the back. But this time Cloud intercepts, deflecting Sephiroth’s blade and pushing him aside. We see Aerith continue to pray as the sword that should have killed her stands unstained. From the point of impact, 45 seconds tick by, each one further indicating that Aerith’s fate has been re-written. And then, in a camera cut, the truth is revealed.

It’s an awkward, messy reveal. Blood leaks from off-screen. Cloud catches Aerith in his arms, his mind glitching out as he struggles to read reality. And, just as it sinks in that Aerith has died, she reaches up to Cloud’s face and smiles. The scene cuts rapidly between two realities; one in which Aerith is alive, and another where she’s covered in blood. And then you’re thrust into a ten phase double boss battle. A battle during which, in the final moments, you are quite literally joined by Aerith in the fight against Sephiroth.

Watching back over these moments, I can see the clues that reveal the truth. As Aerith lies in Cloud’s arms, the tell-tale green lights of the Lifestream surround her, suggesting that her smile comes from her spirit, not her body. The images of her blood-soaked arm only appear when the rest of the party arrive on the scene, indicating that they can see the truth that Cloud cannot. But that’s all you get: clues. Rebirth does not recreate the famous scene of Sephiroth impaling Aerith with his blade, and so it never plainly presents what has happened.

If Square’s aim was to shy away from showing such a brutal death, to trade what could perhaps be considered crass shock value for a better sense of emotional pain, then it failed. But it seems to me as if this wasn’t the goal at all – it instead sought to turn a tragedy into a meta puzzle. To keep you on the edge of your seat, constantly trying to work out if it really did change the story or not. The result is an absolute mess for long-term fans and I can only imagine how indecipherable it is for newcomers. The situation is further worsened by being immediately forced to fight an arduous, hour-long battle against two bosses back-to-back. There’s no room to process even a clearly communicated death, nevermind one that requires piecing together.

This finale should have been about Aerith. Instead, it’s about subverting expectations.

This convoluted arrangement isn’t limited to just Aerith’s death scene, though. Right up to the credits reel, Rebirth continues its attempts to pull the rug from under you. If you’ve already accepted that Aerith has died, then her arrival in the final phase of the Sephiroth battle comes as a groan-worthy curveball. Her participation does communicate that her spirit will always be there to help Cloud in the fight to protect the planet, but that’s really only clear with the benefit of hindsight. It’s not until the battle’s final moments that Rebirth properly explains this is Aerith’s spirit, not a resurrection, survivor, or multiversal variant, and so the message is unnecessarily muddy.

The original Final Fantasy 7 allowed its characters and players to say goodbye to Aerith.
The original Final Fantasy 7 allowed its characters and players to say goodbye to Aerith.

The realities of Aerith’s lingering spirit are made more concrete in the final cutscene. But her constant presence here never allows the true tragedy of the events to land. How can we grieve when she’s right there in front of us? It’s all in stark contrast to the original game, which masterfully handled the entire event. The killing blow was shocking, and the transition from eerie quiet to the rousing melody of Aerith’s musical theme was a trigger for instant tears. As in Rebirth you were also forced into a fight against Jenova, where the continued gentle tones of Aerith’s music made it a painful experience. Most importantly, though, after the battle was over, Cloud and the party got to say goodbye. They poured their hearts out and grieved for the loss of their friend, and buried her body in the Forgotten Capital’s lake. The time taken on this ritual is as important for us as it is for the characters, and Rebirth offers barely a single second of it.

It’s not the ending Rebirth deserved. And it’s not the ending Aerith deserved either. The remake project has given us something remarkable; it let us live alongside Aerith for two whole games, each of which is longer than the entirety of the original Final Fantasy 7. The astonishing writing made Aerith more alive than she’s ever been, emphasising the qualities of her character that were easy to overlook in 1997. Remake and Rebirth made it clear that Aerith’s story wasn’t just about her death, it was about her adventurous spirit and her hope that acted as a guiding light in a dying world. And so when it came to her final moments, Rebirth should have made space for an outpouring of emotion and grief. Instead, it never allows the moment to truly strike home.

Considering both Remake and Rebirth were so good at exploring Aerith’s life, I expected the same care to be given to Aerith’s death. But it seems Square just wasn’t interested in exploring why this moment is such a tragedy. This finale should have been about Aerith. Instead, it’s about subverting expectations. It’s about the conversation beyond the game, not the emotions of the characters we fell in love with.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth failed its most important moment. And with it, it failed Aerith, too.

Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Features Editor.



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