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How to Fix Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s Bombastic Ending

Artwork of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, one of several RPGs coming this week

SPOILER WARNING: This feature discusses the ending of Rebirth specifically and contains details. It also mentions details from Remake’s ending.

I’ll make it clear upfront: I love the ending of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. While playing through it for the first time, it evoked significant emotional duress given my hopes that we could save Aerith (even knowing the significance her plot has on the holistic events of Final Fantasy VII). The buildup to her famous death scene and the bait-and-switch pulled to briefly make us believe Cloud actually rescued her left me feeling empty. Fighting my way through the boss gauntlet that came after was a challenge given the heaviness of my heart. While the original presented a similar concept in this moment, I felt it was even more impactful given the demanding motor functions of action combat. While I’ve seen the final chapter numerous times now, that first playthrough is clouded by the emotional devastation of loss just as it was for the party. The Rebirth team truly showed their mastery of the storytelling craft here.

I even enjoyed all the twists and turns that happened after the battle. This is admittedly in part because I’m a sucker for the fan theorizing surrounding the Remake project. However, how the scene directors chose to frame Aerith’s potential presence gave me confidence that the team has a solidified vision and the chops to execute on the murky territory it enters. The point of this article isn’t to get into all the possibilities that have cropped up on forums, videos, and streams, but whatever happens, the Rebirth team proved across two games that they understand how to tactfully frame a scene.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Screenshot 256

Of course, many won’t agree with much of what I’ve said, and that’s alright! I understand how all the added layers of storytelling where a straightforward character death previously existed can be a turn-off. Similarly, I understand disgruntlement around the removal of the water burial’s depiction, the length and contents of the boss gauntlet, whatever “multiverse” shenanigans are at play, and the overall ambiguity of the sequence. The developers clearly wanted us to see the sequence through clouded eyes, and while I personally am on board with their vision should they stick the landing, it’s understandable that this form of storytelling doesn’t work for others. Even I can admit that for all the praise I’ve heaped upon the ending, the negative reaction from so many fans means it objectively came up short in several ways; while it’s impossible to please everyone with anything, the outcry here has been abundant enough that it signifies definite shortcomings.

As I see it, the dissatisfaction with the ending largely boils down to one underpinning issue: Rebirth shouldn’t have ended at the City of the Ancients. By closing with Aerith’s death, we fittingly leave our characters at the emotional low point archetypal of second trilogy entries. In fact, character-related perils have driven many great part twos, most notably in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. But the key ingredient making that approach work is giving ample time to live with the impact of defeat. To continue with The Empire Strikes Back as an example, Han Solo is frozen in Carbonite for most of the third act and our characters have to cope with this and the failure to rescue him that ensues. Further, everything situated around Luke Skywalker’s loss to Darth Vader is clear-cut before rolling credits. All of this leads to clear conclusions while still presenting plenty of mystery to chew on.

So, to reiterate, we get to live with losing a party member before momentarily bidding our crew farewell, and the twists are easily discerned and bluntly impactful while still leaving questions open for the final installment. Rebirth denies players the opportunity to live with loss. I’d argue this is also true of the original Final Fantasy VII, which infamously sends you snowboarding minutes after leaving the City of the Ancients. However, Aerith’s water burial scene and even Cloud’s speech upon her death provide what closure a game of that era could muster. Plus, this being where disc one ends meant that the space between swapping out discs forced players to cope with her murder.

I’d simultaneously argue that Rebirth actually portrays how distraught the entire party is over her loss much more directly and poignantly than the original but buries this under heady plotting around timelines and other strange variables. This leads us to the latter point, as the nature of Aerith’s seemingly continued presence—at least to Cloud and Red XIII—becomes the prime focus of the final few scenes, providing little closure to Rebirth’s events while raising so many ambiguous questions that even the series’ most prolific theory crafters have been left dumbfounded. In other words, one could argue that a blunter tool would work to build this sequence.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Screenshot 154

I see such views as a tad quick to judge, even though it’s fair and normal to judge by what the game presents thus far. I believe the omissions and ambiguity are an intentional choice by the developers to set up for the final game, where they’ll directly address current concerns. In perhaps three or four years, Rebirth’s conclusion won’t constitute the “end” of the known story for the Remake trilogy; we’ll have the actual ending. Whether they soar like a condor or crash like a meteor, we’ll have the entire context upon which to judge this storytelling choice. In fact, Rebirth‘s non-ending may flow perfectly for those who play through all three parts of the trilogy together, making it a smart decision in the long term. Yet, the most ardent fans playing these installments as they release still need to sit for that time with an ending that lacks classically satisfying elements.

Perhaps the irony is that this all comes on the backs of allusions that Final Fantasy VII producer Yoshinori Kitase made in pre-release interviews to The Empire Strikes Back. They identified what worked but forgot many of the aforementioned elements to craft that successfully. Even if we accept that they’re keeping the water burial for part three, it still would have been helpful to slow down the plot beats to allow players to soak and bask in them. The various boss fights could have had enlightening story bits between to help contextualize why and where they’re happening while also giving room to breathe between challenges. Most critically, drawing clearer lines regarding Aerith’s corporeal status would alleviate confusion for casual players and give hardcore theory crafters concrete plot points to build upon. Concrete events and mysterious ambiguity could have been more carefully balanced.

Final Fantasy VII Remake did a decent job in a similar situation by presenting Zack as clearly alive in some capacity and throwing fans a bone in the form of the Terrior Stamp chip bag to provide a building block for theories to grow. This alone fueled substantive fandom conversations for the entire gap between it and Rebirth. Similarly speaking, making Aerith’s status clearer would’ve allowed part three hooks like the split skies and black and white Materia to flourish. It would also leave Cloud’s own inability to cope with Aerith’s loss even more impactful given that we know what’s going on. (As a general rule, I think the Remake trilogy team sometimes relies a bit too heavily on the storytelling technique of putting the player in the same emotional state as its characters, though this tangent goes beyond the confines of this article.)

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Screenshot 254

The big change I’d have made to Rebirth would’ve been adding an extra chapter following the City of the Ancients where we have time to watch our characters cope more closely, allowing us to also cope before the finality of credits rolling. This could take a ton of forms, though to me it’d be a short epilogue without combat. Maybe bring the journey full circle by having the party return to The Inn at Kalm on the back of a restored Tiny Bronco, the members having a pint around the table while they bemoan Aerith’s death and Cloud’s reaction. Given the density of story that part three needs to cover, something along these lines would also clear the air so the finale could hit the ground running. A bit of solemn R&R like this also would’ve helped provide a spark of hope that can reignite in the final leg of the journey. The Empire Strikes Back has this in the form of events like Luke getting his robotic hand and the party generally regrouping to bring the fight to the Empire.

At the same time, I wouldn’t agree with wholesale removing the ambiguous nature of Rebirth’s ending, at least regarding its core mysteries. I also would’ve been against a one-for-one recreation of the original that then cut to black. It was imperative that Rebirth handled Aerith’s death differently to allow for a fresh impact rather than a pretty-looking facsimile. We wouldn’t be talking about the game to the endless lengths we are if it was treated as a museum showcase. We need the new mysteries to keep us interested in a final part that could take up to half a decade to release. The fact that we’re asking “what will happen next” is why we’ll show up for answers. It’s now on the the Remake trilogy team to deliver so we can properly parse our feelings on the project’s complete vision, not just a slice of it.

Even if the concluding game does end up a complete mess, it’s important that the Remake trilogy team feels emboldened to amplify and alter elements of the story enough that it retains a novel feel while still providing players with the characters, locales, and beats that they’ve come to love over nearly three decades. If the negative reaction to Rebirth‘s ending were to cause them to change course and create an exact copy of the second and third discs of Final Fantasy VII, I’d wager most of us would be left disinterested after playing, especially with all the questions posed in the first two parts.

My final message is then this: regardless of what we may individually think of Rebirth’s ending, just let the developers cook. It’s very possible that the intentionally unsatisfying closure we got here will pay off in stronger part three beats. Whatever changes would have made it better now, what matters most is how it fares after all the cards (Queen’s Blood, of course) are on the table.

Tim Rattray

Tim Rattray

Tim has written about games, anime, and beyond since 2009. His love of JRPGs traces back to late-90s get-togethers with cul-de-sac kids to battle and trade Pokémon via link cables. In the early 2000s, this passion was solidified when Chrono Trigger changed his conception of what a game could be. A core focus of Tim’s work is mental health advocacy with a focus on how interactivity can be used to depict and teach about mental illness. He’s excited to share that insight with RPGFan’s readers, alongside a log full of side quests to explore the mutual passion we all share.