No gods, no canon
The Final Fantasy VII remake does more than retell a familiar story from a classic roleplaying game. If you’re planning to play it, you shouldn’t read any further. But if you’ve finished the final chapter, you’ll know that its ending diverges pretty sharply from the original story — not only changing the game’s canon but turning the existence of canon into a plot point. It’s ambitious, confusing, and extremely weird, and here at The Verge, reactions have varied significantly.
How effective was Final Fantasy VII Remake’s big narrative swing? How well does it work for newcomers versus longtime fans of the series? And since the remake only covers the first section of the original game, how well does it set up future installments?
Final warning: spoilers for Final Fantasy VII Remake follow.
Andrew Webster, games editor: The thing that struck me most about the ending — which I struggle to really describe — is how unexpected it was. For most of FFVIIR’s runtime, it’s a fairly traditional remake; it expands on the original in significant ways, but it generally tells the same story, hitting the same major plot points. The new game only covers the Midgar section, which was essentially the opening from the original.
I had expected that subsequent episodes would do the same, exploring major sections of FF7 with added detail. Now, I don’t know what to expect. The game’s ending suggests an entirely new path for the story, one where the events of the original are malleable, and fate isn’t preordained but rather something that can be altered. I started playing for a dose of nostalgia — but now, I need to know how things will actually be different moving forward.
Nick Statt, news editor: Given the infamously convoluted plot of the original FFVII, I was pretty sure of two things going into the remake: the game couldn’t possibly end with Cloud and his ragtag crew just leaving Midgar before the credits roll. And I was sure they would have to start weaving in some elements of the Sephiroth storyline earlier if the game really was going to be a 30- to 40-hour adventure in what is realistically only a small fraction of the overall story.
The game delivered on both points simultaneously, and after ruminating on the ending for a bit, I consider myself in the pro-alternative universe / timeline camp. I loved having an epic final battle, even if it seemed out of left field. I’m personally not too warm on the idea that the stakes became so high so suddenly, as it feels like it would permanently alter all the characters’ attitudes if they know from the onset that this is all about saving the world from a man they barely know, instead of slowly accepting such a colossal responsibility as more of the overall plot is revealed.
But atmospherically, it was very Final Fantasy, and I will forgive Nomura and crew for delivering a bit of Advent Children-inspired fan service when the game needed it most.
Where this remake series goes from here is anyone’s guess, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly worried that part two might just be a rushed greatest hits compilation or some “it was just a Sephiroth-induced dream in the Lifestream” nonsense. Unlike most of the diehard “make it a scene-by-scene remake” crowd that’s very vocal on the internet right now, I’m not as concerned that they’re going to change everything and totally rewrite the script. But it’d be a real shame to let all the great work into making these characters feel so much more alive than they did 25 years ago go to waste by relying too much on the overly ambitious twisty elements we’re now contending with.
Michael Moore, reviews coordinator: I think what I found frustrating about the ending is it’s hard to tell what breaking from the original events means from here on out. They effectively showed throughout the rest of the game that they were willing to hit major moments in the same or similar ways, but add new material to help improve the storytelling and give characters more development compared to the original.
So to beat players over the head with how different things could be going forward feels like a lack of confidence what came before where they’d effectively shown players how things were going to deviate from the original FFVII. That, or what they are trying to get across is how different things will be from here on out, which is unknowable at this point without anything to go on.
Kevin Nguyen, features editor: I didn’t have the ending spoiled for me, but along the way, I kept getting texts from friends who’d finished to let me know when they got there. They wanted to discuss, and I assumed I was in for a big twist or reveal. After finishing a somewhat tedious fight with Sephiroth and watching a somewhat satisfying CG montage, I hit the credits and wondered what exactly I’d missed. There’s the reveal of Zack still being alive, which meant… what exactly?
It turns out, it doesn’t mean much at all. Sure, the Whispers are dead, which now means destiny is no longer predetermined. What it means to fans is that the remake has now written in a plot device that allows it to deviate from the original.
This is deeply bizarre to me! Why do the makers of the Final Fantasy VII Remake need to give themselves permission to change up the story? Actually, let me rephrase that: why does the entire plot of the game need to lead to a moment that declares “you are playing a remake”? Wait, let me try that one more time: hhrrngghh!!! [green flashback sound; Sephiroth appears to tell me “did you know remakes can be different than the original?”]
All in all, I had a ball blasting through 30-some hours of slightly elevated horned up hack ‘n slash. Mechanically, the game is leaps and bounds better than the original; I just wish the writing had taken even a step forward.
Sam Byford, Asia editor: Leading up to release, I thought the way that Square Enix literally titled this game “Final Fantasy VII Remake” was goofy fan service. After finishing it, though, the name makes much more sense. What I want and expect out of Final Fantasy games is outlandish plot twists, and it doesn’t get much more outlandish than the revelation that Final Fantasy VII Remake is not a straight remake of Final Fantasy VII, but an ultra-meta alternate-universe version that exists mostly to meditate on the concept of remaking Final Fantasy VII.
The twist is like an inversion of Metal Gear Solid 2, which, upon release, revealed itself to be as much a subversive, postmodern remix of the original as a straight sequel, with a previously unannounced protagonist playing through mysteriously familiar events. I didn’t think it would be possible to pull something like that off again in today’s clockwork video game hype cycle, but I love that Square Enix went for it.
Whether they’ll stick the landing is another matter entirely. It’s hard to call this a great idea without playing the next episode of the game, and who knows when that’ll show up. But the ending makes me far more excited for it than I would have been if they’d played it straight. I mostly really enjoyed what Final Fantasy VII Remake did with its characters, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with them without knowing their fates in advance.
The ending gets a cautious thumbs-up from me for now. But I also think Tetsuya Nomura probably just wanted an excuse to contrive a Sephiroth boss fight set to “One Winged Angel” at the end of what is essentially a remake of the first 10 percent of Final Fantasy VII, so. Let’s just say I’m interested in what comes next without necessarily expecting it to be good or even coherent.
Megan Farokhmanesh, reporter: It is with the utmost humility and grace that I must inform you all that Final Fantasy VII Remake is a game made perfectly for me and no one else. I played the original as a tender pre-teen, fed on its fanfic for years, and gradually allowed my brain to melt into a puddle of jelly that spells out “I <3 Cloud Strife.”
(I’m kidding. Am I kidding? When Nick called the plot convoluted, I had the absolutely deranged gut reaction of “um excuse me what don’t you understand about a magical ancient people connected to a fantasy force stream that fuels the planet itself, yet can be commandeered by a guy with gravity-defying bangs and mommy issues on an Oedipal level? Makes perfect sense to me.” I’m intolerable!)
The reaction we’re all having — a mix between “is this allowed?” and “do I like it?” — speaks to the extremely overblown, overly precious canonization of beloved games. The fates of Final Fantasy VII’s cast is so set in my brain that the idea Aerith could survive, for example, turns me into a sputtering idiot. “But if she lives, that changes the very fabric of the game. How can any of the story exist without it?” — as though any writer is not allowed to dream up some new, interesting path. That the game’s creators felt the need to fight so hard and weave the very idea of change in as metatextual flavor feels like they’re preemptively heading off fans like me: know-it-alls who would argue about what the game should be because we’ve spent the last 20 years building it up in our heads.
That’s a really long-winded lead-up to say that even though I think FFVIIR’s ending really flies off the rails in more ways than one, I’m in. I’m not sure Zack is actually still alive or if anything will really be different. I’ve fantasized about future episodes giving you a choice to either continue along the game’s original route or explore a new story, the ultimate way for fans to decide what really matters more: canon or creativity. But most of all, I love a good story troll. Just rip the walls down around me.
Adi Robertson, senior reporter: These last few responses really crystallize my ambivalence. On paper, I love Final Fantasy VII Remake doing an irreverent high-concept metatextual version of the classic “we have to go kill God” plot where God is the author of Final Fantasy VII. It’s the Grant Morrison Animal Man of JRPGs!
On the purely textual level, though, the ending doesn’t do anything. The characters know they’ve, like… murdered predestination. But as Nick says, that fight comes out of left field, and there’s no real sense of why it matters beyond averting some amorphously bad event. It ignores a lot of more interesting story threads, like Cloud’s origins (he isn’t a SOLDIER?), Sephiroth’s past, and anything establishing who Zack is and why I should care.
I know how the original game answers these questions, and the remake could have used them to demonstrate why the canon changes are compelling, instead of just declaring that they exist. As it stands, I feel like it offers revelations for people who like talking about Final Fantasy VII but no satisfying developments in the actual narrative.
I only played (part of) the original game last year, though, so I’m curious how people’s relationship with Final Fantasy VII shaped their reactions. How does the ending work if you’re not a huge fan, for example? Does it recontextualize the original game if you are?
Sam: I’m not a big Final Fantasy VII fan. The one I have the most nostalgia for is VIII, which is… less popular overall. I know the broad strokes of the VII story, and I played through the Midgar section of the game on Switch last year as homework, but that mostly just served to give me a better appreciation of Remake’s extremely good rearranged soundtrack.
I think I might be in the perfect space to appreciate this ending. I’m not close enough to the story to be all that interested in a straight retelling, but I’m familiar enough for the twist to resonate and for me to wonder what happens next. I was expecting Remake just to be VII’s Midgar with extra padding — and, to be clear, that’s exactly what it is for about 95 percent of its runtime — but I’m not sure that approach would have held my attention over who-knows-how-many episodes. Now, though, I’m at least on board for the next one.
Kevin: Sam, I’m definitely coming from the same place as you, but the ending left me feeling more in line with Adi. The Remake had a dozen gratuitous fetch quests. You’d think one of them could have involved rummaging around a slum to find a reasonable backstory for Zack instead of, like, three cats.
Michael: I’m not the biggest FFVII fan, but it has been my favorite Final Fantasy game until recently. (I still own the original PS1 copy I got on launch day.) And perhaps because I didn’t play FFVIIR and instead watched my roommate (who is a much much bigger fan) play instead I found that, at a certain point, I stopped thinking of the remake as FFVII and instead its own game.
While it was still hitting moments from the original, there is just so much added into it that it is something else entirely, which makes it feel less like a retelling of the original game and more like what the Rebuild of Evangelion films are to the original Neon Genesis Evangelion anime series. While the first movie remains a fairly faithful remake of the early episodes of the show, the movie’s ending and the subsequent movies begin to deviate greatly from what the series did. Changing events and introducing completely new characters, making it clear that these movies aren’t a retelling of the series but something else new entirely.
The ending feels like this might be the model for the games going forward, and honestly, I’m actually a lot more curious about what that could mean then if it was just straight retelling the original game.
Megan: There’s something really special to me, the only Real Gamer on staff, about seeing how remake brings FFVII’s world alive. I replayed the original a few months before Remake came out, and now, what I once loved earnestly as its own game feels little more than a bare-bones outline. Here are the beats, and here is a basic look at the world. I spent a lot of time staring up — at the plate, at the empty sky, at a really tall building here and there. The filler frustrated me, but most of the time, I felt giddy running around this world I kind of knew. That’s sort of how I feel about the entire game. It just feels big and crazy and exciting to find something new in this very old story.
Adi: We’re all talking around the elephant (chocobo? tonberry? hell house?) in the room: will the saga actually get completed? Given how long this game took and how massive Final Fantasy VII is, I’m not convinced that will happen. Does the ending still stand on its own if it doesn’t?
Megan: Maybe I’ve just watched and loved too many canceled TV shows, but I think this ending could stand on its own, if you played the original game and know it well. Hear me out: Remake built out the world, it brought in Sephiroth early, it — okay, well, it didn’t really explain a lot on its own. But it reexamined enough of the original to give fans an expanded view of that world. I’m not saying I’d like it if the series was never completed. But I think there is enough of a combination of the old game and this new, unknown idea to make it an open-ended… ending. Let the fanfic communities go wild.
Sam: Yeah, absolutely not. This ending only works if they follow through with a smart take on the storyline, but I have a feeling they’ll land on something like “omg Aerith lives.” While I don’t doubt that the saga will be completed eventually, I’m much more skeptical of how they go about it. For now, though, at least the possibility exists that it will be cool, and I’m here for the ride. In probably several years.
Michael: I think it would take a supernova destroying Square for them to not finish this series.
Nick: The only reasonable way for it to end — and I think it has to have a proper conclusion — is that the series introduces all the familiar story beats and ends as usual, but with the characters’ knowledge that they’re acting out a script and, in some cases, deviating from it where the writers see fit.
I can’t see them sparing Aerith or just forgoing a conclusion entirely, but I could see a situation in which she makes the choice herself knowing it will save her friends and the planet. Or perhaps there’s a timeline where she and Zack both live. Things like that could spice up the original plot while still keeping everything in check. God help the players who haven’t played the original, though, because hardly any of this makes sense even to the most diehard FFVII fan.
Megan: I still think Nick is wrong. What is so hard to understand about the original story, you guys!