Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth misses the mark on its crucial scene

Caution: this article includes major spoilers for both Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth and the original Final Fantasy 7.

Throughout its duration, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth excels. It showcases the series’ finest combat, meticulously crafted open-worlds, and exquisitely written characters. However, despite all these positives, the greatest Final Fantasy game in more than two decades falters at the crucial moment it needs to be strong. Aerith’s demise occurs at the conclusion of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. You may not have noticed, though. The conclusion of the story goes to great lengths to obscure the tragic events, utilizing contradictory sequences, confusing editing, and even having Aerith fight alongside you as mechanisms to conceal the reality. What Square Enix likely intended as a surprise turns out to be overly cryptic, convoluted, and awkward. This transforms the most powerful moment of the story into an unnecessary enigma, sacrificing genuine emotions for perplexing logic. It fails not only the most pivotal moment of Rebirth but also the emotional core of Final Fantasy 7 as a whole.

Rebirth wraps up at the Forgotten Capital, where Sephiroth killed Aerith in the original Final Fantasy 7. Square Enix had divulged this prior to the release, with the obvious aim of sparking speculation about the potential survival of Aerith, given that Final Fantasy 7 Remake had established the possibility of altering the events from the original story. This reframing of fate that fans had yearned for over the years, even going so far as to mod it into the original game, a topic explored in the IGN documentary Resurrecting Aerith. The resulting discussion infused the moment with renewed significance; the most iconic death in video games could potentially be reversed. This is precisely what Rebirth endeavors to persuade you has occurred.

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

As in the original, Sephiroth descends from above, sword poised to impale Aerith from behind. However, this time around, Cloud intervenes, deflecting Sephiroth’s blade and pushing him aside. We witness Aerith continuing to pray as the blade that was supposed to end her life remains unstained. 45 seconds elapse from the moment of impact, each one further suggesting that Aerith’s destiny has been altered. Then, in a sudden camera cut, the truth is unmasked.

The reveal is awkward and messy. Blood trickles from off-screen. Cloud catches Aerith in his arms, his mind struggling to process the unfolding reality. Just as the realization of Aerith’s demise hits, she reaches out to touch Cloud’s face and smiles. The scene rapidly shifts between two dimensions: one where Aerith is alive, and another where she is soaked in blood. Subsequently, you are thrust into a battle with ten phases, during which, in the concluding moments, Aerith joins you in combat against Sephiroth.

Retrospectively examining these instances, one can discern the clues hinting at the truth. As Aerith rests in Cloud’s arms, the distinctive green lights of the Lifestream envelop her, implying that her smile emanates from her spirit, not her physical form. The images of her bloodied arm only appear when the rest of the party arrives, indicating that they perceive the reality that eludes Cloud. Yet, these are merely hints. Rebirth does not faithfully reconstruct the iconic scene of Sephiroth impaling Aerith with his blade, thus failing to overtly depict the events.

If Square’s goal was to avoid showcasing such a brutal demise, opting to exchange potential crass shock value for a deeper sense of emotional anguish, it missed the mark. However, it appears their intention was altogether different – aiming to turn a tragedy into a metaphysical conundrum. Keeping the audience on edge, constantly questioning whether the story truly changed or not. The outcome is a complete mess for loyal fans, and one can only imagine the confusion it causes for newcomers. The situation is exacerbated by immediately engaging in a grueling, hour-long battle against two consecutive bosses. There is no space to process a death that is not clearly articulated, let alone one that necessitates piecing together.

This conclusion should have centered on Aerith. Instead, it revolves around defying expectations.

This convoluted approach extends beyond just Aerith’s death scene. Right up to the closing credits, Rebirth persistently tries to pull the rug out from under you. If you have already accepted Aerith’s fate, her emergence in the ultimate phase of the Sephiroth battle comes across as a disappointing surprise. Her involvement conveys that her spirit will forever support Cloud in the battle to safeguard the planet, but this clarity only arises in hindsight. It is not until the conclusion of the battle that Rebirth adequately clarifies that this is Aerith’s spirit, not a revival, survivor, or variant across universes, rendering the message needlessly ambiguous.

The original Final Fantasy 7 allowed its characters and players to bid farewell to Aerith.
The original Final Fantasy 7 allowed its characters and players to bid farewell to Aerith.

The permanence of Aerith’s lingering spirit is underscored in the final cutscene. However, her constant presence here prevents the true tragedy of the events from resonating. How can we mourn when she is right there in front of us? This stands in stark contrast to the original game, which adeptly handled the entire sequence. The fatal blow was truly shocking, and the shift from eerie silence to the uplifting melody of Aerith’s musical theme was a trigger for immediate tears. As in Rebirth, you were compelled to face Jenova in battle, where the continuous gentle strains of Aerith’s music made it a poignant experience. The significant difference, however, lies in the moments that followed the battle. Cloud and the party had the opportunity to bid farewell, pouring out their grief over the loss of their comrade and laying her to rest in the lake of the Forgotten Capital. The time devoted to this ritual is as crucial for us as it is for the characters, yet Rebirth offers hardly a moment of it.

This was not the conclusion Rebirth warranted. Nor was it the ending Aerith deserved. This remake project delivered something extraordinary; it allowed us to accompany Aerith through two complete games, each longer than the entirety of the original Final Fantasy 7. The exceptional storytelling brought Aerith to life in a way she had never been before, accentuating the facets of her character that may have been overlooked in 1997. Remake and Rebirth underscored that Aerith’s narrative was not only about her demise but also about her adventurous spirit and the hope that served as a beacon in a decaying world. Consequently, when it came to her final moments, Rebirth should have made room for an outpouring of emotion and mourning. Instead, it fails to let the moment resonate fully.

Considering how well both Remake and Rebirth explored Aerith’s life, I anticipated the same level of care to be applied to Aerith’s death. However, it appears Square was disinterested in delving into why this moment is such a tragedy. This finale should have centered on Aerith. Instead, it focuses on defying expectations. It revolves around the discourse outside the game, rather than the emotions of the characters we grew attached to.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth fumbled its most crucial moment. And in doing so, it also failed Aerith.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *