The Inevitable Disappointment of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

Games Features Final Fantasy
The Inevitable Disappointment of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth

I like Final Fantasy VII Remake. Since the game’s release in 2020, Remake has polarized fans of the PS1 classic because of its odd qualities, and, occasionally, its seeming straightforwardness. Square Enix has been notably cagey about the direction the planned trilogy is heading towards, but, when prodded, the series’ director and producers forfeit a few hints that Rebirth will diverge even further from the original narrative. The bold, unusual additions to Remake’s narrative were mostly well-received by general audiences and the fandom alike, but others weren’t so happy; some decried the revisions as a lazy shortcut to breathing new life into the story, while others hoped the game would go even farther with its changes. I fit precariously between my group of friends, who either unabashedly love the game or feel it’s lacking, superfluous, or otherwise narratively fraught.

“It isn’t a reMAKE, it is a reSEQUEL,” some Redditors argue. The farther I get from Remake, the more I agree with this sentiment; that isn’t to say I necessarily think it’s a good decision. “The original could get away with leaving [things] to the imagination… with modern graphics, you see everything in much greater detail,” says co-director Motomu Toriyama. Though he’s speaking about the recontextualized Honeybee Inn segment (which itself received near universal praise initially before receiving its fair share of scrutiny for towing the line), Toriyama’s musings on the challenge of modernizing FFVII got me thinking about my initial theory on how the series would go.

Truth be told, reimagining FFVII’s Midgar arc—a story fully told within Remake—isn’t that hard. The Midgar section of the original game is widely considered the game’s best and tightest narrative section, and a fairly easy aspect of the game’s overarching setting to extrapolate on and expand. Remake’s Midgar is a fine-tuned synthesis of the Midgar we know from FFVII, but also the Midgar of Crisis Core, Advent Children, and more. We see how workers live their daily lives in zoned suburbs much the way the tech workforce has claimed neighborhoods in NYC, LA and Atlanta. Remake’s biggest triumph is surely the actualization of Midgar as a real life technopolis, where bureaucracy, political meekness, and income inequality reign supreme. It’s the first step in establishing the vertically-oriented metaphor repeated throughout the entire series—first in Midgar, but followed by the Golden Saucer and Corel Prison, Junon, and the impending dichotomy of Aerith as an earthen herald, her ear pressed to the ground to hear the whispers of the planet rumbling under its crust, and Sephiroth, a harbinger of an ecological apocalypse from the destructive outer reaches of space. Final Fantasy VII, at its core, shines as a union between modern mythmaking and municipal regulation, the meeting ground of the unknowable and the intensely drab.

I was always more anxious about how the narrative would be handled after Cloud’s party leaves Midgar. Once his crew moseys out of Gaia’s capital city, the story becomes much more scattershot, fractured, and oftentimes bizarre. As Toriyama notes, much of the game’s stranger moments are left up to the imagination; FFVII carries a certain gravity not only because of its technical limitations, but because of its rather shoddy translation in the West, a matter made only more acute by the fact that many of its fans played this game when they were very young. In Tim Rogers’ FFVII translation video series, he points out the mystic nature imparted by the game because of its incompleteness. Many fans, maybe, fear the demystification integral to the act of reconsidering a game’s narrative for a remake. There are many things that happen in FFVII’s back half that, perhaps, thrive best in the mind of those experiencing it.

Seemingly, the only answer to rendering these moments that exist as precious suggestions in the memories of FFVII’s fanbase is to play it as safe as possible, so as not to threaten the fragile essence of nostalgia that is so valued in our current media climate. It seems, though, that Square Enix has opted for another option: to wedge the trilogy in as a pseudo-sequel, so as not to overlay itself on the original. After all but killing off a representation of the purist fanbase at the end of Remake, Rebirth’s trailer implies a lean-in on the meta-narrative aspects presented thus far. Aerith opens the trailer by stating “the past is forever,” but “the future… can be changed.” This corroborates with the popular fan theory that Aerith has some sort of memory of the original FFVII and is involving herself with the party to try and prevent some of the more disastrous things that happen in the game’s original narrative. The trailer’s most interesting tidbit, though, is conspicuously left out of the English trailer.

In the Japanese trailer, Cloud addresses Zack, his former comrade and Aerith’s ex-boyfriend, directly by name. This is odd, given the fact that much of Cloud’s arc involves him remembering Zack and separating himself from the persona he’s constructed because of a bout of amnesia. I’m all for changes to the series, but these quotes, as vague and truncated as Square Enix is wont to be, make me fear Rebirth is going down the fix-it fic route. In the near three decades since FFVII’s release, there has been a trend, almost an obsession, in stories that lead to a “golden” ending, a true, “canon” end, oftentimes among other, lesser endings, where as few consequences are incurred as possible. The popularity of this ending can be attributed to multiple things, from the rise in fanwork readership, to the resurging popularity in visual novels and adventure games which tend to have several branching paths, to the demand for optimistic, happy stories that contrast the brutal reality we live in (which, occasionally, has led to vitriol for stories that are difficult, messy, or deemed dissatisfying).

Despite my relative enjoyment of Remake—somewhere between tentative enjoyment and sheer love for the character writing—I’m left wondering who the series is really for. Writing to film critic Kent Jones, director Oliver Assayas notes his philosophy on remakes in relation to his film Irma Vep, a metatextual story about a fictional remake of a silent French film. “The whole point is that the world is constantly changing… if we don’t invent our own values, our own syntax, we will fail at describing the world.” If a remake is only able to rationalize its existence by telling a story through a new lens, then what perspective is Remake and its sequels representing? If it does not communicate how our world and how its creators have changed in 25 years, then it may morph into what many other remakes over the years have stood for—a tepid attempt at recapturing the joy the original achieved while existing as a manifestation of the demands of its fans, despite being unable to please any of them beyond temporary satisfaction.

Austin Jones is a writer and perfume enthusiast. His unfiltered thoughts are available for free on Twitter @belfryfire.

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