Final Fantasy VII Rebirth is out now, and we here at Kotaku have been chewing on its ending for a bit. Now that folks have had time to play the game and sort out their feelings on it, we wanted to take some time to chat about the finale’s merits, issues, and how it left us feeling after spending dozens of hours with Cloud and company. Spoilers ahead!

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Kenneth Shepard, Staff Writer: Alright, folks. We’re here to discuss Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s ending. But before we start sharing our thoughts or even telling the room what we feel about it, I want someone to give me a definitive explanation of what happened, supported by the text itself. I’ll wait.

Claire Jackson, Staff Writer: I’m still working on that one…But the ending’s resistance to simple explanations, I think, is what makes it beautiful.

Jen Glennon, Editor-in-Chief: Let me attempt this. Cloud follows Aerith into the Forgotten City, even though everyone he’s with knows he probably shouldn’t be left alone with Aerith or anyone else. Timeline-overlapping, multi-round boss fights ensue. Cloud teams up with both Aerith and Zack to fight Sephiroth, and wins. But Aerith still dies. Only now, she appears as a kind of Force ghost to Cloud, who acts weirdly cold when everyone else is justifiably heartbroken about their friend’s tragic demise. Also, Cloud still has the Black Materia and remains extremely horny for it, which is new. And there you go, that’s Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. See you in five years!

CJ: Sounds about right.

KS: I think one of the ending’s biggest problems is about how instead of meaningful ambiguity it just falls into deliberate misleading. Which isn’t even my biggest issue with the ending, but we’ll put a pin in that. But already here, you and I, Claire, are probably the most split on the ending at Kotaku based on conversations we’ve had. We have the spectrum of “thinks it’s beautiful” and “is absolutely drinking the haterade.” Jen, where do you fall?

JG: I don’t hate the choices they’ve made here. But I could have done without the four or five fakeouts that led me to believe Aerith was going to make it. The whole game, but especially once you get to the Temple of the Ancients — hints that a much bigger twist is afoot than just “welp it plays out the same as before. You can’t fight city hall.” But I was really hoping for some truly wild shit like Cloud killing Aerith, or her coming back thanks to Zack’s help. It felt like a bit of a pulled punch to me.

KS: I genuinely thought up until the moment it was clear it wasn’t happening that they were going to kill Cloud and make Aerith or Zack the protagonist.

CJ: While I love this game’s conclusion, I will foreground a few things: I think it could’ve used another edit or two to make it a bit leaner, and the whispers are an aesthetic nightmare—they’re a cool narrative concept, but their visual style distracts from many key moments.

I found Aerith’s “death” to be so wonderfully done. That Cloud witnesses, for a moment, other realities in which he prevents this thing that is clearly haunting him since Remake only makes that failure more impactful for me.

But it’s not just her death that Rebirth focuses on, but the trauma and tragedy of other characters. We don’t see recreations of certain scenes, like Cloud laying her to rest in the lake. Instead, we see more of the other characters grieving over her loss.

I think that’s a pretty powerful change. Especially when you add in the flashbacks that other characters experience in regards to their past and the other people who have died in the story to get to where we are. And leading up to Aerith’s death, we’ve all been wondering since 2020 if she was going to die or not.

Cloud looks into the camera.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

JG: I agree that all the moments of the other characters grieving are very moving. Especially when Tifa and Red are sitting on the ground crying. Aerith’s just sort of standing behind them, almost willing them to notice her but knowing they can’t.

CJ: So even we as players witness an alternate reality where she survives for a split second—and it’s taken away from us by Sephiroth yet again. And I’m pretty sure the implication of the ending is that, should the party stop Sephiroth, that will ensure different realities stay separate and Aerith will still have died. But that’s speculating about part 3 a little too much perhaps.

JG: This leads me to a question I had after I rolled credits. Are the stakes for part 3 still high “enough” if Aerith lived? Is this just another ‘save the world’ story without that loss at its center?

KS: I feel like they’re trying to establish new drama with things like Cloud clearly still being an unreliable narrator who may have Sephiroth still controlling him, though with some sand in the microchip like him having the Black Materia still. At this point, that is one of the more significant diverging points, as underwhelming as that is compared to the theories people have been crafting for years.

CJ: I think that may preserve the anxiety over Cloud’s state of mind, however. We haven’t yet reached the point in the story where he’s more coherent about who he is. He’s still under the spell of Sephiroth, and here he is walking around with one of the most dangerous objects imaginable.

JG: I do wonder if there’s anything more to that moment in the temple when Aerith tries to claim the Black Materia was a fake. There are a whole lot of threads in the last couple hours of Rebirth that they could unspool in the third part. But moreso than Remake, this one left me worried that they don’t actually know how to end this thing. (Or they are deliberately keeping it nebulous and planning to decide later.)

KS: I’m glad y’all think there’s anything concrete to pull from in those hours that they won’t possibly patch out just before the third game launches. Because I have no faith in that now.

CJ: Yeah, in terms of where it may end, it does feel a little awkward—but it has in the world of FF7 for a while. Advent Children is followed up by Vincent’s game, which is sort of the last canonical moment, but it doesn’t have a conclusion.

KS: So, to go off Jen’s point. When Remake came out, I wasn’t thrilled with the ending. Not because I was a purist who was angry that Square “lied” and said this was a remake when it wasn’t, but because I had very little faith in this team to meaningfully examine its own work in the way it seemed to be positing. I love metatexual work that examines the impact of something before it. The Evangelion Rebuild films singlehandedly redeemed that entire series for me. I loved the Scott Pilgrim anime that Netflix just put out. Both of these were initially framed as remakes, but ended up being about the original text instead of uncritical recreations of them.

Square Enix

But with Square, I lost any hope that it can really grapple with those questions when the Final Fantasy X extended universe works undid the arc of that universe to essentially pay tribute to the iconography of the original game. So when Remake was positioned as Final Fantasy VII Rebuild, I was skeptical, but thought ending it on the idea that characters would be defying fate and the rest of the games could be something new was pretty bold.

Then my fears were confirmed when it became clear they were reverse engineering the whispers and the idea of defying the “canon” story to make it a multiverse play instead. Rebirth’s final hours turns this project from an Evangelion Rebuild into Spider-Man: No Way Home. It feels like buyer’s remorse for the premise Remake ended on, and it is significantly less interesting. Yeah, part of my issue is that the ending is deliberately misleading in a way that turns Aerith’s death into a hat trick, but more than anything, I’m just bummed that the ending was so much less radical than its promise. I was waiting for this game to end in an unrecognizable place. Now we just have the same thing with different seasoning.

CJ: How does it turn Aerith’s death into a hat trick? It does seem to me to be very much about the canon of the original. That’s what the Whispers do as a narrative frame—as much of an eyesore as they are.

KS: This falls into the deliberate misleading I mentioned earlier. You QTE into blocking Sephiroth’s attack, the game shows his sword miss her, then it’s like “but actually, multiverse,” then blood starts appearing from a wound that doesn’t exist. It gives you the moment of thinking you have defied the fate of this moment and then is like, “just kidding…unless?”

CJ: I’m not sure that’s necessarily what that scene is. She still dies. The message is that Cloud wasn’t able to defy canon. And the original game shows Aerith after she dies anyway, so I don’t think it’s terribly different. Multiverse stuff aside, as I said before, if anything it’s more tragic because he, and we as players, experience a moment of possibility where that death is prevented, but it still happens.

KS: Showing Cloud block the attack and the sword miss her is not the same, though. Yes, there are maybe thematic intentions with what happens in the ending that can be unpacked, but from a fundamental storyboarding level, the ending is misleading and poorly communicated, all in an effort to make a “gotcha” moment. And that gotcha makes Rebirth, and Remake retroactively, a significantly less radical project than it was positioned as four years ago.

To me, this is a Star Wars sequel trilogy-esque pivot that, as Jen says, has me no longer convinced Square knows where they’re going here. You even see the weird revisionism in them patching lines in Remake just before Rebirth launched to fit the new direction. It is, as friend of the site Jesse Vitelli said in his review over at Shacknews, writing the game in pencil so they can erase and change it later.

CJ: How is it misleading though? I’m not sure its trying to direct our attention anywhere other than: the planet is home to multiple timelines, sephiroth wants to combine all of those to cancel them out, and the events of this timeline largely follow the events of the original?

KS: You hit the sword away. It is never shown hitting Aerith. It makes an entire shot of showing us the sword hit the ground instead. Then Aerith dies anyway. Down to the storyboarding, that is a misdirect that knows what it’s implying.

Gif: Square Enix / Kotaku

JG: I need to rewatch or replay this whole scene because I was also convinced my actions had “saved” her multiple times over the final battle sequence, and the death stuff I was seeing was the terrible outcome that Cloud had managed to prevent this time.

CJ: I think that only heightens the impact of her death: That there’s nothing Cloud or any of us could’ve done. It is going to happen and we need to accept and move on from it. Like all of the tragedy and trauma depicted in the game.

JG: As much as I’m ambivalent about the ending, I do see the argument that having Aerith survive would take away some of the stakes of a third game. Then again, I also feel like maybe we shouldn’t keep fighting Sephiroth at the end of every one of these Remake installments. That’s also jumbling up the stakes of everything.

CJ: Well if Aerith lived, at that point this is a fundamentally different story. And yes, I agree: Constant Sephiroth boss battles have already made the final showdown with him less impactful.

JG: Which is basically what they told us at the end of Remake. And then pulled back on.

CJ: I think it was more of a suggestion at the end of Remake.

KS: Even if that were the throughline, that some things are inevitable and a “canon” event, Rebirth isn’t engaging with that anymore. We see it flash back and forth between different timelines where she didn’t die. Rebirth makes multiverse plays in the most non-commital way because all it does is be like “they’re out there. Zack is out there too, probably” after dropping its “defy fate” theme. I don’t care that we didn’t save Aerith; I care that Rebirth wants to have its cake and eat it, too.

And yeah, maybe the stakes would not have been as high if Aerith had survived, but at the very least, it would have been different, like they said it would be. And just because Aerith survives doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do anything else new. Trade lives, remix ideas, kill Cloud instead, or something. Be willing to explore other possibilities, like you said you would.

CJ: I dunno, it’s not like Aerith gains an ability to hop back and forth between timelines. So I think it’s still committing to that original story. Aside from the Black Materia still being in Cloud’s possession, this is the same story mostly. And again, if they stop Sephiroth’s goal of merging timelines, she will stay separate from everyone

JG: The Black Materia is a whole topic unto itself.

KS: Right, and the fact that it’s the same story is what sucks. You leave Remake on this bold note that things can be different now and Rebirth is like “Yeah they can be different…in another universe, maybe.”

CJ: But if it’s the same story, isn’t it engaging with its original text more than had it changed stuff?

KS: I’m not convinced they have any interest in engaging with the original text beyond reverse engineering the original concept to recreate it again. Which is why Rebirth feels like buyer’s remorse.

CJ: Why is that a bad thing though?

KS: Because narrative and theme cohesion are a bare minimum in storytelling. This reads like Square is making it up as they go along with no plan. We’re going to spend years speculating about something they have proven they’re willing to undo. Follow through on what you started.

Cloud holds the Black Materia.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

JG: Shifting gears to the Black Materia of it all — We leave Cloud after the Forgotten City in a much less sympathetic place than we do in the original game. Like ok, blow off some steam and go snowboarding, bud. But at the end of Rebirth, he’s stonewalling his friends and clearly up to no good with the Black Materia. You don’t think Tifa or Red would feel a little better knowing that Aerith’s spirit is around Cloud all the time, even if they can’t see her? Why doesn’t he reassure them in some way?

CJ: Yeah I do find myself way more paranoid about Cloud. Which again, reminds me of the original. As Cloud’s layers of storytelling peeled away, who he was became stranger and stranger until the truth was revealed. And in the original it takes a while. We know he’s dealing with some strange mental effects with hearing people talk to him, blacking out etc. Then its implied he’s a clone of Sephiroth, then we understand the memory effects of what he’s been through. I was often on the edge of my seat wondering about just who he is in the OG, and I’m doing that again here.

KS: That makes me think Sephiroth still has him in his clutches. He’s clearly not right in the head, even for Cloud Strife mid-FF7 standards. And the way he seems so distanced from everyone is clearly acknowledged by Tifa and Barret by the end.

CJ: It puts me in a nebulous place now, waiting to play as Cloud again in part three, because I’ll constantly be worried that he’s going to do something he shouldn’t.

JG: I do appreciate that Rebirth establishes that Tifa insists she didn’t see Cloud in Nibelheim much earlier on. But as you gesture toward, it does leave him in a weird position at the end of Rebirth. These revelations aren’t making him better, or warmer. They’re making him worse.

CJ: Yeah, it’s sticking with that theme a lot more. Otherwise it would’ve been “oh, Jenova scrambled my brain. I guess this is who I was all along.”

KS: Rebirth looked at Cid and said “I can fix him.” It looked at Cloud and said “I can make him worse.”

JG: Like right after Cloud wakes up from the incident at the Temple of the Ancients, Tifa says “Talk to me” if you hear any weird voices or “feel like you’re not yourself.”. And Cloud immediately does the exact opposite for the next several hours.

CJ: And several hours it is…

KS: Oh, speaking of that. There are a lot of boss fights in this ending, and 1. Square Enix knows how to choreograph an incredible fight sequence. 2. I feel like I am completely desensitized to fighting Sephiroth at this point and wonder how they will one-up themselves in the third game.

Moises Taveras, Staff Writer: Jumping in just to say that if I need to fight Sephiroth at the end of the next game, too, I will jump in the path of a Chocobo stampede.

CJ: Totally. I felt that way in Remake. Like, give us some more Jenova variants to fight. Save Sephiroth for the actual conclusion.

KS: It’s been one of the weirder after-effects of making one game into three, is that each of these games has to have that escalation to a final boss run.

JG: I think Cloud is becoming the Sephiroth he wants to see in the world. But I kinda wish they’d gone all in with it here in Rebirth.

CJ: Oh, that’s a really interesting thought. That’s really friggin scary, actually.

JG: I forget when exactly, at some point Cloud says, “I’m not like him. I’ll never be like him,” referring to Sephiroth. But he’s not saying it in a defiant way, really. More like he resents it.

CJ: And, to go back to those original themes established in the original, that was his dream. As he tells Tifa near the well, he wants to be the next Sephiroth.

JG: That’s a great point. In light of that, I’d be curious to rewatch the prologue stuff with Tifa and Sephiroth at the reactor and how it compares to Cloud shoving her into the mako at the Gongaga reactor. I bet there are some similar shots.

CJ: There almost certainly is. And as I’ve reviewed footage of this game since finishing it, I’m just very struck by a lot of imagery, when characters are depicted walking in and out of light, etc.

Zack talks to Marlene while Cloud sits in the background.

Screenshot: Square Enix / Claire Jackson / Kotaku

KS: Oh speaking of that, there is one person we kinda glossed over in this ending we should probably talk about. Zack Fair, I am sorry that they dragged you out of the grave to give you nothing.

CJ: Zack is a weird one. I do think that in some ways his final line speaks to his optimistic heroism. Something about “who’s to say” what can or cannot happen.

JG: He seems to have an admirably “go with the flow” attitude toward his multiversal purgatory.

CJ: Whereas Cloud is a damn doomer.

KS: Yeah he’s the golden retriever to Cloud’s black cat.

CJ: Oh, 100 percent.

KS: One of the most damning things that happens in this game is that Zack’s return at the end of Remake was such a huge moment, but then the only thing of significance that happens in his weird little Rebirth pocket dimension happens when he’s not in the room. They even have a setting that lets you skip his sections entirely after you beat the game. Talk about a bummer for the Zack fans in the audience. Dodged a bullet this time, but also the plot.

CJ: Yeah, part of me wanted more from those parallel scenes with Zack. That said, I feel like the fragmented nature of how its portrayed feels very appropriate. If I’m to believe something as ridiculous as parallel universes/timelines are merging, it should be fractured and bewildering, not logical and coherent. I also think that you can skip Zack’s stuff after the main game to facilitate grinding, since you don’t get anything mechanical out of those scenes.

KS: I guess we’re starting to wind down here. Any closing thoughts on the ending of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth?

CJ: I think that its true merits and flaws will be made most apparent when the story is finished with the third part. And I find the multiple timelines thing to be the perfect blending of science fiction and fantasy in a way that the original was. That it’s an epic fantasy story that also works with stuff you’ll read about in theoretical physics is a fun evolution of this hybrid genre.

JG: I’m excited to keep picking this apart over the next few months, to be honest. I think there’s a whole lot to say about it, and there’s gonna be some wild fan theories about all this. Looking forward to Dark Side Cloud.

KS: Not to send us out on a bummer note, but the more I’ve thought about Rebirth’s ending the more it’s soured me on the game and the Remake trilogy as a whole. At this point, I’m just on the ride. I’ll see where it all goes, but I’m past hoping or wanting anything from it. Between Remake not being a remake and Rebirth not being a radical remix of it, both games just felt like two separate broken promises to me. I really enjoy playing them because they are some of the series’ best combat and have the most endearing versions of these characters, but it’s a mess I am caring less to pick through with each passing day. I hope folks enjoy theory crafting and also hope Square doesn’t just undo parts of this ending to fit whatever it decides to do in four years. But I am completely emotionally detached now. It’s more of a thought experiment to me than anything else.

Also, Cid? Call me.


What did you think of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s finale? Were you satisfied? Did you hate it? Do you have any big theories for the next game? Let us know below!



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