(This article has spoilers from Final Fantasy VII games and movies)
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a sequel masquerading as a remake. Early on, the subterfuge is executed with subtlety; small hints tantalize this truth throughout the game. It is only in the last act that the game raises the curtains on a cosmic battleground that subsumes within itself the world-ending conflicts of the original game. The cleverest hint of all is in the name — this is a story where the characters remake destiny.
The Whispers provide an early sign that things are different, as do Cloud’s prophetic visions of Aerith’s death and the meteor.
The conclusive break happens when Sephiroth and Cloud meet for the first time in the flesh. In the original continuity, these two aren’t really at the arch-nemesis stage in their relationship when they meet in the Midgar section; Sephiroth doesn’t even recognize him.
In Remake, Sephiroth already thinks of Cloud as ‘special’.
The original FF7 story has already happened (already will happen¹), and it was the canonical ‘destiny’ of the world.
In Advent Children, we found that Sephiroth wasn’t really vanquished; he can extend his influence from beyond the veil of death and corrupt the lifestream. In Remake, we fight a Bahamut, and a trio of Whispers wielding a sword, gun and fists. These weapons match those of Cloud, Barret and Tifa, but they also match those of the Sephiroth remnants in Advent Children (as an aside, my take is that the similarities are meant to be symbolic rather than literal). In the movie, Cloud battles a Bahamut, solidifying its connection to Remake and reinforcing the notion of a post-death Sephiroth cooking up trouble.
We can surmise the following — at some point, whatever was left of Sephiroth realized that ‘destiny’ is a tangible thing that can be defeated. Sephiroth’s attempt to change events in his favor forces Destiny to course-correct with the ‘Whispers of Fate’.
Sephiroth isn’t alone in knowing this— we repeatedly see that Aerith, arguably Sephiroth’s true nemesis, also sees the Whispers for what they are. Remake’s storyline is really the first in a series of battles for the fate of the planet between these two magical beings, each playing their part in the ancient war between the Cetra and Jenova.
But there’s a twist. In the final chapter, Destiny’s Crossroads, Sephiroth and Avalanche want the same thing. Sephiroth wants to destroy Destiny so that he can win for a change. Avalanche wants to destroy Destiny because they exist to combat oppressors, and an oppressive force that literally predetermines their future is perhaps their natural enemy.
Sephiroth baits Avalanche to defeat Destiny. Aerith is the only one who understands the significance of walking into this trap. She understands that this could very well work against them, and lead to a world that bows to Sephiroth’s will.
Sephiroth lays out the terms to Aerith — if they defeat Destiny, they’ll all be untethered from fate. But if they don’t, he will continue to corrupt the lifestream, making the dead and living howl in pain.
Aerith decides to put her faith in Avalanche, and take Sephiroth head on once and for all by removing Destiny from the equation. In essence, both sides have raised the stakes, confident they can win.
Avalanche succeeds in defeating Destiny. In doing so, they also alter one pivotal moment in the past, creating an alternate timeline. Zack doesn’t die. If Zack doesn’t die, Cloud doesn’t assume his identity, and his goal of becoming a mercenary. This could mean that Zack ends up joining Avalanche instead, and reunite with Aerith.
It is likely that Sephiroth was hoping for this outcome, given that he carefully chose the time and place for Avalanche to fight Destiny. He may believe that Zack being alive helps him. Or, just as intriguingly, Aerith staying alive helps him. In the original continuity, it is Aerith’s spirit working from within the lifestream that ultimately vanquishes the meteor. Does her not dying somehow work to Sephiroth’s favor?
Sephiroth’s enigmatic commentary reveals little. At the least, he does seem to be careful about the ‘rules’ of time travel. At the Edge of Creation, he gives Cloud a cryptic, mocking warning that even with time travel, there are limits to what’s possible.
While Sephiroth’s dialogue is inscrutable by design, there’s a different challenge with Aerith — namely, it’s hard to pin down how much she really knows about what’s going on. She’s arbitrarily oracular, allowing the writers to use her almost as a plot device. She head-shakes away any question that might actually help us make sense of all this.
Cloud’s prophetic visions also lack a satisfying explanation. By the end of the game, everyone glimpses the future in some fashion. But Cloud was doing it before anybody else — even Aerith, as far as we know.
FF7 Remake has a difficult task ahead. A neat, satisfying resolution to the now-sprawling saga is hard to fathom. Advent Children certainly didn’t have the narrative chops of the original game. But the story as it stands does not lack for novelty and intrigue. My misgivings aside, I look forward to seeing more of Zack.