This article originally appeared on VICE US.
This article contains extensive spoilers for the ending of ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake’ and how it differs from the original.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is haunted. Sephiroth, the story’s primary villain, appears as a ghostly visage to harass Cloud throughout the entire game. Mysterious and enigmatic spirits appear to force the party into situations and block them from taking certain actions. But Final Fantasy VII Remake is also stalked by two spirits that lurk outside its contents—canon and fan expectation.
When SquareEnix announced it was remaking Final Fantasy VII as multiple games and that the first game would take place entirely in Midgar, there was an obvious problem: the game wouldn't have a primary antagonist. Sephiroth barely appears in this early section of the original and, if he were to remain the games’ main antagonist, we’d probably need to fight him and get an idea of his motivations. Final Fantasy VII Remake does that—it ends with a boss fight against the so-called One Winged Angel—but it goes further. Because we're not "supposed" to fight Sephiroth at all at this point in the game, the real final boss of Final Fantasy VII Remake turns out to be the Whispers of Fate—a teeming horde of malevolent spirits who exist only to protect the original game’s continuity. Literally.
The Whispers of Fate exist to protect “destiny.” Here, destiny means the continuity of the original game. These Deus Ex Mako Spirits appear when the player or characters might deviate from the established canon of the franchise. In the original game, when faced with the Turks in the church after blowing up Mako Reactor 5, Cloud and Aerith flee. So the spirits force them to flee. Dramatically, at the end of the game, Sephiroth murders Barret. The spirits can’t have that. It’s not what’s supposed to happen, so they resurrect him.
In other places, the spirits are cruel. During Shinra’s assault on the plate above Sector 7, they hover over the dying bodies of Biggs and Jessie, seemingly pleased to see the story playing out the way they want it. In the original game, Wedge falls from the plate and dies. In Remake, he survives only to be surrounded by spirits and tossed from the top of Shinra Tower in the game’s final moments as he begs the heavens to tell him he made a difference.
It’s a cruel, capricious, and pointless death delivered by creatures interested in seeing things play out as they always have. The Whispers are like angry fans, purists who’ve played and replayed Final Fantasy VII their whole lives and can’t abide anyone making changes to the story. Wedge is dead, not because of a mistake he made or because it enhances the story, but because he’s supposed to. That’s it. That’s the only reason the Whispers kill him.
Players experiencing the story for the first time won’t see this, but for returning fans there’s a tension between what the player knows and how the game is changing things. Anytime there might be a change, the Whispers are there to make sure it won’t happen. They’re there to protect the story I’ve already seen, the story that even people who never played FFVII probably know roughly by heart.
The game concludes with a battle against Sephiroth which establishes him as the big bad, but to challenge him the characters have to first defeat the Whispers of Fate. In the moments leading up to this, the characters witness flashes of the original game’s storyline. Cloud sees Aeirth die. The entire group watches Red XIII and his children running through the ruins of the old world. They make the conscious decision to fight fate, to banish the whispers, and chart their own course.
With the Whispers defeated, they’re able to do so. The characters are outside of Midgar, in a vast and open world, uncertain of what the future holds. It begins to rain and we see a vision of a character that should, canonically, be dead. There’s a hint that there are entire other universes and other timelines of which Final Fantasy VII Remake is but one.
“The Unknown Journey Will Continue,” the screen reads as the camera pans up into the clouds, implying that the future is open to change, that continuity isn’t as important as telling a good story now, with the tools the creators have at their disposal. Good.
Final Fantasy VII Remake was always going to need to make changes—both to support a longer story told over multiple games and to keep things fresh and interesting both for its creators and its audience. I know the story of Cloud, Aerith, and Sephiroth back to front. I’ve seen it told and retold on message boards and across multiple games. I didn’t want or need a loving retelling of the story I already knew. That would have been boring, if beautiful.
Instead, FFVII Remake gave me the greatest gift possible: it took me back to a place where I am seeing the story with fresh eyes, with no idea of what comes next.