Were you confused by Final Fantasy 7 Remake's ending? You're not alone.
The game managed to cause consternation among fans before it even officially launched. As complications stemming from COVID-19 spread caused physical copies of the game to be sold in Australia and parts of Europe early, some fans managed to beat the game before Remake's April 10 launch.
For those who haven't played the game, and are just here for a wild ride, Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the first part in the Remake project. It takes the first act of the original -- Cloud Strife and company's exploits in Midgar, the first of many cities visited -- and turns it into an entire game. Before the launch,.
Both director Tetsuya Nomura and producer Yoshinori Kitase said there would be some changes to the game's story. The big questions going into 7 Remake were whether Midgar's section would work as a full arc, and if alterations to the story would be truly significant.
The answer to the first question is spoiler free: Yes, it totally does work.. The second question can only be answered in spoilerville. Again, please: Do not read below unless you've finished the game or are OK with its ending being spoiled.
The final boss of 7 Remake is Sephiroth. This is a bit of surprise. In the original, Sephiroth, thought to be dead, makes his return known by killing President Shinra and taking Jenova's remnants from the labs within Shinra HQ. This prompts Cloud and the gang to go out into the world to stop Sephiroth from killing everyone/everything.
This still happens, more or less, in Remake. But then, after you escape from Shinra HQ, instead of going out into the world to find Sephiroth, Sephiroth finds you.
In the clash that follows, it's revealed that there are alternate timelines. The events of the original Final Fantasy 7, in which Sephiroth was ultimately defeated, occurred in an earlier timeline.
To explain that, we need to back up to the beginning of the game.
After the first chapter, in which Cloud and Barret destroy a Mako reactor, you chance upon Aerith (or, as she's lovingly referred to, "Flower Peddler"). Cloud sees a vision of Sephiroth, and then after a brief chat with Aerith the two are surrounded by ghostly creatures that look like Dementors from Harry Potter.
These creatures appear throughout the game at seemingly random times, often causing you trouble but at certain points saving you. Towards the end of Remake, Red XIII escapes Hojo's lab and joins your party (as an uncontrollable player). He explains that these creatures are called Whispers.
"Perhaps best described as arbiters of fate," XIII explains. "They are drawn to those who attempt to alter destiny's course and ensure they do not."
In other words, the shadow cloaks rock up any time Remake looks like it'll diverge from the original.
If you've played Remake, you may recall some such moments. Toward the end of the game, Barret is impaled by Sephiroth. It looks like he's done for -- until it's revealed a Whisper shielded the blow and saved him. Earlier, Professor Hojo, confronted by Cloud and co., is about to explain that Cloud never actually was a Soldier -- something Cloud's not meant to learn until much later -- before he's dragged away by Whispers.
The very first time we see the Whispers, when Cloud meets Aerith, they appear to scare Aerith off. She's meant to leave before the Shinra infantry arrive, but her and Cloud just kept yammering on. So the Whispers intervened.
There's a cool reference to the alternate timelines here too. Cloud lays eyes on Aerith just before the Whispers appear but, before he can talk to her, he sees a vision of Sephiroth. "You're too weak to save anyone," Sephiroth, after conspicuously putting his hand on Aerith's shoulder, tells Cloud. (Sephiroth kills Aerith in the original.)
Another side, another story
OK, so the Whispers are here to keep everything on track. Cool, but no big deal right? Well, to get to Sephiroth in Remake you have to first beat the Whisper Harbinger, who's kind of like the king of all Whispers. This is orchestrated by a combination of Sephiroth and Aerith, as Sephiroth slashes a portal open with his sword and Aerith augments it with magic before you walk through. It's not really made clear, but it appears that both Sephiroth and (particularly) Aerith are aware of the existence of multiple timelines. In any case, you destroy the Whisper Harbinger.
The game ends with the gang deciding to leave Midgar to stop Sephiroth, just like they do in the original. But now, with the Whispers being eliminated, major elements of the story will change as the Whispers won't be around to keep fate in line. From here on out, subsequent games in the 7 Remake project won't follow the original's story as closely as this game did.
Case in point: Zack Fair.
Zack Fair is known in the original as Cloud's mentor. He's also the protagonist of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7, a prequel to the original (that totally rocked). In both of those games, Zack is shown to be killed by Shinra infantry as he travels with a comatose Cloud to Midgar. (Both Zack and Cloud were being experimented on by Hojo, and Cloud was knocked out, still feeling the effects of Mako poisoning.) Crisis Core shows this with tremendous drama, as Zack takes down scores of Shinra goons before being gunned down.
After you eliminate the Whispers in Remake, you're shown a montage of what's going on in Midgar as your crew leaves. Rufus becomes the new president of Shinra; nothing weird about that. Biggs is seen recovering at his old orphanage; weird, he died in the original. But most importantly, Zack is seen surviving the Shinra onslaugh and carrying Cloud to Midgar.
It's strongly suggested that this occurs in a separate timeline. We see a shot of a chip packet with Shinra's Stamp mascot on it but, unlike the helmet-wearing Beagle Stamp we saw throughout 7 Remake, it's a Border Terrier wearing a green hat. Outside of this, it's not 100% clear what Zack's survival means. Aerith, in the same spot overlooking Midgar but in 7 Remake's timeline, seems to sense Zack.
Fans will likely share theories about timelines and dimensions and fate until the next game in the series comes out. But it means that Zack is still alive, and is likely to play a big part in 7 Remake's sequel.
In other words, Final Fantasy 7 Remake part two won't really be a remake at all.