Aerith dies in Final Fantasy 7, which is about as big a spoiler as saying Bruce Willis is a ghost. I’ve never played the original Final Fantasy 7 – nor have I seen The Sixth Sense – but there is a pool of shared cultural knowledge we all drink from. The people who spoil things on purpose? I suppose they’re the ones peeing in the pool. But no one spoiled Aerith’s death; it’s just a thing you know when you’ve been playing games for long enough, like the right trigger being shoot, what “would you kindly” means, who Darth Revan is, and the Konami code.
Aerith’s death was the sum total of my Final Fantasy 7 knowledge ahead of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, which ended up being my favourite game of last year. I knew of Cloud, Sephiroth, and the Buster Sword (though I didn’t know its name), but in terms of tangible ‘that happens in the game’, Aerith’s death was all I had.
Despite being a remake, Final Fantasy 7 Remake assumes a lot of prior knowledge. It’s not just the old game with prettier graphics, nor the old game with revamped combat. It’s a new retelling of an old story, but one that assumes you’ve heard the original. It’s a confident – yet understandable – position for the game to take. Final Fantasy 7 is one of the definitive games of the ‘90s, and everyone – even bozos like me who have never played it – know its biggest plot twist. I can’t blame Square Enix for wanting to tell a slightly different tale when we all know how the first one ends.
Here’s the thing though – apart from people telling me it’s different, I would have no idea that it is. I’ve seen people who played the original version complain that Remake is full of filler, because it stretches the Midgar section out into a whole game, but it never felt like The Hunger Games – Mockingjay: Part One to me; it was all killer no filler, except Aerith wasn’t killed. I suspect she wasn’t killed that early in the original game either, to be fair.
The only part where I felt truly on the outside of things was when the Midgar roof was dropped, leading to a huge explosion. At this point, the camera cuts away and we see a sad cat fall to its knees in sorrow. I have no idea who this cat is or why they’re there, but something about it just works. A lot of FF7 fans criticised this moment on my behalf, complaining that even while they knew exactly who this cat is, newcomers like myself wouldn’t have the foggiest. As far as I’m concerned, they have no reason to complain.
I’ve previously written about my enjoyment of this much criticised cat when I described how Final Fantasy 7 Remake became the perfect video game, but I didn’t really explain why back then. Playing Final Fantasy 7 Remake as someone who is very much involved in gaming but has never gotten around to the original is, as I’ve mentioned, an odd experience. The plot is simultaneously for your benefit and not. The game is being remade to ensnare new audiences, but it is written with an assumption of knowledge that aims most of the narrative nuances towards the old fans. Seeing the sad cat is a reminder that the story is already bigger than what you are being told, and it makes the world so much more enticing.
Game of Thrones set the standard for debut seasons of television, and ten years on, it’s still unmatched. Let’s not talk about the ending or what they did to Euron, but the opening was magnificent, and that’s because it felt like you had been dropped into a world that had been going on for decades, centuries even, before anyone had started writing about it. Sure, there was some exposition to bring us up to speed, but characters appeared, disappeared, and died every other episode, and it never felt forced for the story. It simply happened, and then the story told us about it. Things that had happened years before our time in this world started and things that would not happen until years later were hinted at or mentioned, and it all felt like an actual world rather than a backdrop for The Amazing Adventures of Arya. The same is true of Final Fantasy 7 Remake – the world is much bigger than Cloud, and even though I often don’t know who the new characters are, what is being foreshadowed, or what has been changed in this retelling of events, I love wandering through Midgar with no map to guide me.
Our own Jade King is a veritable Final Fantasy 7 expert, and she recently wrote about the ways the remake makes life harder for newcomers. While I get where she’s coming from, I never felt like FF7R was being deliberately obtuse. I’ve no idea what a Dirge of Cerberus is, but that doesn’t matter. Right now, I have faith that everything will be explained in due course, and so long as the people who know Final Fantasy understand what’s going on, that’s enough for me to believe that one day I will too.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake is clearly going its own way with the mythos… maybe Aerith will survive until the end, this time. For the original fans, they know the whole world but still don’t know what direction the story will pivot in, whereas I’m so clueless I don’t know what’s a twist, what’s being played straight, or what was supposed to happen. It’s rare that you get to be part of a story like this, where you know the world around the story exists, but you have no knowledge of the details and just get dragged along for the ride. I’ve been tempted to go and play the original since playing the remake, but maybe it’s best to leave that until the whole story has been told, however long that takes.
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