header is screenshot from Final Fantasy VII Rebirth
Death Again
Yussef Cole

This article discusses plot details from throughout Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, including its ending.

With Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, Square Enix has attempted to make the most remembered, most famous videogame death scene of all time feel refreshing and relevant again. But how can one possibly make the sudden death of a beloved main character, Aerith, at the dastardly hands of Sephiroth, feel shocking, again? Aerith’s death in the original Final Fantasy VII was the death of the group’s heart, and its connection to the planet; the death of any possibility of a clean, uncomplicated happy ending. It was a paradigm shift, not just for the narrative of Final Fantasy VII but for all future videogames interested in telling nuanced, emotional stories. It seems Square Enix, in light of the impossibility of this task, decided to double down on the confusing multiverse plotlines it established in the previous game, Final Fantasy VII Remake

Multiverses seem to be all the rage these days, Marvel has a whole block of films committed to the premise, and multiple Oscar winner, Everything Everywhere All At Once features multitudes of multiverses. Perhaps the awfulness of our own ‘verse makes audiences eager to see a vision of things working out differently, better, with an option for every opinion, for every memory mired in fantasy and escapism.

Rebirth saves the bulk of its dimension hopping for the end of a turgid and lengthy finale chapter. The last fifteen hours of the game proceed like a marathon edging session, the climax of which being, of course, Aerith’s demise at the point of Sephiroth’s long, thrusting sword. What was a relatively brief sequence in the original game is stretched and elongated into an interminable temple run, requiring hours spent plumbing through the Temple of the Ancients, rotating room geometry to solve spatial puzzles, and withstanding endless waves of Shinra troops and minibosses.

Meanwhile, Aerith is given center stage, like the unknowing contestant of a reality competition show getting extra screen time to tell their life story on the same episode where they’re about to get the chop. Watch Aerith go! Look at all her newfound magical powers, which she will definitely get to use going forward! Look at how close she’s gotten to Cloud; will they or won’t they? And what does Tifa have to say about that, hmm?

We all know what’s going to happen, of course. We’re all frightfully aware of the silver haired sword of Damocles hanging over the whole scene. In fact, we’re slavering for that blade to drop. We can’t wait to see what happens, to satisfy our nostalgia-addled imaginations. We want to see the past exhumed, to see Aerith die, once more. There’s even a small part of us that wants her to be saved, even though we would never admit that, would never admit to yearning for such a pandering retcon of gaming’s canon.

This is, understandably, a difficult arena for Square Enix to wade into, a roiling sea of confused fan sentiment and fervent expectations. We want to be surprised, but not surprised in a way that might possibly disturb a cherished childhood memory. We just want to feel the exact same feelings we felt, as if we’re feeling them for the first time. Square Enix offers up a compromise. We won’t be getting the same feelings. Instead, we get to have even more feelings! More complicated feelings! More confusing feelings.

Aerith’s death in Rebirth has many of the same elements of the original, as any side-by-side comparison will quickly show. But it also departs from the original in pretty drastic ways. Aerith still dies, but as this is happening there are flashes of alternate realities where Cloud might have managed to save her. Her wounds open and then close, she speaks and she is silent. The scene is drenched in confusion and contradiction. Then there’s an hour-long sequence of boss fights, in the finale of which Aerith appears in assumedly spirit form (but she can still die …) to help Cloud defeat Sephiroth.

It kind of feels like going back to that ex who’s dyed their hair and has started posting about how much therapy they’re getting and so you’ve convinced yourself that this time it’s going to be completely different. This time Cloud can still see Aerith, even as his friend’s can’t. He doesn’t even have to grieve anymore. This time she flutters between dimensions. She lives and she dies. She becomes a ghost. She still exists in the unfinished side-plot of Zack’s dimension. It’s all cosmetic, all powder and paint. All sound and fury signifying nothing. A baroque puzzle which twists itself in knots trying to do something both different and identical to the original.

Next to this cacophony of twisting ideas, the original game feels more functional, and pointed. Aerith’s death feels more final, which is the point. This was one of the first times a game did this sort of thing: a main character, a love interest, gone in a flash. That’s what death is, after all, the death of all possibility. You don’t get to continue talking to that person, no matter how much you love them. They are gone, and you just have to continue on living.

In the original death sequence, we watch as Cloud releases Aerith’s forever-stilled body into the waters beneath the temple. We watch as she gradually descends, disappearing into unfathomable depths, rejoining the ancient lifestream. In Rebirth, that scene is omitted. We cut instead to the aftermath, the gang sitting on the shore, in states of mourning. Except Cloud, who’s lost in his own reverie, in conversation with an Aerith no one else can see.

Aerith’s death is meant to reflect the planet’s vulnerability. If her life could so easily be expunged, then so too could the lifestream. Rebirth, however, seems less concerned with Aerith as a representation of nature than how she personally connects with others; with Cloud, with Zack, by way of various versions and possibilities bound to disparate timelines. It’s an abundance of possibility and a rejection of finality. Much like the rest of the game, which has become less about saving a planet in crisis and more about enjoying life to its fullest, forever.

There’s a sense of trepidation in Rebirth, epitomized by this confused death scene. It’s as if Square Enix is petrified of disappointing its fans, and so it tries to give us everything, every possibility. But faced with everything, it’s hard to feel much of anything.


Yussef Cole, one of Bullet Points’ editors, is a writer and motion graphic designer. His writing on games stems from an appreciation of the medium tied with a desire to tear it all down so that something better might be built. Find him on Bluesky @youmeyou.bsky.social.