Revisit Aerith’s big Final Fantasy 7 scene before playing FF7 Rebirth

One of the biggest fan theories swirling around Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is that Aerith — famous for dying in the original Final Fantasy 7 — may escape her fate this time around. Square Enix’s remake trilogy is getting to that point in the story, and… well, truthfully we have review code and I could go ask somebody how it plays out, but then I couldn’t sit here and speculate with the rest of you, free of embargoes and spoilers.

So I type this, head in the sand, thinking back to how Aerith died back in 1997. Which offers a convenient excuse to repromote a story we published in 2017.

Back then, we ran Final Fantasy 7: An oral history, a recklessly extravagant look behind the scenes at what happened before, during, and after the PS1 game’s development. And one of that story’s chapters covered Aerith’s death and how it came about behind the scenes.

“Did you know people have been coming up to me for years now and saying, ‘You killed Aerith!?,’” said FF7 character and battle visual director Tetsuya Nomura.

“The theme of Final Fantasy 7 was ‘life,’ and we sacrificed Aerith in order to give weight and depth to that theme,” Nomura said. “Her death is a tragedy, but if we suddenly just killed off everyone else after that, it would dilute the meaning of her death.”

“When a character in a video game dies, no one thinks it’s that sad,” Nomura added. “They’re just characters in a game, after all — you can just reset the game and try again, or you can always revive them somehow. I felt that their lives just didn’t have much weight. With ‘life’ as our theme for FF7, I thought we should try depicting a character who really dies for good, who can’t come back. For that death to resonate, it needed to be an important character. So we thought killing off the heroine would allow players to think more deeply about that theme.”

That doesn’t mean Nomura didn’t second guess his decision, though.

“Long after we made the decision to kill Aerith and the development had progressed considerably, I used to go visit [composer Nobuo Uematsu] in his room. Just to hang out and talk about random things. One day, toward the end of development, I visited him to ask him, ‘Do you think we did the right thing in killing Aerith?’”

“He said, sure, he thought so,” Nomura said a moment later.

“I was relieved to hear it.”

What does this mean for Rebirth? Whatever happens, it seems like a safe bet that it won’t play out exactly like it did last time, as player expectations are now part of the equation. You can’t surprise people by doing the same thing twice.

Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth, on which Nomura served as creative director, releases on February 29.