2020's Final Fantasy VII Remake only covers the first act of the original 1997 game, up to the point where the party leaves the city of Midgar.
However, it makes it clear early on that this isn't "just" a remake. There are new mysteries surrounding the story of FF7, many of which won't be revealed until the next part of the game. Until then, though, here's what we can figure out:
Final Fantasy VII Remake Ending Explained
Naturally, this is going to involve major spoilers.
The FF7 remake's story covers what amounts to the events of the first disc of the original FF7, up until the survivors of AVALANCHE escape from Midgar.
However, starting in Chapter 2, the remake has some very clear points of divergence with the original game's plot, many of which revolve around the presence of the Whispers. These smoke monsters first appear when Cloud meets Aerith in Midgar, and are unique to the remake.
As Red XIII explains later in the game, the Whispers are agents of destiny. They're here to try to prevent the course of history from being altered, and most of the time, nobody seems able to see them except Cloud and Aerith. At one point, through the Whispers, we're shown a scene of Zack Fair as he confronts a battalion of Shinra troops, with Whispers floating among their ranks.
This sets up a primary theme of the rest of the Remake: changing destiny. After the final battle against Sephiroth, he brings Cloud alone to a place that he calls the Edge of Creation. After an unsuccessful attempt to get Cloud to join forces with him, to team up with his enemy to "defy fate," Sephiroth tells Cloud that at some point in the future, he'll have "seven seconds until the end."
Cloud is eventually sent back to just outside Midgar, where he reunites with his friends, and they resolve as a group to pursue Sephiroth. We then see a montage of events, including the people of Midgar rebuilding Seventh Heaven, Marlene tending to an injured Biggs, and Rufus taking his father's place as the president of Shinra.
However, at the end of that montage, just as if it wasn't a big deal, we're also shown an exhausted Zack Fair. He's managed to defeat all the Shinra troops that were standing against him, before an explosion of what could be Mako energy knocks him flat.
This is probably the most shocking swerve in the remake, but it requires you to be familiar with who Zack Fair is, which can be a big ask if you aren't an FF7 megafan. In the original FF7, Zack is already dead before it starts, and only appears relatively late in the game. However, he still plays a crucial role in many of FF7's events.
Zack was the protagonist of the 2008 prequel Crisis Core, which filled in a lot of the background that surrounded him and many of the other major players in FF7, but Crisis Core was a PlayStation Portable exclusive and has yet to be ported to any other system. (Which, now that I think about it, is weird.) He also appears posthumously in the 2005 film sequel to FF7, Advent Children.
The short version is that Cloud, despite his claims, was never actually in SOLDIER. He left Nibelheim intending to join the organization and become stronger, but only managed to become a simple infantryman. Along the way, he befriended Zack Fair, who actually was a 1st Class SOLDIER.
Cloud and Zack worked together on several missions until Sephiroth's destruction of Nibelheim, as shown in FF7, in which both Zack and Cloud are knocked unconscious. When they wake up, they've become test subjects for Professor Hojo. Both Zack and Cloud are exposed to Mako energy and Jenova cells, but Hojo considers them both unsuccessful experiments and slings them in cryogenic storage.
Four years later, just before the events of FF7, Zack breaks out of captivity with a delirious Cloud and makes a run for Midgar. They make it to the city's outskirts before Shinra's security forces corner them, and Zack is gunned down. He gives Cloud his Buster Sword before he dies.
Cloud, suffering from Mako poisoning and some fairly substantial trauma, ends up building a false persona for himself. By the time he meets up with AVALANCHE, he's become Cloud Strife, ex-SOLDIER, with a mixture of his own memories and what he picked up from talking with Zack. That persona slowly crumbles over the course of the game, until he's forced to confront reality during his time in the Lifestream.
At the start of the remake, it seems like it's closely following the original game's template: Cloud is claiming to be ex-SOLDIER and wielding Zack's Buster Sword. Once the Whispers appear, though, the remake's events start to diverge from the original's plotline. (That's right. You can blame the Whispers for all the new side quests in Chapter 2.)
That first glimpse we get of Zack in the remake initially looks like a simple Easter egg for Crisis Core, as a shout-out for long-time FF7 fans.
However, when Zach reappears in the ending, victorious and still very much alive after his fight with Shinra, it's an enormous swerve. Zack's death and its effect on Cloud is so foundational to the FF7 storyline that if it doesn't happen, the entire game could unfold differently.
Granted, Zack's survival could just be a glimpse at an alternate timeline... or it could be what Cloud chose to do with his "seven seconds" at the Edge of Creation. If Zack's still alive somehow, it means that we genuinely don't know what's going to happen next.
You can check out more features and articles here at Prima Games, including:
- How many parts will the FF7 remake have, anyway?
- Scream to get a chance to be in Stronghold: Warlords
- Great RPGs to play on the go with your Nintendo Switch
Of all the possibilities for the Final Fantasy VII remake, I wasn't expecting it to feature a storyline that explicitly revolves around thwarting your expectations of what's going to happen next. It's insanely meta, and after thinking about it for a while, I think I kind of love it. Weigh in with your opinion on the matter via our official Twitter, @PrimaGames.