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FF7 Rebirth Ending

*** Contains spoilers for OG FF7, Remake and Rebirth ***

OG FF7 was the defining game of my childhood and reliving it through Remake and Rebirth and expanding upon the original story and world is everything my younger self dreamt of ever since seeing the FF7 opening trailer teased during the PS3 era. For me Rebirth in particular is a phenomenal achievement and comes across as a true labor of love from the team who developed it. I think I’d go as far as saying that Rebirth is my new favorite game of all time; I’ve played it for 120+hours and still want to keep playing, which in my adult life is completely unheard of given how much less time I have to play games these days vs my youth. 

The ending of Rebirth was intriguing, if a little overly-convoluted. It also seems to be quite polarizing but I was ok with it. It has obviously been designed so that it is ambiguous and open to interpretation. I can see why they thought they had to go down this route so that there can be a big reveal in part 3 to compensate for almost everyone knowing the truth about Cloud’s backstory; thus ruining the big plot twist from the OG game.. 

I’ve enjoyed reading the theories surrounding the ending and in the time I’ve had to read them my perception is that it is generally agreed upon that in the Main/Beagle timeline/world Aerith is dead from the perspective of everyone except Cloud. For completeness I define the ‘main’ world as the one which shows them all flying away in the Tiny Bronco against a sky with no rift in the final scene of the game. There are then various theories about why Cloud can see Aerith but the one that seems to make the most sense is that Cloud’s mind is a complete mess and he is refusing to believe that Aerith has actually died. The classic unreliable narrator which matches up with Cloud’s OG story.

I’ve never really engaged in any theory-crafting, FF7 is the first story I’ve been passionate enough about, but I have a few thoughts that I thought would be fun to share and discuss.

Aerith isn’t dead, cause she’s by the Tiny Bronco
(To the theme of Elvis ain’t Dead)

I think the prevailing idea that Aerith is dead and Cloud is unable to process this death makes a lot of sense and I could very well see it being proven true, however, this has been discussed quite a bit already and I think it’s more interesting to explore alternative ideas to see where the ideas could lead. 

In this spirit I am going to conduct a thought-experiment that goes against convention; starting with the following hypothesis:

  • We defeated some white whispers so we’ve changed fate dammit!
  • Aerith is alive in the “main” world as there is no rift in the sky when we see her and the the Tiny Bronco flying away
  • I never grew out of trying to find a way to “save Aerith” in the OG FF7

As I have a defined starting point my reasoning plays out more like a journey than a theory.

Base assumptions

My basic understanding going into Rebirth was that there used to be a single fate that the planet attempts to follow and our actions in Remake (defeating the arbiters of fate) have meant that things aren’t now kept along that singular, inevitable path and that ‘fate’ can be changed. During my play-through of Rebirth, and after subsequent reading of theories, I roughly followed along with the different Stamp breeds marking out different “worlds” but I haven’t really got a clue how all the various worlds that are depicted throughout Rebirth slot together beyond this. Some characters see rifts in the sky whereas others do not. Throughout Rebirth it also seems that we see a rainbow/white aura depicting a splitting off of a new world after certain fate altering choices are made.

How I saw the events of the ending

I’ll first share the series of events I noticed from the end of the temple of the ancient section through to the ending of the game as this makes it easier to refer back to specific points of interest when discussing theories:

  1. Cloud gets manipulated by Jenova and gives the black materia to Sephiroth.
  2. Cloud snaps out of his manipulation and rushes to rescue Aerith but they both fall
  3. Aerith and Cloud wake up in what looks like a new world with a different Stamp version. Aerith gives a functional white materia and says “It’s about saving the world… and you” to Cloud before pushing him out of the world
  4. Cloud appears in a realm that Sephiroth calls “the true nature of reality”
  5. Here Sephiroth explains the multiple worlds and says “we are about to witness the merging of worlds” as we see multiple worlds appearing to collide
  6. Cloud sees a vision of himself as a “Black Robe” uttering “Reunion” in what looks like the Whirlwind Maze from the OG game. He tells Sephiroth he wants no part of his plan
  7. Sephiroth says “maybe you need a little push” and tempts us into a world by placing himself in front of it, knowing Cloud will thrust at him and we re-enter a world
  8. Cloud, apparently in a dream, appears in the Sleeping Forest. Sephiroth notices that Cloud has the white materia and says “That doesn’t belong here, very poor form”
  9. We defeat a bunch of Black Whispers
  10. Aerith appears and Cloud gives her the functional White Materia and Aerith gives back the empty materia. Aerith then disappears in the fog and Clouds path is blocked by the White Whispers
  11. We see some flashes of memories that show how Cloud has been unconscious since his fall until the party makes it to the Sleeping Forest trying to get to the Forgotten City. They too have lost Aerith in the fog.
  12. Each member of the party has their own chat with Cloud
  13. The party arrives at the Forgotten City. As we start walking towards it we see Sephiroth appears and start to see the merging of differing worlds that Sephiroth previously alluded to in 5. We see a glimpse of meteor and the world changing from light to dark along with a whole host of whispers – some white, some black.
  14. We press on to get to Aerith. Red specifically asks “what are these white whispers” – so we are quite obviously having our attention drawn to them. Cloud replies “They sure aren’t happy to see us”. We then go on to battle and defeat some of them. If we assess them we see text describing them as:

    “A unique arbiter of fate that opposes all who attempt to defy the inevitable. Intrinsically connected to the planet’s destiny across all of time and space”
  15. We have our path into the Planet’s Sanctuary where Aerith is praying, blocked by what look like Black Whispers (could be grey?). Red and Barrett try and fail to break through but when Cloud calls out “Aerith” we see what looks like black whispers breaking open a section of the wall that the party help him to get through. Cloud enters and a few white whispers follow. We then get to the altar scene.
  16. We walk to the altar where Aerith is – our progress seems to be slowed by all the Whispers
  17. It looks like the grey whispers try to get Cloud to raise his sword in the same way he does in the OG story. Difficult to tell if the whispers are grey or black.
  18. Sephiroth starts falling towards Aerith with his sword as he does in OG
  19. Cloud appears to break free of the Whispers hold, we see a flash of rainbow and he lunges to block Sephiroth
  20. We see Cloud push Sephiroth back and his Masamune sword flies away and sticks into the ground. We again see a rainbow aura
  21. It appears at this point that we are flicking between two outcomes. One where the Masamune has no blood on it and one where it does. Scenes without blood seem to be shown inside of a rainbow/white aura which seems to hint at a “new world” branching off based on what we’ve seen elsewhere in the game
  22. Aerith falls to the ground and Cloud goes to her. 
  23. We then get more flickering between visions of Cloud crying or speaking. The speaking scenes seem to resemble the words that Cloud says in the OG game about being able to feel the emotions that Sephiroth claims he is incapable of. The scenes where he is crying have the rainbow aura in the background
  24. Sephiroth swings his blade and we see a small splash of blood with Cloud wincing whilst still holding Aerith – after this we see the green particles which tend to appear when someone is returning to the lifestream.
  25. Aerith opens her eyes and tells Cloud that it’s ok in the world surrounded by the white and rainbow aura.
  26. The party rush up and see Cloud holding Aerith with her eyes closed but Tifa seems to have visions flicking between a world where there is blood on the ground and one where there isn’t.
  27. Sephiroth talks about a confluence of worlds, Cloud being a puppet and disappears into purple smoke and seems to reappear to us as Jenova

The final sequence of fights then plays out to us follows:

  • B1. Everyone fights Jenova Lifeclinger
  • B2. White light encircles the party and we see white whispers that heal us
  • B3. Switch to Cloud stood in all white light and Zack finds him
  • B4. After Zack touches Cloud they appear together in the what appears to be the same world called “the edge of creation” in Remake and face off against Sephiroth
  • B5. Sephiroth parts the worlds which sees Zack fall into another world/void (unclear to me)
  • B6. Sephiroth takes on his Reborn (aka Bizzaro Sephiroth from OG) phase and Cloud begins fighting him
  • B7. With the help of the white whispers, Cloud does enough damage to him until we see another rift appear and Sephiroth seems to appear in another world
  • B8. We see him appear to the rest of the party in what looks like the Forgotten city. They specifically ask “Any sign?” and “Maybe the whispers got him” – implying they’ve lost Cloud just prior to this. Barrett then says “This one’s for Aerith”
  • B9. After doing another amount of damage we get another rift and switch to another world
  • B10. Zack falls into another world which the white ghosts seem to guide him to. Here we see meteor and Sephiroth Reborn
  • B11. We see a series of events that seem to imply that the same Sephiroth Reborn is being fought in multiple worlds at the same time; these being:
    • B11a. Cloud and Zack both being linked in some way when you fight as Zack; Cloud and Zack can perform a synergy ability and both appear to land the final blow to Sephiroth and cut off a horn
    • B11b. The party see a horn being cut off which seems to be them seeing the damage Cloud and Zack have done
  • B12. After you do enough damage with Zack there is a sequence where Cloud and Zack strike at the same time and a horn comes off Sephiroth; we then switch back to the rest of the party who see this damage and continue the fight
  • B13. You seemingly kill Sephiroth Reborn with the party but hear Barrett shout “You gotta be kidding me, he still ain’t dead?” as he appears to collapse into a purple cloud
  • B14. We jump back to Cloud at the “edge of creation” where Sephiroth returns to his one-winged form
  • B15. Aerith appears through a white light. Sephiroth says “I must admit, I underestimated you” – not certain but appears to be referring to Aerith
  • B16. Sephiroth questions Cloud on whether this is a “fever dream” during the fight
  • B17. We defeat Sephiroth and he laughs, Cloud questions it and Aerith reassures him it’s “because he knows this isn’t over”
  • B18. Aerith says “everyone is waiting” takes Cloud’s hand and they are surrounded by white
  • B19. Aerith disappears but Cloud does not
  • B20. We see the party at the altar in the forgotten city rushing to the body of Aerith
  • B21. The final cut scenes play out

Beginning the Journey

It’s difficult to know where to start as a lot of the final scenes heavily imply she can only be seen by Cloud, however, having gone through them a few times I think they’ve been made ambiguous enough to allow for the possibility of her being visible to the whole party.

In order to account for Aerith sometimes not being present when she should be we have to start by taking the same idea used in the conventional theories and say that Cloud is an unreliable narrator. I’ll expand on this point later but for now let’s flip the conventional idea on its head a little and rather than saying that “she’s only present when Cloud is looking at her” let’s instead frame it as “she’s only missing in scenes where Cloud is also in them”

Next we can say that none of the direct interactions between Aerith and the party completely disprove that she is physically present. If you watch the final cut-scene through the lens of them all being able to see Aerith it still broadly makes sense. It all looks a bit weird from a character interaction point of view, but that is equally true in the scenario where we say “only Cloud can see her” – I’ll expand on this later too.

All of the interactions in the final cut scenes could be interpreted as her being present:

  • Aerith saying “I’ll see you off” after Barett says they “can’t stay around forever” could be to everyone
  • when Cid asks “What did Aerith actually do?” he could be referring to the repairs of the Tiny Bronco
  • when Aerith strokes Red, he could react because she is actually there 
  • the party are facing the direction of Aerith (towards the water) at the entrance of the Tiny Bronco before Cloud walks down to them
  • Aerith says “You have to promise not to look up” – the other members could have heard her and it may explain why Barett is taken aback by Cloud saying “Don’t look up” shortly afterwards

As far as the final cut-scenes are concerned the only other thing that isn’t accounted for is the demeanor of the party as they are all clearly distraught about something, particularly Tifa. There’s a more potentially damning bit of dialogue we need to tackle first though; one which could yet doom Aerith. This lies in one of the final battle sections against Sephiroth Reborn.

Saving Aerith

In the first fight with the party (minus Cloud and Aerith) against Sephiroth Reborn (B8) Barret clearly says “This ones for Aerith”. So that’s it right? Game over. The only thing that’s getting around this is a Gameshark code. Perhaps, but what if we keep trying to push past those pesky white whispers? Defying fate ain’t easy y’know.

The final sequence of battles after Schrodinger’s Aerith scene are difficult to follow, let alone piece together any coherent narrative for the events that play out. It does seem there is an overarching sense that the Sephiroth Reborn fight is taking part across multiple worlds simultaneously; fitting into the theme of there being merging worlds as mentioned by Sephiroth in 5, 13 and 27. 

The most direct indications of this are where we see:

  • Zack and Cloud fighting together when we control Zack (B11) 
  • The horn that Cloud chops off Sephiroth is seen by the party at (B12)
  • There is a single health bar that persists across all the fight sections.

Lets fully run with the merging worlds idea and say that each section is a different world fighting against a single Sephiroth. That gives us Cloud’s world, Zack’s world and the rest of the party’s world – implying 3 groups fighting at the same time. Unfortunately this idea doesn’t yet help Aerith’s life expectancy, however, there’s something weird about the main party sections of the fight that we can dig into. 

We fight as the party in two sections; B8 and B12. Look at the environments in both – they are completely different. An obvious reason for this could just be that we’re in an epic final battle sequence and all kinds of shit is kicking off; “don’t worry about it”, “move along”, “nothing to see here” – this isn’t going to fly here though as we’re fully committed to saving Aerith.

In the B8 environment we can see markings on the floor that resemble those on the floor of the altar in the Planets Sanctuary so I think we can say that the location of this fight is in the Forgotten City. We also see a bunch of dark purple columns rising up with skeletons and other Jenova-esque remnants; we can potentially say that time-wise this is after the Jenova Lifeclinger fight. Anything related to Jenova could mean we’re being messed with but this is the best we can do for now so let’s say that B8 is the Forgotten City after the Jenova fight

The B12 environment is completely different; the flooring is just stone with no markings, the Jenova remnants have gone and we now have whirlwinds of what looks like the lifestream. There’s a chance that we’ve just moved out of the Planets Sanctuary into another section of the Forgotten City during the course of the battle but I’m going to propose that there are enough differences to say that B8 and B12 take place in different worlds. I’ll ignore where/when B12 is for now as just the notion of these being different worlds is enough to resuscitate the theory (and Aerith) for now. We can now say that we have 4 worlds fighting Sephiroth and that means that the Party in B8 isn’t necessarily the same Party as B12.

Going back to the original problem of Barret’s line “this is for Aerith” that occurs in B8 – if we’re saying that B8 happens in an independent world then this means that Aerith could be dead to the party in this world but it doesn’t mean that this world is the one we later see in the final cutscene i.e. the party we see in the final cutscene is from B12 so we can disregard Barret’s line and Aerith is saved! Though admittedly on life-support.

Many loose ends

So with a bit of effort/blatant delusion we can refute the major roadblocks that would otherwise disprove that Aerith is alive in the final scenes of the game. It’s not particularly compelling though and there are a lot of loose ends left over from our mental gymnastics so far. The most obvious problem being that the party are clearly distraught about something at the end; if Aerith isn’t dead then what are they upset about?

What if I said that the idea of Aerith being alive isn’t the most controversial part of this theory? The price of freedom sure is steep.

The cost of defying fate

During the altar scene we apparently see two outcomes; one where Aerith is dead and one where she is alive, however, what if we are looking at the wrong character?

The two worlds appear to split in 19 where we first see a flash of rainbow light that indicates this. From this point onwards everything about Aerith is the same in both worlds; closing her eyes, ribbon and materia falling from her hair, her hitting the floor and being held in Cloud’s arms – the first time we see any difference in Aerith is at 25 when she opens her eyes and talks to Cloud.

What if we look at Cloud over the same period from 19-25? At 23 we see that Cloud behaves differently in the two worlds – talking vs crying. So in 23 and 24 the only character differences between the worlds we see come from Cloud which could imply that his fate has altered in some way. So far we’ve only focused on Aerith’s fate; what if we instead focus on Cloud’s fate?

The fate of Cloud hinges on the actions in 24, in the world where Aerith lives. It starts with Aerith lying in Cloud’s arms while he is crying. Sephiroth/Jenova says “Don’t weep, your tears are empty. Just like you” and then makes a slashing motion – it is only after this slashing motion that we hear the faint sound we usually hear when someone is returning to the lifestream and we see the familiar green particles to go with it – before this point we don’t see any of this.

Once we start seeing the particles we see Aerith open her eyes, telling Cloud that “it’s ok” and puts her hand up to his face. Cloud then places his hand on Aerith’s hand.

This could all be interpreted as Cloud dying. Or is at least injured enough by Sephiroth/Jenova to start entering the lifestream at this point with Aerith trying to soothe him through it. So instead of talking about worlds where Aerith lives/dies we can instead look at it from whether Cloud lives/dies.

Fate through clouded eyes

Do things still make sense if we look through the following sequences from the perspective that Cloud is dead?

When the party rush up to the altar (26) they see Aerith with her eyes closed. Tifa then seems to have visions of Cloud and Aerith with more flickering between there being blood present and there being no blood – though notably Aerith’s eyes are closed both times. The closed eyes could be explained by Aerith only speaking to Cloud in the lifestream and there’s nothing indicating that the blood isn’t Cloud’s – we would just naturally assume this would be Aerith’s because of our expectations of what happens in this scene.

After this we go into the final boss sequence, we’ll leave out the details about the actual fights for now and revisit them later but after the Jenova battle we see Cloud surrounded by white, as Zack would say “white as far as the eye can see” which is another indicator that Cloud is now in the lifestream. Cloud being in the lifestream also neatly explains why Zack can see him and interact with him. This happens again after we defeat Sephiroth with Aerith in the final fight – we see Aerith fading away but Cloud remains surrounded by white.

Whilst there are a few events that Cloud being dead explains quite nicely we do have a couple of sticking points. The first being the Jenova fight (B1) where Cloud is clearly present and the second being Cloud’s direct interaction with the party before boarding the Tiny Bronco in the final scene. How are we getting ourselves out of this? The short answer is “with difficulty” but I’m in far too deep to give up now. Now would be a good time for us to go over that battle sequence I skipped over; or perhaps I should say battle sequences.

Fighting the good fight

If you’re still with me then I can only congratulate you on your commitment; it’s right up there with getting through the Cait Sith section of the game in the Nibelheim Mansion.

There is no getting around the fact that Cloud is present in the Jenova battle, we fight as him and he is talked to by the party at multiple points. To explain this we have to revisit our old friends who’ve already done a bunch of heavy lifting in this theory – the Sephiroth Reborn battle sequences B8 and B12.

We’ve already identified that B8 happens at the Forgotten City and follows the Jenova fight; we haven’t yet elaborated on where/when B12 happens and there’s a very good reason for this… I don’t know. The best I can do is fill in a gap left by the story at 2 after Cloud and Aerith fall.

When Sephiroth picks up the black materia after we’ve collapsed the Temple, he rises into the sky and says “The time has come” and we see a rift appearing – a rift which looks remarkably similar to the one Sephiroth Reborn comes through at the Forgotten City; you can see where I’m going with this can’t you? What if B12 happens for the main party in “our” world at the Temple of the Ancients before we get to the Forgotten City? It seems unlikely that Sephiroth would just disappear at that point in the story so perhaps he starts merging worlds at this point? There appear to be the remains of Cetra buildings in the background so this is the only other place it could realistically be. It also fits that Cloud and Aerith aren’t there for the fight since Sephiroth made them both fall at this point.

The most helpful implication of this is that we can’t now trust that the final battle sequence plays out in a single chronological ordering; even though it is presented to the player as such. If we roll with this idea then the final battle sequence could actually be multiple battle sequences.

The sequence from the perspective of the “main” party in our world where Aerith lives goes:

  • fight Sephiroth Reborn at the Temple (B12)
  • fight Jenova without Cloud at the Forgotten City (B1) but unseen by us
  • Aerith lives, Cloud dies

The sequence for the party in the world where Aerith dies goes:

  • fight Jenova with Cloud – which we fight as the player (B1)
  • fight Sephiroth Reborn (B8)
  • Aerith dead, Cloud missing?

So similar to the way we could save Aerith by dismissing this world and the “This is for Aerith” line we can also doom Cloud by saying that the Jenova battle happens in that same world. There’s still a bigger problem we are yet to resolve however.

Missing Cloud

There is still that part in the final scene where the other party members are directly interacting with Cloud by the Tiny Bronco, and our theory currently doesn’t have a Cloud to account for this – which is less than ideal.

This is where we have to start delving into characters switching worlds and I’ll freely admit that I’m not sure how all the worlds we see in the game are interconnected.

To narrow the scope down to something more specific I’m going to only consider world switches where Aerith seems to send a character between worlds. There are two instances of this that I’m pretty sure of:

  • On the date between Cloud and Aerith, she pushes Cloud through a portal
  • After Zack says “We got him” after defeating Sephiroth Reborn he falls through a portal

There’s a common visual cue that occurs both times; a rainbow area appearing and seeing white whispers.

With this in mind let’s re-look at the end of the Jenova Fight (B2); there’s a white area on the ground and white whispers! We’ve already decided that this battle plays out in the world where Aerith dies but Cloud lives and in the subsequent battle against Sephiroth Reborn (B8) Cloud is conspicuously absent and we get the following interaction between Barrett and Red:

Barret: “Any sign?”
Red: “Maybe the whispers got him?”

The theory that Aerith takes Cloud out of this world, where Cloud is alive, back into our world would solve our missing Cloud problem. This may also account for Cloud seeing a rift in the final cut scene in the same way Zack does (note on this later). In addition to this Cloud will also have all of his memories from that timeline and so will have seen Aerith die – perhaps also explaining why we flick between multiple outcomes during the Schrodinger’s Aerith scene? We are looking back at it through a very confused Cloud. We can’t be shown the iconic Cloud lowering Aerith into the water scene because no world exists where there is a living Cloud and a dead Aerith.

We could also use this to explain why he can’t see Aerith at certain points in the final cut-scenes. Aerith is only missing in scenes where he isn’t looking at her and he’s from a world where she is dead – perhaps he can’t acknowledge her being alive unless he sees her directly. Furthermore we could go further with this and say that we aren’t able to hear Aerith unless Cloud can hear her – this explains the weird one-sided interactions with silences we see between the rest of the party and Aerith. In reality Aerith is talking back to the party; but we don’t hear it through Cloud. He’s still the good old unreliable narrator we all know and love. 

Still following? To quote Barret “There ain’t no stopping this train we’re on”. I still don’t like this sky though.

Black Cloud

So we have Cloud back but something is still not right, if Aerith is alive in the main world, and Cloud is also back, then we still need a reason for the party, particularly Tifa, to be devastated at the end. We’ve taken one step forward and two back. To resolve this we need to play our final card; the Shadowblood Queen.

At 6 we see Cloud having visions of himself as a black robe. We know that Cloud has Jenova’s cells (S cells from Crisis Core) in him and it’s these that allow him to be controlled by Jenova/Sephiroth at various points in the story. We also know that the “Black Robes” appear to be those with Jenova cells that have “degraded” to the point where they are almost mindless and are following some kind of call. 

An interesting scene involving one of these Black Robes is the second fight against Roche in Nibelheim – after he has been experimented on by Hojo. When we defeat him he turns into a black robe directly in front of us. Perhaps something along these lines happens to Cloud? 

Cloud’s character up to this point is defined by his identity crisis, knowing things he shouldn’t and not knowing things he should because his mind is fragmented. Perhaps when Cloud is killed it’s the “Real” part of Cloud that passes into the lifestream and all that remains is a black robe, or instead, Jenova’s shallow representation of Cloud given that Jenova cells cannot enter the lifestream. This would fit well into the OG narrative for part 3 where Tifa has to find and repair Cloud’s mind in the lifestream after they fall into it in Mideel. In the OG game the process is represented by different parts of Cloud merging into a whole to “fix” him, one of these parts of the “real” Cloud is now in the lifestream and that could be how he later returns.

I think the demeanor of the party could be as a result of seeing Cloud die, perhaps briefly seeing a black robe, and then separately seeing another version appear again when Aerith switches the living Cloud into this world. All of this is of course unseen by us for now. We don’t know the full implications of Aerith bringing Cloud back from the world where he lives into our main world after his death but presumably it would mean that Jenova would have access to Cloud’s memories from both versions and so this could further explain the Schrodinger’s Aerith situation. 

I think Tifa in particular believes that this is Jenova and so she is mourning the loss of “her Cloud”.

Cloud is by no means the most expressive character in the game but he seems even more monotone than usual in the final cut-scene; seeming to speak in short sentences and twice asking “Trust me” – this could point to Jenova.

When falling through the “true nature of reality” (6) Cloud has a vision of being a black robe in what looks like the whirlwind maze; going from the OG series of events that would occur pretty early on in the next game and this may be related. 

Other things to consider are, rather than Cloud being “full Jenova”, he’s just gone from “Cloud with a sprinkling of Jenova” to “Jenova with a sprinkling of Cloud”. Which would represent the downwards spiral of his mental state that we saw in the OG game quite well. I’d also suspect that Cloud doesn’t know he’s dead so this will further complicate the Cloud we see at the start of the 3rd game.

No promises await at journeys end

So that is the journey which, 26 years later, saves Aerith from Sephiroth. At least for now. 

As mentioned previously I think a lot of the final sequence has been left open to interpretation so I wouldn’t claim this to be the definitive version of events but I had a lot of fun with it and I’m really looking forward to the final game.

Saving Aerith was the main aim of my thought-experiment but there are few other less well formed ideas that have come out of that process which I’ll give their own sections below. The fact that the final cut-scenes may not be playing out in chronological order opens up so many permutations that my head hurts.

The Rift in the sky

I initially thought that a rift was a “world” thing but I’m now of the opinion that it is a “character” thing. We only know that 3 characters (I think) definitely see the rift: Cloud, Zack and Biggs. There’s no direct evidence that any of the other characters see it.

The other characters in the Stamp Terrier world don’t specifically say they see a rift – just that the “world is ending” so maybe they don’t actually see the rift and instead they see meteor? There is a scene where Marlene asks if they’ll see “Daddy and Tifa” soon and Elmyra replies “soon enough”. During this we see the camera pan to the sky and we don’t see a rift which would support this.

So I think that a character seeing a rift means that the character is either dead and a part of the lifestream or it’s some side effect of Aerith moving them between worlds. Given that the rift pattern matches with a similar pattern from the OG game when Tifa and Cloud are in the lifestream the former seems most likely.

Aerith’s Prayer

Now that the timelines of events being shown to us could be all over place I think there is a good chance that Aerith saves all of the characters who see a rift as part of the answer to her prayer at the altar in the Planets Sanctuary. 

She asks “All I want is one thing… to keep the others safe. They mean so much to me. So please… tell me how to do that”.

I think that Sephiroth is able to harvest the souls from worlds that ‘disappear’ or ‘merge’ – he alludes to this when the party enters the Forgotten Capital (13). This harvesting would presumably prevent them from entering the lifestream (maybe explaining the missing mako Biggs mentions in the Pug Stamp world) and so Aerith is moving all the people she cares about, Cloud, Zack and Biggs out of collapsing/merging worlds and into safe ones so that they can’t be harvested by Sephiroth.

Perhaps this is the reason why she has to stay behind at the Forgotten Capital to help manage the souls in the lifestream and keep them away from Sephiroth.

Biggs’ reason to live

This may have been obvious to everyone else but it occurred to me that Biggs has been saved by Aerith because he was one of her friends from the Leaf House growing up – this is brought up in the “Traces of Two Pasts” book.

I underestimated you

Not only has Aerith lived but I think she’s played an absolute blinder against the calamity from the sky. I believe there are a number of scenes which show her trying to fool Jenova/Sephiroth which elicit the line “I must admit, I underestimated you” from Sephiroth in the final battle.

When we’re in Nibelheim, Cloud has the revelation that he knew Zack and that he was killed – he shares this with Tifa who promises she will tell Aerith the truth about Zack as they’re close. We find out later that Tifa tells Aerith about Cloud knowing Zack but Tifa denies that she’s told her when asked about it by Cloud – I think this is one of a number of instances where Aerith is deliberately trying to trick or withhold information from Jenova

I think that in this world Sephiroth/Jenova don’t specifically want to kill Aerith, seeing as they managed this in OG and they were still stopped. Instead I believe their focus is on the White Materia. I think they believe that, at the conclusion of Remake, the main world doesn’t have a functioning White Materia and so there’s nothing that can stop them destroying the world with meteor after they get hold of the Black Materia.

There is a scene when Cloud returns to the world in the Sleeping Forest where Sephiroth/Jenova remarks – “that doesn’t belong here” and in the English translation says “Very poor form” when noticing the white materia. An interesting point about the line “very poor form” is that the Japanese dialog is closer to “You must be punished” – which potentially gives us a motive for Cloud’s death.

Continuing on in this scene there’s another interesting bit of dialog between Cloud and Aerith when Aerith retrieves the white materia from him:

Cloud: “Sephiroth’s here. I can feel him watching us”
Aerith: “Yeah…”

Then Aerith retrieves the materia and says:
“Thanks for returning it to me Cloud, I really appreciate it. But now it belongs to you”

And makes a clear point of placing the empty, clear version back into Cloud’s hand before disappearing.

I wonder if this is another attempt to trick Jenova? A way of sneaking the white materia into this world whilst giving Cloud a memory of him still having it that Jenova can pull from.

This is going to make my head hurt as we have time-loop shenanigans to navigate but what if the full white materia sequence goes something like:

  • Aerith makes her prayer at the altar
  • Cloud and/or Aerith die in worlds at the altar
  • Aerith and Cloud appear in the world where they go on their date in the lifestream – we could call it a “Homecoming”. Aerith can give the white materia to Cloud after the date as she knows this is the “Real” Cloud and so Sephiroth/Jenova won’t know about it
  • At the end of that date Aerith is so thankful to Cloud because she knows that he died for her.
  • When Aerith appears to retrieve the white materia in a dream she isn’t actually interested in the physical materia as presumably you can’t do that in a dream
  • She instead transfers the memories back to her version and hands the same physical object back to Cloud as she has to make it look like he keeps it as she knows this will be seen by Sephiroth/Jenova
  • Sephiroth/Jenova think he has the white materia they are worried about and so he must be “punished”
  • Upon retrieving her memories Aerith now knows how her death should play out. So she acts out her death even in the case where Cloud stops Sephiroth’s blade in order to make the worlds look indistinguishable to Jenova up to the point where Cloud dies
  • Insert some white whisper time-loop magic here

Given that we think that Sephiroth Reborn is fought across space and time let’s revisit the assess description of the White Whispers:

“”A unique arbiter of fate that opposes all who attempt to defy the inevitable. Intrinsically connected to the planet’s destiny across all of time and space”

Which I interpret as saying “time doesn’t apply to these guys”.

To satisfy the line “opposes all who attempt to defy the inevitable” I think that they try to prevent Cloud from stopping Aerith’s inevitable death but at that moment, because Aerith wouldn’t cast Holy, they then have bigger problems as they need to stop Sephiroth from defying fate and destroying the world(s) with meteor and so all of the above can happen without time mattering or having to worry about any looping.

This all culminates in Aerith walking into the final battle against Sephiroth with Cloud and Sephiroth saying that she underestimated her.

To round off this mind-fuck we then have Aerith’s final dialog with Jenova Cloud where she says “I’ll put all my effort into my prayers – I’ll stop Meteor”. As far as we know Meteor hasn’t yet been summoned but perhaps this is more deliberate manipulation of Jenova.

Marlene’s prediction

I think Marlene’s prediction is referring to an event that will happen in the 3rd game. I think Cloud’s sickness in this context will refer to Cloud after the events at the Northern Crater and we’re going back to the Forgotten Capital at some point. I fear for Aerith’s fate in the 3rd game.