When Square Did The Unthinkable

An Introduction and a Warning

It was late 1997 when the seventh installment of the Final Fantasy series was released for the original Playstation in North America. Even to this day I can still remember playing it, as It really was nothing like any of the RPG’s that had preceded it. The small made-from-pixel sprite characters that had defined the series/genre in the previous 10 years or so were gone. Having been replaced by more lifelike three dimensional polygonal characters that were able to more easily convey personality and emotion. There were epic(well… for the era, okay.) cutscenes in abundance that made the jaw drop at times. There was also a soundtrack that would become one of my all time favorite game OST’s. One that I still listen to today.

In short, it was a game changing, well, game. Particularly in a series which had largely been unaltered in terms of format since its inception. For someone that had cut their video game playing teeth on consoles such as the Atari 2600, the Nintendo Entertainment System(NES), as well as in actual arcades, Final Fantasy VII felt kind of revolutionary. This was what RPG’s would be like in the next generation.

The story of FFVII really drew me in from the second I booted the game up. The characters were intriguing, and had in-depth stories. You had: the members of Avalanche and their friends. A so called eco-terrorist organization who were trying to save the planet from an evil corporation’s aspirations. Said evil corporation, the Shinra Electric Power Company, who were hellbent on bleeding the planet dry by using its life force to power everything from cities, machines of war, and even amusement parks. This ‘life-force’ of the planet was even used to create super soldiers, called… umm, SOLDIER’s… (the name felt silly back then too. Just go with it.) Even the planet itself was a character, for its part, with its own backstory. It was all very well designed.

Now, before I completely lose myself here; as much as I would like to, I am not here to recap the entire story of FFVII. ‘So what’s this all about then?’ You may be asking. Well, I recently finished Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, the second entry in the Remake trilogy, and it triggered some nostalgic things deep within me. Things that I was totally expecting, but damn did they hit harder than I anticipated. Those who know the story of Final Fantasy VII well enough may be able to see where this is going. You may be able to see why this game would cause such an emotional hit.

So with that said, and before we continue, as I mentioned in the subtitle above, I will offer some words of warning:

[SPOILER WARNING] I am going to go into details of the over arching Final Fantasy VII story. This also includes Crisis Core(Reunion) and the most recent entries of: Remake and Rebirth. [SPOILER WARNING]

Final Fantasy VII is my favorite game in RPG history. There I said it. And it holds true even to this day. While I absolutely love the Mass Effect Franchise, FFVII was the RPG that I was ever completely immersed and invested in on an emotional level. It introduced me to some of the most memorable characters in video game history. Characters that, in time, would become so beloved worldwide that they would not be bound to just the Final Fantasy brand anymore. You would see them jump into other games. Games such as Kingdom Hearts and even Smash Brothers. There would be books written to further the lore, supporting games on numerous platforms(including mobiles), and there would even be an anime and a feature length CGI movie made that featured these characters.

You had the spiky haired, stolen identity having, Buster Sword wielding protagonist: Cloud Strife. A butt kicking martial artist/childhood friend-type that everyone playing the games lusts after: Tifa Lockhart. The gruff, gun-for-an-arm, tragic backstory having, trying to do his best father-type: Barret Wallace. The Shinra Electric Power Company and its numerous memorable characters, such as the Turks, would be the antagonistic base for the games story. However the game’s primary antagonist came in the form of Sephiroth. A tall, masamune-wielding, long silver hair having, former Shinra hero that had gone insane and fell from grace. He also has incredible mommy/megalomania issues. Pretty standard stuff. Bad guy formula: Check.

Then there was, in my humble opinion, and with no disrespect to team Tifa, the true heroine of the game: Aerith Gainsborough. An incredibly memorable character who would occupy the priest/cleric(or white mage) role in the RPG system. She would also act as one of the primary love interests in the story.

Now from that little bit there, if you hadn’t figured this out from the couple of hints that I have dropped by now, Aerith Gainsborough, and her story, are the true topics of this whole post. So let’s get to it.

Note: Due to a direct translation issue, Aerith in the OG FFVII was actually named Aeris in releases outside of Japan. I remember there even being arguments that her name was incorrect. Turns out, it was true. The “th” sound in her name comes across as an “s” sound to non-Japanese speakers. This is due to the fact that there is no specific “th” sound in the Japanese language. For example: “Thank you” Spoken by a fluent Japanese person actually sounds like “Sankyu”.

The Flower Girl

The first character you see when you boot this game up is actually Aerith. Though at the time you do not know exactly who she is. She appears as just a girl with green eyes and long hair that is bathed in a green glowing light. The first time I played the game, I was so in awe of the opening cutscene and supporting music that I didn’t even consider that she would be a pivotal character in the game. I thought that she was just a random NPC being shown to introduce the world. Was I ever wrong.

Aerith’s debut during the original Final Fantasy VII opening scenes.

Aerith, from her actual introduction, became a lovable character. She was playful, and in many ways, was the opposite of the other main characters. Whom were largely portrayed in a much darker light. Merc’s and Eco-terrorists, and all. Aerith always had an air of innocence hanging over her as well. Which makes sense in a way, given her heavily protected/sheltered childhood.

Aerith’s story was a difficult one as she was more or less born into captivity. This was due to the fact that she and her mother were the only remaining members of an ancient race. The Cetra. These ancients were the wardens of the planet and its lifestream. That mysterious life force of the planet turned amusement park fuel that I mentioned before. This fact drew the gaze of Shinra, who wanted to know all of the secrets of the planet to better exploit it for all it was worth. They also wanted to reach the Cetra’s fabled “promised land”, and these two Cetra were the keys to that end. In theory. Truth was, that neither of the two knew were the promised land was.

As a result of Shinra’s aspirations, Aerith spent much of her youth as a prisoner. Her “home” was in a lab located in the center of Midgar, high up in Shinra Tower. Her time was spent occupied with playing with a boy that was “provided” by Shinra to keep her busy. All the while, her mother was having vile experiments run on her almost daily by the nefarious Hojo. A top Shinra scientist that was not above using living beings to whatever end he saw fit in his experiments. Because of Hojo, Ifalna (Aerith’s mother) would regularly return to their homey holding cell in a very bad state. Bleeding, devoid of energy, and often covered in bandages. Various medicines, and Aerith were really the only things keeping Ifalna going. 

Hojo’s attention would eventually turn to Aerith too. This was when the young girl would have an ‘awakening’. Though her treatment during this time was not as harsh as her mother’s. When her connection to the planet triggered, she began to draw pictures of lush oasis’, like a girl possessed, for days on end. Ever with Shinra’s watchful gaze on her, scooping up her drawings as soon as completed. These drawings led Shinra on a worldwide crusade to find the promised land, using her sketches as maps of sorts. This led to many scouts dying as they searched for the scene in the sketches. There were also severe cases of mako poisoning in some that did survive. Having found mako(the lifeforce of the planet) rich places.

One day, after Aerith’s drawing inspiration had dried up, with the help of a sympathetic/lovestruck lab employee, the mother/daughter pair made an escape from Shinra tower and ended up in the slums far beneath the Midgar plates. Upon arrival, Ifalna’s health, which was already on a steady downward spiral, took a drastic turn. Ifalna would pass away in front of Aerith, right there by the train station platform. The little girl was now alone, and the only things she had to remember of her mother was the materia that she had gifted Aerith with her dying breath, and her memories.

Her solitude would be short lived though, as a concerned woman by the name of Elmyra Gainsborough emerged from the slums crowds and would take Aerith in. But her upbringing would still not be safe and free. Elmyra, by virtue of her husband, being an important member of slum society knew the eyes of Shinra were always around. So Aerith would have to live in hiding, and even take a different name for a time. Indeed, even though she was in hiding under a false name, she was constantly under the watchful eye of Shinra.

What started during her awakening at Shinra Tower, Aerith’s connection with the planet continued on. Though without her mother, she had no answers as to why this was happening. Aerith saw visions of Elmyra’s husband’s death during the Wutai War in a dream one night, something that Elmyra vehemently did not accept at first. She also predicted the whereabouts of a missing child who was in grave danger of dying, somewhere in the slums. Misfortunate events surrounding her would continue until she, convinced it was for the better, would run away. But even this led her further into danger.

She would end up at an old rundown church after encountering a familiar face from years ago. The sympathetic/lovestruck lab worker that had helped her escape from Shinra Tower. This person would end up being crazed and would try to harm Aerith. He saw her as her mother Ifalna, whom he was infatuated with to no end. Her adoptive mother, and a shadowy figure would come to the aid of Aerith though, and she would return to Elmyra’s home. Safe for now. The crazed lab worker left for dead. His remains disposed of after the two made their escape.

For better or worse, this abandoned church would end up being her place of respite however. It would also be a place where she would tend to some flowers that miraculously began to grow there. Later, she would begin to travel to the upper plates of Midgar to sell the flower, with the hopes of bringing beauty into peoples lives. 

Zack Fair’s crash landing. From Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core Reunion
Aerith in Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core Reunion

One day, a spiky haired guy would crash through the church’s ceiling and land in her flowers. Having fallen from the plates high above. The black haired guy’s name was Zack Fair, and he was a member of the elite SOLDIER force. He was also a veteran of the Wutai War, the very war that Elmyra’s husband had died in. These two would grow quite close over time, and Zack would come and visit when he could. They both would eventually harbor deep feeling for each other. One day, however, Zack would tell Aerith that he had to go away on a mission to Nibelheim. This would be the last time she would see him. In his absence, Aerith would write countless letters, but would never receive a reply.

Consequently, it was during this same timeframe that the famed hero Sephiroth also went missing. Eventually being reported as Killed In Action. A couple years later, Aerith, while tending her flowers, looked up to the sky and knew, Zack had just died. His body having returned to the lifestream. Her first love was gone.

Cloud’s crash landing in the OG FF VII

Some time after this, while in the church, another spiky haired guy would fall from the plate above and land in her flowers. This blonde haired man’s name was Cloud Strife, also a SOLDIER(?), and she had met this guy before. Some days prior, while selling flowers up on the plate they had a chance meeting after Cloud was making his escape from the Shinra security forces.

Little did Aerith know that upon her first meeting with Cloud, events would be put in motion that would change her life forever. Or perhaps it was the meeting with Zack Fair years ago that would set these events in motion. Hmm…

An Unthinkable Act

Aerith quickly became my favorite character for multiple reasons. Probably most notably because of her innocence and playfulness. As I learned more about her character, I was drawn in more. This continued well after the FFVII game was finished, thanks to her lore continuing in various other mediums. However to stick with the game side of things, from a game player’s standpoint, she was the best healer in the party. So, not only was there intrigue around her character, she was one of the most useful of characters. All of this is why the circumstances surrounding Aerith’s story hit so much harder than expected. Back then, as well as in present day with the Remake trilogy.

As the game progresses, Aerith becomes more attuned with her destiny as the last remaining Cetra, and sees herself as the last hope to combat Jenova/Sephiroth’s plan to destroy the planet. Because of this, she leaves the party and travels to the forgotten city of the Ancients where she would pray to activate the Holy materia. The very materia that was passed to her by her dying mother all those years ago. However things would not play out in Aerith’s favor.

As she is in prayer at the altar, deep within the city, Cloud arrives and comes under the sway of Jenova. An evil being that corrupted and drove Sephiroth insane all those years ago in Nibelheim. This being was technically also Sephiroth’s mother. Anyway, Jenova would have Cloud kill Aerith, because it recognizes her threat. But Cloud manages to break free from Jenova’s sway.

It is at this point that Sephiroth appears from way above. Plunging down with his massive sword. And what happened next was utterly devastating…

Words cannot truly describe the feelings that this scene caused

The sword impales Aerith through the back, and without a word she slumps forward. Her white materia very symbolically falls to the ground and bounces away. Cloud, now free from Jenova’s hold, rushes over and clutches the dying flower girl. All as Sephiroth laughs and taunts Cloud in the background.

All throughout this scene, I was sitting there in disbelief. “There is no way they are killing off Aerith, right?”, “That is not even remotely possible, right?” Thoughts like this were running rampant in my head. A wave of emotions flooded me, and I did spill tears. I am totally okay with admitting this. It was a true testament to storytelling and game design. I wept for this fictional character. Though I was definitely in denial that she was gone. But sure enough, as soon as Sephiroth was taken care of, Cloud would lay her to rest in the pools of the Forgotten City, where she would sink down and eventually return to the lifestream. I guess my stock of 99 Phoenix Downs didn’t work worth a damn when it counted, huh?

Aerith, the flower girl with a really tough backstory, the last of an ancient race, was dead. And with her went countless hours of leveling and party progression. Also gone was all of her equipment. Because, wow. So not only was I stabbed in the heart, I was also a kicked in the balls. Bravo, developers.

So, yeah, while it is not so surprising in modern day games, in 1997 Squaresoft had just done the unthinkable. They had killed off a beloved main character. Right in the middle of the game. Not at the end of the game’s story in an epilogue. No. Right in the fucking middle. So, I was a bit defeated following this. To say the least. I mean, she was my waifu before the term was even a thing in western otaku culture. And they fucking killed her! YOU BASTARDS! YOU FUCKING GENIUS BASTARDS!

Now before I get some comments, yes technically, Square had killed off a main character before. For example: in Chrono Trigger. And main antagonists died all the time. But not main characters being done-in like this. Not in the middle of a game. Sure, there was some foreshadowing. A gut feeling perhaps. But you never felt like it was actually going to happen. The story writers had done a great job in that aspect. Filling you with dread that something was about to happen.

The Remake Effect

So, what happens when you play a brand new game, but you already know the story, front to back?

What happens when you already know what the fate of a Main character would/should be in said story?

Would they dare change anything? And if they did, to what end?

These were just some of the questions that I, and just about every other FF7 fan, had going into FF7 Remake(and subsequently Rebirth).

I was already in tears when the opening scenes kicked in following selecting ‘New Game’. The power of the soundtrack, the opening scene, and knowing what was about happen was heavy. I knew I was getting transported back to a story from my younger years. It was all almost overwhelming, really. And while wiping tears from my face, I remember taking a deep breath when Aerith first came on screen in the opening moments.

Aerith’s debut during the Final Fantasy VII Remake opening scenes

She was, just as she was in the original, in the alleyway looking at a leak of Mako energy. And just like she did in the original, she looked straight into the camera, her bright green eyes sparkling. The eyes, man. She was absolutely gorgeous. Everything was perfect, from her clothes to hair. The designers knocked it out of the park. They completely understood the assignment. This was the Aerith I wanted to see.

Now sure, Aerith has had voice actresses for some time now, but she did not in the original game. In those newer instances, her voiced-character was being used in pre or post-FF7 stories(Crisis Core/Advent Children), or even in non-related instances(Kingdom Hearts). We were now witnessing a complete Aerith set in her most recognizable time in the lore for the first time, the Final Fantasy VII main storyline. And her Japanese voice actress is none other than Maaya Sakamoto, an absolutely amazing seiyuu(voice actor) with an extensive resume.

Aerith at the Slums children’s park in Remake

To compliment the character design, the writers and directors did not disappoint. However, as Remake went along it became very evident that they were not necessarily sticking to the established story from decades ago. An established story that they have built upon with movies, offshoots, and even books. Things were changing in this series. And by the end of Remake, I was left with SO MANY questions. Many of which lay at Aerith’s feet. Subsequent playthroughs would be necessary to clear things up. Or so I thought.

I have played Remake from start to finish about 3 times now, and I still had questions. Guess I would have to wait for Rebirth to clear stuff up. Right?


In the years, and more specifically the months, leading up to its release, I made it a point to avoid as much about Rebirth as I could. Convention trailers, online leaks, pre-release press reviews, and yes even the demo. I did not want to touch the demo. I wanted the completed product. I watch Twitch more than regular TV these days, and if any of my favorite streamers booted up the demo, I was out.

Even with all the effort, of course there were things that made it to my eyes and/or ears. This is the digital age after all. What bits that did slip through informed me about exactly where in the game’s storyline I would be playing, who would make appearances, etc. Sure enough, the end of Rebirth would take place right around the time where Aerith, canonically speaking, was to meet her end. Oh boy…

The Rebirth Effect

One thing I love about the Remake series is the effort they put into facial expressions. You can see the emotion in her eyes. Easily some of the best facial design I have seen in modern games.

[SPOILER WARNING] Rebirth SPOILERS to follow. You’ve now been warned multiple times.[SPOILER WARNING]

Following the story changes that Remake brought, my own perceptions of the story were also changing. In short, I began to feel pretty good about Aerith’s chances of surviving her fate. I mean, they had to save her, right? This was their chance, as Remake had set the table for more changes to the story. And sure enough, as I played through Rebirth, more changes were happening. Some big ones in fact.

However, regardless of how good I felt about Aerith’s chances, it still did not ease the dread that I felt as my progress inched towards the Forgotten City arc of the game. I had spent well over 100 hours playing Rebirth, and towards the end, just prior to the endgame section, I found myself subconsciously stalling. Grinding for no real particular reason. All of the side quests that I wanted to finish were done. I was more than appropriately leveled.

What was the hold up?

The following picture, and what it meant, was the hold up. Thats what.

Aerith praying in the Forgotten City. She looks like she knows something.

When this penultimate scene finally arrived: it ended up being… the same…

But at the same time it was completely different.

Wait, what?

I was speechless as the scene played out much like it was 25+ years ago, but things were different. Whereas the OG FFVII’s Aerith had an absolute end in this scene. From what I could tell, Rebirth’s Aerith was both dead and alive? Huh? I was confused. However, unlike the original, this time the game gave me absolutely zero time to process it all. Sephiroth was looming, and things were about to get weirder. But I will not go into that. Honestly, you have to see it yourself. Just wow.

Following the various battles with Sephiroth, and as the credits were rolling, various scenes from the game were showing. I was just sitting there staring at the screen. Yup. As expected, Square had changed the story. But at the same time, they didn’t. And then a variation of Aerith’s Theme played while scenes from the Forgotten City were replayed. Tears began leaking. It was heavy.

I was indeed NOT okay. Image from FF7 Remake. My screenshot timing was oddly useful.

It was indeed just like I was back in high school again, I was shocked and questioning why Aerith had to die. Only this time I was questioning more. I mean, she IS dead, right? Square had managed to elicit a reaction out of me that was greatly akin to the ones I had when I played the original. Which was crazy. Again, like the questions I posed a while back; I already knew the story. I already knew Aerith’s fate. By all expectations, I should have been there saying things like: “here it comes” and “there it was”. Unmoved. But that didn’t really happen, because of the changes that were made and how that scenes played out before, during, and after.

In fact, there I was, just about as lost as I was back when I was sitting in front of my OG Playstation. 

SquareEnix(formerly Squaresoft or just Square) had, once again, done the unthinkable. Which is just crazy. 

Following the game, I immediately turned to YouTube and various trusted sources. I proceeded to fall hard down the rabbit hole. Just as I had done following finishing Remake. That’s one thing that sets the original game’s era apart from present day. The internet. The rumor/speculation-mills were firing on all cylinders. A double edged sword, the internet is. Full of spoilers, but also full of useful information and groups. Nevertheless, I still have questions.

Unfortunately, I will have to wait for my answers in the follow up to Rebirth. With 2027 being the goal, realistically thinking 2028 seems more probable. Ugh… Also, SquareEnix has recently been making announcements that place into question the future of their IP’s. So Hopefully, the final installment does not get the axe. Though, I think that unlikely. They have to finish this.

When/if it comes, I am quite confident though that it will be well worth the wait. Particularly after seeing the love that SquareEnix have put into Remake and Rebirth. There is true passion in these games. It was made by fans for the fans.

With that said, there is one thing I know for sure. I will get to meet Aerith again. I am positive of that.

Team Aerith for life

Thanks for reading!

Notes: Portions of the Intro and Flower Girl section of this post contained information found in various places. The most obvious would be the original game itself. However FFVII is more than just the original game now. The whole of the story is known as the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII. The beyond the original game, following sources were also referenced:

  • Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core Reunion. A game, originally released for the PSP(minus the Reunion suffix), that focuses on Zack Fair
  • The 2021 novel: ‘Final Fantasy VII Remake Trace of Two Pasts’, which delved further into the backstory for Aerith and Tifa.
  • Final Fantasy VII Remake and Rebirth
  • The 2005 theatrical release movie: Final Fantasy VII Advent Children is also referenced

The cover picture is of my personal game and strategy guide. Though this game is not the original copy that I owned. This copy was re-bought in the early 2000’s after my, heavily used and aging, Playstation decided eat one of the original games discs. That same console also liked to make corrupt memory cards… One of the reasons a whole generations of gamers spam the save feature at every turn.


All of these are true except for one:

Robert is: a Hobbyist, a Music Lover, an RPG Gamer, a Mustard Lover, Chaotic Neutral, a Japanese Speaker, a Veteran, an Otaku, a Table Tennis Player, an Anime Fan, an Aviation Professional, a New York Rangers Fan, a Chaos Lover With Loyalist Tendencies.

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