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Aerith’s Fate In ‘Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’ Is Causing A Rift Among Fans

There’s no more important death in video games than that of Final Fantasy VII’s flower girl, Aerith. In the 1997 game, Aerith meets her end at the hands of Sephiroth, who brutally stabs her in front of the game’s hero, Cloud Strife, and by extension the players.

It was a permadeath that stayed with fans. “I felt it was imperative for us to show the gravity and rawness of loss,” Tetsuya Nomura, the game director who has worked on several Final Fantasy titles, including this year’s Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, recently told The New York Times. It was a formative moment for many players, who remember the scene beat for beat, including the moment its iconic musical theme kicks in. When Square Enix announced it was remaking Final Fantasy VII in a trilogy of games, fans braced themselves to watch Aerith die all over again, rendered in more modern, more real graphics—until the game offered up a twist: in-game phantoms called whispers and the ability to possibly stand against fate.

In other words, when Final Fantasy VII Rebirth hit consoles late last month, players were faced with the possibility that Aerith could be saved—or that Square Enix might be about to pull off the biggest troll in history.

(Spoiler alert: Major spoilers for Aerith’s fate in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth to follow. No, really, the whole scene, spoiled.)

Rebirth’s recreation of the series’ most infamous scene starts out familiar. Cloud approaches a kneeling Aerith in the Forgotten Capital, where she’s run off to pray for a way to defeat Sephiroth. Cloud, overtaken by Sephiroth’s influence, nearly kills her himself. When that fails, Sephiroth appears from the sky, comically large sword in hand, to shish-kebab everyone’s favorite flower girl.

For a moment, Aerith’s fate seems locked into the same one gamers knew so well in 1997—until Cloud breaks free and deflects the blade at the last minute. It falls harmlessly to the side, and Aerith lives.

Or so it seems, until the scene begins to glitch between moments of Aerith unharmed, and then bloodied in death. What?

From there it only gets more confusing, as Rebirth evokes a multiverse it has been playing with throughout the entire game. When the cast finds Cloud and Aerith, it’s clear they’re seeing their friend slaughtered. Cloud, long established as an unreliable narrator, still treats her as though she’s alive—and she plays the part well, presumably as some sort of specter.

Reaction to this scene in online fan communities has been one of great bewilderment. “Why make it so complicated?” wrote one Redditor in a post asking for an explanation to the ending. “What was even the point?” wrote another in the thread.

Square Enix’s twist on Aerith’s death also means that the scenes following her murder play out much differently. In the original Final Fantasy VII, the game’s cast individually mourns Aerith—Red XIII howls in sorrow, Tifa gently pats her hair, and so on—before Cloud carries her out to the lake and lets her sink into the water. It’s these scenes that drive her death home: There is no magic cure, no plot twist that can help her. She’s just gone.