Cloud’s unreliable narration only makes Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth’s ending more confusing

Cloud’s unreliable narration only makes Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth’s ending more confusing

[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the original Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.]

The original Final Fantasy 7 pulls a brilliant, almost nasty, narrative trick. Just as the game sells players on the idea that its protagonist, Cloud Strife, is the hero and overall cool guy of the game, we then learn that in actuality, the whole idea of him that the game has shown us is based on a lie. Instead, Cloud mixed himself up with his comrade Zack Fair, and he cultivated an entire false version of himself predicated on someone else’s memories. Because of this, Cloud Strife is perhaps one of the least reliable narrators in literally all of video games. And now, the ending of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth just adds a whole new layer onto that.

The key art for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth with a huge spoiler warning slapped on it Graphic: Julia Lee/Polygon | Source images: Square Enix

The ending of Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth confused me. Sure, I think I understand what happened in its broadest strokes, but nothing seems to be all that conclusive. It’s so bad that I honestly can’t even really say for sure if Aerith died or not in a permanent way, simply because there’s some funky multiple-worlds logic at play by the end.

I’ll try to say what happens anyway.

From the looks of it, there are two worlds in Rebirth. First, we have the main world where we predominantly play as Cloud over the course of Final Fantasy 7 Remake and Rebirth. This world follows the story of the original Final Fantasy 7, more or less, which means it follows a storyline where Zack Fair dies prior to the events of the game. Except Remake and Rebirth also show us an alternate world where Zack survives the events of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7, while Aerith and Cloud only live on in a comatose state. At the ending of Rebirth, Aerith seemingly dies in the “main world,” although we don’t see it — but the game does show her friends, like Tifa and Yuffie, grieving her loss.

That’s all confusing enough as it is, but then determining the basic events of what happened in Rebirth becomes even more topsy-turvy when we add another possible layer of complication: Cloud has never been a reliable narrator.

An image of Zack Fair and Cloud Strife fighting side by side in Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.  Image: Square Enix via Polygon

In the original Final Fantasy 7 and now in Rebirth, we see Cloud’s memory fail. In both games, Cloud tells an erroneous version of the Nibelheim story where he mixes up Zack Fair with himself. That entire opening chapter of Rebirth? It’s a lie. Yes, Cloud was at Nibelheim at the time, but he supported the mission as a low-level shock trooper, not as a member of SOLDIER like Zack. Rebirth hints at this discrepancy when Tifa privately confronts Cloud over his retelling of the Nibelheim incident, but we have yet to see Cloud unearth his fully original memory.

When assessing the already confusing ending of the game — which seemingly weaves together multiverses and dreams — and factor in the additional knowledge that Cloud has messed-up memories, it almost becomes impossible to say what really happens in the reality (or realities) of the game. Some, or all of it, could literally just be in Cloud’s fucked-up head. During Aerith’s apparent death scene, we see the screen glitch out as it alternates between scenes in which Cloud successfully saves Aerith, as well as scenes where Aerith dies. It could be some sort of multiverse event, or it could just be Cloud imagining that he saved Aerith. We just don’t know.

If there is one clarifying factor of it all, well, it’s Zack Fair.

Unlike Cloud, Zack seems to be confused by being whisked away to a new world, but he appears to be in good health. His memories seem more or less intact, and he immediately clocks Cloud’s out-of-character behavior when the two worlds briefly collide during the final boss battle against Sephiroth. At the end of the game, Zack finds himself in the church where he met Aerith, where he says that everything he experienced felt “real” and that he didn’t think he dreamed it. So if Zack says he actually did experience some sort of multiverse jump, well, then — maybe it’s not just all in Cloud’s head.