Final Fantasy VII Remake: Dealing with Loss and Death
Editor's note: If you've somehow not played Final Fantasy VII, be aware there are major spoilers in this article. Proceed with caution.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is on its way, and with it will come a whole new generation of players who've never experienced one of the seminal titles in the long-running series. Positioned to be more than just a by-the-numbers rehashing, Remake aims to reimagine, update, and expand on the already massive Final Fantasy VII.
From its combat systems to its narrative, lore, and overall philosophy, nothing will be left to chance in Remake. And despite its genre-defying story beats and deep worldbuilding, one of Final Fantasy VII's most powerful aspects was the way it dealt with death.
There were plenty of big moments — Aerith, the Nibelheim flashback, the final cutscene with the Lifestream and Meteor — but the truly impactful moments were often subtle or hidden away; some only took up a tiny portion of our playtime. Remake has the opportunity to bring us more small moments and to flesh out those that already play a valuable part, especially coming in such a large package.
I want to talk about two of these smaller moments and what Remake could do with them. These are the interaction between Dyne and Barret and the death of Tifa’s mother.
Dyne and Barret: The Crushing Weight of Loss
We don’t know much about Dyne beyond that he was Barret’s best friend, wanted to stand up for the ways of his people, and, like Barret, lost everything in the ShinRa attack that destroyed their home.
The difference here is in how the two characters coped with the unimaginable loss of all they had ever known.
Barret returned to the ruins of his hometown to salvage whatever he could of his past before fleeing half-way across Midgar. He found a new purpose in Dyne’s daughter, Marlene, and for her sake, he desired to create a better world — from the ashes of the old, if necessary.
Dyne fell, both physically and metaphorically, into a pit from which he would never truly return. He assumed that everything and everyone he’d ever known or loved was dead. Filled with hatred for both the people who wouldn’t believe him and the ShinRa who deceived them, Dyne wanted to create a different world as well.
However, because he believed his loss to be total, Dyne desired a world in flames, burning with the same rage he would carry for years.
Barret, despite the failings of his past, could nonetheless see a path forward for both himself and those he cared about. He saw it with such clarity, and chased it with such ferocity, that he was willing to put his morals aside if it meant no one would ever have to experience what he had. Though he’d lost his wife and child in the blaze, and even though he knew Marlene was not his by blood, Barret found it impossible to not move forward. To do so would forfeit what little of himself he had left after the ShinRa attack.
Dyne only saw the past, and the visions of hell it continually showed him were the only things keeping him alive. The future, he reasoned, could only be reached if everyone lived in the same pain he did. What purpose was there to living if you could lose everything in just a few moments?
Dyne decided that the future didn’t matter if the past refused to die.
When they finally met again, the boss fight between them was more than just combat: it was a clash of philosophies. It was a clash of hope and hopelessness. Both men, who’d done horrible things in pursuit of their dreams, could not see eye to eye in the face of their shared loss.
There are many ways the Remake can expand upon this relationship, but I think the most valuable would be Barret returning to Corel and finding Marlene while expanding the conversation between Dyne and Barret during their battle.
Much of Barret’s motivation is implied in the original game. While there’s a strength to that method of storytelling, I think seeing what he saw firsthand and controlling him as he fights his way back to Corel to sift through the ashes could have an incredible impact.
Experiencing his hopelessness through gameplay, and seeing with our own eyes how he found a new path through a tiny remnant of his old life, could be a moment well-worthy of the source material.
The Dyne fight in the Desert Prison is somewhat anticlimactic in the 1997 version, and though difficult enough, it doesn’t give either character a chance to explore the pent up emotions both men have contained within themselves for almost five years.
I’m sure both of them have plenty more to say to one another than the few words they exchange in the older title. Such an expanded fight would also give players a chance to see what kind of fighting style a man without hope would use against the man who robbed him of it.
How cruel would Dyne be, and how ferociously would Barret fight back to try and convince his former friend to understand?
We’ll have to wait for the Remake to find out. Hopefully.
Tifa and Cloud: Loss that Pushes Away and Binds Together
Cloud and Tifa were neighbors growing up. Tifa was in her small mansion, Cloud was in a humble three-room house. We only know of Cloud’s mother, but we know more of Tifa, who lived happily with both of her parents for 14 years.
Cloud pined after Tifa for a long time, and though the two were not close, she did know of him. Then one day, Tifa’s mother fell ill, and after her death, Tifa tried to cross the local mountain to find her again, only to fall and gravely injure herself.
Cloud had followed Tifa longer than any of the other boys, determined not only to protect the girl he liked but become something more in her eyes. His failure would define the next seven years of his life.
The two would grow closer, but the specter of Tifa’s loss would continue to define their relationship. For her part, Tifa could never bring herself to accept Cloud as more than a close friend. It would be years before she learned of Cloud following her up the mountain or of his young longing.
While not emotionally stunted by her mother’s death, in the five years between it and Cloud leaving to join SOLDIER, she found it hard to bring herself to open up to anyone.
More than this, because Tifa’s father blamed Cloud for her accident on the mountain, it’s likely that she was either forbidden or strongly cautioned against getting to know him more than so much.
For his part, Cloud never forgot how he’d tried and failed to protect the one he cared for most, and would eventually dedicate himself to overcoming his own weaknesses — mostly to show her that he was worthy of her affection and praise. That he would fail to join SOLDIER, as he’d vowed to one night under a starry sky, would forever fill him with shame.
After leaving home to prove to both Tifa and himself that he was more than just a boy from a small town, the distance she felt between herself and Cloud faded, and she began to dream of what he might become.
In the Remake, I think we need to actually see Tifa’s mother and discover what kind of impact she no doubt had on her daughter’s childhood. What messages did she leave for Tifa, what promises, admonitions, and disdains? All we see in the original game is Tifa’s reaction to her mother’s death, but the last things we hear, see, or do with a person before they’re suddenly gone can determine decades of our lives.
She doesn’t need to play a big part, at least in the initial scene we see at the well. But I think she should be present even then, because hearing her call out to Tifa or scold Cloud for keeping Tifa out too late, would give us a good idea about what kind of person she was to both characters.
I won’t go so far as to say we want to have additional scenes in the past than exist in the original story, but there should certainly be some mention of Tifa’s mother during the Nibelheim scene. We might get some foreshadowing for the full reveal much later in the story, and maybe start to see, even then, how her death helped define Tifa’s burgeoning love for the man she almost didn’t know.
Death is the only certainty in life, and it, therefore, it helps define everything we as humans do with our lives and the lives of those we affect. Final Fantasy VII makes a laudable attempt — successful, I believe — to quantify and qualify how different people deal with mortality.
Stories like those we've discussed are valuable not only because they're well written and deal with situations we might know in our own lives, but also because they can help us cope with grief in new ways. Failing that, they can provide us with perspective, especially in retrospect, about how people like us — with flaws, desires, and pasts burdened with guilt or regret —approach those parts of life touched by death.
As I've reflected on Final Fantasy VII for this article, I've come to a new appreciation for how much it can do to calm the psyche of someone wracked with sorrow, and the hope it can provide to those struggling with grief. Stories like Barret's, about those who've lost so much but found new ways to forge ahead despite their suffering. Stories like Tifa's, who almost missed the one thing that really mattered because all they could see was their pain.
It's characters and situations like these that teach us as players that our own struggles are not necessarily unique even as they differ from those of everyone around us. And even though Final Fantasy VII and its Remake are works of fiction, it is often through such mediums that we come to understand ourselves on a deeper level.
In short, we can use games like Final Fantasy VII as clear reflections of our own reality, even though its world is filled with magic, monsters, and other fantasy trappings. Its people are still people and they are just as fragile and conflicted as any we might find on the street. And like us, their relationship with death is complex, nuanced, and helps make them who they are.