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Cloud and Tifa stand back-to-back in Final Fantasy 7 Remake

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All the best and wildest Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth theories

Sephiroth has us all turned around

Image: Square Enix
Maddy Myers has run Polygon’s games section since 2020 as deputy editor. She has worked in games journalism since 2007, at Kotaku, The Mary Sue, and the Boston Phoenix.

Theories about Final Fantasy 7 Remake and its sequel, FF7 Rebirth, have been swirling ever since players witnessed the world-shattering final moments of FF7 Remake. When words came up on screen that read, “The unknown journey will continue,” the brains of FF7 fans everywhere filled up with wild speculation about what that journey might entail. And thanks to the FF7 Rebirth debut trailer, and the longer trailer shown at Summer Game Fest 2023, FF7 fans have developed some very solid theories. Let’s get into it.

[Ed. note: This article contains full spoilers for the original Final Fantasy 7 as well as Final Fantasy 7 Remake.]

ShinraCorp used fake footage in the news broadcast

Let’s start off with the first and most obvious “theory” — a reveal so obvious that we feel confident saying it’s going to be an early plot point of FF7 Rebirth. At the very beginning of the FF7 Rebirth trailer from SGF 2023, there’s an in-fiction news broadcast featuring many of the game’s main characters — members of the ecoterrorist group Avalanche — unconscious, loaded onto medical gurneys. Barret, Tifa, Aerith, and Red XIII don’t just look unconscious in this broadcast; they look like they could be dead. But we all know FF7 Rebirth isn’t going to kill off its entire cast (except for Cloud, who’s mysteriously absent). What’s going on here?

The answer lies in the news broadcast itself. Take note of the logos on the screen: “Shinra Broadcasting Service” in the top left, and “SNNet News” in the bottom right. That’s right, Shinra News Network is a thing, and it’s the propaganda arm of ShinraCorp. It’s pretty logical to assume that this footage of dead-looking Avalanche members has been faked to mislead the public. It’s remotely possible that this footage depicts an alternate timeline where somehow all the main characters got hurt or even died, but more likely — given who’s broadcasting it — this footage is fake news.

Sephiroth smiles evilly in a promo image for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Image: Square Enix

Sephiroth killed Tifa, and the Tifa we know is not Tifa

The end of the SGF ’23 trailer is a bit confusing — but slightly less so in the Japanese version, translated here by Audrey Lamsam, Twitch streamer and CEO of Aitai Japan. Check out the last few seconds of the trailer, and listen to Sephiroth’s words as he appears to mortally wound Tifa Lockhart.

For those who haven’t played the original FF7, or just can’t quite remember what happens, this final scene in the trailer is a re-creation of a scene that happened in that first game. Five years prior to the main plot of FF7, Sephiroth slaughters the townsfolk of Tifa and Cloud’s hometown of Nibelheim, then burns the village to the ground. Tifa discovers this and confronts Sephiroth, screaming that he killed her father and attempting to attack him in retribution. Sephiroth easily overcomes Tifa and wounds her, but in the original FF7, Tifa recovers from that wound and is rescued by a guy named Zangan who takes her in and teaches her martial arts (so that she can become the wombo-combo queen we know her to be in the present day).

The version of events depicted in the FF7 Rebirth trailer could be just the same as they were in the original game — Sephiroth attacks Tifa, as shown here, but she survives (not yet shown). But it’s Sephiroth’s dialogue that has fans spinning wild theories. In the translation of the Japanese trailer by Audrey Lamsam, Sephiroth says in voice-over: “I was the one who killed Tifa. If so, who is she?”

Fans have taken “who is she” to imply that the Tifa we’ve seen during the main story quest of FF7 Remake is not the Tifa who grew up in Nibelheim with Cloud. Instead, Tifa was actually murdered five years ago by Sephiroth. This other woman who looks like Tifa is, instead, a product of something related to Sephiroth’s alien “mother” figure Jenova, who has the ability to mimic human forms. This is further emphasized by Sephiroth’s monologue leading up to the final scene with Tifa, in which he says (according to Lamsam’s translation): “There once lived a monster who could look into your soul and shapeshift. It could transform and take shape of those you fear, those you love, and be able to control them.”

Alternatively, Tifa could have been injected with Jenova cells as part of the Jenova Project, which is what happened to Cloud and Zack (at the hands of the mad scientist Professor Hojo). According to the original FF7 timeline, Zack was strong enough to fight off the influence of these cells, while the weaker Cloud was more susceptible to them. What if, in a new timeline from FF7 Remake, Tifa wasn’t rescued by Zangan and instead got shoved into the Jenova Project alongside Cloud and Zack? Is that why Sephiroth is intimating that she’s not the same girl — because she’s been altered by Hojo’s experiments?

Sephiroth is just playing mind games

There’s no one quite like Sephiroth when it comes to living the motto of “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss.” He simply loves to fuck with people, especially Cloud. Sowing distrust amongst Cloud and his friends seems totally plausible for Sephiroth. The implication that some mysterious “monster” has been controlling Tifa all along would definitely shake Cloud’s grip on reality — especially since that’s already a shaky thing — and it doesn’t even have to be true.

There have always been multiple timelines

FF7 Remake already suggested that Zack Fair survived, somehow, which would be a huge change to the course of events compared to the original FF7. Fans have been assuming since then that Remake and Rebirth take place in some other timeline where Zack survived. But what if there are more than just two timelines? Like, way more?

This already made sense as a theory even before FF7 Remake came out. For example, the depiction of the Nibelheim Incident in the original FF7 is somewhat different than its depiction elsewhere. In Crisis Core, for example, the incident is relayed from Zack Fair’s perspective, so you’d expect it to be different in an emotional sense — but there’s no reason why some of the actual events would be slightly changed. The rest of the Compilation of FF7, which includes several other FF7 spinoffs, has even more slight differences and contradictions to the original game’s story.

Zack Fair drags an unconscious Cloud Strife to safety in a promo image for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Image: Square Enix

So, what actually happened five years ago in Nibelheim? Is it the characters’ memories that are fallible here, or is it the story itself that keeps changing — perhaps because it’s never been set in stone? Personally, I don’t need to explain these inconsistencies by claiming there’s a multiverse, although that certainly works as a theory. Instead, I like to assume that the FF7 series is all about how the truth is slippery, especially when human memories and trauma are involved, and even more especially when ancient myths about the nature of life itself are involved. This is a series of events that just doesn’t have an easy explanation, but it sure can make for a cool story.

The same goes for all of our theories about Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. Who knows what will happen, or if any of our attempts to explain it will actually pan out? We can all just hope that we get a good story out of the experience, and so far, it sure seems like that’s likely.

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