That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

When Final Fantasy VII arrived in 1997, it was unlike anything I’d ever played before. Late nights, lots of grinding, and hundreds of hours later, I’d reached the end. A few friends were watching as I took down the final boss, and we eagerly waited for the ending to play out. What we saw was…uh, unexpected.

By unexpected, I mean vague as hell! The conclusion to Final Fantasy VII is hardly a “conclusion”. You’re left with little idea what happened to your favourite characters or if the last-minute plan actually worked. After so much struggle, the game leaves you hanging, asking you to stare at a stream of stars and wonder if they will end. (They don’t, and I spent more than an hour waiting.)

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

Yes, that actually happened.

Warning: If you’re unfamiliar with Final Fantasy VII‘s story and want it to stay that way, you shouldn’t read any further.

Final Fantasy VII’s ending was mysterious and genuinely bold for the time, leading to a whole lot of confusion and hand-wringing when it was released.

If you’re not familiar with Final Fantasy VII, here’s the basic setup. A company named Shinra has transformed the planet’s life energy into a fossil fuel. Like other fossil fuels, it will eventually run out, but they have used their invention to become a world superpower. It’s becoming increasingly clear using all of the planet’s life stream will have huge consequences, but Shinra gonna Shinra.

There’s a lot going on in Final Fantasy VII, but long story short: Cloud ‘n friends are the good guys and gals trying to save the planet from Sephiroth — the bad guy! — who wants to harness the life energy as a means to take over the world. He hopes to accomplish that by summoning a meteor to wound the planet, prompting a huge amount of life energy to surge right where he’s standing.

Final Fantasy VII was for me — and I suspect many others — a game of firsts. It was the first game where I’d maxed out the in-game clock; the first to emotionally move me, with the death of Aeris; the first to convince me “hey, maybe games can be like movies!” and expanded my respect for the medium.

I could not have been more invested in the plight of Cloud, Tifa, Barret and everyone else when the final battle with Sephiroth was going down. Even though it took five years for my Knights of the Round Table summon to play out, I didn’t care. Every attack brought me one step closer to saving the world.

With my crew nearly dead, I struck the finishing blow. It was over. Every moment after this is, by 1997 standards, super intense.

Cloud and Tifa barely hanging on.

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

Realising the whole crew is still intact.

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

Barely escaping the raging inferno that is Holy.

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

Suspecting all the efforts by your party were too little, too late.

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

Despairing for the millions of people who may soon lose their lives.

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

Then, in the final seconds, the planet combining with Holy to fight back. YEAH!

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

And that’s it. The credits begin to roll, and the story of Final Fantasy VII is over.

Well, sort of. Long before Marvel Studios made the idea of post-credits stingers the new standard, Final Fantasy VII rewarded players who sat through the long list of people who worked on this PlayStation RPG. This was sometimes seen as a “secret” ending to Final Fantasy VII, but you didn’t have to do anything special to unlock it. Players simply had to be patient enough — or hit the bathroom.

Tagged as “500 years later”, we see Red XIII running with, presumably, his children. They roll up to an abandoned Midgar overflowing with greenery.

Only then does Final Fantasy VII actually end. We have no idea what happened to Cloud, Tifa, Cid, Barret, or anyone else. How did their lives play out? Did all of humanity get wiped out, and was Red XIII one of the few survivors? At the end of the stinger, there’s the sound of children laughing, but they’re never shown.

I remember being stunned at the time, and I wasn’t alone.

Per an RPG Gamer essay by Mike Lenzo:

When I first watched the ending to Final Fantasy VII I stood in disbelief. I loved it. I went into the game hearing that the game itself was incredible, the gameplay unbelievable, the story the best ever done in a video game, and yet the ending was horrible. [..] And that’s the way I felt about it, even as all of my friends who had played the game and beat it talked of how they wasted three days of their life for an ending which was nothing but eye candy. “Look closer at it and the themes it presents” I said, but they ignored me. When I arrived at OSU in late September my roommate beat the game after the first week of class. After viewing the ending he took the third disk and broke it into pieces. He then threw away the second disk of the game, even as I stared in horror and disbelief. I asked him why he would do such a thing, and he said, “What they did in the end was an injustice to every Final Fantasy fan around the world and to everyone who played that game.”

Or this one from a group of RPG Gamer editors:

Did humanity survive Holy? This question alone could easily fill several more editorials. There is no physical evidence that humanity survived , but the sound of innocent children makes it clear that humanity is not forgotten. Meteor was stopped; Holy thwarted armageddon; the Planet survived. The final image of the former city of Midgar, the last and largest citadel of human corruption, defeated by nature at last, says more than any explanation could.

And what of the individual characters? Frankly, it doesn’t matter; the characters’ futures are inconsequential. It is their development throughout the game which is important. Final Fantasy VII is primarily the story of the Planet’s struggle; focusing on individual characters would have distracted from the most overriding theme: nothing is more important than the Planet. Nothing is more important than life.

The story of Final Fantasy VII is more complicated and mature than the story of any game that has come before. It is only fitting that the ending is equally complicated and mature; a literal ending wouldn’t have done the game justice. Final Fantasy VII‘s more symbolic ending perfectly embraces and emphasises the story’s themes.

Even now, a Google search for Final Fantasy VII‘s ending brings up confusion.

That Time Final Fantasy VII Ended Without Explaining Anything

Of course, Square themselves managed to completely undercut the divisive but respectable nature of Final Fantasy VII‘s ending with stuff like Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus, both of which took place after the events of Final Fantasy VII.

In the years since, the game’s developers have defended their ending choice, including director Yoshinori Kitase. Here’s a conversation with EGM in 2005:

EGM: What does Final Fantasy VII mean to you?

Yoshinori Kitase: FFVII was the first Final Fantasy for the PS1, and it was also the first 3D game in the series, so it determined the new direction that the franchise would take after the 16-bit Super Nintendo era. It’s by far the most memorable and important title for me, and when I had the chance to expand any of the past games, I immediately chose Final Fantasy VII for the project. The ending of FFVII seemed to me to open up so many possibilities with its characters, more so than other games.

And though Advent Children removes some of the ambiguity, Kitase seems to lend support to the theory humanity doesn’t actually survive:

EGM: At the very end of FFVII, we see the epilogue to the whole story that takes place 500 years later, so really, you still have another 497 years’ worth of games and movies to fill in….

YK: Ha, maybe I’ll try to do that. In a way, I consider that epilogue to be the true happy ending of FFVII. Well, it’s a happy ending even though all the human beings are destroyed. [Laughs]

It will be interesting to see how Square addresses this with the remake. They’re promising to mix things up this time around. Does that mean the ending, too?


  • I haven’t played this in ages but what happens to the remaining Turks? Do they just bog off into the sunset as well?

    I like this ending more than the awkward camcorder thing that happened in FF8. Fucking Teenagers.

    • I thought the ending to FFVIII was pretty great and really fit well with the fact that the characters were essentially all high school students. I was also a teenager and in high school when I finished it.

      Probably not related…

  • he took the third disk and broke it into pieces. He then threw away the second disk of the game,

    Melodramatic, much?

  • Wait, it was inconclusive and confusing? Really? I thought it was pretty straight-forward. Mission accomplished, Sephiroth told to go fuck himself which allowed what Aerith White Materia to finally kick in, Meteor gets destroyed by the planet’s energy, the people realize what they were doing and stop using Mako reactors and the ruins of Midgar (which was basically ground zero for the Meteor) are left abandoned and 500 years later are overgrown with vegetation – the planet basically reclaiming the reactors that were draining it.

    • Exactly this, there’s wasn’t really much ambiguity after seeing the after-credits scene. You could kinda of think “maybe Holy killed everyone off bar Red XIII”, I took it to mean “Holy didn’t kill everyone off and they lived on happily for ages afterward”.

      I guess FFVII is pretty news-worthy right now, they’ve gotta write something! And it totally worked, too. I read this, even if I did think “what are you talking about”?

    • It was slightly inconclusive, but I didn’t find it confusing either.

      The fact it didn’t do a cliche finale hardly diminished the ending, I still remember the elation I had when I first beat the game.

  • I saw the ending as a dual resolution to the two overarching conflicts. One was Cloud & Co against Sephiroth, whom they beat and went on to set themselves up for future games. The other was the planet against people/Mako, and over time the planet won.

  • It was always super-straightforward. Throughout the game the notion that the planet was alive was thrown around several times, including the worrying concern that it may not be on humanity’s side due to all the exploitation of natural resources, including the planet’s very own lifeblood. If I remember correctly, Sephirot believed that the planet would be perfectly ok with Meteor impacting, as what would be just a wound to the planet would completely wipe out the pesky humans.

    The climax at the ending shows that the planet surprisingly decided to side up with humanity, very likely moved to it after witnessing the endeavours of the heroes. Since Holy was the Ultimate Defensive Magic and the Lifestream was aiding it, it’s pretty easy to conclude that no one died that day.

    • I thought Sephiroth/Jenova was using Meteor to cause a wound to the planet so that he could absorb the massive amount of Lifestream energy that would flood the wound as a result of the planet trying to heal itself. From what I recall, Jenova was an extra-terrestrial entity that worked on a principle like Galactus, invading and consuming planets so while Sephiroth thought he was seeking the knowledge of the Ancients he was really giving Jenova a chance to invade and consume the planet.

      • Yeah, that was Sephirot’s agenda, which the planet wouldn’t have a way to know. That’s why Sephirot counted on the planet to allow Meteor to impact. Also I’d liken Jenova more to Lavos than to Galactus.

  • As other people have said, I thought it was pretty straightforward. Aeris’ prayer was answered and the planet was saved. Five hundred years in the future, we see that Red XIII’s (Something of a Shamanic character who was most in tune with the planet aside from Aeris) species has started recovering and the planet has recovered from the scar left by humans, Midgar. Not every game needs to have a “Where are they now?” explanation, sometimes it’s fine to just say “A winner is you.”

  • Yeah going to have to add my support to the “it was straight forward and needed no explanation” group.

    My friends and I all finished it and all basically thought – Mission Accomplished, Planet Saved. Everyone lives happily ever after, sans dangerous Mako mining/abuse practices (hence the overgrown Midgar).

    Best single player game ever though! 😀

  • My 16yo self didn’t have a problem with the ending then or now. Not being one for internet trawling then I guess I was shielded from this negativity if it really existed en masse. I’ve never understood this need for some to have a story resolved to an absurd degree down to a ‘they all lived happily ever after’ and/or post end bio for each character (ie the Animal House ending :p). I can do open endings. It’s about the journey not the destination etc. Games and movies alike I’m finding myself feeling more often many can do with removing the last ten minutes and leave some of the end to chance.

    I wonder if in 2015 you could get away with an ending like FFVII’s without a company buckling and changing the ending 😉

  • I always thought the ending was good and always assumed the best possibility like most people here.

    Although after reading the article it does make me wonder that the planet indeed could of been nuked and that RedXIII and his children as old they can get are like cockroaches survivng the blast and being the only ones left to inhabit the planet.

    • I have read somewhere that apparantly all 3 disks had the same game data, graphics and sounds on them it was just the fmv that was different on each disk (makes sense as you could go to nearly any area previously in disk 3 (apart from a few areas for obnvious reasons) . Disk 3 had heaps of fmv compared to the other 2 disks on it so thats why it seemed not as long as the others.

      EDIT – There are other areas you can’t access after you have visted them in the game as well but the data would still be there if you cheated no doubt

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