We must protect Aerith at all costs.
Square Enix released the full opening cinematic for Final Fantasy VII Remake Friday morning, and it's nothing short of spectacular, with sharp visuals pulled from fans' wildest dreams. Plenty of iconic moments from the original are represented here, leading all the way up to when Cloud Strife leaps off a train to begin his assault on the Sector 1 Mako Reactor in the city of Midgar. But two new moments not found in the original struck me as nothing short of heartbreaking.
Most of what we see in the cinematic has been presented in some form previously, but the overall quality of the official video has been greatly improved. The extended sequence opens on the desert region surrounding Midgar, as a hawk flies above and a gentle remix of "One Winged Angel" plays. We see everyday scenes in Midgar of regular people going about their lives, and during the daytime no less, something we never really see in the original. Midgar is teeming with life, with kids riding bicycles and dogs rummaging through trash. Once things shift to nighttime, we get what's essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the original intro sequence. That's where things get really interesting.
We see what appear to be stars, but the scene shifts into pieces of Mako energy drifting through the air as Aerith essentially prays at a broken Mako (this world's energy source) pipe. Everything about her looks startlingly real, from the texture of her hair to the wrinkles on her clothes, and even the grave expression on her face makes Aerith look more human than the vast majority of video game characters in existence. Then the vibe shifts in a way that's unlike anything the original opening conveyed.
Aerith abruptly stands up and peers down the alleyway as if she hears — or senses — something dangerous coming. It's a fantastic achievement in establishing a fraught atmosphere in a cinematic way. She rushes out of the alleyway, leaving the camera to linger on the background for dramatic tension. Aerith keeps looking back as she moves out onto a busy sidewalk, where she bumps into a man that knocks several flowers out of her basket. As she rushes to pick them up, a pedestrian stomps on the last once.
Nobody notices or cares about the tenderhearted Aerith, and for everyone who knows the full Final Fantasy VII story, this succession of depressing moments is nothing short of heartbreaking.
Major spoilers for Final Fantasy VII and the Final Fantasy VII Remake series follow.
It shouldn't even feel like a spoiler for me to remind gamers of the shocking twist at the end of Final Fantasy VII Disc 1: In a vital moment for our heroes, the villain Sephiroth kills Aerith. There's no using a Phoenix Down to bring her back either. Her death causes the game's cast, particularly the protagonist Cloud, to reevaluate their mission in dramatic ways. For anyone bringing that pre-knowledge into the Final Fantasy VII Remake, these sad little scenes — of Aerith being threatened by some vague, ominous presence or getting casually disregarded by a Midgar businessman who steps on her flower — really tug on the heartstrings in an evocative way.
Aerith has always been a kind soul, in touch with nature with good intentions of protecting the planet, and now that she looks and feels more like a real person than ever before, her sacrifice could stand to break us even more than it did in 1997.
Final Fantasy VII Remake comes to PS4 April 10.