The Virtue of Final Fantasy VII’s Ambiguous Ending

Whatever the medium, ambiguous endings can oftentimes feel gimmicky. Like the creators are thumbing their nose and the audience, or they’re reaching for some kinda unearned gravitas. However, when used correctly, ambiguous endings can help to drive home certain thematic points or character arcs. I’d argue that Final Fantasy VII, which has arguably one of the most controversial endings in all of gaming, does exactly that.

Spoilers ahead!

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Aside from killing off one of its main characters, FF7 shocked gamers when it potentially killed all off the rest of them (excluding Red XIII). Or did they?

Final Fantasy VII ends with Aeries’s Holy defeating Sephiroth’s Meteor. However, it is up to Holy to decide whether it is best for the planet to eradicate all of humanity. We see Holy destroy Meteor, but beyond that the game doesn’t give us a clear answer. During an after-credits cutscene, we see Red XIII running with, presumably, his children to show them the ruins of Midgar, overgrown with vegetation. The screen does a quick edit to the FF7 logo with the sound of children laughing.

There are then two ways to interpret this: 1) Holy decided humans were a threat and now only animals and other sentient beings like Red XIII are left. 2) People have survived, but are living more in tune with nature, hence the laughing children.

For the purposes of this post, I don’t intend to argue which of these interpretations is correct. Rather, I want to point to the purposeful ambiguity and how it reinforces the story’s themes.

(I’m also going to ignore the sequels.)

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FF7 was pretty ahead of its time with its embrace of environmentalist themes and its critique of modern industrialization. Shinra plundering the earth for mako is clearly a metaphor for our present day over-reliance on fossil fuels. The Cetra, who are a sort of inter-planetary custodians, are presented as the ideal. If I may use a cliche, they are “one with nature.”

We follow our cast of characters through around forty hours of gameplay (that’s if you’re not being a completionist or a speedrunner) as they defeat Shinra, Jenova, and Sephiroth. Along the way, each character is given a rich backstory and mini arc, which I think is a big reason why FF7 is head and shoulders above its peers. By the end of the game you really care about these characters, so it’s a pretty big punch in the guts when the ending comes and they’re potentially wiped out due to an environmental disaster.

The ending is thus a sort of activist call to arms. It’s saying, if you want to protect the things you care about then you must do something. If the ending showed the characters surviving then the gamer would have walked away with a sense of completion; it wouldn’t linger in your brain. On the other hand, if it had explicitly shown that the characters were dead then it would have came across as too fatalistic, that we can’t do anything. The ambiguity of the ending leaves just enough reasonable doubt to believe the characters survived.

The ending hits that perfect note somewhere between hope and despair.

~ by braddunne on April 18, 2019.

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