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She Has to Die

August 6, 2015 Written by Heath Hindman

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With the Final Fantasy VII remake coming soon, there’s been much talk about what should change and what shouldn’t. I’ve already listed 10 Changes The FF7 Remake Needs, but today I’ll address one thing that shouldn’t change: the death of…a character. This is your only warning: I will spoil things from FFVII, The Lion King, one early bit of The Last of Us, and book #1 of A Song of Ice and Fire, “A Game of Thrones.” Get out now if you want to.

Long before the days of patches for console games, fans directed emails, letters, and bulletin board posts at Squaresoft begging for Aeris (or “Aerith,” whichever you prefer) to be revived in a new version of the game. She must survive, they begged in all manner of phrasing. Two leading campaigns were wanting her to either avoid her death or be resurrected. Unlike Aeris herself, we see this spirit revived today, with talk of story changes and Aeris possibly avoiding her grim fate.

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In the 90s, early internet trolls wrote up detailed resurrection FAQs, which I’ll admit I made more than one attempt to follow. I’d been through the game where Aeris dies, and I shared the common desire for revenge — for spite. In my second play of the game, knowing what lied ahead, I actually made sure to not sell Aeris’s first weapon, The Guard Staff, so that I could throw it at Sephiroth at the end.

That’s just human instinct. Of course we want our friends back. Of course we want to talk to, laugh with, and hug those who’ve passed on. It’s also what separates Aeris’s death from most others. She knew well ahead of time that it was coming. She had plenty of time to think about it and went ahead with it anyway, all while keeping it a secret from her friends.

To take out her death is to take out the very backbone of Final Fantasy VII, and I don’t just mean because of the plot points where she was the only one who could pray and stop meteor.

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In a game filled with memorable moments, that one stands out as the defining part. It always comes up in conversations not just about FFVII, but about RPGs, about games of that whole era, or about gaming moments in general. “Did you cry when Aeris died?” was a common question kicked around by gamers of the time. Heck, there are even t-shirts out there memorializing this sequence.

Her death wasn’t just a character completing a mission, thinking all was well, and then taking a surprise sniper bullet to the head. It was more than being on the losing end of a struggle to fight off an evil. It wasn’t a typical fight for survival. No, she figured out that before anyone that she would not be surviving the journey. And she took every step with a smile.

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Consider other famous deaths. Tess made a heroic last stand in The Last of Us, but she was already doomed from having been bitten. Despite the sadness and stress, that loss of a character made its game better. Would The Lion King have been better if Mufasa had survived the stampede? No. Would A Song of Ice and Fire be better if Ned lived? Nah, not really. His death set the tone and serves as a demonstration that no one is safe. It shows what kind of world that series takes place in and affects your emotions and expectations all series long.

Instead of altering this plot point, Square Enix should be proud that it created something so monumental, so talked about, so beloved. They should keep that sequence in the game for sure, as it deserves the power of modern visuals and audio.

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…And not a single one of them knew about her death until it already happened. Just her.

A character death done right brings about emotions that we need to feel. We think of them as bad, yet they’re necessary to the human experience.

To flirt with crushing or dangerous experiences without actually being subject to the lasting negative consequences is one of the primary attractions to video games. We can live the heroics of shooting up 5,000 bad guys in a war while we don’t actually have to deal with PTSD or a long list of killed friends. We can save the world without actually putting our lives on the line. We can race cars at 200 mph without actually crippling ourselves in the crashes. Just as Aeris’s death will always be a drag, it’s a drag that must always be.