What The Rebuild of Evangelion can teach Final Fantasy VII Remake

Disclaimer: This piece has spoilers for Final Fantasy VII Remake and The Rebuild of Evangelion, read at your own risk.

Part 2 of the Final Fantasy VII Remake is probably one of the most anticipated games in the next few years and is set to deliver a brand new story after the familiar first act from the classic game.

Another title parallel to this IP already achieved this feat and is another cultural landmark in the realm of anime – Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Ironically enough, Evangelion was introduced to me as something similar to Final Fantasy VII in the late 90s. Serving the same nihilistic themes revolving around teenagers being used as living weapons by powerful groups to bring about permanent change, mixing Judeo-Christian motifs with intense giant robots versus kaiju battles, while tackling overdone anime tropes – Neon Genesis Evangelion was groundbreaking at the time.

These two titles, Final Fantasy VII spanning 1996-1997 and Neon Genesis Evangelion spanning 1998-1999, took me on a four-year journey that defined my fandom in both anime and video games.

Fast forward twenty years later, both have undergone a renaissance. Evangelion had their literal “rebuild” in 2007 and just ending this year with the final film Evangelion 3.0 + 1.1 Thrice Upon A Time.

While the first film (Evangelion 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone) felt more like a glorified restoration, the full realization of this rebuild actually happened during the second film (Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance) when the events began to skew away from the established timeline of the original series. Most notably during the climax when the protagonist Shinji Ikari accidentally triggers The Third Impact early in the series’ timeline. This event didn’t occur until the cryptic final episodes of the original TV series or during the divisive The End of Evangelion film back in 1999.

I feel that Final Fantasy VII Remake has already learned from Evangelion’s reversal by pushing their own reversal at the very end of the first game, revealing that this current timeline is different from previous iterations, most notably Crisis Core. This introduction of the multiverse is a well-placed retcon smoothing out some inconsistencies that have arisen as the franchise has undergone many revivals.

While I’ve personally enjoyed the Evangelion’s revision, many fans have decried it, claiming the superiority of the End of the Evangelion ending as canon despite it being cryptic and bleak. I could say the same for Final Fantasy VII‘s original ending, depending on the interpretation one has and if one accepts Advent Children as canon (I personally don’t care for it).

Now, the Rebuild of Evangelion has finished, again with a somewhat divisive ending. I personally enjoyed it and agree with director Hideaki Anno’s underlying message that it’s time to find closure, grow up, and move on. It is a far better conclusion than the bleak ending of End of Evangelion that sparks more questions than answers.

At this point in time, Final Fantasy VII Remake is on the right track as the future is more an open canvas rather than a predictable loop. Anything can happen at this point, and with a larger roster of characters and decades of lore to play with, they can learn from some of the lessons that Evangelion left them with and hopefully provide that satisfying conclusion to make this saga a definitive one that will close off as a timeless classic.

final fantasy 7 remake theme

Lesson #1: Stick to a Trilogy

If I were a consultant to Hideaki Anno, I would’ve stuck to a trilogy instead of a four-film series. While the first two movies really felt like a setup to a conclusive third film, the third film became a completely different monster that introduced way too many new things to realistically end there, with the rest of us having to wait between 7-10 years for the final satisfying (in my opinion) conclusion.

The first film did its job, which is to tickle the nostalgia of old fans, but also bring in new viewers. While I appreciated the nostalgia bomb for the first film, despite the multiple teases that there may be some new content, the “revision” didn’t exactly occur until the second film.

Final Fantasy VII Remake is already ahead of the game by encapsulating that lesson within its first release. It is clear right away that an actual revision is happening rather than having it a huge surprise at the ending of the following film, with only a couple of films left to make an additional impact (pun intended).

The third Evangelion film wasn’t too memorable for me, as it introduced way too many new revisions at breakneck speed while drastically revising many of the characters we’ve grown to know and love right away. There was a big precedent on the third film to deliver, but around the halfway mark of the film, I was still trying to catch up from all the changes made and was not really getting into the story.

In Final Fantasy VII Remake’s case, they alleviated this with Intergrade‘s many side stories. The world has been opened up more, we know what to expect, and the after-credits ending expands on what’s been set up.

final fantasy vii remake honeybee inn
Evangelion could’ve used a pole dance scene

Just like the third Evangelion film, I feel that the future success of Final Fantasy VII Remake really has to stick the landing on the second game. The remake had an advantage over the original game was that Midgar wasn’t entirely explored. We were given a taste of it back in 1997, giving the creators so much freedom to expand on the world and then granting us a new look at the expanded areas most notably the Slums and Wall Market.

The world outside Midgar actually established much of the collective memory of many Final Fantasy VII fans alongside its many side stories and set pieces. This would probably serve as a basis for the next game and getting this wrong really could hamper the future of the series. Whether the final part of the game returns to Midgar for the final showdown with Shinra is still up in the air, but they have to get Act Two right.

Lesson #2: Expand on Existing Characters

The second Evangelion movie started with a brand new character, Mari Illustrious Makinami, whose charisma carried by Maaya Sakamoto (who also ironically serves as Aerith’s Japanese voice actor) really stole the show and in a way overtook Asuka Langley Soryu’s character at certain points. Her presence throughout the Rebuild in the latter parts of the movie and her role in the final parts of the film made a difference despite being a new main.

I could compare this with Zack Fair in a way, as he was a playable main in Crisis Core, but provided the tragic backstory for Cloud and Aerith throughout the original series. His role in the eventual remake sequels will definitely have an impact on the multiverse scenario and definitely provide more drama in the existing thirst war love triangle between Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith.

The advantage Final Fantasy VII Remake already has in this account is that to many faithful fans, they’ve already encountered Zack before. It’s not a huge stretch to introduce him in a much larger role as part of the protagonists in the later parts of the game.

Mari, on the other hand, in a way struggled with how to fit in the established Evangelion paradigm without stepping on the toes of existing protagonists. Personally, I felt that they’ve used her character well and while she almost overstepped her bounds at times, I don’t have many complaints.

Yep, this guy

There were also other characters in Evangelion, especially in the final film, where I’m dubious as to why they’ve added extra characters halfway into the second act that added almost unnecessary drama without us caring for them. While I feel that Final Fantasy won’t fall into this trap, new characters like Roche and Sonon were introduced well and were given enough time to grow despite having no history with them.

Yet, I feel that existing characters really need to be used more as they’ve earned their spot in the roster and there is already a previous attachment to them. I think some of the best moments in the final Evangelion film is the viewer seeing how many of the side characters, like Tohji Suzuhara and Maya Ibuki, have aged over the 14 years that passed since the second film. It’d be great to see how characters like Vincent Valentine and Cid Highwind are reintroduced in the sequels rather than creating a new batch for us to care about.

Lesson #3: How To Deal With Character Deaths

The biggest thing that Final Fantasy VII Remake has to address is how much they can stick the landing on the eventual fate of Aerith, and probably Zack. Will Zack end up being a sacrificial lamb so that Aerith can exist, or would Aerith eventually die as planned as that is how her thread of fate has been set?

Personally, my attachment to Aerith in Final Fantasy VII Remake has been heightened for the eventual notion that she will die eventually. The emotional impact of obtaining the red dress for example or establishing her relationship at her house or even the fated encounter at the church and the battle between Cloud and Reno really rests on the previous knowledge that eventually, the inescapable fate of Aerith dying is what makes her brief presence in the party so precious.

There are many character deaths in Evangelion that eventually happen perfectly parallel to the other builds in the past. What they actually got right was every character’s death was earned and played really well with the thematic unity of the final movie – closure and maturity. Misato’s death in End of Evangelion felt cheap despite again sacrificing herself at the end of Evangelion 3.0+1.1, only this time it’s for the continuation of humanity’s final hope. It was nobler, instead of a futile sacrifice for Shinji to end up not making a decision in the end anyway at End of Evangelion.

If they’re going to kill Zack or Aerith eventually, they could really build up to it. Have it be a satisfying death instead of a cheap way for Cloud’s character growth. Both Aerith and Zack’s death were justified after years of content as an olive branch for the shock value it originally brought. At least this time around, we know it’s coming, and we’ve had quite some time to get over it.

Lesson #4: End Strong

How will the series end? I enjoyed the ending of Evangelion 3.0+1.1 because the previous one suddenly made so much sense and actually made me appreciate its jarring presentation. After all, with the running time just as long as Avengers Endgame, they had enough time to tie loose ends, explain all the dogma, and finally provide the right amount of closure for the fans albeit somewhat indulgent to Hideaki Anno’s whims.

Final Fantasy VII Remake really has to choose a strong thematic core to really stick the landing the same way that Anno chose “the kids have finally grown up” in Evangelion. The ending wasn’t perfect, but I’ll bite. Sure, it didn’t provide answers to the meaning of life and how to survive the new normal, but at least we can finally move on from Evangelion knowing that the kids have grown up and they’ll be all right even if they don’t have giant robots to pilot anymore.

What will close the loop in Final Fantasy VII Remake? Will humanity finally achieve harmony with the planet without using Mako to power their microwaves and Buster Swords? Final Fantasy VII always had that environmental awareness schtick from the get-go and sticking to that theme could finally provide a satisfying ending we all deserve.

final fantasy 7 advent children sephiroth
It’s still gonna end with a grudge match with this guy

It doesn’t have to be truly poignant, but it has to be honest, true, and earned. Hideaki Anno communicated throughout the final movie that in order to move on, we must grow up. Shinji Ikari, for years, has struggled with his daddy issues and Oedipus Complex. Seeing him with his indecision over the years has been frustrating as we’ve probably projected our own personal insecurities of our indecision through his actions. Finally seeing him confront his humanized father became the film’s satisfying climax. Would Cloud finally do the same and confront Zack about his stolen identity? That also could be a great scene to see and I’d pay full price for a game that does that.

Optional Lesson: Get Utada Hikaru For An Ending Song

evangelion thrice upon a time

Yes, although a long shot, I’m asking Utada Hikaru to continue to work with Tetsuya Nomura. I loved “Sanctuary” and I loved “Beautiful World”. If we can get an ethereal duet between her and Maaya Sakamoto for the final act of the Final Fantasy VII Remake, even better.

At that time, we’ll all be in our fifties but still connected via an obsession with our fandom from the 90s. What a time to be alive.

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