Avalanche is huge, and has a spy in Shinra
Unlike in the original game, Avalanche is not just a tiny rag-tag band of warriors. Instead, it’s a much larger organisation with multiple cells, of which our heroes are just one. Barret’s team isn’t much loved by Avalanche’s leaders, though, hence their independent-like status.
The organisation at large is surprisingly well equipped, with an arsenal of weapons and even helicopters. Both of these come in handy as Avalanche basically has to bail out Cloud and his pals at a couple of points in the story. More helpful, though, is the fact that Avalanche has a man on the inside at Shinra: Midgar’s Mayor Domino. Dissatisfied with being demoted to little more than a librarian, Mayor Domino helps Cloud with his attack on Shinra HQ.
Shinra blows up its own reactor
Unlike the original game, the bomb Cloud and Barret set in the Sector 1 reactor in Remake does not blow the facility up. Instead, Shinra does the dirty work itself, causing an explosion far bigger and more devastating than Avalanche had planned.
But why did the company do this? Surely they’d want to keep the Mako reactors working, in order to generate electricity and profit? Well, turns out the one thing that makes more profit than energy is war. Shinra wants to encourage the population of Midgar to support a second war with the nation of Wutai, and so it begins to spread propaganda that Avalanche is in allegiance with them. In the original, Wutai is never brought up in relation to Avalanche, and the only direct sabotage of Midgar by Shinra is when they drop the Sector 7 plate, which remains here.
One of few completely new locations in Final Fantasy 7 Remake is the Sector 7 Employee Housing Area, a residential zone on Midgar’s upper plate. Here we get to see how the wealthier people of the city live, as well as visit Jessie’s family home. Turns out her mom is very, very good at making pizza.
Apart from this entire mission being new, including the attack on a Shinra warehouse to secure more explosives, we’re also introduced to a whole new villain in the form of Roche, a flamboyant member of Shinra’s elite SOLDIER division. This marks Roche’s first and only appearance in the whole game, but it’s pretty memorable thanks to some absurd motorbike acrobatics and a boss fight that sees Cloud 1v1 him within a circle of Shinra guards, as if they were in a Midgar underground sword-fighting club.
Sector 7’s hidden lab
We’ve already established that Shinra is pretty evil, but did you know they’re evil as in secret-underground-lab-conducting-human-expeirments evil? After the company drops an entire sector of the upper city on the slums to try and wipe out Avalanche, the party discovers a hidden laboratory that’s been operating in secret beneath Sector 7 – something that doesn’t exist (or at least is never mentioned) in the original. While exploring its tunnels in search of Wedge, Barret and Tifa discover practically a whole army of fishman-like creatures who attack them on sight.
These creatures are failed experiments, and appear to be Remake’s answer to the original game’s Makonoids; humans who have been saturated with Mako to the point that they have become monsters. These creatures were not revealed until Cloud’s later flashback to the Nibelheim Incident in the original game, but bringing a similar story into Remake helps cement Shinra as the big bad that it is. Well, until Sephiroth takes on that job, of course.
Whispers of Fate
The most frequently appearing new element in Remake’s story are the Whispers. These hooded spirits seemingly prevent Cloud from dying after falling from Sector 5, and protect Aerith from being captured by Reno and his Shinra guards. And, in one of the biggest changes from the original, Barret is not only killed by Sephiroth, but these spectres restore him to life, too.
Red XIII explains that these entities are Whispers of Fate, and their entire existence is dedicated to ensuring Destiny (yes, with a capital D) plays out according to plan. Red XIII only learns of their nature after connecting with Aerith, and so it stands to reason that the Whispers may be connected to the Ancients.
In the penultimate boss battle, the team battles against their own destinies in a fight against the gigantic Whisper Harbinger within a singularity. The Harbinger is joined by three additional Whispers; one armed with a sword, another with a gun, and a third with melee fist attacks. Just like Cloud, Barret, and Tifa. Yup, it all gets a bit meta. Or, as our review puts it, “Some Kingdom Hearts BS”.
Sephiroth and Jenova
It’s not a huge surprise that Remake’s final boss is Sephiroth – who better for a final clash? – but his appearance is an important change as he never makes an on-screen appearance during the Midgar section of the original game. Despite him now being around, his role isn’t really expanded, just reinforced: he’s a really evil guy who wants to destroy the planet.
What has changed is his link with Aerith; rather than Cloud, it is she who convinces the group that Sephiroth must be stopped, and she seemingly has much more knowledge about him than she has been letting on.
In addition to Sephiroth, we also get a new battle with his ‘mother’, Jenova. After Sephiroth breaks into the Shinra building using his clones to steal the creature’s body, he unleashes it against Cloud in the form of Jenova Dreamweaver. Again, this is almost identical to how Sephiroth uses Jenova in the original game, it just happens much earlier in the story in order to stage it during the timeframe Remake is set in.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake: Over 100 Screenshots
Zack is alive
Here we go: the biggest – and no doubt most controversial – change to Final Fantasy 7’s story is the reveal that Zack Fair, Cloud’s war buddy and Aerith’s ex, is alive. Sort of.
During the original game, Zack and Cloud escape from the Shinra Mansion in Nibelheim after being subject to human experiments as part of Professor Hojo’s Jenova Reunion project. Dragging a barely conscious Cloud, Zack walks towards Midgar in hope of building a new life as a mercenary. As he reaches the city’s borders, he is brutally gunned down by Shinra guards. Left to die by the soldiers, Cloud crawls to his body and takes up the Buster Sword. This scene is also seen in the PSP prequel Crisis Core, albeit made more dramatic and flamboyant.
In Remake, however, Zack fights off a whole squad of Shinra soldiers, leaving them dead at his feet. He then picks Cloud back up and continues his journey towards Midgar, very much not dead. Importantly, it appears that this all happens in an alternate timeline. A chips packet blows past in the wind, and as the camera focuses on for just a couple of seconds, you can see that it features the hat-wearing dog mascot frequently seen during Cloud’s journey through Midgar. However, rather than a helmet-wearing beagle, the dog is now a cap-wearing border terrier, which points to an alternate reality. Quite how this ties into Cloud’s reality remains to be seen.
And those are the biggest changes from the original story in Final Fantasy 7 Remake. There’s plenty more, but they are the seven with most impact. For more, why not check out our breakdown of how long the Remake is, our unboxing of the expensive Collector’s Edition featuring Cloud on his bike, and our pick of the weirdest parts of the original game.
Matt Purslow is IGN’s UK News and Entertainment Writer. You can follow him on Twitter.