I recently arrived at Shinra headquarters in my playthrough of Final Fantasy VII Remake. After Cloud and his squad fight their way through the parking garage, they enter the spacious reception area to find the place deserted. Our heroes have two ways to reach Aerith: take the elevator or climb 59 flights of stairs. I chose the stairs.
If I haven’t yet driven this point home, Final Fantasy VII Remake is my first encounter with the classic roleplaying game. I’ve been made aware of its story beats through word of mouth, in the same way I technically know about other cultural touchstones like The Godfather (which, please don’t crucify me, I also haven’t watched). The stair-climbing sequence is iconic among Final Fantasy VII fans due to both the banter between the characters and the fact the game literally makes you climb 59 flights of stairs. So when I was given the choice between taking the emergency stairwell and finding out what Shinra considers good elevator music, I was more than happy to hoof it.
The scene plays out much the same way in Remake as it does in the original, but with a few key changes that act as a wink and a nod to old-school players. About halfway up, you lose your ability to run, forcing Cloud to switch from a brisk jaunt to a trudging shuffle. The energetic theme that reflects the urgency of the rescue mission eventually distorts as Cloud gets more and more worn out. By the end, all three characters need to take a lengthy breather before moving on.
It’s here that Final Fantasy VII Remake also played a trick on me. Little indicators next to the character names show which floor they’re on, which led me to believe I could race Tifa and Barret to the top if I kept up the pace and took sharp corners. Sadly, I made the mistake of trying to open one of the stairwell’s many doors, which allowed Tifa to zoom ahead of me. I thought I managed to catch up with Tifa at one point, but that was only because she was waiting for me on a landing. When I got close, she took off again, and managed to stay at least two floors ahead of me the rest of the way. I wish I had that kind of stamina.
Barret, who has grown on me since getting on my nerves in the early hours of Final Fantasy VII Remake, was a delight during the stair sequence. He complains before even setting foot on the stairs and whines the entire way. I get it: It can’t be easy getting around when you have a huge gatling gun attached to your arm. Just a few floors from the top, Barret caps off his complaints by childishly demanding to go back. I cracked up. Like, it’s almost over, my dude! Hang in there!
Oh, and Tifa doesn’t use a slur about Barret’s cognitive abilities this time around, which is definitely a plus.
Much like with my recent trip through the sewers, Final Fantasy VII Remake has a fantastic way of breaking up tension with small moments of character interaction and world building. I’m still a little perplexed about Cloud and Tifa’s past together, but the barbs they share on the stairwell allude to a deeper connection than what’s been portrayed so far. And Barret, for all his gratingly high energy, finally broke through my resolve and made me crack a smile. Aerith is still waiting for me on the upper floors of Shinra headquarters, but I’m glad I took a detour to see a fundamental part of the Final Fantasy VII experience.