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Final Fantasy VII Remake Trace of Two Pasts is a novel in the Final Fantasy VII series, written by Kazushige Nojima. It was released July 2021 in Japanese, revealed alongside the new Final Fantasy VII Remake Material Ultimania Plus and offered in a package with it for pre-order,[1] and later had an English release in March 2023, translated by Stephen Kohler, under the slightly different title Final Fantasy VII Remake Traces of Two Pasts. The novel focuses on the two heroines of Final Fantasy VII Remake, Aerith Gainsborough and Tifa Lockhart.

Divided into Episode 1: "Traces of Tifa", Episode 2: "Traces of Aerith", and Episode 2 Coda: "Picturing the Past", the book describes the childhood stories of Tifa and Aerith through their own accounts of events as stories to one another. Tifa describes her upbringing in Nibelheim and arrival in Midgar, while Aerith describes her childhood growing up with Elmyra Gainsborough. Interspaced between their stories are short segments wherein the two recount their stories in a present day time, presumably during the events of the Final Fantasy VII remake project. The Coda chapter is a retranslation of Final Fantasy VII Remake: Picturing the Past.

Plot[]

Traces of Tifa[]

After traveling through Kalm, Tifa begins recounting her childhood and upbringing at Aerith's prompting. Her story is delivered in sections as the party passes through Grasslands, the Chocobo Farm, and toward the Mythril Mines. Initially, Barret, Aerith, and Red XIII all listen in on the story, but by the end, Red XIII is the only one who hears its conclusion.

Tifa describes her early years in Nibelheim as a member of the 'Four Fiends'—a group of mischievous kids her age, including Emilio, Lester, Tyler, and herself. Though they used to be friends, Cloud keeps his distance after an incident when Tifa is eight years old. Shortly after the death of her mother, Tifa and Cloud climb Mt. Nibel to see her mother's spirit in the 'land of the dead' on the other side of the peak. Tifa slips and hits her head, falling into a weeklong coma. Cloud takes the blame for the incident, but Tifa admits she has no memory of what happened. At twelve years old, she adopts a kitten named Fluffy, who regularly escapes into the village and mountain. Cloud contributes to a number of rescues. In the months leading up to her thirteenth birthday, all four boys prepare to enlist in the Shinra army or move to Midgar. Cloud meets with Tifa on the water tower and she makes him promise to come save her if she ever got into trouble. She decides that her complicated feelings for Cloud were a "special kind of 'like'".

While searching for Fluffy after another escape, Tifa encounters Rashard Zangan training in the rushing waters of the Gunnthra River. Zangan, a wandering martial artist and self-help guru, had come to Nibelheim to teach a calisthenics class to the village. Although the class is well-received, Zangan's anti-Shinra rhetoric makes him suspicious in the company town, and the village leader, Zander, asks him to leave. Before he goes, he gives Tifa a copy of the first volume of his training manual after noticing that she performed the best in his class. She forms the Calisthenics Club in response to demand from the village elderly who were eager to continue Zangan's exercises. Over the next few years, Zangan returns to Nibelheim periodically to provide feedback on Tifa's training and additional volumes of his manual. He even recruits Tifa's father, Brian, to serve as her sparring partner. A few months after Tifa's fifteenth birthday, monster activity around the Nibel Reactor grows dramatically and Shinra sends a platoon of SOLDIER operatives to investigate. While searching for an escaped Fluffy, an unnamed female member of the Turks saves Tifa from monsters. Tifa volunteers to guide the investigation team. In the present, she chooses to concur with Cloud's version of the Nibelheim Incident.

In the aftermath of the incident, Zangan brings Tifa to a surgeon named Dr. Sheiran in Corel, who reconstructs her sternum, which had been pierced by Sephiroth. After her condition stabilizes, he leaves her in Dr. Dhamini Oranye's clinic in the Sector 8 slums of Midgar. Dr. Oranye performs a number of skin grafts and aids the rest of her recovery. Tifa wakes up a month after the incident and Dr. Oranye informs her of the massive amount of debt she has accrued. She sets Tifa up with her son, Rakesh, who helps her with physical therapy. Rakesh is another one of Zangan's students and arranges a job with Pops as a food cart operator to pay down her debt. He hooks her up with a tiny apartment built out of a shipping container. The apartment and the job come under the aegis of Manson, the underworld boss who controls Sector 8. Tifa finds solace and routine working with Pops at Sector 8 Steamed Buns by aiming to break personal bests for number of buns sold in a day. She spends her days off practicing Zangan's forms and accumulates savings by living frugally. Shortly before her sixteenth birthday, Tifa sells 1,003 buns in a day.

Tifa meets Marle after the latter needs to go to Dr. Oranye's clinic for a skin graft. They hit it off but lose touch after Marle's treatment is over. A chance encounter at the food cart introduces Tifa to Biggs, Wedge, and Jessie, who become regular customers. She strikes a fast friendship with Jessie in particular, who invites her to a planetology documentary screening for her seventeenth birthday. She begins attending these underground planetology screenings regularly, but after an explosion at Corel, Shinra blames Avalanche and begins cracking down on the screenings even harder. One evening, Jessie arrives at Tifa's container injured and she provides her shelter for the night. Afterwards, Jessie disappears for Tifa's safety. During a Shinra raid on the slums, looking for Avalanche, Tifa's actions lead to the death of a young Shinra trooper and cause a small riot.

On her eighteenth birthday, Tifa picks up a lead on Jessie's whereabouts in Sector 7. Her search reunites her with Marle, who manages Stargazer Heights and the Seventh Heaven bar with its proprietor, Old Monty. The bar is Monty's life work as a cocktail aficionado and he used the last of his savings to pay for its construction. Marle suggests that Tifa work there as a waitress on her days off to help keep the bar afloat after the previous waitress quit, which forced them to reduce their hours. Marle spreads word that Tifa is looking for Jessie. Eager for this new opportunity, Tifa throws herself into the work, though Monty falls ill shortly after her debut. She meets Barret and Marlene Wallace, who had become regulars after Seventh Heaven's reopening. They have been homeless since arriving in Midgar; Tifa confronts Barret about the life he has been offering to the two-year-old Marlene. Marle is moved by Tifa's empathy and convinces Monty to let the Wallaces stay in the bar's secret basement. Monty passes away shortly thereafter, and Barret, Tifa, and Marle resolve to carry on his legacy with the bar.

Tifa offers her life savings to pay off the down payment that threatens to foreclose the bar. She learns that Jessie has set up a meeting with her through a coded message and that Barret is looking for Jessie to join Avalanche. Pops tips Tifa off to an upcoming large-scale Shinra raid on Avalanche, which motivates her to try to warn the organization through one of her contacts. At the meeting place, Tifa reunites with Jessie but the location turns out to be a Shinra ambush. Barret dispatches the troopers and takes them back to Tifa's apartment, where he strongarms his way into joining Jessie's Avalanche cell. On the day of the down payment, Tifa discovers that her savings have gone missing. She and Barret visit Dr. Oranye's clinic where they learn that Rakesh had stolen it to pay off his gambling debts to Manson. Dhamini cooperated in the scheme to overcharge her patients to pay off Rakesh's debts. Manson is revealed to be Pops, who wanted to keep Tifa involved with his food cart, calling her the best business partner he has ever had. Barret reclaims the savings and Dr. Oranye allows Tifa to leave with her medical debt forgiven. On the way out, Tifa punches Rakesh in the face in retaliation for years of gaslighting.

Traces of Aerith[]

While disguised as Shinra troopers on the passenger ferry Shinra-8 from Junon to Costa del Sol, Tifa inquires about Aerith's childhood. In the hold of the ship, Aerith recounts her escape from the Shinra Building and the trials and tribulations growing up in the Sector 5 slums.

Aerith and Ifalna lived in quiet comfort as captives of Professor Hojo's research department. When Aerith awakened to her powers as an Ancient at the age of seven, Hojo became emboldened in his experiments on Ifalna, knowing he had a 'spare' to fall back on if he ever went too far. A lab assistant named Faz Hicks takes pity on her and secretly provides Ifalna with painkillers to cope with the increasingly brutal treatment. Faz later aids in their escape by triggering a breach in the monster facility and smuggling them to the parking lot in the confusion. Faz arranges for them to hide in a crate bound for the Sector 4 Undercity by train where his associate would help them get to his apartment in Sector 3. Ifalna instead heads toward a church in Sector 5 that she had heard about. At the train station, Ifalna's strength gives in and she collapses. Aerith encounters Elmyra Gainsborough while searching for help and Ifalna begs her to take care of her daughter before dying.

Elmyra takes Aerith to her house in the Sector 5 slums. The plot of land has a special connection to the planetflowers bloom on their own without gardening. The house belonged to Elmyra's father-in-law, Gabriel Gainsborough, an influential underworld boss who controlled Sector 5. She and her husband, Clay, inherited it when Gabriel died. Clay had enlisted in the Shinra army to ward off discontent in the community over his family's privilege. On the first night in her new home, Ifalna's spirit appears to Aerith to reassure her and continues to watch over her in the days to come. Elmyra introduces Aerith to Meguro, Gabriel's majordomo, and he proposes that Elmyra prominently showcase her adoption of Aerith around town, with a false name, to provide her with neighborly protection from Shinra or kidnappers. While meeting one of Meguro's associates, Aerith accidentally introduces herself as 'Ronna', the name of Meguro's daughter. The mistake spreads through the Gainsborough organization hierarchy and Aerith is forced to stick with it.

A few days later, Aerith sees a vision of Clay's death—his final wish brings his spirit to Elmyra's home before he departs for the lifestream. Aerith tries to console Elmyra, but she remains in denial. That night, Ifalna's spirit also returns to the planet, leaving Aerith alone. The next day, the official letter confirming Clay's death arrives, which sends Elmyra into a brief depression. She reaffirms her commitment to taking care of Aerith and introduces her as Ronna to the neighborhood, including the children of the local orphanage. While paying his respects to Clay, Meguro brings his children, Marcellus and Ronna, to Elmyra's home. Although Ronna is accepting of Aerith, Marcellus accuses her of stealing his sister's name. He reveals this to the orphans who had come by to play and denigrates the orphanage, causing a fight to ensue. One of the older boys, X, roughs up Marcellus until Meguro breaks up the fight. He chastises Marcellus for his unbecoming conduct. In the present, Tifa and Aerith realize that X changed his name to Biggs after he grew up and bought the Leaf House orphanage. He was nicknamed X because he arrived at the orphanage without a name. He and Aerith shared a connection over having to choose their names.

Clay's lieutenant, Carlo Kincaid, helps out often at the house. Clay lifted him out of poverty and he became fiercely loyal to the organization. While planning Aerith's eighth birthday party, Meguro has a heart attack, putting the plans on hold as the family business scrambles to cover his responsibilities. Tseng of the Turks arrives unannounced. Elmyra strikes a deal with him to watch for any signs of Aerith's Cetra heritage in exchange for Shinra's protection and noninterference. Though Meguro survives, his deteriorating health prompts a succession crisis within the Gainsborough family business. Among underworld families, Gabriel Gainsborough was considered even-handed and fair. His organization acted as a subcontractor for construction jobs ordered by Shinra in Sector 5. He provided opportunities for upward mobility among his employees, including Meguro, who was an orphan before Gabriel took him in. Clay's enlistment and later death made Meguro the most senior member of the organization. In light of Meguro's health, rival underworld bosses, such as Don Corneo of Sector 6 and the Manson brothers of Sector 8, also jockey to seize power in Sector 5.

During this tense time, when Aerith is ten, Marcellus goes missing and Meguro suspects kidnapping. Carlo suggests that Elmyra and Aerith take a trip to Kalm until the heat dies down. On the night before the trip, Aerith has a vision of an injured Marcellus near the gate in Sector 6. She tells Elmyra who reluctantly shares the tip with Carlo and Marcellus is saved. Carlo is suspicious of how Elmyra knew where Marcellus was and shares a rumor that Elmyra could have arranged for Marcellus to get kidnapped. To defend Elmyra, Aerith reveals to Carlo that her vision informed Elmyra. Elmyra goes to Meguro to alleviate the confusion and relinquishes her stake in the Gainsborough family business. Meguro takes Carlo on as his successor and Elmyra begins taking odd jobs in the community to support herself. Aerith takes a job at thirteen, as is custom in Sector 5, as an assistant at the orphanage. Unbeknownst to her, Carlo leads his organization in a brutal turf war against Don Corneo, who was hoping to take advantage of the succession crisis. Shinra enforces a restricted zone around Aerith's neighborhood, preventing her from knowing about the fighting.

When Aerith is fourteen, she encounters Marcellus and Ronna's entourage in Sector 5. Marcellus had come to speak to Aerith about a fever dream he had while injured by monsters during his runaway incident a few years previous. He believes Aerith saved him in the dream, which led to his rescue. Ronna accidentally reveals the turf war and Shinra's restricted zone to Aerith, who realizes that her neighborhood is just a slightly larger version of the Shinra cage she has lived in since Hojo's laboratory. She confronts Elmyra about this and they get into a fight. Aerith runs away from home, hoping to find the church that Ifalna had been looking for on the night of their escape. She encounters Faz at the train station and he begins stalking her. He was tipped off to Aerith's location by Amber, a member of Marcellus's entourage who happens to be the same woman who helped Aerith escape on the train. He has become obsessed in the years since he last saw her, calling her 'Ifalna' and dreaming of their life together. He takes Aerith to the church and tries to block her escape. Elmyra arrives and knocks Faz out with a broom, but he reawakens as they attempt to leave. A Shinra sniper puts him down and Aerith is thankful that her restricted zone has extended to all of Sector 5.

Picturing the Past[]

This chapter is a retranslation of Final Fantasy VII Remake: Picturing the Past by Stephen Kohler. The Special Survey Unit in the prior translation has been changed to the Special Geological Survey Initiative. The narrator's name is revealed to be Lonny in "Traces of Aerith" and his mother's name is Marielle. There are no changes to the plot in the retranslation.

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