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It was revealed in an interview in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Ultimania that the lyrics to the theme song, No Promises to Keep, were originally written in Japanese before being translated to English. Furthermore, translator Ben Sabin also acknowledges elsewhere in the book that due to the necessity of matching the English lyrics to the melody of the music, it would be impossible to do a direct translation.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Post-Release Interview (Part 1) – Devs Discuss the Story

Regarding the song No Promises to Keep, which Nojima (Kazushige) wrote, he says that in-universe, Aerith wrote the lyrics in the Gold Saucer’s hotel, so he tried to write them while getting into the role of being her. The lyrics are about meeting someone for the first time, but they are not about Cloud or Zack or any particular individual, but about the emotions of that topic in general. Aerith wants to feel that meeting other people is not fate, but chance, and this is because of the fate she bears as a descendant of the Cetra and what it has brought her up to this point. She wants to get away from fate, and just be surrounded by people that she loves that she only met by chance.

As fans might want to seek a deeper understanding of the original lyrics, Frontline Gaming Japan got a professional translator to do a direct translation, offering insights into nuances that the English version of the song might not fully convey, and doing away with nuances that were not in the Japanese version.

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English lyrics
These are the lyrics used for the song in both the English and Japanese versions of the game, that were translated from the original Japanese lyrics.

Walking city streets with worn cobblestones
Listening to people rushing past to rhythms all their own
Life passing me by, not thinking how the years have flown
Until I met you

I won’t say that it was fate
I won’t say that it was destiny
But if not, what could it be that drew you towards me?
Could it be chance?

Till the day that we meet again
Where or when I wish I could say
But believe know that you’ll find me
Promises to keep, we won’t ever need

If only I’d never known
All the burdens I was born to bear
Lived a life without a care in the world save for you
but that won’t do

Till the day that we meet again
On our street, I want to believe
In the chance that we’ll share a glance
Promises to keep, we won’t ever need

Till the day that we meet again
At our place, just let me believe
In the chance that you’ll come,
Take my hand and never let me go

Take my hand and believe
We can be together evermore

Walking city streets with worn cobblestones
Struggling against the crowds and finding ourselves all alone
Fate and destiny are no guarantee

Still, I hope someday you’ll come and find me
Still, I know someday you’ll come and find me

 

Original Japanese lyrics
These are the original lyrics written by Nojima, which can be seen in the subtitles of the Japanese release of the game as well as in the CD booklet. It was mentioned in an interview that Uematsu created an experimental Japanese vocal version of the song, but at this time the song has not been released with Japanese vocals.

あなたと出会った街は
忙しい足音に急かされて
時計さえ早く刻んでた

昨日までは運命なんて
信じたくないから
この出会いは
ねえ、なんて呼ぼう
偶然?

明日も会いたいな
偶然あの場所で
信じたいの
約束なんていらないと

生まれた時に
結ばれた約束
知らないまま
ふたり出会えば良かった

明日も会いたいな
偶然あの道で
信じさせて
約束なんていらないと

明日も会えるかな
偶然あのかどで
信じさせて
この手離さないで

信じさせて
その手離さないで

ふたりが出会った街で
人混みに流されてはぐれたら
運命も約束も助けてくれないでしょう

私を見つけてどうか
私を見つけてきっと

 

Direct translation of Japanese lyrics
These are a direct translation of the Japanese lyrics by a professional translator. As the sole focus of this translation is purely to clarify the meaning of the original Japanese lyrics, they do not match the melody of the song, change some line breaks that would make the lyrics harder to understand, and add some context by re-adding in the subject (as Japanese is a context-sensitive null subject language where subjects are omitted and supposed to be inferred).

In that town I met you in,
I was always hurried along by the busy footsteps
Even the clock moved so fast
But that was only up till yesterday

I don’t want to believe in fate
So, what should we call our meeting?
Chance?

I want to see you again tomorrow, by chance, at that place
I want to believe that we don’t need a promise (to meet again)

I wish we could have met without me knowing of the promise that was made when I was born

I want to see you again tomorrow, by chance, on that street
Make me believe that we don’t need a promise (to meet again)

Will I be able to see you again tomorrow?
By chance, on that street corner
Make me believe, don’t let go of my hand

Make me believe, don’t let go of my hand

If I’m taken by the flow of people and separated from you, in that town we met in,
Fate and promises won’t help me at all

Please find me
Please, surely find me

 

What does this tell us?

Due to the need to adapt the English lyrics to the melody, some of the lyrics are significantly different. With a direct translation and further context from the interview with Nojima, however, we can infer the intended meanings more accurately.

The lyrics rendered in the official translation as “I won’t say this was fate, I won’t say this was destiny” were originally the more proactive “I don’t want to believe in fate,” and Nojima emphasizes on this in the interview, where he says that Aerith wants to feel that meeting other people is not fate, but chance.

That nuance is also lost from the part that goes “Till the day that we meet again / Where or when I wish I could say” which removes the direct mention of chance (though it can be inferred from “where or when I wish I could say”) and also makes it sound like her pining for the person she is singing about, making it seem more like a conventional love song. Furthermore, making it sound like meeting again is already determined contradicts the intended nuance of denying fate and promises; the original lyrics have Aerith only say that she wants to meet the person again, indicating nothing but a desire.

Similarly, the English version also adds a line about being together forever in “Take my hand and believe / We can be together evermore” which in the original version is “Make me believe (that I will be able to see you again), don’t let go of my hand” repeated for emphasis, which changes the nuances to sound more like a conventional love song.

“Promises to keep, we won’t ever need” continues with that thread, making it sound like Aerith is saying that she and the person she is talking about don’t need to make promises to meet again, that meeting again is something predetermined and will happen nonetheless, which contradicts the original lyrics’ intention of denying predetermined promised fate. Again, in the original lyrics, she is only saying that she would like to meet the other person, and the last instance that was translated to “promises to keep, we won’t ever need,” is actually changed in Japanese to her wondering if she will be able to meet that person tomorrow: She does not know if she can.

Finally, the original lyrics have a more jaded tone towards fate and promises, with “fate and promises won’t help me at all” – This is mellowed out somewhat in the English “fate and destiny are no guarantee”.

Though a direct translation of the lyrics of the song was necessary to fit it to the melody, the official English translation does manage to keep the general meaning of Aerith yearning for connections forged by chance rather than fate, and her denouncing of the fate brought to her by being a descendant of the Cetra (“If only I’d never known / All the burdens I was born to bear”). However, it was inevitable that some nuances would be lost or added in translation, and so fans seeking a deeper understanding of the lyrics would do well to explore the original Japanese lyrics, where some subtle nuances might be better appreciated.

Also see:

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Post-Release Interview (Part 6) – Devs Discuss the Climax and the Final Game

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