Final Fantasy VII Remake Producer and Co-Director Talk Meeting the Expectations of Fans - Interview

Final Fantasy VII Remake Producer and Co-Director Talk Meeting the Expectations of Fans - Interview

Richard Walker

To say there’s a weight of expectation heaped upon the shoulders of Square Enix and Final Fantasy VII Remake is a huge understatement. One of the defining games for the original PlayStation, the 1997 classic was, for many players, a formative video game experience and an entry point into a much broader world of JRPGs.

That 2020 will see the beginning of a complete, from-the-ground-up remake of Final Fantasy VII is a big deal, then, and it’s something that Square Enix isn’t taking lightly, with FF7 writer and director Yoshinori Kitase heading up development on this all-new reimagining. There’s a lot going into the making of the new FF7, with a network of 100 PCs dedicated to lighting and physics simulations alone, to ensure that Midgar is a suitably immersive and atmospheric environment to explore. Clearly, it's a massive undertaking.

We sat down with Producer Kitase and Co-Director Naoki Hamaguchi to discuss how they tackled remaking Final Fantasy VII head-on, while striving to preserve what the fans loved about the 1997 version, bringing Remake up to date using modern technology and sensibilities. Oh, and we did ask about the episodic nature of the remake (how many episodes etc.), but Square Enix still isn’t talking about that. We tried...

When you set out to remake Final Fantasy VII, did you have any idea how ambitious a project it would end up being?

Yoshinori Kitase: I had an idea that it could be a very, very big project right from the start. That's one of the reasons it took a while to get off the ground, because I felt – if we were going to do it as an internally developed project – we needed to have the best developers who also have a lot of experience developing past Final Fantasy games as well. Getting that whole team together took a while before we got started on [the game], even before we started looking at the overall construction of the project. But, I did have an idea that it was going to be something very, very big from the beginning.

Was it a scary proposition to take on something so beloved by fans? For many western PlayStation players, Final Fantasy VII was the first RPG they'd ever played.

Naoki Hamaguchi: It's a very massive, much-loved and respected franchise – we do get that. There is a pressure that definitely comes from that and it is a little frightening, I guess. Perhaps more than that, there's just a really positive vibe about us getting down and remaking it, and that's to do with the way the development team is constructed. When the original Final Fantasy VII came out, I was just a player, playing the game as a fan and I really loved that game so much, it made me want to work in games development.

There are a lot of people like myself on the team – there's also people who worked on the original, like Kitase-san – [and] it's not just people from Japan, either. We've got people from all over the world who really loved Final Fantasy VII and wanted to come to Japan to be part of development [on the remake]. So, I think because we've got a team with such a high level of respect for the original game, it was just exciting to think how we could reimagine those really great elements of the original, with new, modern gaming technology and the graphics we have now. That feeling of positivity in wanting to make this really great game and all of the new things we could do with it was so much greater than any feeling of pressure.

What was your approach when it came to defining each character's voice and personality?

NH: Deciding how all those background details – how they speak and those kind of things – [involved] us all sitting down together with the scenario writer, Mr. (Kazushige) Nojima, and all the voice actors to discuss and work out a really solid set of guidelines [pertaining to] how each character should be portrayed and behave. Then everyone on the development team worked to that set of instructions, informing how they moved and the animations we put on them, and because we had that solid base of characterisation detail, we got a very consistent portrayal of the characters throughout the game.

What kind of length and level of content are we looking at for this first episode in the Final Fantasy VII Remake?

NH: Although this is part of a bigger story, it really is a self-contained game in its own right. We approached development with the idea of making a game that has an equivalent volume to any of the other numbered Final Fantasy games. That's in terms of the characters, the gameplay, the story, the balancing of the character growth, the number of boss fights, and all of that. If you look at it in those terms, you can get a good, rough idea of what you can expect from the game.

What can you tell me about the process of reimagining something that so vividly lives on in the memories of fans? How do you go about delivering something so well-loved in a new way?

NH: That's a brilliant question. You've touched on something really interesting there. Obviously, it's a remake, and we very much had that mind. We didn't set out to remake it under a completely new design – we thought it had to be a remake of what was so great about the original, so we sat down and thought about all the things people loved about the original. There's the story and the characters, like Cloud, Aerith, Tifa, and Sephiroth; going into more detail in the battles; you've got the materia system; [and] strategic ATB battles. And then, in terms of scenes, there's all those great ones like Cloud's cross-dressing scene, and all the famous moments that we had to fit into the game.

We worked that all out -- that we actually have to include those in some way; we can't cut those out otherwise it'd stop being Final Fantasy VII. We also looked at how they were depicted in the original game with the limitations of the technology at the time, and the approach that was taken to showing these and what was so well-loved about the way they worked as scenes. Then with the modern techniques of game development that we have at our disposal now, how do we show those in a modern context? And it's not changing what we're showing at all, it's how we're presenting those scenes using the best of what we have now. By doing that, I think that was the best way of doing it and that's how we managed to keep everything feeling as it should do, while feeling fresh and new at the same time.

I think there's one really good example that can illustrate that process, and it was something we've shown in our preview videos, which is the Honey Bee Inn. Back in the day when we made that, there were pretty much no limits to what you could show in a game and the kind of content you could handle then, so obviously it was shown in a certain way using the technology at the time. Nowadays, how do we get across that idea of an adult-focused entertainment venue? How do we show that in a way that's acceptable for a modern audience in a way that they'll respond to?

We decided we'd make it more like a 'showbiz show' where they're putting on cabaret-style entertainment. We kept the essence of it being this sort of seedy adult entertainment thing, but in a much more modern, acceptable way. That's a good example of how we approached this process.

Are there any specific aspects of the remake that you're really excited to see Final Fantasy VII fans respond to?

NH: There are so many little examples of that throughout the whole game, so I am really tempted to say “everything”. But one particular thing that I think will really impress people is in the structure of Midgar itself, and to be able to experience the structure and the physicality of the city in a new way. That's something I'm really looking forward to seeing fans react to.

If Final Fantasy VII Remake proves to be successful, do you think you'll consider similar remakes of other entries in the series?

YK: No, no, no! It's actually very confusing. I can't think about that now. I'm just thinking about making this a big success. That's the first step to think about!

That's fair.

YK: So please, you've got to help us make it a big success! (Laughs).

Final Fantasy VII Remake is out for PlayStation 4 on 10th April 2020. You can check out our hands-on preview here.

  • My heart cannot take more hype at this point.
  • @1 you and me both pal! "Ain`t no getting offa this hype train we`re on!"
  • Well they already dropped the ball by taking a full game and chopping it into pieces. Than they don't communicate at all about how many episodes or a time frame for release. As much as I am looking forward to this, I am disappointed with their business practices.
  • People bringing up the episodic part of this game and that they are cutting the game short keep this in mind that the game is coming on 2 discs and is a 100gb install. Does that ring a bell? If not Red Dead Redemption 2 so that should show how much Square Enix put into the first part of the game. Also we've already had a Final Fantasy episodic series before so just deal with it and be patient because many of us have been waiting on this game for almost 15 years and I can guaran-damn-ty that the next episode will not be 15 years..
  • @#4 what do you mean waiting on this game for 15 years!? Your telling me since ff7 was originally released you were dying for a remake on 3 consoles later. The problem here is they are taking ff7 and breaking it up into 2 or 3 sections and charging us 3x the price for 1 game. I dont care if it has multiple dics, the problem is it isnt the whole game and we are having to pay a lot more for 1 complete story. I am quite upset that we get this and only get to play through what is like only maybe 20% of ff7 story then we have to wait another year or 2 for the next part and then another year or 2 for the 3rd and final part. Dont tell me you have been waiting 15 years for this shit
  • They are adding more then enough content that requires it to be split apart, it's not rocket science...
  • @5 They are charging us for full price because it is a full game, each part is a full sized game. FF7 is getting extended by a lot so that it will also feel fresh and new rather than like for like, other wise it would get boring knowing everything that will happen next. Other game series were split into parts, Xenosaga was split into 3, both .hack series were split into 3, Trails of Cold Steel was split into 4 parts but all of these were full sized game.
  • @#5 People have been waiting for a remake since that 2005 tech demo shown for the PS3. So yes, many people have been wanting a remake for 15 years, myself included.
  • @Comment #5 by Ice884 #1 This is not shit #2 Like I commented before we already have had an episodic Final Fantasy game so a game of this scale should be expected. #3 I don't want to stoop to your level but read my comment again. I never commented that I've been waiting for this game for 15 years. I commented "almost" 15 years and oh ya I'll fill you in on a not so little secret of why it's almost 15 years of waiting. Watch this and do the math
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