Final Fantasy VII Remake has been available for over a month now, and it feels like its release ended up being a landmark moment for the series. With that in mind, we got the opportunity to talk to producer Yoshinori Kitase and co-director Naoki Hamaguchi about Remake's development, its launch, and the decisions behind some of the game's design.
Push Square: First of all, congratulations on the launch of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Have you been pleased with how the game has been received by fans?
Yoshinori Kitase (Producer): Thank you to everyone who enjoyed the game. There are a lot of people who played the original game who are now working in the industry as developers, game writers or even influencers, and I think that those people liked the remake and talked about the game, becoming evangelists and spreading the word to new players. I am very grateful indeed to all those fans who have been with us since the original and support Final Fantasy VII over the years, and it’s great to welcome all the new players who are experiencing the game for the first time.
Naoki Hamaguchi (Co-director): Thank you very much! After seeing the response when the game released, I felt real pride that the kind of remake we aimed for has been appreciated and approved by the fans. Our aim was to deliver a game experience that felt both new and nostalgic at the same time, not jarring with people’s fond memories of the original but enhancing them, and expressed in the most modern way possible. We have received many comments from fans expressing their approval for this approach and saying that the approach we took to the remake resonated with them, and this has inspired confidence in all the little decisions we made to build up the game. We are hugely excited about development on the next game and making that something that will meet fans expectations too, but it is important not to forget a sense of humility, and that we can still learn a lot.
Final Fantasy VII is a classic RPG that means a lot to so many people. Did you ever feel that
pressure while developing Remake?
Kitase: There was a certain amount of pressure, but that soon changed into joy as I watched the team making a new game that showed so much respect to the original whilst feeling completely new and fresh at the same time.
Final Fantasy VII Remake expands on the Midgar story arc significantly. When developing the game, how did you decide on the parts that you wanted to expand?
Kitase: I personally envisioned quite a dramatic change overall, but our director; Tetsuya Nomura and co-director; Naoki Hamaguchi, wanted to keep the beloved aspects in the original as much as possible. Eventually the development team decided to focus on respecting the original while adding in new elements, ensuring a delicate balance between the two.
Which part of Midgar did you enjoy recreating most?
Kitase: I would say in general I really loved being able to show the city of Midgar and its unique structure in full 3D. The technical limits of the original game fixed the camera to a top-down view, but in the remake you can move through it 360 degrees, allowing you to see Midgar from many different angles in a way like never before. The sense of immense weight and oppression that you get when looking up from the slums really allows you to experience the feeling that the slum-dwellers get from living there first-hand.
Can you tell us about any new content that was planned, but didn't make it into the finished version of Final Fantasy VII Remake?
Hamaguchi: This is my honest opinion, but I really do feel that I managed to get everything I wanted into the remake and balance it correctly, so I am confident that is a worthy offering to bring to all the fans who love Final Fantasy VII.
There is one thing that is not so much a regret, but more of an interesting aside... Final Fantasy VII Remake contains many mini-games that pay homage to the original, and there was one that I really wanted to include but ultimately was not able to do so. You can actually still just about see the impression of where this was supposed to fit in [laughs].
Fans might remember the basketball shooting mini-game in the Gold Saucer, but in actual fact we also put a basketball hoop in the park that you find on the way to Jesse’s family home in the slums and I wanted to make it playable there too. However, we felt that having a game that created noise from rebounding basketballs really did not work with the atmosphere at that point in the story, when the team were moving covertly in the dead of night, so we removed it. We still wanted to leave a little homage in there though, so we left an abandoned basketball there and made it possible for it to roll around.
In terms of personality and the way they're written, was it difficult to take the characters of Final Fantasy VII and reimagine them for Final Fantasy VII Remake?
Kitase: We did not make any changes to the basic personalities from the original. That said, there have been nuanced changes to how some things are shown in places, reflecting the changes in the social conditions of the real world over the past 23 years. One example would be how Barret and the members of Avalanche now agonise over their decisions and sometimes doubt the righteousness of their actions against the Shinra Company, realising that they may not be on the side of justice after all.
We love the combat system in Final Fantasy VII Remake, but it seems like it would be a difficult system to get right. How long did it take to develop? Did you run into any problems?
Hamaguchi: The concept for the battle system in Final Fantasy VII Remake became clear to us at an early stage. What we were aiming for was to evolve the ATB system in the original to express the same concept through a more modern system.
We went through a lot of trial and error, but instead of simply trying to integrate the ATB system and an action based system into one hybrid model, we thought we should bring out the best from both systems by clearly defining each one’s role. At the core of the remake’s battle system there is still the simple concept of charging up an ATB gauge and using the charge to execute abilities, exactly like in the ATB system from the original game.
As well as this, the action elements play the role of enhancing and enabling the ATB to function better, allowing the player to use skill to do things like charging the ATB gauge more efficiently, or setting up enemies so that abilities will be more devastating when a charge is used. So, the system is based around supporting using action gameplay and achieving your goal using the ATB commands.
This successful relationship between the two elements also provides the foundation for “Classic mode”. In this mode the action elements are operated automatically by AI, allowing the player to focus entirely on identifying the correct timing to execute abilities with the ATB, exactly as they could have in the original game. You could say that this system was only made possible through clear definition of the roles for ATB and action gameplay that we did for remake.
There's a surprising amount of player choice in Final Fantasy VII Remake. Cloud's dialogue options can sometimes influence how the story plays out. Why did you want to give players these options?
Hamaguchi: Since the story in FINAL FANTASY VII up to escaping from Midgar is designed to be fairly linear, I was always worried about the possibility of jeopardising the feeling of tension and suspense inherent within the narrative by implementing gameplay which is more open-world in nature.
However, I was also aware that the story would be unpopular if it was so rigidly linear that it did not allow any player freedom at all. Therefore, we decided that every player will have the same experience in the main story, similar to watching a film, but implement choices at certain points that illustrate the depth of characters and the in-game world. This lets players choose how they want to progress in the story and it is quite captivating.
If you consider the two possible game designs, one being a design that only allows players to progress rigidly along the main story in a linear manner, and the other where a player’s choices are reflected in their story progression, it is important for players to feel that they are playing through the story at their own volition, rather than that they are being ‘forced to do so’. This is why there are side-quests, mini games, and Chadley’s reports in the game, to increase the number of chances to let players make their own choices.
Roche is an interesting character, but he only appears in one chapter. Where did the idea for Roche come from?
Hamaguchi: For new characters in general, I was conscious that I should only be adding to the game and its characters in order to deepen the in-game world of Final Fantasy VII.
Roche, for example, has an important role in explaining the situation for SOLDIER operatives who fight on the side of Shinra, when he secretly enters the Shinra facility with Cloud and the other members of Avalanche. In his cutscenes, you can also see a bond between Cloud and Roche, so I am quite excited to see what could happen to them in the future.
Then, at Wall Market, we wanted to portray Don Corneo in the style of a real-life mafia boss who holds power in the underworld. To make the portrayal feel more real, we wanted to add henchmen who work for him for their own mutual benefit, so we decided to add in Madam M, Sam, and Andrea who do Corneo’s dirty work.
After all these years, we need to ask: who's a better fit for Cloud? Tifa or Aerith?
Kitase: We never talk about how characters relate with each other outside of what is depicted in the game. Our only focus has been how best to depict the characters in an appealing way as part of the remake.
However, I also love to see the exciting discussions among the fans within the community and it’s something we’ve seen since the original game released!
Huge thanks to Kitase-san and Hamaguchi-san for taking the time to answer our questions. Special thanks to Daniela Piertrosanu and Square Enix PR for making this interview possible.
What are your thoughts on Final Fantasy VII Remake over a month after its launch? Plan a return to Midgar in the comments section below.