Remaking a video game is hard. Completely reimagining and retooling one of the most beloved and picked-over video games of all time seems nearly impossible. 23 years (and three months) after the original release of Final Fantasy 7 on the original PlayStation, Final Fantasy 7 Remake has been unleashed on the world after years of eager anticipation to massive critical and commercial success. But, as the dust settles, we’re still left with questions.
Anyone who’s played through the 30 plus hour opening chapters of Square’s new opus can attest that there is a metric ton of new stuff happening in the world of Final Fantasy VII. Minor characters have been elevated to beloved fan favorites, new characters and areas help bring Midgar to life in a shimmering glory that simply wasn’t achievable in 1997. And yet, the game manages to retain the same spirit and allude to a deeper connection with the original work.
How was this delicate balance struck? Did Final Fantasy 7’s developers expect the reception it got? And what about Jesse? IGN had the opportunity to chat with Producer Yoshinori Kitase, Co-Director Naoki Hamaguchi, Co-Director, and scenario writer Kazushige Nojima, to look back on Final Fantasy 7 – at least, the first part! – to get some answers.
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IGN: How was the approach to Final Fantasy VII Remake different than how you looked at earlier entries in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII? How much did those games influence the remake?
Yoshinori Kitase, Producer, Final Fantasy VII Remake:
Our approach with the Remake project was to reintroduce these characters and the world to both newcomers and existing fans. Essentially, we wanted to utilize the best of modern technology and storytelling to bring this world and the characters into the modern era of games. We’ve updated the original in a far more realistic and immersive way, so that the excitement of the original game could be experienced by all audiences and be seen as something new, surprising and innovative, rather than just a beloved game from the past.
The compilation works were really designed with the audience to have a knowledge of these characters and world already. For Remake, it’s a chance for newcomers to enter this world, and everything they need to know is in this game.
However, we didn’t want to abandon the expanded storytelling from the compilation series, so there are many references to these titles throughout Remake.
IGN: What would you say to fans who were hoping for a more straightforward remake of the original game, when this actually seems to be more of a re-imagining of sorts instead?
We, the development team, our fans, and the state of the world have continued to change over the past 23 years. While the world is undergoing dramatic changes, we thought that remaking the game based only on the same merits as 23 years ago may evoke “nostalgia,” but would not deliver on the element of “surprise” that is innate to Final Fantasy.
I believe people will be able to welcome this project with the same rush of excitement felt back in the days of the original game.
IGN: Was there ever a point where Red XIII was playable? Why or why not?
Naoki Hamaguchi, Co-Director, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE:
No. We felt that many players familiar with the original would want to control the character, but as he appears towards the end of this game we were careful about disruptions to the overall tempo that may occur by treating him in the same manner as other main characters, who appear earlier. We also felt for new players, it may seem odd to have control over a new character so late into this game and we couldn’t introduce him earlier.
Final Fantasy VII Remake is a multi-game project; as such, I believe there will be opportunities to control Red XIII in the future, so it’d be great if Red XIII fans can look forward to this.
IGN: The world fell in love with Jesse, were you expecting her to be such a breakout character with fans?
This isn’t specific to Jesse, but by shining a spotlight on the Avalanche members that have been beloved by fans since the original game, we were conscious about adding depth to the story by depicting aspects that were not illustrated in the source material. Particularly, the fight that unfolds in the Sector 7 Slums from Chapter 12 is one of the peaks in the Avalanche story; it showcases the Avalanche members’ determination and adds more tension to the story.
Actually, many development staff had a good impression of Jesse from the time we were developing the game, and we are extremely happy to see her popularity skyrocket far more than we had expected.
IGN: Why was the decision made to replace the English voice cast?
The original game obviously never had a voice cast. We began using actors for the characters starting with the second work in the compilation, the sequel movie Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. For the film, the characters were already older than in the original game and 15 years have passed since then, we’ve continued to work with the same voice actors over numerous projects. However, since this title is set in an era that precedes Advent Children, with a younger cast, we wanted to discover a new generation of voice actors that would be suitable for expressing younger versions of the characters. While expressing our utmost respect to the Advent Children cast, I look forward to the future success of the new cast.
IGN: The Honeybee Inn has been greatly praised for how it adapted that original segment, what were the goals behind how you changed it?
Though I’m feeling good about the player responses we’ve been seeing, it’s also a fact that we faced many decisions in how to update and portray the Honeybee Inn.
We decided to largely reimagine the events that unfold throughout Wall Market, including Honeybee Inn, based on the following direction: “If we’re going to change it, we might as well make it highly entertaining.” We referenced things like the French Moulin Rouge and Japanese burlesques, so that the Honeybee Inn would have this dance off element. Furthermore, we tried to be creative in carrying over the seductive approach taken with the Honeybee Inn in the original to Madam M’s massage parlor [in the remake]. In essence, we are paying homage to the enchantment of Wall Market, so I believe we were able to make the area feel familiar yet new, rather than a departure from the source material.
IGN: Upon seeing Hell House, Aerith and Cloud seem shocked. “How do we fight a house?” – how early into development did someone on the team ask that question?
Let’s see… It’s a fact that we were challenged quite a bit with Hell House. Many of the enemies featured in the original FFVII are iconic, but with the graphics becoming more realistic, it was a challenge to think of convincing reasons why these enemies would have come to exist within this world. In the original game, Hell House was an enemy that could be randomly encountered near Wall Market, but we determined that no matter how we approached it, we simply could not think of a setting in which it would be natural to find it wandering the slums in REMAKE. So, it was decided from the early stages of development that we would give Hell House a special portrayal as a boss in Wall Market.
And in reimagining Wall Market itself, we were searching for a way to portray the city as an avenue of entertainment that would be accepted across a wide variety of cultures and ages, while capturing the feeling of it being an “adults-only” city. This led to our decision to move in the direction of creating an underground arena called Corneo Colosseum, where adults could let their excitement loose. In this case, we thought we could portray Hell House with the setting that it was made as Corneo’s weapon. As a weapon, in the shape of a house, we felt it would be persuasive as a Corneo Colosseum boss.
Following the release, I saw many comments from players who felt surprised by the depiction of Hell House as it appeared in this game, and as a creator, it made me happy to see that we were able to offer it in a way that got just the response we were aiming for from the fans.
IGN: Cloud in the remake seems like a much deeper character and his arc is more motivated and interesting here than in the original. How did the team decide where and how to add new dimensions and layers to these characters? Were there characters that were harder to re-write than others?
Kazushige Nojima, Scenario Writer, Final Fantasy VII Remake:
As the physical depiction of characters have gotten far more realistic, there was a need to make their inner depiction with a similar sense of realism. First and foremost, there were personalities that I had imagined these characters having back, when creating the original, so I wrote the scenario this time by recollecting those memories.
It wasn’t so much depicting a new side, but rather, just now bringing out a side to them that existed back then but wasn’t fully portrayed at the time.
Of course, I don’t remember everything, so there are parts that I newly created this time around as well. By adding new expressive elements such as voiceovers, action movements, and facial expressions, each with their own additional layers of passion and interpretation of the members who handled them, we were able to ultimately create these Remake characters.
I also heavily referenced the expanded Compilation titles, which portrayed these characters with more realistic CG (for the time) and with VO.
Aerith was a challenging character. I get the impression that she’s highly revered based on her story in the original, so I wanted to convey a more down-to-earth side of her in this game that I don’t feel was shown before.
IGN: Avalanche, as a team, is a much bigger part of REMAKE. How did the team balance the character building of individual team members, and how do those characters inform Avalanche’s overall “mission statement”?
By depicting the affinity between the individual Avalanche members, I wanted to portray their bond, as well as the alienation Cloud must have initially felt. At the same time, I wanted to portray how Cloud was gradually accepted into the group.
I felt that through this approach, players would be able to further immerse themselves into the world within the game.
Additionally, the movement by Avalanche ends up causing a great amount of damage to Midgar. Even if the Shinra Company had a part in it, what they did wasn’t permissible. As such, they end up being heavily condemned for their actions; but I wanted to portray what was going through the minds of these youths that caused these incidents, as well as what they felt as they took part in the movement. “Saving the planet” is upheld as a theme for their movement, but as you can see in Tifa’s inner struggles, I feel as if they’ve come to a point of no return because they had pushed forward with such a strong sense of duty and zeal. In terms of their interpersonal relationships (and their balance), I referenced the relationships and bonds in Japanese animation that can be seen since the olden days.
Zachary Ryan is the Director of Editorial Video at IGN and has played the original FFVII 1,367 times. Probably.