FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH: Flashback to the flashback part 1: Building Nibelheim

We dive deep into the Nibelheim Flashback with Director Naoki Hamaguchi to discover the secrets behind recreating iconic scenes.
By Duncan Heaney

FINAL FANTASY VII’s iconic Nibelheim incident has always been a revelatory experience.

It explains what led a noble war hero like Sephiroth to fall into darkness. It reveals what happened in Cloud and Tifa's hometown and the traumatic events that forged them into the characters we know today.

In other words, it’s a hugely important part of the story… which makes it the perfect place for FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH to start! The incident forms the first chapter of the game and sees SOLDIER operatives Cloud and Sephiroth head to the small village of Nibelheim on a seemingly routine mission.

Obviously, things don’t stay routine for long.

The scene was already iconic, but the new game makes it even more impactful than ever before. So much so, that we thought it would be interesting to dive in deep and explore this chapter fully.

To that end, we recently sat down with the Director of the game, Naoki Hamaguchi, to go beat by beat through FINAL FANTASY REBIRTH’s take on the Nibelheim incident and discover what went into remaking it for a new generation.

In this first part (of two), we started by talking about the setting itself…


After a thrilling introduction in which Sephiroth makes short work of a monstrous fiend (we'll talk about his combat more in part 2), the group arrives at their destination: the small village of Nibelheim.

Cloud Strife standing outside the gates of Nibelheim

As mentioned, it’s a location that’s very important to the FINAL FANTASY VII story. It’s not only the scene of some pivotal story beats, but also the hometown of Cloud and Tifa - a place with great emotional resonance for the characters and the fans alike.

In other words, the REBIRTH team could not afford to get it wrong.

Fortunately, they had a small head start in building the area to fit the new realistic scale of FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH.

We didn’t have to do much to redevelop Nibelheim,” says Director Naoki Hamaguchi.

"We’ve gone back to the village several times, including in CRISIS CORE -FINAL FANTASY VII-, so over the years it’s slowly been expanded out.

What we did have to expand massively, though, is the level of detail.

That didn’t just mean creating more detailed buildings and scenery for the higher fidelity of the game - though the team did do that, of course. But it was also about giving the village a greater sense of life than previous versions achieved.

Hamaguchi says: “If we just did a one-to-one replica of the original FINAL FANTASY VII, or even CRISIS CORE, it probably wouldn’t resonate with people the way it should. So, we had to add that extra level of detail.

In order to recreate the Nibelheim as people remember it and give this part of the story the same feeling as the original, we had to add many extra details. We had to show things in a much more comprehensive way."

This dedication to detail can be seen in that opening section, as you are let loose to wander around the settlement, meet its people and explore Cloud’s past.

Claudia Strife, the mother of Cloud Strife

Tourist attractions

There’s a lot you can do in Nibelheim. You can visit Cloud’s mother, Claudia, reminisce on the water tower, head into Tifa’s room to play the piano or examine her wardrobe and more. Many of these may be familiar to fans of the original game.

Obviously people have a lot of memories about some of the interactions you can find,” says Hamaguchi-san. “We wanted to include those in there to give the authentic experience.

Cloud playing the piano in Tifa's house during the Nibelheim Incident flashback

But the team didn’t stop at recreating moments from the original - they also added new elements for players to discover too.

Hamaguchi-san explains: “The reason why we added these things into Nibelheim, and the game in general, was not because of a desire to add something. It was very much a case of: how do we make this village more real? How do we make it feel lived in and give it its own atmosphere?

For example, there are little interactions, such as Zangan’s exercise class – that’s something that felt real, and right for the village itself. It conveys the idea that people are actually living their lives there.

"And actually, when you return to the village in the present day, you’ll see that exercise has been carried on in a certain way.

The little details

This focus on giving the village and its people life and character wasn’t just limited to interactable elements. The village is full of little details and environmental storytelling that help give it a sense of place and authenticity - and some of them even set up things that happen later in the game.

For example, there’s an empty lot at the back of the village where loads of cats just hang around and gather together,” says Hamaguchi-san. “Later on, when you come back, one of those cats even has a part to play in a quest.

"By adding these things, and even involving them in quests, we felt that it really tied together this feeling that this is an organic place - a living, breathing village. That’s how we want the player to perceive it.

Cats gathered in Nibelheim during the flashback sequence in FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH

Fan service

In Tifa’s room, the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a poster featuring the silhouette of a certain bequiffed martial artist - one who may look familiar to players of FINAL FANTASY VIII.

Poster in Tifa's room during the Nibelheim flashback

It’s one Zell of a reference, and just one example of how the team has paid loving homage to the FINAL FANTASY series in Nibelheim and beyond.

We set out to put as much of that stuff as we could into the game,” says Hamaguchi-san with a grin. “Certainly, you’ll spot plenty of references to the Compilation of FINAL FANTASY VII titles, as well as the wider FINAL FANTASY series.

You’ll find plenty of stuff that we added just to make dedicated fans smile.

In other words, fans should pay attention to posters and other details throughout the game!

Cloud sitting on the water tower in Nibelheim

Expanding Mt. Nibel

While Nibelheim was well-established, the area around the village was far less defined. After all, fans had never really been given the opportunity to explore it before.

As Hamaguchi-san points out: “The important thing to remember about the journey from Nibelheim to the reactor is that most of that section wasn’t playable in the original FINAL FANTASY VII.

It was told through cutscenes up to the part where the party falls down from the rope bridge. So, while memorable, none of that was an explorable area.

The trail to Mt. Nibel

The team realised that reusing this structure for FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH wouldn’t lead to a satisfying experience - and would go against the philosophy of the game itself.

One of the main concepts for the whole of FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH is to allow players to experience the actual scale of the world,” says Hamaguchi-san.

We thought that if we replicated this section from the original, from arriving in the village through to the rope bridge, it just wouldn’t communicate that sense of scale.

You also wouldn’t get the geography of the region - how far Mt. Nibel is from the village itself, where the mako reactor is in comparison and so on. That’s why we added lots of extra playable sections in there - to give you a feeling of how big it’s supposed to be.

The team built the Nibel Region to communicate that sense of realistic scale, and let you walk from the village to the bridge in real-time. When creating the area around Mt Nibel, the team looked at some existing sources from previous titles in the FINAL FANTASY VII series.

Hamaguchi-san says: “As well as scale, we also wanted to ensure connectivity with other games in the series. For example, there were some parts added to the Nibel area in CRISIS CORE. We wanted to pull from those in order to make the games feel consistent.”

Cloud and a Shinra trooper walking towards Mt Nibel

Credits where they’re due

While there are plenty of threats on the way to the Mt. Nibel reactor, the first section of the journey there is surprisingly peaceful. In fact, it serves as an introduction to the game, as the camera pulls back, a wonderful new arrangement of the main theme plays, and credits display on the screen.

Why add the credit crawl here? Hamaguchi says: “In most FINAL FANTASY games, you have an opening movie, which typically includes the logo, and sometimes credits. It’s been handled in that traditional fashion for quite a long time.

For this game, we wanted to do it a bit differently - not as a cut scene but instead have the credits over the screen while people were actually playing. That was one reason we decided to do it this way.

Sephiroth, Tifa and Cloud begin their journey to the reactor during the Niebelheim flashback

But it wasn’t just a desire to be different that led to this evocative sequence. Hamaguchi-san explains:

There was another reason, too. When I first saw (STORY & SCENARIO ) Kazushige Nojima’s storyline for that section, we worked out that there’s this journey from the village of Nibelheim through to the reactor - that’s about a kilometer of distance, so travel takes up a fair amount of time.

We thought that rather than just fill out the area with battles, it’d be a nicer pace if we just had players experience the scenery, the nature around Mt. Nibel to see what kind of area it actually is. We also thought we could have some conversations between characters and start setting the scene as well. Adding the credits over the top of that let us do all that in a nice and balanced way.

The final sequence is very effective - the combination of visuals, music and dialogue create a feeling of anticipation for the mission ahead of our heroes. As Hamaguchi says:

It also acts as a kind of a notice to the player that this is where things get going. You’ve had time to explore the village and meet the characters. Now it’s time to step into the wilderness, and to where the game really begins.

But as the game really begins, this deep dive must end… for now. Bookmark the Square Enix Blog and join us next week on Tuesday 16 April for Part 2 as Hamaguchi-san goes into the rest of the flashback, including Cloud and Sephiroth’s combat prowess, the journey to the reactor and THAT iconic moment.

For more articles about FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH, check these out:

If you’re yet to experience the flashback for yourself, you can do so in the full FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH - available now for PS5:

Alternatively, a free demo featuring the flashback is also available:

We’ll see you back on the Square Enix Blog for part 2, but for now be sure to follow us on social media for news and updates about the game: