FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE developers talk Midgar, Red XIII and more

How exactly does Red XIII work in the game? What endgame content can people expect? Producer Yoshinori Kitase and Co-Director Naoki Hamaguchi answer our burning questions
By Duncan Heaney

The developers of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE faced a daunting task: how do you reimagine a game as famous - and beloved - as the original FINAL FANTASY VII?

Ahead of the game’s April 10 release, we sat down with two of its creators - Producer Yoshinori Kitase and Co-Director Naoki Hamaguchi - to discuss how they approached this unique challenge.

SPOILER WARNING: Please be aware that this interview contains mild spoilers for the game. Scroll below the image to continue

Why did you feel that now was a good time to return to the world of FINAL FANTASY VII?

Kitase-san: Ever since FINAL FANTASY VII came out in 1997, fans and the media have repeatedly called for a remake like this.

Unfortunately, we haven’t really had a chance to get a team together to work on it during the last 23 years. I’ve always felt that for such a big, important project we had to have our best developers on it. It had to be a team that had a lot of experience of working on FINAL FANTASY games too.

But we finally managed to find a point where everybody’s schedules aligned - that’s when we started the FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE project.

The biggest reason though, is how much time has passed and how technology and the world has changed since the original was released. Modern players may have seen the characters Cloud and Sephiroth over the years as they have appeared in other games, but they may not have played the game where the characters originated from.

I felt that if we want to show people where these characters came from then, truthfully, if the original game was the only way to experience it, new players - especially anyone that wasn’t playing games in the original’s era - probably wouldn’t be so impressed with the original game compared to the latest titles they could be playing.

So that felt like an exciting challenge and opportunity - let’s take everything great from the original, and create something new and surprising for both the original fans, and those that never played FINAL FANTASY VII before.

Hello Hamaguchi-san. In comments you made for the Square Enix Blog, you stated one of the guiding ethos for FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE was ‘new but familiar’ - what exactly did you mean by that?

Hamaguchi-san: When we started this project, I had to think very, very hard about what form we wanted any new experiences in this remake to take.

From the start, I felt that FINAL FANTASY VII’s characters, world and story are so beloved that we couldn’t start playing with those or changing them in a reckless manner. But the style and presentation - the way they’re shown - that we can work with.

Obviously, the capabilities of technology are much better now than they were 23 years ago. What we can show, and what we can do as a piece of entertainment, has become so much wider.

So taking all those core aspects and elements that people loved from the original FINAL FANTASY VII, and translating those into a new, modern style of game, can bring it to a new audience of players

Even if they’ve never seen FINAL FANTASY VII before, it has that same goodness in its heart - but it’s shown in a way that will resonate with a new audience.

For people who have played the original game, that’s where this whole idea of feeling of nostalgic but also fresh at the same time comes in.

They’ll see the stuff they know and love from the original but presented in a new and exciting way.

Why did you make the decision to set this game entirely in the city of Midgar?

Kitase-san: When we first started the Remake project we had to make a decision on what elements from the original we absolutely had to keep in order for it to still be considered FINAL FANTASY VII.

In other words, what were the essential parts of the original, what were the parts that we knew fans absolutely had to see and therefore we needed to retain?

We quickly decided that there were so many essential parts that fans would be upset if we had to cut out anything from the original.

At the beginning of the project we had two directions we could go. The first was to make the project with the highest possible level of graphics, visual quality and detail, and not remove anything that fans wanted to see. Instead, it would expand upon the original game, to make it something even more immersive.

The other option was to include the entire scope of the original game in a single release. But in order to make that work as a modern game, we wouldn’t be able to go for the highest visual quality and we’d also have to cut back on areas and scenes from the original.

Essentially, to make a single release viable the resulting game would have ended up being a digest of the original story, and we didn’t think that fans would be pleased with that.

Ultimately, we decided the best option for the project was to go for the highest level possible, with an expanded story. Having more than one game in the project allowed us to focus on keeping everything people loved from the original, but go into greater detail and more story depth than before.

Midgar is iconic to FINAL FANTASY VII, so we had to start the game here, and follow the story up to the main party’s escape from the city.

As you say, Midgar is one of the most recognisable and iconic settings in videogame history. Why do you think that is? What have you done to make sure you capture that essence in this new game?

Hamaguchi-san: When creating the city we broke the concepts of the original down to three key words. Those were: Dark, Modern Steampunk and Eclectic.

I think those elements all really shine through and make the city both believable and memorable. It’s a location full of variety, with different zones, and different groups of characters inhabiting each of them.

It’s a very imaginative setting, full of different influences and surprises. I think this is why people remember it, because while being a fantasy world, it feels like it could be real.

In FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, we have paid very close attention to every single part of it and tried to make it feel really alive for players.

How have you expanded the city? Can fans expect to see new areas of Midgar?

Kitase-san: In the original game there were a lot of breaks in the game, where the screen went black, and then the game continues in a different location.

In other words, there were a lot of parts in between sections of Midgar that were implied, but never seen. That was something that we wanted to address with remake - to fill in all those gaps, show how the different parts of the city are connected, and make it a continuous experience.

Hamaguchi-san: We focused on giving each section of Midgar its own feel, complete with its own culture and community. There is a large amount of variety within the city, and you really get a sense who people are and how they live in this place.

Some fans have expressed disappointment that Red XIII is not a playable character. Can you specify the role of Red XIII in the game?

Hamaguchi-san: I answered a question about Red XIII while we were going around Europe talking to media, but there was a bigger response from fans than I had expected! I got a renewed sense of how much love there is out there for the characters in FINAL FANTASY VII.

To explain more about why we did not make Red XIII a playable character in this game, we felt that because he only joins the team during the latter stages, having him as a playable ally with full character growth potential would not be a satisfying experience for the player. So we decided to have him join for now, as a guest character instead.

However, the development team feel the same way that the fans do when it comes to seeing Red XIII as an important character, and we designed his gameplay in a special way to offset him not being playable in battle.

I won’t reveal exactly what that entails, because I want people to enjoy it when they actually play the game, but I will say that FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE has added a new upper floor to the Shinra Building to present a climax that was not in the original.

The key to navigating this floor lies in using Red XIII’s unique physical abilities to overcome environmental obstacles. Letting the player experience his heroics in this way is something that I’m confident will please the fans.

I hope everyone enjoys seeing Red XIII in action in the build-up to the climax of the story.

How did you approach the design of the combat system in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE? How much inspiration did you take from the original game?

Hamaguchi-san: At its heart, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE has the same battle system as the original game: you wait for your ATB bar to fill up and choose what to do from your list of commands.

But action elements are also layered on top - by skilfully using these mechanics, you can open up the enemy, knock them down, and create a chance to do big damage. You can also much more efficiently charge your ATB gauge.

The combat system was intentionally designed to bring those two things together - I think it’s a really effective hybrid of action and turn-based combat, and I hope players will enjoy it.

You also created Classic Mode - what was the intention behind that?

Hamaguchi-san: We’re aware that there are some people who are not so keen on action games. From our point of view, we would be very sad if people avoided our game because of that - especially if they already love the world of FINAL FANTASY VII, and its characters.

We want to show everyone this amazing world and all the effort that’s gone into creating its depth, so we created Classic Mode. This lets you automate the action elements and just focus purely on issuing commands in the style of the original game.

So if you think: “I really love the look of that game, but I’m put off by the action,” don’t worry. We made Classic Mode specifically so you can enjoy the game in just the way you want to!

This will be many people’s first time playing FINAL FANTASY VII - perhaps even FINAL FANTASY. What have you done to make sure the game is welcoming to new players?

Kitase-san: We made FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE not just for fans of the original, but specifically for new players too.

Something that we repeated to ourselves throughout the development was “what are the essential parts of the original” and “why did people respond to the original the way they did?”

Our goal was to capture everything that made the original game so special, but bring it up to date with the latest technology so that new players could be just as excited as players of the original game were when that released.

For new players, this is where the story of FINAL FANTASY VII begins. If you’ve seen characters such as Cloud or Sephiroth in other games, and wondered where their story began, this is the game.

We’ve also intentionally designed the game to be welcoming to all players - if you’re a fan of action games, or prefer something more tactical, there are different control modes that allow the game to be played to your preference.

Fans expect a lot from FINAL FANTASY, such as secrets or hidden bosses. Is this the case in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE?

Hamaguchi-san: We can’t say exactly how much there is - we want to keep some surprises for players!

I will say, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE has been designed as if it were a standalone game, and comparable in size to other mainline FINAL FANTASY games.

The content you mentioned from other FINAL FANTASY games… I don’t want to say precisely what’s in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, but if you’re expecting endgame content, you won’t be disappointed.

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE launches April 10, 2020 for PS4.

If you want a taste of what to expect from the game, the demo is now available on the PlayStation Store:

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