The FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE team discuss story, Sephiroth and more

The creators of FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE explain their philosophy for the game, the challenge of balancing old and new, what makes a good RPG battle system and much more.
By Duncan Heaney

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE is out now - we’re sure lots of you had a lovely weekend exploring the richly detailed city of Midgar.

With the game now on shelves, it seemed like the perfect time to catch up with Co-Director Naoki Hamaguchi and Producer Yoshinori Kitase to talk about their memories of developing the game.

Interestingly, Hamaguchi-san grew up a big fan of the series - that seemed a logical place to start our discussion:

Hello again Hamaguchi-san. As a fan, what’s it like to work on the thing you grew up loving?

Hamaguchi-san: (laughs) I’ve said this to Kitase-san before as well, but I strongly remember playing FINAL FANTASY VII as a child. I really love that game and was really touched by it.

It became an inspiration for me to join the games industry. I wanted to be able to make something like that - to create something that has that kind of effect on people and could get that emotional reaction.

So as an adult, I get to be involved in creating entertainment that sticks with people and touches them in some way, and that’s an amazing thing.

It makes me want to keep trying to get better and better - and get closer and closer to making that ‘ultimate’ game that changes someone’s life, as FINAL FANTASY VII did mine!

With FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, I really have put everything I have as a games creator into the project - everything I have learned up to this point. I really hope that the fans love the game, and I’m looking forward to seeing their reaction.

How did you gather the right team to work on FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE?

Hamaguchi-san: There are quite a few people like Kitase-san, who were on the original FINAL FANTASY VII development team, as well as developers within Square Enix who have worked on other FINAL FANTASY games - including some of the FINAL FANTASY VII spin-off projects.

The team is also partly made up of people who were inspired by FINAL FANTASY when they were younger - like myself obviously. It’s fitting because the series is one of the reasons a lot of us wanted to get into making games.

So we all came together to build a team that has a lot of experience - and a lot of love - for FINAL FANTASY VII.

And it’s not just Japanese developers either. We’ve had a lot of people from all around the world help too - when they heard we were making a remake of FINAL FANTASY VII, they really wanted to come and join us on this project.

It genuinely feels great to be involved with people with such a passion for the original game and this project - we wanted to make this the definitive version of FINAL FANTASY VII - and something people remember for another 20 plus years!

How difficult was it to balance old and new elements in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE?

Hamaguchi-san: To explain our philosophy, it really was a case of being respectful to the original game, and then what were the elements of the original that we had to reimagine to create a more immersive experience?

Most of the additions to the story come from us trying to fill in the gaps from the original game - content that wasn’t included in the original because we couldn’t show it fully with the technology available.

Kitase-san: For example, some of the transitions and the gaps between story beats in the original FINAL FANTASY VII felt a little uneven or didn’t flow all that smoothly. To overcome that in the remake, we put new elements in to make the story feel more continuous.

So you can’t really make a clear distinction between what’s new and what’s from the original in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE. It’s all blended together to make a self-contained story for this first game in the project.

How much did the story and structure of the game change over development?

Hamaguchi-san: Quite a bit actually. We worked closely with FINAL FANTAY VII scenario writer Nojima-san - but it wasn’t like he just wrote the story and handed it over to us to base the game on!

Obviously, as game designers we have to create a nice balance, a nice rhythm throughout the game - find the tensions, the highs, the lows and take it to a good climax at the end. There are certain parts where you want to ramp up the excitement and they become focal points of the story.

When we started mapping the game out, if the scenario wasn’t supporting that as well as it could, or something just wasn’t adding up, we’d gather all the information we could and send it back to Nojima-san.

He’d then tweak and adjust the scenario, so it works really well within our envisaged framework as a game.

Through this iteration, we were able to effectively combine the story Nojima-san wanted to tell, with the structure of a really exciting, satisfying game.

Sephiroth appears in FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE much earlier than he does in the original game. Why did you make the decision to introduce him here?

Kitase-san: There are two main reasons. Firstly, the way we handled Sephiroth in the original FINAL FANTASY VII was to hide him - hold him back.

You may not know this, but I was inspired by the movie Jaws which took a similar approach of teasing this powerful presence, but never fully showing you the shark until later in the story. We wanted to build him up as this really big, powerful character in people’s minds. By only referring to him indirectly, it created this feeling of fear and oppression - so when he makes his first appearance, it’s a big deal.

But for the remake, that doesn’t work so well - partly because everybody knows who Sephiroth is (laughs)! We didn’t think it would be as effective to have him held back until later on in the story.

Secondly, Sephiroth is this massively overarching presence that looms over the whole FINAL FANTASY VII saga. We wanted to make sure that aspect of him was present in this first game in the project - that’s why we have introduced him much earlier in the story now.

We’ve talked about the game’s fantastic combat system before, but as an RPG fan, what do you think makes for a good RPG battle system? What elements are important?

Hamaguchi-san: (thinks) Hmm… I think it’s about giving players options.

That’s not just important for battles, but also for all kinds of gaming mechanics - but what’s really important for players is that feeling that they’ve made a decision on how to play, and get the feedback that they’ve done well because of it.

If you only give the player one method of doing something, they don’t really get the impression that they’re playing, right? They’re just doing what they’re told.

Having multiple options available, and multiple things that a player can do, is very important. It means that when they pick the right one, they feel clever and skilful as a result.

That feedback cycle is very important. RPG combat provides lots of opportunities to make decisions - from the different abilities, to how they use them on different enemies. When you make the right one, it makes you feel good - I think that’s always important to think about when designing battles.

Now that the game's out, what’s your favorite memory of working on this project?

Hamaguchi-san: Honestly, for me it’s really just being involved in it.

I wasn’t in the games industry when the original game was released - I was just a player like so many other people. The original game - and the FINAL FANTASY series as a whole - is what made me want to get into game development.

So to work with so many of the original development team, and so many other fans and developers from around the world on this game has been very special.

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE is out now and available to buy on PS4:

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