The Games that Made Us: FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH Director Naoki Hamaguchi

The Director of FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH has made a truly exceptional experience, but what were the games that made him the creator he is today?
By Duncan Heaney

FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH is quite an achievement.

It’s the result of years of hard work by an immensely talented development team, including Director Naoki Hamaguchi. Along with his colleagues, Hamaguchi-san has produced an RPG of incredible quality.

In short, he’s made a pretty special game. But what were the special games that made him? We asked him to find out:

What was the first game you ever played?

I was in first grade or so, but my father bought the first generation Famicom along with the Super Mario Bros. game. And I vaguely remember playing together with my family.

Super Mario Bros. is a game played by tons of people, with simple operations,and it made people who have never played a game before like those in my parents' generation, participate while taking turns.

When you think of entertainment that could be enjoyed by the whole family, there were things like cards, but this was something that took its place and felt extremely new.

It’s not like I saw a future in games from it as a child, but it was very stimulating. I clearly remember thinking that this was a new gaming and entertainment experience.

What was the first Square Enix game you ever played?

I think FINAL FANTASY IV was the first, but at that time, my older brother was playing it and I was mostly watching.

I recall playing on my own from around FINAL FANTASY V.

At that time in Japan, you'd experience a specific worldview, and a continuous story in something like Weekly Shonen Jump, in which you can experience many different stories, but this was something that replaced that.

Instead of reading, to play on my own and be immersed in the story, characters, and worldview was very stimulating.

It was Squaresoft at the time, but I still believe that Squaresoft games were very unique.

Above: FINAL FANTASY V Pixel Remaster

Other than FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH, what game could you not live without?

As a creator of these kinds of games, the title I respect the most is The Witcher series. Especially The Witcher 3, it's already a title from 10 years ago or so but I truly believe this is an extremely well made title that stands the test of time.

For The Witcher series as well, especially The Witcher 3, the detailed construction of the world and the gameplay immersion is truly wonderful.

So, in that way, yes, for me there may be no other gameplay experience like it.

If you could only listen to one Square Enix soundtrack, what would it be?

FINAL FANTASY VI and VII happened right around the time of my adolescence, so around middle school or high school, I bought the FINAL FANTASY VII soundtrack and listened to it all the time.

I had a part time job at a video rental store back then, and have fond memories of playing the VII soundtrack in the store and such.

When I listen to the music, it brings to mind the gameplay experience and the emotions that I felt at the time. In that sense, the FINAL FANTASY VII soundtrack was special to me, even as a child.

Especially the music at the beginning of the game when you enter Midgar. Even when I was making FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE, I listened to that song a lot. There’s a nostalgia and brings back a rush of memories from those days.

What game do you think the whole world should play?

Of course, FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE and REBIRTH are titles I'd love for people to play.

There's also The Witcher series I mentioned earlier, and I’d like people to try playing The Witcher 3 especially.

But there’s one Japanese title called Zero, it's a horror game. I think it’s released overseas as Fatal Frame. It deals with real Japanese ghosts and isn't something with zombies that North American and European users tend to like, so culturally, it might not appeal to everyone.

The game is not so much about zombie attacks and shooting them; it's more about taking pictures of the ghosts and getting rid of them.

It has a very Japanese style to it, which I like so much that I play it every time a new title comes out.

It's a bit niche, but I really hope it will spread to the rest of the world as a Japanese horror game.

What’s your favorite Square Enix game?

Well, I think my #1 will have to be FINAL FANTASY VI.

I was probably in middle school when I played FINAL FANTASY VI, and it was such an entertaining experience for me as a child.

I was so impressed how it could move players' hearts as a work of art.

I truly felt this at the time, and then I had a vague thought that: "it would be nice if I could become an adult who creates games like this in the future."

That was really the title that was the catalyst that led to my present, so it was a very memorable experience for me.

Above: FINAL FANTASY VI Pixel Remaster

What’s the saddest moment you’ve experienced in a game?

The saddest…

I think it was Aerith's fate from FINAL FANTASY VII that made the biggest impact on me.

It was when I was in high school or so, and I'm sure there were experiences like that back then in movies and such, but no game existed at the time that posed such a dramatic development to the users.

I'm sure it left an impression not only on me, but also to many other people. It certainly made a strong impression on me.

What does the original FINAL FANTASY VII mean to you?

I played this when I was at high school, and I think it is the game that served as a catalyst towards me becoming a game creator in this industry, so I respect it very much.

I am now in the position of directing a remake of the game, and (Yoshinori) Kitase and (Tetsuya) Nomura are the people who made the game back then. From my perspective, I enjoyed the game as a user back then, and now I am involved in the creation of the game.

By approaching the work from our various perspectives, I believe we were able to maintain a balanced creation process for both this title and the last.

What three things are you most proud of in FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH?

Firstly, the FINAL FANTASY remake project is worked on as a trilogy and naturally I think there is high anticipation from the users as to how the second instalment will be after the first one.

So, I create each title noting the reaction of the customers, and try to incorporate the expressions suitable for that era into it. In that way, this will be a different game experience from the previous one.

Delivering a game into customers' hands after having properly evolved it, is probably one of the most important points.

As for the other two points, regarding the battle system...

In the previous instalment, the battle system was a fusion of actions and commands. It was a new form that was created and delivered to the users and I believe it received very positive feedback.

With that, we developed a new system that expresses the bond between the characters, called Synergy attacks.

The new game has a slightly different feel from the previous one, and the game strategy has increased in its depth. This is one of the appeals of this title.

Another is the world map. People are very much looking forward to seeing how the world map will be made. There are people who think we can't recreate everything if we attempt it, but there are also those who want us to make it right.

To wonder how we would then respond to these expectations, I am sure is on the minds of all users waiting for REBIRTH.

We have kept the feeling of the original FINAL FANTASY VII world map intact and reincarnated it in a form that is best expressed in this day and age.

This is what I'd like players to look forward to most.

FINAL FANTASY VII REBIRTH is available now for PS5.

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