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Final Fantasy VII remake preview & developer interview

10 Mar 2020

Square Enix continue to mine the JRPG gem that is Final Fantasy VII, with a full-on remake of the classic game.

Just as Star Wars is my favourite movie, Final Fantasy VII is my favourite game. It’s not the best game that I’ve played, but it holds a very special place in my heart. It was the first game that I 100% know that I spent more than 100 hours playing. It was also one of the first games that I actually finished.

The quirky tales of Cloud Strife, Tifa, Barrett and, of course, Aeris (Aerith) – to whom I still shed a tear, were something totally different for me. The, frankly bizarre, Japanese storytelling coupled with the club-fisted, stylised characters, amazing action sequences and gorgeous CGI cut-scenes ticked all the right boxes for me back in the late 90s.

The CGI movie, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children continued from the original game but never reached the same heights. Similarly, with the PlayStation Portable game, Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII. Lightning rarely strikes in the same place twice.

Indeed, I’ve always felt that each and every Final Fantasy title since Final Fantasy VII has failed to match up to the legacy of the series’ seventh entry. So, when I found out that Square Enix was remaking Final Fantasy VII I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

Last month I had the chance to not only play through about three hours of the Final Fantasy VII remake but also to chat with the director of the original game and the producer of the remake, Yoshinori Kitase.

The remake is going to be split up into multiple games, with the first part releasing in April. Each part will apparently be a full game, with the first part containing the events set in the city of Midgar. The remake vastly expands on the story from the original game.

The character designs match with the more westernised look of the subsequent Final Fantasy VII media releases. During my hands-on, I was quite taken aback by just how close the visuals look to those on the CGI Advent Children movie. We have come such a long way since 1997.

As the game started, the new intro echoed that of the original game. The visual cues were all familiar, as was the music, but all updated- paying reverence to the classic game and its fans, whilst introducing what is the definitive Final Fantasy experience to a new audience.

Whilst most definitely longer and with more dialogue, the part of the game that I played echoed the original. Our heroes arrive at the Shinra power station by train, just as they did in the original, and start fighting their way to plant their bombs.

The addition of voice acting and the high-fidelity visuals bring the game up-to-date and looking very cinematic. The combat, still using the Materia system of old, is more real-time, closer to modern Final Fantasy games than the comparably rigid turn-based system of old. And it works.

Revisiting old games can be disappointing. Nostalgia can be cruel. We have a habit of updating our fond memories of games, giving them an imaginary polish that’s quickly tarnished when you return to them years later. Playing the Final Fantasy VII remake was like playing my nostalgic memory of the original. 

I did have some questions, which I was fortunate enough to be able to put to the director of the original Final Fantasy VII and the producer of the remake, the legendary Yoshinori Kitase.

First question, why split this up into different games?

Yoshinori Kitase: The original Final Fantasy VII had a huge amount of game content in there, but the way it was depicted back in the day was pretty stylised. The reality line wasn't as high as it is now and the original game used abbreviated storytelling methods. 

If we're going to go back and redo Final Fantasy VII with a modern more realistic twist to it, obviously there are choices to be made. Either we have to fill in all the gaps and make it a solid consistent realistic storyboard portrayal, or we'd have to cut it down and force it into a single game; as a kind of a choppy digest of the original story. We thought that's not really what people are looking for, that’s not going to satisfy the fans. So that's when we made the decision - okay, we're going to do it properly, go into real detail and show everything in the proper way.

But because of that, we're going to have to make it multiple games. There’s been a lot of the other related media that's come along since the original game, expanding Final Fantasy VII  like the Advent Children movie.

Did any of this influence the remake at all?

The effect of Advent Children is very interesting, and how people perceive the series because of that movie. Certainly, most people's image of Cloud, comes from that later version of the character. In the original game, he wasn't voiced and he didn’t have a realistic look. Most people's image of Cloud is that one from Advent Children onwards, where he's a complete character, really cool and developed, and more mature. 

People have never seen the original Cloud from Final Fantasy VI depicted in this realistic style. And that's what we really tried hard to show because, obviously, this is the very first part of the story, the origin of Cloud Strife, as it were. He's not that mature character, he's a lot younger, he's inexperienced and bit more of a rookie. So, it was very important to depict Cloud as he was at that point in the timeline, rather than the Cloud everyone knows which, of course, is a slightly different character.

The Final Fantasy VII remake is going to be two very different games for the older players, that played in the first time around, compared to new players. Can you go into a little bit of detail on how you approached that?

So, first of all, we really wanted the people who've played the game before to be able to play again and re-experience all of that excitement, and those surprises, in a similar way to the new players who were playing for the first time. One other thing that we've tried to do, to approach both groups, is with the battle system, itself. The redesign has a more action-like feel to it. It’s something we feel will make it easier for the current generation of gamer to be able to get into the game than they would have done, maybe, in the past.

We’ve kept the element of surprise and new discoveries for the players who played the original game. It is essentially the same story that they are familiar with, but at various points throughout that narrative, we fleshed out certain areas and added in additional supporting scenes. Some of these may change the way that the narrative is viewed. We’ve also added new characters that didn't appear in the original. So, older fans will still be able to play the same experience, but they'll get a new level of surprise, they'll see new things and discover new things about the story that they love.

How much inspiration has been taken from subsequent Final Fantasy titles in designing the remake?

I think, first of all, the way that the storytelling is handled in the remake really is because of the subsequent games in the series. It’s, kind of, the pinnacle of that know-how, the storytelling technology and ability that we built up over those past games. It’s all in there in the remake.

The other thing is the battle system. If you look at the previous Final Fantasy games, up to Final Fantasy XV, they use an active-time battle system, while not 100% turn-based, it is really a command menu-based RPG system. When we got to Final Fantasy XV, the last major game in the series, that had a much more action style of battle, inserting loads of action elements.

For the Remake, we’ve taken what we think are the good things from both of those and really them blended them together to create a hybrid system. We think it will be something that'll be liked and will satisfy both groups of players who enjoyed what they had in Final Fantasy XV and in the previous games, too.

How long is this first instalment of the Final Fantasy VII remake going to take to play and is there a lot of optional or endgame content to keep us occupied until the next one comes out? 

The actual playtime will vary quite a lot because of the different combat modes, whether you choose Classic Mode or Standard Mode, and how good you are with action games. Generally, it's pretty much exactly the same level of content you have as a mainline numbered Final Fantasy game.

As with the original Final Fantasy VII, the remake is not an open-world game, it’s not a full open-world structure. You follow through the story and go where the characters are drawn by the narrative. But along that road, we've really fleshed out certain areas. There are towns and various settlements within Midgard that you'll see; things like the Level-Seven Slums, for example. 

When the story takes you to these places it expands out a lot further than it did in the original. We fleshed out these settlement areas and we go into a lot more detail. I’m not sure if you’d call them traditional side quests or not, but there's a lot of little story episodes, character episodes and side activities that you can go in and experience that you couldn't in the original game.

There's a nice feeling of rhythm in the way the story progresses. A lot of the time you’ll be following the story or going from event to event, progressing at a rapid pace. But then you'll come across a settlement area and the pace will slow down. This gives players more freedom to go and wander around at their own speed, before picking up the story, again, later.

In this first instalment, how many of the summons and the Materia selection from Final Fantasy VII are we going to get to see? Have we got it all in this one or are you saving some for later?

It's not got the entire set you had from the original game. It’s a subset of that, but it's not just a reproduction of the original content. There are actually some new things there as well. There are some new kinds of material that would only really work in this new battle system. We have some new surprises that we put in there, too. So, there are a few new elements, you'll see in there, as well.

Thank you so much for your time, we are all, certainly looking forward to revisiting the world of Final Fantasy VII.

The Final Fantasy VII remake will be out on Friday 10 April for PlayStation 4. A demo of the game is available now for download from the PlayStation Store.