Final Fantasy VII Remake’s Yoshinori Kitase On Delays, Splitting the Story and Adapting To The Times

As one of the most cherished and beloved video games of all time, Final Fantasy VII has long been at the top of every ‘most wanted video game remake’ list for as long as I can remember. It seems like an obvious thing to do, but the fact that it’s only now happening after 23 years speaks volumes to how big of a challenge it truly is to revisit something so grand and iconic.

For the Remake’s Producer (and Director of the original), Yoshinori Kitase, revisiting Final Fantasy VII was as obvious an idea as it was to fans, and equally as treacherous. Who better, though, to assemble a team composed of Final Fantasy veterans as well as fresh faces with a love for the series, than someone who understands both the significance of the original game as well as the importance of getting the remake right?

I was recently lucky enough to go hands-on with three hours of Final Fantasy VII Remake recently, as well as having the slightly nerve-wracking honour of sitting down with the man behind some of my most beloved games of all time to talk about how it all came to be. You can check out my impressions of the game, but read on to see what Kitase-san had to say when he addressed us prior to the hands-on, as well as when I probed him about the birth of Final Fantasy VII Remake and what it means to retell a story told over two decades ago.

On how it feels to be finally be giving the world a Final Fantasy VII Remake:

“Ever since before we even announced that we were doing a Final Fantasy VII Remake, every time I’d talk with the media they’d always ask the same question: Are you ever going to do a remake of Final Fantasy VII? There was clearly a huge expectation towards that and so it feels really good now to be able to give something back and actually respond to that level of expectation.”

On the scope and scale of Final Fantasy VII Remake:

“Final Fantasy VII Remake really goes beyond the original story, going even deeper and digging further into the world and the characters of Final Fantasy VII.

And of course to realise the world of Final Fantasy VII at that new, deeper level of detail we did a huge amount of development work which has worked out to a massive amount of game data, which is why this game is now on two bluray discs. This means that as a game we have the same volume of content that any other mainline, numbered Final Fantasy game would have.

Because we have taken that approach and we have that volume of content in there we’ve been able to remake Final Fantasy VII with absolutely everything the fans loved about the original and want to see again without having to cut any of it down”.

On putting together the perfect team for the job:

 “I don’t think anyone took that long to convince, but certainly with the level of the CG technology that we have now compared to when we made Final Fantasy VII some 23 years ago there was definitely a little bit of unsure-ness there. They were maybe a little bit worried about how we were going to get it  to the current quality and standard of CG graphics and what exactly we were going to do to bring it from 23 years ago up to the modern day. So there was definitely a little bit of worry in the early planning stages of exactly how we were going to do that.

Having a lot of these younger staff has been a big benefit for the project, they’re much more familiar with modern games and what’s popular and mainstream in gaming nowadays. The original Final Fantasy VII was very much a menu and command-based, classic style of RPG but looking at the modern landscape now games are much more action-based, much faster-paced and reflex reliant. So it was really useful having the kind of people who are familiar with that kind of game on the team to be able to adapt and put those elements into Final Fantasy VII to make it an up-to-date game.

Also with Final Fantasy VII, because so many people played it and loved it back in the day there are lots of people in the gaming industry, outside of Square Enix itself, who played Final Fantasy VII and have really good memories of it and a big attachment to it. So when we first announced the project we had a lot of people from other places in the industry coming and putting their hands up to come and be part of the team and develop Final Fantasy VII Remake. And a lot of these people have really great experience, there are some action experts in there with a lot of history in making great action games so it’s really good to have this talent coming into the project and they really helped us with creating the action elements in this game and bringing it to the level it should be.”

On splitting the original story into multiple parts: 

“That decision was made quite early on in the planning of the game. We were looking at the volume of the story and what we had to show in that, and the level of work that it takes to produce a modern depiction of that with a modern level of quality compared to the original. When you look back it was all quite, sort of, ‘abbreviated’ in some ways, it was a more simplistic depiction. So there were some things that were left out of that original depiction which made it a lot quicker to get through things. And if we were going to remake everything in the game at a modern level of quality there’s obviously so much more detail you have to put in to make it convincing and realistic. Looking at that we thought we have the option to really force everything in the original Final Fantasy VII into one game for the remake but it would really turn out to be kind of a ‘digest’ and it would be rushing you through the story and so you wouldn’t really see it properly. So we felt, for that reason, it was a better idea just to take our time and not force it all into one game so that everything could be depicted realistically and as convincingly as possible and I think that was a more satisfying option for everyone. So for those reasons that decision was made quite early on.”

On story changes, putting Cloud in a dress and revisiting… questionable content:

“Overall the story is very close to the original Final Fantasy VII. As I mentioned before in the original game there were some things that were kind of abbreviated or were implied but never really shown and we’ve been able to go back and put those scenes in there, the things you were supposed to have been seeing but were filled in with imagination. That’s all really shown front-and-centre now. There were also some extra characters in the original that we didn’t get the chance to go into as much in that game and so now we’ve been able to put in extra stories and background for them and that’s a lot of what the new things you’ll see in the game are about.

Whenever people would ask me about the remake they would almost always ask, “Are you going to put the cross-dressing scene in there? Is Cloud going to be in a dress?” We felt that was always a very strong scene in the game and the development team really wanted to keep all the really great scenes in there so we felt it kind of had to be in there really, such a classic scene. So there was never really a time when that scene wasn’t on the cards.

It wasn’t so much about ‘cutting’ any scenes as it was about updating them to adapt them more to the times. It’s been 23 year since the original Final Fantasy VII came out so to make them really fit into a more modern context we had to change them around a little bit. In updating them, as we’ve travelled around the world promoting Final Fantasy VII Remake and other games as well we’ve been able to look at different ‘showbiz’ cultures all around the world and really been able to make it more of a showbiz spectacle and entertainment area and give it that kind of a twist instead.”

On the technology bringing Final Fantasy VII Remake to life:

“We really have used all of the new technology and development methods available to us to create that extra level of immersion and that extra depth to the world.

One of the important aspects of this new technology is in the music in the game. If you recall back to the original game we had specific different music tracks for the battle areas, the exploration areas, the cutscenes and when you’d switch from one area to another the music would essentially just cut off and there was no real flow. But for the remake we’ve got new technology behind it now which means that the transitions between, say, the battle scenes into the cutscenes into the exploration and then all the way back again are all done very seamlessly – not just for the visuals, but for the music too. It’ll change the nature and the arrangements of the music to really fit in with the exact action that’s going on at the time, and then seamlessly transition back

We’ve also implemented various technological solutions which allow the character’s facial expressions and the expression of their emotions to be tweaked to match exactly what they’re saying at any one time. So it automatically adjusts the lip-syncing to the language of the voice that you’re using at the time and it can also pick up on the tone of the voice in the dialogue and adjust the character’s facial expressions to match that.

We’ve also introduced some other game systems and behind-the-scenes AI which helps operate the camera work in the cutscenes, so for example it’ll work out exactly the best angles to show the action and really work with the kind of content of each different scene and adjust the camera work to that.”

On the most exciting scenes to revisit in future parts:

“There are loads of them really, but I think perhaps the one that I’d mention overall is certainly the Gold Saucer scenes later in the game. We haven’t really decided how we’re going to be depicting that at all but it’s always been a very big, very popular scene in the original so it’s going to be great fun to go back to that. But again we’re going to have to think hard about how we’re going to do that.”

On that one, final delay:

“We really wanted to be able to get this game out at the highest possible quality it could be. So we felt we needed that extra month to really brush it up and make it the absolute best it could be, so it was a very simple decision.

There really is an overall quality increase that the extra month has given us – the quality of the music, the graphics and just the overall construction of the game itself. By having that extra month it just lets us push it to that higher overall level of polish.”

On the possibility of a Final Fantasy VIII Remake:

*laughs*

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