Final Fantasy VII Rebirth has a tough job, not only following up what was a very well-put-together reimagining of the opening act of one of the most important RPGs of a generation, but blowing the whole thing wide open with a freely-explorable world and a much meatier chunk of story to re-tell.
I recently was able to get my very own hands on a lengthy preview build of Rebirth, which you can read about here, but first I was also able to chat to the game’s Producer, Yoshinori Kitase, and Director, Naoki Hamaguchi, about the processing of crafting a worthy second chapter in an incredibly ambitious remake project as well as some of the bonkers stuff going on in the game’s shiny new release date trailer:
Now you’ve just dropped a brand-new trailer for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, and I’m about to get my hands on a preview demo which I’m very excited to play, but first – what was the intent behind the new trailer that you’ve debuted? What message did you want to convey with this?
Hamaguchi: What we paid close attention to when we were making that trailer is, obviously in terms of the story, we wanted to give an indication of what the story in the game is. So obviously you’ve got Cloud and his friends are traveling across the world map, chasing after that Mirage, that illusion of Sephiroth.
And that’s going to form the main part of the story. So we wanted to give an indication of that and show that a little bit. Really what the focus on was was not so much on the main storyline, but more on the side content, because that’s one of the big differences between Rebirth and the original Remake is that we’ve added in so much more side contents and side quests and things to do to explore the map.
So really, that’s what we wanted to focus on more in the trailer. So we put in lots of shots of the different vehicles you can use to travel around the world in the game, the different towns and places you can visit. Just give that give the impression, to communicate that the breadth of the game is now that much bigger and you’ve got that much extra side content to play.
Speaking of that world map and that expanded play space, is that something that’s all interconnected or is it more of a world map system where you can travel to different regions at any time?
Hamaguchi: That’s a great question, that’s something I really wanted people to ask me. What we’ve done is we’ve taken the world map from the original Final Fantasy VII, but we’ve created it all in a one-to-one real scale. So all of the dungeons, all of the cities, everything in that world is now included in the same space. One seamless map.
To add a little bit more detail, because that’s how the world is constructed, but a little bit more about how you’ll actually be exploring that world – I think when you look at open world games with really big seamless worlds like that, is there’s only two ways that games let you explore those worlds.
The first one is they throw you into the map and basically from the beginning you can go anywhere, do anything in any order and you’re just free to approach it in any order you want. And in the second kind of game you start in a fairly wide, expansive area and you can explore within that but then as the story progresses as you get more abilities to access different areas [which] will open up and the world just grows and grows until you’ve got the full world in the end, and obviously then you can go back to previously-explored areas and you’ll find maybe new quests, new content which has appeared because of the story progression.
And Rebirth is actually the second type, so when you open up the game there is still a fairly large area to explore at the beginning but then as you continue your quest it expands further and further, you get more regions you can go to and then you at any time you want you can go back to the regions you’ve been to before, because it’s a seamless map, and you can find new quests and new bits of story which have appeared in there as you go along. So that’s generally how not just the world is but how you’ll be exploring it.
The new trailer showed us a lot of scenes that fans were hoping to see in the game. But you’ve said in the past that the order of scenes and locations that people will see and visit is probably different this time around from the original. Does that mean that there are some things that people might expect to see in Rebirth that won’t be there yet or will be saved for the next game?
Hamaguchi: The section of the original Final Fantasy VII story that Rebirth tells goes up to the Forgotten Capital and certainly there are a number of locations on the way between the end of Midgard and when they reach the Forgotten Capital that have been, kind of, taken away and will been removed from this part of the story and shifted to be featured in the third part of the trilogy. So in that sense there is a bit of a switching around and some of the locations will be featured later on in the series than when they were in the original.
Having said that we’ve paid close attention and we know what the fans want to see in this. All the locations you’ve visited, all of those famous scenes, all of those great moments that people remember from when they played the original are all there, they’ve all been updated and work really well in a modern presentation, so we’ve paid a lot of care and attention to make sure people won’t be disappointed so all the really great scenes they want to see will be there.
I think one of the places I was most excited to see in the trailer was Golden Saucer. I’m really interested to know how you approached reimagining that space for this game.
Hamaguchi: The Golden Saucer is very much supposed to be the world’s best, the most famous theme park – everyone wants to go there and it’s a really well known attraction. So that’s what it had to be in Rebirth as well. So we really did try and keep the same essence, that essence of Final Fantasy VII, that taste, that aesthetic which makes it fit as part of the world. But while keeping that, we did very diligently try and re-imagine it and rework it to make it feel like a proper entertainment theme park.
I think when you talk about the Gold Saucer, there’s a number of different elements in the Saucer itself that people really want to see and they remember strongly from the original Final Fantasy VII. So certainly the mini-games which featured in the original Gold Saucer, people want to see what’s happened to them, whether they’re back or not, what they look like. And I can tell you, yeah, a good number of them are there and recreated with even more exciting, modern mini-game experiences. There’s a load of new games on top of that as well.
The other thing, of course, is the date scene. I think everyone remembers that very well from Gold Saucer and I’m not going to tell you exactly what it is today, but rest assured that we’ve put a lot of effort. We really have reproduced, recreated that scene and made it absolutely amazing.
So hopefully that will be something that, as we move towards the release of the game, fans all get together and I want to hear them talking about, “Oh, how do you think they’ve redone that? What do you think it’s going to look like now?” Hopefully that’ll be a little thing for people to look forward to, but I can definitely guarantee all of those things are very much in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth.
Obviously the trailer introduced a couple of extra returning characters, you’ve got the likes of Cait Sith and Vincent now so almost all of the original party is here, are they both going to be fully playable in this game as well?
Kitase: In terms of those characters, Cait Sith is very much, definitely a playable character. You’ll be able to control him as much as you want. And then there’s one other thing worth mentioning actually, that in the first game in the trilogy, in Remake, you had Red XIII appear as a guest character in your party, but you couldn’t control him. Red XIII is now a fully playable, controllable character, and we’ve given him a really cool, really different and unique combat mechanic. He’s really set some apart from the other characters, but he’s a great one you’ll have available too.
Vincent Valentine, I can’t reveal too much about him now, but he will be more of a guest character. He will join your party, he will travel alongside you, but he’s not really going to be fully controllable, but I can’t tell you too much about him.
Obviously with these new characters comes new mechanics, and we’re conducting this interview before I get my hands on the preview demo, so, how have you evolved the combat from the first game in Rebirth?
Hamaguchi: Yeah, so the demo is amazing, by the way. We’re really confident in it. We put a lot of effort into it. I really hope when you play it that you enjoy it. But just give you a bit of a background before you do play it – the original Final Fantasy VII Remake battle system was very much based on the concept of combining command-based, menu-based gameplay with action gameplay. The overall balance is kept pretty much the same from Remake, but there’s extra elements added on top this time. The main one, though, is something we call the Synergy system.
And by that, I mean, the characters collaborating, combining their powers together. That’s what Synergy means. But before I go on to tell you exactly what the mechanics are like, I just want to tell you a bit about the background and why we decided to add that to the battles. Interesting enough, it didn’t come from a discussion about, “Well, okay, how do we evolve the battles and how do we make it more exciting, more interesting this time?” It came more from a discussion of the overall themes of the gameplay and when we were writing the scenario.
As you probably know, if you have played the original FF7, you know what’s in this part of the story. It follows from when Cloud and his gang left Midgar through to the Forgotten Capital and when you find out [I’ve redacted this part for anyone who didn’t play the original]. And in that part of the journey, the characters really get to know each other. The bonds between them get stronger, they get to know each other more, and you really see them coming together as a team.
So we wanted to have a kind of representation of that in the gameplay overall, not just in the story side of things, so it really feels holistic and combined. So that was where we got the idea that in battle we can have a mechanic which basically reflects that and where the characters come together and the better they know each other, the closer they become, gives them more collaborative abilities in battle. So that’s kind of where that idea came from.
So going a bit more about the mechanics and how these new systems, the Synergy systems work in the gameplay, the mechanics in every part of the system, we went into quite some detail of deciding whether that element is going to be an action-based element or a menu-based element. So each of them fulfills a slightly different role within the overall battle system. And the Synergy system is quite tied to that too. So different parts of the system are basically action elements and different parts are menu command-based elements.
So what that means for the player is there’s actually two kinds of Synergy abilities or Synergy moves that you can do. In the game they’re called Synergy Skills and Synergy Abilities. And the first one, the Synergy Skills, are very much part of the action gameplay, so you can use them without using up an ATB charge. They’re very quick and very easy to use and you can keep using them quite often. But they require action gameplay inputs. So for example, you may have to get a guard block at just the right timing to pull these off.
Synergy Abilities are more menu commands that you choose. So you’ve got a Synergy Gauge which builds up during battle. And obviously when you use these abilities, it will consume a charge of that gauge. So you can essentially use them at a fairly set cadence, depending on how often that bar charges up.
One thing I really appreciated from the new trailer was just how much of the personality and the vibrancy and the odd goofiness that was inherent in the original Final Fantasy VII is still here. [Insert joke about giving people a good time to set them up for a very bad time towards the end which got lost in translation]
Hamaguchi: Yes, you’ve noticed a very good point there actually. Certainly in terms of what’s in the game itself and how it compares to the original VII Remake. Remake was, as it was a very story driven game, it was very dramatic and there was always this high drama as you went through pretty much the whole thing. And that was the tone of it, which worked very well for that game.
And certainly with Rebirth we’ve still got all that drama and serious storyline in there. It’s been made to an even higher quality than what we had in the first game, and there’s even more of it actually. So in terms of actual volume of main story, Rebirth is even bigger. And then on top of that, we’ve got so much side content and extra stuff to go out into the world and explore and find and discover and see new things. There’s even more of that than there is the story content in Rebirth. So overall, that’s a huge amount of content.
What we thought when we were putting this content together, if you’re going around the world, discovering so many new things and seeing stuff, is if it was all the same kind of tone, the same kind of pace, if it was all really dark and really serious, you’d get bored of that. So we decided to add in lots of different thematic tones to the different content you find. Some of it’s comical and funny and a little bit lighthearted. Other stuff is a bit more serious and a bit more dramatic. And that gives a good balance there. So if you played the original Final Fantasy VII, that’s basically what the original VII was in terms of its pacing and its tone. It went into a lot of different directions.
And if it’s for new people as well, I think that’s something that’s maybe going to surprise them. It’s not something you see so often out there. And they can say, “Oh, so a piece of entertainment doesn’t have to just be dark or it doesn’t just have to be comical and lighthearted. You can have both in the same thing.” So we think that kind of balance there is going to be something that appeals to a very broad audience and lots of different gamers, people who have played the original and people who haven’t.