The lights are on
Final Fantasy XV's impending September 30 release makes it the "here and now" of Final Fantasy, but what about the franchise's future? Fans enjoy looking ahead to the upcoming entries in their favorite series, and this case, the next big step is Final Fantasy VII Remake – the often-rumored (and long-desired) project that was finally confirmed at E3 2015. During our visit to Square Enix for our Final Fantasy XV cover, we talked to Final Fantasy VII Remake producer Yoshinori Kitase to get some answers about the highly anticipated project.
We know fans have lots of specific questions about story, combat, materia, airships, exploration, and more. We want to know about those things too, but Square Enix wasn't ready to go into that level of detail. Instead, we posed 10 broader questions to Kitase about the game and his team's approach.
Fans have been asking for a FFVII remake for years. What about the gaming landscape makes now the right time?
The landscape was one thing, but it was more that we’d been working on the XIII series for the last 10 years. My team and I were mainly focused on that project. Final Fantasy VII Remake would be an equivalent – or even greater – project in terms of scale, and so it would have been hard to do both at the same time. After XIII ended, of course XV is currently being developed by [Hajime] Tabata-san’s team, so it presented a time when we can fully place our focus on the Final Fantasy VII Remake.
When the remake was first announced, there was some confusion among fans about its multi-part format. Is comparing it to the Final Fantasy XIII saga fair in that regard? Will each entry have that kind of scope?
It will essentially be a full-scale game for each part of the multi-part series. In XIII, each installment told the story from a different angle. It was kind of like approaching an unknown territory, in a sense. Whereas with Final Fantasy VII Remake, we already have a preexisting story, so it wouldn’t really make sense if that isn’t encompassed in the multi-part series, and it wouldn’t make sense to remake it if we don’t encompass that that entire story.
With regards to the current HD capacity and volume, the idea is that we wouldn’t be able to encompass it all in just one installment. So, if we’re just looking at each of these parts, one part should be on par with the scale of one Final Fantasy XIII game.
Have you decided how many installments there will be?
Yeah, we do have an idea on the project side in terms of how many installments it may consist of, but unfortunately, we can’t share that at the moment. Of course, as we’re creating and developing the scenario and the stories, these are things that move in real time. So, the plan may change along the way. But, that said, we do have a vision for how many installments it will consist of.
The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII added new wrinkles to the story and lore behind the game. How is the team approaching the integration of those new elements into the remake?
It’s not to say that all or some of the characters from the spin-offs or other Compilation works will appear in the remake, but if there are any areas where we can use the settings or the characters, we do want to try to incorporate it in there, so it gives off that sense of nuance and those other stories existing.
So, there isn’t any pressure to include every character and storyline from the Compilation content?
Yes, there may be instances where the characters appear themselves, or are just referenced in dialogue. But, of course, it would be difficult to follow up on everything that happened in this universe. So, maybe some of the characters who weren’t as famous won’t appear or be mentioned. But in terms of the characters and instances that remain in the memories of our fans, we do want to try our best to integrate that in some fashion in the world.
Some fans seem to want a remake that is mainly visual upgrades, with none of the story or gameplay altered. Was that ever considered for the project?
The starting point was – and our executive producer [Shinji] Hashimoto-san has mentioned this – it would even be okay if we just upped the graphics to the quality of Advent Children. But, in terms of game styles and battle systems, it’s been 20 years since the original, and a lot has changed. Trends have changed, and I believed that we needed to revisit and rethink that aspect for the remake.
What drove the decision to move away from the traditional turn-based system toward action-focused combat?
We haven’t completely transitioned into action, but as our director [Tetsuya] Nomura-san says, Final Fantasy (in terms of action games) is best represented by Dissidia in the current landscape. In terms of the Final Fantasy action battles people have experienced themselves, that is most familiar to them these days. In terms of the image of the battle system, that’s where we’re getting the feel from. It won’t be as action-focused as Dissidia, of course, but the the visuals and how the gameplay feels in essence will be drawn from that Dissidia-esque style.
Not many creators have the chance to revisit a previous project like this. For you personally, is there any aspect of FFVII that you’re looking forward to bringing back to life?
That’s a difficult question. There are certain scenes that are ingrained in the memories of our fans – like Cloud dressing a female, or that impactful Aerith scene. At that time, that was the latest technology and the latest graphics, but now it does look a little bit cheap as far as how it looks graphically and how those scenes are staged. So, everyone’s probably wondering how those scenes will be brought back to life in current, realistic graphics and how they will be expressed. And I myself am interested in that, but it’s also a challenge. For all of those scenes that people remember, I’m wondering how we can meet expectations and express them properly in current-gen graphics.
I’m sure there are areas that our fans want to see how we can change, and areas that they don’t want changed. The opinions of our fans are probably split on a lot of those elements, so determining from a development standpoint where we’ll be more true to the original versus where we change is something we hope to grasp through communicating with our fans. Also, while we want to understand their concerns, we also want to get them excited for the story and seeing how it can be revamped and refreshed.
So, even if you’re familiar with the story, there’s still an opportunity to be surprised?
Definitely. We have archived versions of our games, and a lot of times, people buy them and it starts off with nostalgia – but after that, you’re essentially following the story you already know. That experience starts to diminish as you proceed through the game and the interest level starts to decline. If it’s just nostalgia, it’s just a matter of following the story, and there wouldn’t be any surprises. So, in that sense, we want to balance out the areas we would like change versus the areas we don’t in order to have that nostalgia, but also the surprises.
Do you see the larger iconic plot points as an opportunity to surprise fans, or are there things that you and the team consider untouchable?
I, along with Nomura-san and [Kazushige] Nojima-san – who are involved with the remake – were involved with the original Final Fantasy VII. We were the people who created it, so in that sense, we don’t think anything is untouchable. That isn’t to say we’re changing everything!
Of course, within Square Enix and across the globe, there are people who think it’s on this holy scale. That there isn’t anything we can touch or play around with. But we believe we know the balance between what can be changed versus what needs to be protected.
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