It's been a big seven days for the Final Fantasy 7 Remake project. Last week, Square Enix revealed the official release date for the saga's second chapter, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth. This week, a portion of the game is being experienced by thousands of fans for the first time at this year's Tokyo Game Show. The original 1997 classic remains among the most beloved RPGs of all time, so there's a lot of pressure for Rebirth to continue the momentum from 2020's Final Fantasy 7 Remake.
To learn more about what players can expect, Shacknews had the pleasure of speaking with the three individuals at the top of Rebirth's development prior to the game's first playable demos debuting at this year's Tokyo Game Show. Producer Yoshinori Kitase, Director Naoki Hamaguchi, and Creative Director Tetsuya Nomura know better than anybody the tall task that lies before them. We asked about bringing the Junon region to life, making a playable Sephiroth, bringing party members together for tandem abilities, and also what fans who have never experienced the full Final Fantasy 7 story are in for with Rebirth.
(Answers were provided via a Japanese translator.)
Shacknews: The fated Mt. Nibel mission is a key moment in the Final Fantasy 7 story. It will also mark the first time that Sephiroth will be a playable character. How did you approach Sephiroth's design, both in terms of story and gameplay? How do you go about presenting him as the legendary SOLDIER hero?
Tetsuya Nomura, Creative Director: Firstly, I would like to talk about Sephiroth's role within the story. For this entire Remake project, Sephiroth makes much more of an appearance, much more so than the original title. He is certainly a character that really moves the story along in a very immense and impactful way. How exactly he does so for this title, I would like for users to experience with their own hands by playing until the end of Rebirth.
As far as Sephiroth being this extremely popular character, frankly, I'm very curious as to what makes him so attractive to users, because I hear this opinion very often. His appearance, firstly, I'm sure, but also perhaps there is something about his background that brings about a particular appeal to so many of the players that makes him this iconic character. And so, for Rebirth, I would think that besides Cloud, Sephiroth is also a protagonist that we can think of for this title.
Naoki Hamaguchi, Director: Speaking upon more of the battle portion, what's unique in the demo build that we presented is that we have two of these different gameplays that we had people experience. Both of these have varying difficulties, of which the first one, Sephiroth and Cloud on their Mt. Nibel mission, this is the less challenging of the two. We made it considering Sephiroth and this entire character of him being this most powerful SOLDIER that has been in existence. It would be kind of strange if it was difficult to defeat enemies using this character that's now playable for the first time, so we wanted to reflect the strength of Sephiroth and be able to defeat these monsters and enemies relatively easily in this gameplay demo. So we kept the controls quite simple, that could be understood without much explanation for players to be able to experience this ease of play throughout this mission.
Conversely, for Junon, we wanted users to be able to explore this open and vast world and also take part in this combat along with the team members, the various characters. In order to explore this portion, we made the enemies a bit more difficult and more challenging.
Shacknews: How do you go about crafting open-world sections like the Junon region in such a way that they stay true to the original story while also giving players more activities to engage with, such as the many mini-games that we saw during today's State of Play trailer?
Hamaguchi: In regards to the world map, when we go about remaking such a title with such a huge fanbase with particular expectations towards the remake of the original, of course, this is indeed a challenge to incorporate these open-world elements into the game while staying true to the original. But as the dev team, we really felt we did really feel that we have to take upon this challenge in order to satisfy the players. And so we made it our mission to create this vast world, which is just one kind of massive world in which there are dungeons, there are cities, there are various, numerous kinds of locations in which the players are able to traverse and explore and it's this sort of seamless experience of exploring throughout these numerous environments. We really made this kind of our main goal within Rebirth, and so we feel that we were able to accomplish this.
In terms of the mini-games, as well, I do believe that when fans of the original Final Fantasy 7 think of what makes it unique, they do think of these mini-games that are memorable to the original title and they do expect this within Remake and Rebirth as well. So we did incorporate a ton of these mini-games that are familiar from the original that may be reinvented and reconstructed in a way that can be enjoyed by players in this modern time, as well as completely new mini-games that did not exist before: those that can be found along the journey and ones that are specific to locations that Cloud and his friends visit. These are new aspects and elements that we really worked hard to incorporate into the game, and we believe that players will be very satisfied with these.
Shacknews: Synergy Skills are a major gameplay mechanic that's being added to Rebirth. How do these vary across different characters?
Hamaguchi: Regarding Synergy Skills, it's not so much like each of them differ per character, but it's sort of combination based. For example, Tifa and Aerith share a Synergy Skill, Aerith and Yuffie, Red XIII and Cait Sith, they'll be dual combinations of a character and a character together performing a unique Synergy Skill, so it's sort of like that.
Of course, within these attacks there are different effects in battle and there could also be additional buff or support-type effects. For example, with this Synergy Skill, there will be infinite MP and you'll be able to deploy different magical skills along the way or it'll have an effect on the ATB. So it'll allow the players to be more tactical about which Synergy Skill to use when in the game, according to what type of enemy you're facing, and what kind of situation that you're in.
Shacknews: How have you approached boss fights like the Materia Guardian and the Terror of the Deep? With their grander scale and binding attacks that can disable characters, did you design them with the goal of encouraging players to directly control other party members than just Cloud?
Hamaguchi: With Remake, there were certain situations in which a character or a boss will paralyze characters, thereby forcing the player to use an alternate character for battle. For this time around, the Synergy system was created and, in a way, it allows the users to use different characters. For example, in order to raise the Synergy for Cloud, you'll have to use that specific character. So you'll need to use Cloud in order to be able to use the Synergy attack for Cloud, or if it's someone like Tifa, you'll have to use that character. In that way, it encourages the use of switching between characters. If that was portrayed [in the demo] and received in that way, we are happy about that.
Shacknews: What is the key to making iconic locations like Junon appealing to both newcomers to Final Fantasy 7 and fans of the original game? And are there any other locations that you're excited for fans to see and experience, whether they be returning to them or experiencing them for the first time?
Hamaguchi: For Junon, we do present it in this impactful way, as this massive, metal-based fortress and city that just looms up and appears before the player. And we felt that this is a very exciting way to present this iconic location that really depicts this immense scale of Junon, which then the player is able to go in and explore its nooks and crannies. And so this is the way that it was depicted, in a way to feature its characteristics.
In terms of what is a favorite location, I can't really talk about just one favorite, per se. But I will say that, besides Junon, there are just so many other various regions that the player will explore within Rebirth. And we certainly put a ton of effort into making, into creating all of them to deliver the best experience for the players.
Along with that, by acquiring the Chocobo, as was also seen in the trailer, players will be able to reach a new location as well, either by flying or by climbing a mountain by buggy, for example. And so there are different modes of transportation that's going to then further expand the player's experience of exploring and traversing throughout the world. So that's something that we really hope you can look forward to.
Shacknews: I saw that the everyone here today posted a social media statement following the release date announcement to the Final Fantasy fanbase. I would just like to ask, is there anything that you would like to say to fans who are experiencing this part of the Final Fantasy 7 story for the first time?
Yoshinori Kitase, Producer: The original title is a title that was released in 1997, but at the time, it was this extremely iconic title within the game world in terms of like the visuals and what it accomplished at that time and really became this cultural, historical talking point and a zeitgeist of its time. It is a title that I believe any game fan will be aware of it and have knowledge of the original Final Fantasy 7 title and that is how iconic it is. And so this time, we have reimagined this title in a way that can be newly experienced by fans, both new and old. So we would really like for players to be able to, you know, play this and see this with their own their eyes and experience this on their own.
Hamaguchi: Even if there are players that have never played any of the Final Fantasy 7 series, I do believe they perhaps may have heard of the title somewhere. And so for Rebirth, we have really focused on this experience of being able to explore this vast and wide world in all of its features and just delivering this very immersive experience. So we hope that players will be able to join in this new experience by engaging it within in the game in this way, while also finding out more and really be getting immersed in the Final Fantasy 7 world.
Nomura: Sort of echoing the others, there may be some that have heard of the Final Fantasy franchise. There may be some that have heard of Final Fantasy 7, but perhaps never had the chance to play it, seeing that it was initially released in 1997 and is a bit of an older title.
But even for those people, they will likely feel that with Remake and Rebirth, the gameplay has just been completely modernized. And the story, too, has this immense depth that can only be crafted and delivered in this time and [has] so many more features and modes of exploration that can be enjoyed that really delivers this rich experience. So in that way, I do wish that players will take interest and pick up this game and they'll see why the Final Fantasy franchise has been loved for all of this time and the immense appeal of Final Fantasy 7 that has lasted to this day.
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth will release exclusively on the PlayStation 5 on February 29, 2024. Those interested in reading our thoughts on the recent demo that debuted at this year's Tokyo Game Show can check out our hands-on preview.