Interview: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Director Discusses Telling A New Story With A Classic JRPG
Image via Square Enix

Interview: Final Fantasy VII Rebirth Tells a New Story With a Classic JRPG

On the day the reviews for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth came out, I was lucky enough to sit down with the game’s director, Naoki Hamaguchi. During our hour-long discussion, the passionate developer touched on the challenges of remaking a beloved classic JRPG, how side characters like Cissnei were added to the game, and his feelings about Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s bold ending.

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However, what stood out to me the most in this conversation was that Hamaguchi, above all else, is a massive fan of the original Final Fantasy VII. Like millions of players worldwide, the Japanese developer fell in love with the PlayStation classic when he first played it in high school. Decades later, the fan has now been given the opportunity to lead the modern retelling of Final Fantasy 7, and he truly understands the weight of the project and what it means to so many players. Here is my discussion with Hamaguchi-san.

Brent Koepp: How challenging was it staying faithful to the original Final Fantasy VII story while also using Rebirth to make changes to tell a new story?

Naoki Hamaguchi: So, seeing that this is a trilogy – and of course, in Final Fantasy VII Remake, we were able to tell this story and express this in great detail – I think this was a very satisfying experience for players. But if we were just to have a sort of continuation, the same way along the second and third title, I think it would be difficult to sustain interest in the players.

We believed that it was important to enact some changes and differences within the remake series that are quite different from the original Final Fantasy 7. This is depicted by the Whispers and their presence within Remake, and for Rebirth, Zack becomes a key figure in this position of sort of symbolizing change. In that way, keeping this kind of excitement and anticipation as we move forward toward the following title in the trilogy, I believe, was quite important for us.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth has a diverse amount of different gameplay sections. Such as Barret using his gun to clear blocked paths or Yuffie using her grappling hook for traversal. How important was it to give each character their own section of the game?

Naoki Hamaguchi: So, when we kind of think about the Final Fantasy VII story in general, of course, it kind of centers around Cloud. Within the original, he was the central character, and there are no moments where you can remove Cloud from the party. He’s somewhat always there. FF7 has a feast of wonderful characters, each with so many fans around them, and we took into consideration that some of the fans of the other team members may not always wish to play as Cloud, and they may want to play with their favorite character. So we kind of took this into mind while still keeping Cloud as a protagonist within the story of Rebirth.

We wanted to find a way where we could let the unique characteristics of each team member shine in ways in which they can use their unique skills. Whether that’s finding their way out of a dungeon or in combat. So, in thinking about this, I worked together with Nojima-san to discuss the overall game structure. From there, I had my own requests, like I would like to do “this area, this certain way with these specific characters,” and I had these sorts of suggestions. And so we went from there, and that’s how the different character sections in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth came to be.

Many supporting characters didn’t originally appear in Final Fantasy VII, such as Cissnei, who show up in Rebirth. How did you choose which characters from other games would appear?

Naoki Hamaguchi: So, in terms of Cissnei in particular, speaking on the Remake series as a whole, so Rebirth and Remake, we definitely wanted to incorporate characters from Final Fantasy VII Compilation titles. But we also wanted to have them be introduced in a way that isn’t abrupt to players who are experiencing the game. We wanted the supporting characters to align with the storyline of the Remake series. And that was definitely intentional on our end.

As far as Cissnei’s character, when we received Nojima-san’s initial script for Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, you know she was already written within the plot. And I think this was also to do with Zack and Cissnei’s explosive popularity among the community, too. So, their presence in the game was confirmed early on in marketing. And I, too, was excited when I found out that she appears in Rebirth, and I read her in the script. I was pretty surprised. I was like, “Wow, she’s really in here!”

Overall, I think Cissnei being added was a great result, and we had positive feedback about that. And within the game’s quests as well, we wanted to have it not only be quests for the sake of it being a quest. But through these, we wanted to show more of the characters’ backgrounds. We wanted to explore “How do people live in this world of FF7?” That was something we really wanted to dig into for this title. Having characters from Remake that people wanted to see again, such as Kyrie, was also important. We wanted to be able to show more of these characters and touch more on their backstory.

As a side note, right up to when we showed the final trailer for Rebirth and were doing other press interviews, we had so many comments and questions from the media and fans asking, “Is Cissenei going to be in Rebirth?”. [Laughs] And, of course, I couldn’t say anything until the final trailer came out! This is the first time actually getting to talk about it. I’m so happy I finally get to talk about her.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth has many emotional moments. There were certain story moments that got me choked up. How did working with voice actors allow you to expand on key pivotal scenes from the original game?

Naoki Hamaguchi: The Japanese voice recording is quite essential in that we have a director who specifically directs the voice actors. Since this deals with the game’s characters, Nomura-san and Toriyama-san are also involved in making sure that the characteristics and essence of each character are captured faithfully by the voice actors. So we will look into even the finer details, such as how long a character speaks, each utterance, or the tones of their voices.

And we will make sure the performance is fitting of the character. We will all kind of work on this. Once this is complete and we have the Japanese voices, we then pass this on to other regions for them to record in their own languages. And so, the Japanese voice is always the foundation with which we would like other languages and voices to align. So, other recordings in different languages are kind of done with the original Japanese voices in mind. In that way, the original Japanese recording was a key part.

One of Rebirth’s most exciting features is the Affinity system and how characters feel towards Cloud. Will decisions players make in Rebirth carry over to the next game? Or are these relationships and choices more specific to Final Fantasy VII Rebirth?

Naoki Hamaguchi: So in terms of whether Affinity will carry on from Rebirth to the following title, while I am unable to speak or divulge further or answer clearly on this topic, of course, we want to continue to explore the relationship between Cloud and himself, and his relationship with other characters. So, of course, whether that will be done in the form of another Affinity system or something else, that is something to be looked forward to. But that is something we are not exploring at this time.

At the end of Final Fantasy VII Remake, there is a massive surprise when Zack is revealed to be still alive. Without getting into story spoilers, are you excited to see how fans will react to the ending of Rebirth? Nervous?

Naoki Hamaguchi: [Laughs] To answer your question, I would say half-excited, half-nervous. I’m almost 50/50 really! [Laughs] You know, there will be just a ton of varied conjecture and individual interpretation on the ending of Rebirth, so I’m really excited to see what people feel and what kind of emotion players that experience this game will have.

But at the same time, I’m nervous about what they could possibly be thinking. From a creator’s perspective, I do think, along with my team, we’re very much confident about putting Final Fantasy VII Rebirth out. And so, in that way, I’m very excited and can not wait for the release! So until then, I’m very excited and anticipating to see how the players will take it and what their response will be.

Following the interview, I also had the privilege of attending a special movie screening of Advent Children. Hundreds of fans excitedly packed into the theater to watch the beloved 2005 movie. Those in attendance were stunned when Naoki Hamaguchi himself showed up to the screening to thank them for their support of the franchise.

However, the screening of Advent Children had a much deeper meaning as the Square Enix developer revealed the film’s impact on both Remake and Rebirth. According to Hamaguchi and original Final Fantasy VII director Yoshinori Kitase, it was Advent Children that made the team dream of one day bringing Cloud Strife’s story to life with beautiful graphics and a more expanded story.

I walked away from my interview confident that Naoki Hamaguchi and his team are the right people to lead this beloved franchise. Like all of us, he is not only a lifelong fan of Final Fantasy VII, but he also understands what made the original so special. Above all else, Square Enix seems deeply passionate about the remake trilogy, as everyone in the office, from PR to marketing, was on pins and needles, excitedly anticipating Rebirth’s launch. As someone who has already beaten Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, I can say that the reimagining is not only just as magical as the original, but it somehow manages to surpass it in many ways.

Final Fantasy VII Rebirth launches on PlayStation 5 on February 29th, 2024.


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Author
Brent Koepp
Based in California, Brent is an Editor at Siliconera and has been a journalist since 2010. When he's not playing JRPGs or catching 'em all in Pokémon, you can find him spending time with his wife and two dogs.