Final Fantasy 7 Remake Ultimania Book Interview with Nomura, Kitase, Nojima [Spoiler Warning]

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This is the full interview from the Final Fantasy 7 Remake Ultimania Book where Director Tetsuya Nomura, Producer Yoshinori Kitase, and Scenario Writer Kazushige Nojima discuss the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, talking about how the game’s development, ending secrets, and more! Enjoy~

PART 1: This is the fifth installment within the Compilation of FFVII.

—When did the FFVII Remake project start?

Kitase:
Actually, this project has been in existence for a very long time.

Nomura: When we developed the Compilation of FFVII, the installments included Advent Children, Before Crisis, Crisis Core, and Dirge of Cerberus, so we knew that we wanted to make a fifth installment. However, we were a bit short on resources as I was the only one heading the project, and since we were busy with other things, the project was put on hold.

—If the project was put on hold, what made it come back officially?

Kitase:
When the Final Fantasy series almost reached its 25th Anniversary, I thought about what we should do to commemorate that milestone. That’s when I thought that if we were to go through with the FFVII Remake project to coincide with the 25th Anniversary of the Final Fantasy series, we would have to start it as soon as possible. That’s what got the ball rolling. After that, we had a meeting with producer Shinji Hashimoto as well as Tetsuya Nomura to discuss the details of the remake. Hashimoto was also the one who said he wanted to correct some of the graphics from FFVII Advent Children, and that’s the stage where all three of us decided that we should officially start this project.

—Initially, the project was to be made using staff from external divisions, right?

Kitase: Of course the company’s staff were still involved in the development, but most of the team that had worked on Final Fantasy series were assigned to other projects, so we started the Remake project with other external division staff. However, because we wanted to upkeep the quality of the Final Fantasy series, we decided that we still needed members who had experience working on Final Fantasy. Because of this, we had to do a major shift of staff positions to accommodate for this project.

—Since the Remake will be comprised of multiple parts, when did you decide that the first part will take place up until the escape from Midgar?

Nomura:
We made that decision at the start of the project. Midgar stands as a very recognizable symbol of the world of FFVII, and for the Remake Project, we wanted to expand on that. The first installment will establish the root of the battle system as well as the type of basic structure, data assets, etc. that we needed to prepare, so it would take some time to do so. On that note, we had to accommodate in terms of the scale. Since the game would cover up until the escape from Midgar, the contents we needed to develop, such as the world system, level designs, etc., would increase, so we had many reasons to make the decision that we made [to create the story into multiple parts]. When we announced that the project would take on multiple installments, there were many who were worried about how we would be able to make a whole game based solely on Midgar, but I didn’t think it would be a problem. I’ve repeatedly watched videos of gameplay, and in the original game, it takes about 7 hours to go through the Midgar section. In the Remake, the map would need to be in 3D, so there would be much more information to account for as well as time that it will take to go from one point to another, and all that adds up. Since we knew that we would have to add scenarios to the story too, I knew that the overall gameplay of the Remake would be well enough to cover a whole game.

Nojima: We also felt that stopping it at this point would also allow for an adequate amount of story scenarios to be put in as well.

Nomura: After you leave Midgar, you move to a world map, and I mentioned this earlier, but level designs would have to yet again change. If we were to do that, we would also have to split up other scenarios and even if we add new gameplay, it would have to end in an abrupt point of the story. That’s why we felt that if we had everything focused in Midgar, we wouldn’t have to split up any of the story elements that happen there. We had requests to add more content or to make only one installment for the whole remake, but if you take into consideration the quality put into this game, I’m sure players would understand why we made this decision.

Kitase: The Remake is not something that we can finish all at once, so when we decided that the first installment would take place in Midgar, the FFVII Remake Project became a reality.

PART 2: The title “Remake” has two meanings…?

—Nojima-san was added to the team when the project was still being handled by the external division staff, correct?

Nomura:
That’s right. I was the one who initially wrote the main scenarios, and the external division staff was responsibile for writing the sub scenarios as well. However, when we transferred the project to internal staff, Toriyama-san (Co-Director) joined and looked over the scenarios we had written up until that point. He then gathered all the scenes we had and rewrote them, and after looking over it myself once more, we decided that the project would take on this shape.

Kitase: After Toriyama joined, we were able to formulate the scenarios and input them into areas within the game itself, and in order to keep the integrity of the story, we let him rewrite some of the story.

—Nojima-san, in what degree do you write the scenarios and how specific do you make them?

Nojima:
I lose myself in my writing a lot. I’m always concerned about keeping characters in character, so I constantly make corrections. However, after I finish writing the scenarios, Toriyama-san and his scenario team add revisions, which is then handed off to the dubbing stage, which also makes adjustments to the dialogue. So by the time the scenario reaches completion, I’m not even sure what exactly remains from my initial draft.

Kitase: Of course, the main story’s developments are usually left as how Nojima-san wrote them. The changes that are made are usually minor details that are formulated into the story.

—The title for the remake is just “Remake,” which is a bit rare to put in a title. Is there any specific meaning to it?

Nomura:
I am the one who decided on the title “Remake,” but there are two meanings to the title. The first being that we wanted to quell the doubt that arised when we first announced that we were doing a remake. When the first trailer was released, there were people who weren’t sure if this installment of FFVII was merely a remaster or an actual remake, which made them worry. When we revealed the trailer at E3 in 2015, the reactions were as I expected, with some even asking if this was going to be a movie. That’s why I decided to clearly express to those with doubt that this is a complete remake of the original with the title “Remake” as well. In regards to the other meaning to the word “Remake,” well, I can’t answer that right now. Ask me again in a couple of years (laughs).

—The title’s logo with the Meteor is now outlined with a type of metal finish. How did you come up with this design?

Nomura:
We wanted to put the Meteor in the title logo when we showed the trailer at E3, but we had not decided on the logo yet at the time the trailer was made. I personally wanted to have the Meteor be in a metallic finish to go along with the mood of this project, so when I conveyed my idea to the trailer editors, they came up with a design for me. The logo wasn’t just for use in the trailer, but it would be used for the main title logo as well. Also, during the E3 trailer, the word “Final Fantasy” isn’t shown, only the Meteor as well as the word “REMAKE.” This was because I wanted to make the announcement of the FF7 Remake with only the Meteor symbol. When the original Final Fantasy 7 was released, the marketing producer at the time suggested that the package design only have the Meteor and said to me, “Even if we don’t write the title, people would know that this is Final Fantasy 7.” Back then, we decided against that, but I wanted to have that idea come to fruition this time around.

PART 3: Wanting to Delve Deep into the Characters from these Realistic Scenes

—What part of the Remake did you pay extra attention to?

Kitase:
In the original game, many people were able to live comfortable lives thanks to the power of mako energy; however, the same could not be said for those living in the slums underneath the plate, which left a great impression. In fact, I don’t really remember seeing much about the lives of those living above the plate where mako energy powered the cities in the original game. We wanted to draw out those details, such as in the opening movie where you see people and children riding bicycles throughout the city. The scene then turns darker where you see the effects of a lifestyle reliant on mako, where the light and dark contrasts. We wanted to brush upon this by having the player visit Jessie’s home above the plate.

Nomura: I wanted to keep the elements of the original story. In terms of the battle system, things like the ATB gauge or materia, limit breaks, etc. made up an important part of the game, and I wanted to try to bring over that to the remake. However, we had to consider not only the old fans of the game but the new ones as well. For the veteran players who knew the ropes already as well as the new players who were just getting into it, we wanted to create a satisfying experience for both. Not only did we take the original game’s structured elements and modernized them, but it was important for us to make it so that old fans would also be able to come to terms with the changes as well. Since the original game was released more than 20 years ago, if we were to change the styles to reflect modern ones, I’m sure people would accept them. However, let’s say that we changed Cloud’s hairstyle to not be spiky anymore- that would be weird, right? It was difficult to find a good balance [between realism and the original].

Nojima: When writing the scenarios in the game, I had to pay great attention to the fact that the characters that appear are no longer shown in cute graphics from the original game, but actual people now. For example, in the original game, there weren’t many houses shown in the slums, but in this game, there are tons of houses that allows you to strongly feel the presence of people living within a city. I thought to create scenarios where people are living and breathing in this space. Whether it be the AVALANCHE members or other characters in the story, I always dug deep and thought “Why are they living like this here?” when creating the backgrounds.

—One case of that would be when it was shown that Jessie used to be an actress at the Gold Saucer, right?

Nojima:
I wanted Jessie’s mannerisms to be like that of someone who has experience in theater, and I delved into creating episodes about her past leading up to her current family situation. There were many plans to create these types of sub-scenarios for the game when the project first started.

Kitase: When we were in the middle stages of development, we decided to put as many sub-scenarios into the main story to give breathers and pauses from the over-arching plot. We put several sub-scenarios about the Turks as well.

Nojima: That’s right, we had conversations such as “What are the Turks doing right now…?” or “What kind of character from the Compilation of FFVII would appear here?” and etc. Other scenarios we thought of was Tifa asking her landlord to help her figuring out which dress to wear in order to infiltrate Corneo’s Mansion, among other episodes.

Kitase: For example, after Cloud fell into the Sector 5 slums, what was Tifa doing? How did she get into that Chocobo Wagon that took her to Corneo? We had a few things planned during the first half of production, but due to time restrictions, we had to cut it out.

PART 4: Cloud Tries to Act Cool like an Adult but Fails

—As we played through the game, Aerith’s lines left an impression on us.

Nojima:
Aerith is the utmost important person in the FFVII Remake, and I was very careful with her lines. Each and every part of her carries a great meaning throughout the story, and I used that premise to write her character.

—In particular, during the nighttime flower field scene in Chapter 14, Aerith tells Cloud “You can’t fall in love with me. Even if you do, it’s not real.” For those who are familiar with the original story, this line carries a lot of meaning.

Nojima:
To be honest, some staff actually told me that this line made it seem like Aerith was looking down on Cloud, so it got rejected a few times. If you know Aerith’s fate, then this line would really pull at your heart strings, but if you did not know what happens to Aerith, then you might interpret the scene in a completely different way. I thought the gap between the two interpretations was very interesting. On another note, in Tifa’s scene in the flower field, I wanted Cloud to not look cool in this scene. Even though Cloud and Tifa are close in age, he has a 5 year blank slate, and he doesn’t have enough life experience to consider himself an adult. Even though most of the characters are around 20 years old, there’s one guy, Cloud, who has the mentality of a 16 year old, and that person tries to be like an adult. I really wanted to write that into the story. After the Sector 7 plate fell, Barret comforted Tifa with the temperament of an adult, and Cloud saw that and wanted to do the same for her [in the flower scene], but it didn’t go as planned. I wanted to try writing him as being awkward.

Nomura: On that same note, when recording Cloud’s voice, we had his voice actor perform his lines slightly differently depending on who he was talking to. For example, when Cloud speaks with Aerith, he stands up and tries to act cool, with Tifa he loosens up a bit, with Jessie he sounds confused. When Cloud speaks with Aerith, he’s too self-conscious and gives weird replies.

Nojima: Cloud isn’t able to keep the distance between Aerith and him, right? (laughs). He seems pretty impatient with Jessie, but she finds that amusing and pokes fun at him for it.

Nomura: However, when we did voice recording, initially Jessie came off as a bit too nosy, more than we expected, which might have given the impression that she was being rude. In order to avert that, we had her say lines jokingly each time she teased cloud, giving off a sense of charm and attractiveness, kind of like a “haha, just joking” type of attitude. We decided these things in the recording studio.

PART 5: The Remake’s Scenarios Provide a Vast Setting for Events to Follow

—The Remake’s story has many new episodes that I thought followed the flow of the original storyline, but then there’s suddenly a huge plot device that gets revealed, and that surprised me.

Nomura:
Is that so? (laughs)

Nojima: I’m sure you were thinking, “What will happen next?”

—How did this development come to being?

Nomura:
When I requested a scenario to Nojima, I first thought, “if I am to create the FFVII Remake, I would like to do it this way.” I then conveyed my ideas to him. During that phase, I planned to make this be more than just a mere “Remake.” For example, the battle system this time around is in real timee instead of using an ATB gauge, and with that, the story itself took a turn that isn’t just the basic FFVII, but something new. That’s the kind of story I wanted to create.

Nojima: As for me, I knew that even though at the very core, this story is about Cloud, the works from the “Compilation of FFVII” have greatly increased [over the years], and I wanted to make something that takes all of those works and combine it into one. Each person who played the original version also has their own vision of the world of FFVII, and I wanted to preserve that too. The results of those feelings are shown within the Remake’s story. These were all the ideas I had, so in the beginning I would initially show it to Nomura-san, and I tried my best to explain them clearly to make sure he didn’t reject them (laughs).

—In regards to the story’s important key points, there must be a flashback scene from here on out, right?

Nomura:
At first, the direction we took was that we did not want to put any of these hints while still in Midgar.

Nojima: Right, we originally planned to have the storyline diverge only slightly.

Nomura: We thought to have only a subtle change where in the ending you see Biggs alive, which makes you think, “Wait, this is weird…” and gives a slight sense of unease. But then the staff thought, well if there’s room for more scenes, then let’s just add it (laughs). When we did that, there were scenes that we had to say, “No this won’t do,” and removed it from the story. We didn’t add too many new things, but we did leave a few scenes in.

Nojima: I myself added about two or three scenarios to that too….I’m not too sure what happened to those scenarios at the end. (laughs)

—The scenes where Sephiroth appear in have also be greatly added into the storyline.

Nojima:
In the beginning we didn’t plan to have him appear so often, more as an overlooming presence instead. During the middle of production, we changed our minds and decided to have him appear more frequently, and suddenly he was in a ton of scenes.

Nomura: At that time, Hamaguchi-san (Co-Director) quietly pulled me aside and said, “I want the characters to fight Sephiroth in Midgar” and consulted me with this idea. In the original story, Sephiroth exists in a different space, and apparently he gathered materials to persuade me to have the battle play out in this way, but I just said, “Okay sure,” and greenlit the idea. (laughs)

PART 6: Doubts that Arise from Things Not Explained in the Game

—In the Remake’s story, there are a few doubts that are left that I would like to brush upon…

Everyone:
…..

Nomura: The story will still continue, so I don’t think we can answer much.

—Then let’s talk about things you can answer starting with the Opening Scene in the alleyway, which was also portrayed in the original game. What was Aerith looking at when she was crouching down?

Nomura:
I remember someone saying that she was trying to gather warmth from it…

Kitase: I don’t think so (laughs). If you’re in front of a bonfire, you would see the embers pop, but what you see is the flickers of light from mako.

—In the Remake’s version of this scene, after she looks at the light, it seems like she’s running from something. Why?

Nojima:
She felt the presence of the Whispers and wanted to run away from them. Perhaps it’s because Aerith had several bad experiences with the Whispers up until then?

—Why is it that Aerith knows about things that happen in the future or of things she hadn’t heard of before?

Nomura:
I wonder why……Please wait until the next installment for that answer.

—At the end of the Midgar Highway, before you pass through the wall, Aerith says, “This is the point of no return. Destiny’s Crossroads.” What was she referring to?

Nojima:
If Cloud and the others pass through the Wall of Whispers, then they will be outside the boundaries of the Whispers, meaning they will be going into a place where there is no predestined fate. She meant that they will be at a crossroads where they might or might not be able to cross.

—After you defeat the last boss, Cloud and Sephiroth have a conversation with just the two of them. What was the meaning of that?

Nojima:
Exactly what their conversation said. Actually, the lines that Sephiroth said in that scene were written during the beginning stages of production where we did not know the exact placement of when they will be delivered.

—In the ending of the Remake, Zack is alive, which leads to a contrasting development to the original story. What is the meaning of that scene?

Nomura:
That’s the biggest highlight of the mysteries that have been been set up in this scene, isn’t it? (laughs)

Nojima: And you can also clearly see the dog Stamp too…

—Stamp looks different in this scene though.

Nojima:
Oh, does he know…? (laughs)

—Did you have plans in the beginning for the mascot Stamp?

Nojima:
Yes, when we decided on the Remake’s storyline, we said “Well then, let’s have this loyal dog Stamp be the mascot.” Stamp is a popular mascot that everyone in this world recognizes, and we decided to also use him as AVALANCHE’s secret way of conveying messages.

Nomura: By the way, the Stamp that you see drawn by AVALANCHE members is actually the design that I was in charge of. I usually don’t get involved in these designs, but I felt that this character would be very important, so I decided to draw him myself.

—During the ending, Aerith murmurs, “The sky, how I hate it.” [English localization “I miss it, the steel sky.”] Is there some deep meaning to this?

Nomura:
For Aeritih, the sky symbolizes sadness. The people who were dear to her, such as Zack and her mother Ifalna, had all returned to the sky, and the sky that she sees above her in the slums was covered by Shinra too. The calamity that destroyed the Ancients, Jenova, also fell from the sky. All of these incidents remind Aerith of the sky, which is why she says she hates it.

—At the end of the game, the words “The Unknown Journey Will Continue” show up. What does it mean?

Nomura:
Initially, there was another sentence we were going to put instead, but under various circumstances, we decided to change it [to what it is now]. Kitase told me there should be something that connects to what lies beyond the ending. I also wanted to put something there too, so we ended up using that sentence. I think some might think that the meaning of the sentence is unsettling, but we’ve already taken that into consideration.

PART 7: Original Elements Expected to Happen but Do Not Want to be Erased

—After this first installment, the number of expectations must be very high for the next installment, but how many installments do you think the entire project will be?

Kitase:
We have a general idea of how the story will play out, but we haven’t decided exactly how many parts, nor can we confirm anything.

—There has been talk that the story will be in three parts…

Kitase:
We have not said anything concrete about how many installments this will be, so people are probably just speculating with no proof.

—The fans would like to know when the next installment will be released.

Nomura:
It depends on how many installments we decide to make. If we divide the story into large chunks, then it will take a much longer time to develop. However, if we divide the story into smaller parts, then it might be possible to release them in a shorter amount of time.

Kitase: On that note, if we are to maintain the same quality and volume as the first installment, then it is unrealistic to say that we can churn out the next one in just one year.

Nomura: Personally, I would like to release them as soon as possible so we can take a breather. I’m sure the fans would also want the next installment to come quickly too (laughs).

—If we follow this Remake’s story, then the next installment might have major changes compared to the original, right?

Kitase:
I’ve talked about this extensively with Nomura, but I’m sure fans of the original are expecting to revisit familiar locations and scenes, so we have strong feelings to not stray away from that. From here on out, we’re not drastically changing the story and making it into something completely different than the original. Even though it’s a Remake, please assume that FF7 will still be FF7 as usual.

Nojima: For me, I create scenarios that follow the general flow of the original story but with the assumption that the way things are presented or how events occur might be slightly different.

—Lastly, do you have any messages to the fans who have played the FFVII Remake?

Nojima:
I’m sure that they had a lot of fun playing it and might have doubts on what will happen from here on out, but please remember those doubts you had since you’ll probably find your answer in future installments.

Nomura: This was a very popular game in the past, and since we are remaking it, the amount of attention it had garnered even before it was released was high, and there are many who voiced their concerns about the game too. However, those concerns did not affect our staff as we put in our all to create this work, and we just hope that people will be interested in it. The base for the Remake has been successfully established with the first installment, so we hope to meet your expectations in the next installment too! However, personally, I think there might be some who think “Since this is the Remake, I don’t need to play the original game anymore and just play the Remake instead,” but I want to prevent people from doing that. The original and the Remake are two separate entities. So even if you play FFVII Remake, I would also like you to play the FFVII original game afterwards as well.

Kitase: In this first installment, I think we were able to figure out the exact direction and shape we would like to take with the FFVII Remake. Within the Remake, many hints were strewn along, and we would like fans to get excited and think about on what exactly will happen in the next installments. The theories posted on the internet do reach us, and I think that type of communication between the fans and us will help in creating a story together for all to enjoy.

(Square Enix Interview recorded on March 19th, 2020)

 
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