Final Fantasy VII Remake is finally here.
Almost five years after it was announced to rapturous applause at E3 2015, Square Enix's ambitious retelling of one of gaming's most iconic adventures has already blown us away with its stunning visuals, thrilling combat, and infectious characters. This isn't a shot-for-shot rehash of the story: a lot's changed after 23 years.
The sprawling, planet-sapping metropolis of Midgar, the nefarious Shinra Corporation's seat of power, is bigger and badder than it could ever have been in the PS1 era, an intricate rabbit warren of slums and sewers teeming with life. We get far more insight into how the other half lives this time around, and see how the city's haves and have-nots come to the seedy vice district of Wall Market to blow off some steam. While the spiky-haired mercenary-turned-hero Cloud Strife is once again the star of the show, his companions in the eco-terrorism group known as Avalanche also get a chance to shine, and the stakes feel even higher as a result.
Inverse spoke with FF7 Remake Co-Director Naoki Hamaguchi, English Lead Translator Ben Sabin, and Scenario Writer Kazushige Nojima about their bold reimagining of the struggle between Shinra and Avalanche.
The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Could you tell us about designing the new version of Midgar? It feels a lot more lived-in and true to life.
Answered by Naoki Hamaguchi, Co-Director:
I believe many people think of Midgar as a massive, steampunk fortress, but when you look into the details, you’ll notice the disparity in wealth between the city in the upper layer and the slums in the lower layer, and even the wealth disparity within the city itself. Midgar is a city with many contradictions within due to the rapid development the city went through as part of the lore.
There were two major points that we were mindful of when revamping the design. One was to be faithful to the full scale of the design. Since the original title showcased the different areas of Midgar using art from a bird eye’s view, players couldn’t grasp the whole scope of Midgar. But if we were to create the streets that connected the slums in a real-life scale, long and extensive streets would be needed. That said, if we created streets that players would just walk on, it would only be there to be faithful to the actual scale, but wouldn’t provide a satisfying gameplay experience for the players. And so, we decided to create an appropriate game design to accompany the portrayal of a real full-scale city.
The second point was to allocate a specific function for each of the locations in Midgar. For example, even if you just look at the slums of Sector 7, Seventh Heaven would be the go-to for relaxation, and there would be a bustling shopping and retail area surrounding it. Around the Beginner’s Hall would be a row of security facilities, such as the Neighborhood Watch. By determining how the city developed, we were able to create unique expressions for each of the locations, and I believe this helps players see the types of buildings, the placement of NPCs, and even the posters in a realistic light.
Which elements of FFXV and KH3's combat system did you draw from, or improve upon here? How was developing the combat on Unreal Engine?
Hamaguchi: I’m often asked what kind of inspiration I drew from titles, such as Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III, as well as titles that I worked on, such as Final Fantasy XII and Final Fantasy XIII, but we didn’t refer to the battle systems from past Final Fantasy titles to use as a foundation when developing the battle system this time around.
The concept of Remake's battle system is pretty clear – it’s an upgrade of the original’s Active Time Battle (“ATB”) battle system to a modern-day form. With the improvements seen in the graphics, we felt the need to implement real-time game control to allow players to immerse themselves in the game. That’s when we decided to evolve the ATB system to be more action oriented.
Through trial and error, we decided to allocate certain roles to the “ATB battle” portion and the “action battle” portion, instead of simply combining the two, to bring out their best assets. The foundation of Remake’s battle system utilizes the “ATB battle” portion, a very simple system, like that of the original, in which players consume an ATB charge to perform a certain ability. And then the “action battle” portion serves the role of highlighting how player technique can leverage the “ATB battle”, for example, allowing players to more efficiently charge their ATBs or by posing “chance” opportunities for players to use them. One way of imagining it is that the “action battle” portion assists while the “ATB battle” portion scores a goal.
The Classic Mode demonstrates how aptly these two portions co-exist. By allowing the game’s AI to take care of the “action battle” portion automatically, players are able to play the game by just focusing on determining when to execute the abilities with the “ATB battle” portion, just like in the original. It’s not too much to say that we were able to bring this system to fruition because we allocated certain roles to the “ATB battle” portion and the “action battle” portion of the system for the remake.
Beloved as it is, the English localization for the 1997 game has a reputation for being confusing. What measures have been taken to ensure the story is clearer this time around?
Answered by Ben Sabin, English Lead Translator:
The nature of localization has changed drastically since the time of the original Final Fantasy VII. Whereas once access to resources were limited and translators often had little-to-no contact with developers and each other, now many of us work in the same building, sometimes even alongside Japanese writers, which allows for better communication within a localization team and a project as a whole. We also have access to the same builds as everyone else during the development cycle, and the localization team is frequently consulted at multiple stages of the process. All of this helps us obtain context and produce more consistent translations, even if a localization is handled by many people.
For the remake in particular, the localization team was able to reference cutscenes in-game, enabling us to more effectively determine the intention of the lines. In addition, we made an effort to crosscheck each other's work as much as possible, which helped immensely with standardizing our interpretation and reducing the number of questions we had to ask the scenario team. We were also able to share videos with our editor, which helped him grasp the context of the dialogue, leading to a more consistent localization. Furthermore, as most the cutscenes are relatively short and high-tempo, the English translation strives to be concise and snappy, which should make things easier to understand.
As the remake is not a one-to-one update of the original, and as the game's visuals are much more realistic this time around, the English localization strives to mesh with this vivid new world; Barret's profanity is no longer denoted by symbols, nor do characters always have perfect diction. At the same time, however, it honors the whimsy of the original, as well as preserves some iconic phrases and terms from the 1997 version that many players are likely to expect. For example, Cloud's famous "Not interested" is one of the first things he utters. That being said, you're not going to find Aerith saying "This guy are sick" in the remake.
Could you tell our readers more about the new Wall Market? It sounds a bit like Gold Saucer in the original game, with lots more activities.
Hamaguchi: When you categorize both the Gold Saucer and Wall Market as a city of entertainment for grownups, there’s no mistake in thinking that the two have a similar atmosphere.
When remaking Wall Market, we were especially mindful in how to portray the city from an ethical perspective. I’m assuming that 20 or so years ago, institutions that reviewed games from an ethical standpoint were not functioning like they do today. That said, as values have become diverse in this modern age, I believe that there would be many people from certain countries or cultures that would not accept Wall Market from an entertainment viewpoint if we recreated it just like the original. And with that, we’ve recreated the Honeybee Inn from a new and different entertainment perspective, which has been highlighted in trailers you may have seen a little bit. I believe we’ve remade it into something all players will be able to enjoy.
Additionally, some of the keywords or phrases people might associate Wall Market with could include the Honeybee Inn, a cross-dressing Cloud, Corneo, squats, mysterious drinks, restaurants… the list goes on, but we’ve taken all of these elements and greatly expanded on them to reimagine Wall Market as an entertainment city for grownups that could be accepted by people from any kind of cultural background. Also, in order to further produce the feel of an underground city, we’ve newly created such things as an underground battle arena, so I hope you check it out.
Jessie's personality here is more flirtatious and outgoing than in the 1997 game. What went into fleshing out her character, as well as the other members of Avalanche?
Answered by Kazushige Nojima, Scenario Writer:
In the original, Jessie, Wedge, and Biggs were characters that just fulfilled their roles in the storyline. I felt it was our responsibility to breathe life into them this time around. As such, we dug deep into their life stories before joining Avalanche and gave them their own personal backgrounds. Though there are differences on how we depict the characters, their talkativeness is a counter-reaction to the strong sense or fear, guilt, and conflict they hide deep within their hearts.
We wanted to portray the fact that these characters are actually not all that strong.
I believe the way Jessie messes around with Cloud, which is hard to tell whether she’s being serious or just doing it for fun, comes from just wanting to feel some kind of warmth or even a spontaneous moment of fun while throwing herself into a world of violence, where she’s constantly reminded of death.
(This is a bit of a spoiler, but Jessie is the first to find out that Cloud actually has less life experience than average for someone as old as he claims to be and is still mentally a young boy.)
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