Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Devs Say Story Changes Give Fans “Anxiety, In a Good Way”
The mystery continues.
Ever since the release of Final Fantasy 7 Remake almost four years ago, one fan theory has run wild: this new trilogy isn’t just a reimagining but a sequel. It’s a tantalizing idea that has fans wondering if events in Remake are actually happening post-Final Fantasy 7 in an alternate universe. The theory is pushed forward by an array of story changes, certain characters being aware of events they shouldn’t be, and the return of Zack Fair, all of which has only created even more anticipation for Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth.
Final Fantasy 7 is a game with an undeniable legacy, and Rebirth director Naoki Hamaguchi knows that full well. When asked about the sequel fan theory, he coyly admits that the team is aware of the feeling of “anxiety” this might cause fans, especially in terms of how their favorite character’s fates could change.
“The original title is a work that has a ton of fans, and a very well-known storyline. When you're implementing small changes along the way, I do believe that this evokes a sense of anxiety, in a good way,” Hamaguchi tells Inverse, “As for how it will play out, of course, we want players to see for themselves. As far as the reactions that we're getting, it’s as we expected, and we're happy to hear that.”
But after spending a few hours previewing the game, we can safely say there’s no reason to feel anxious. Rebirth appears to make good on Square Enix’s bold vision that Square Enix has for this new Final Fantasy 7 trilogy, shifting gameplay into a more explorative open world after the mostly linear Remake. It’s clear that Rebirth has ambition in spades, and ahead of its February 29 release Inverse had a chance to chat with Hamaguchi and producer Yoshinori Kitase about story changes, side content, and much more.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Final Fantasy 7 Remake featured a lot of the Materia that was in the original game. With splitting this project into three games, how are you updating the Materia system to make sure it feels new and fresh for each game?
Hamaguchi: For battle strategy with Materia we made it so that for this title there's not only single element Materia, like Fire, but there are ones that combine a number of elements, like Fire and Ice.
Moreover, there is a system where a character’s ATB gauge will automatically be depleted and they'll use a move [Note: Party members couldn’t auto-use ATB in Remake]. So it's made in a way where even players who may not be “hardcore gamers” and are playing more for fun, can enjoy the Materia system. So in that way we reexamined and redefined the Materia system with fresh eyes.
In a recent interview, you talked about how The Witcher 3 was an inspiration for Rebirth in terms of designing side content. How are you balancing all of the side content with making sure the main story is paced well?
Hamaguchi: For sources of inspiration, there were various titles, including The Witcher 3, but also other game titles such as Skyrim and Horizon, all of which I've enjoyed, and I've looked into as inspirations for this title.
But in terms of Rebirth itself and what we wanted to mainly accomplish, from the get-go we wanted to include much more side content, volume-wise, than the main storyline. Of course, while the main storyline is most vital and we want the players to enjoy it, I find it essential for the players to be able to choose whether they want to focus and play on the main story, or go off into the side content.
That can only be done if there is a large amount of side content available. I felt like this was a point that was really important for us as a key element of Rebirth.
Could you tell me about the new Dynamic Difficulty? Why did you decide to add it as an option, and if there were any difficulties in implementing it?
Hamaguchi: Dynamic Mode actually wasn't something that we had considered implementing from the very beginning. But rather, understanding that this play experience within this vast world with many side quests, is going to vary from user to user. One person may choose to focus more on the main storyline, another may choose to devote a lot of time to side content.
There were two main parts we had considered changing from Remake. One is that if we have a player that devotes a lot of time to playing side contents, and their party is a very high level, when they return to the main story, it’s so easy to defeat the enemies now. That's going to feel very unfulfilling, and it's going to break that person out of that immersive experience of gameplay.
Secondly, we’ve shown gameplay of the Grasslands, but later on, players will experience the Junon area and the Costa Del Sol area. They’ll keep going, and then may want to eventually return to the Grasslands. At that time, some players would feel a little unfulfilled if they returned to the Grasslands, and all the enemies are so easy you can beat them in one blow. I for sure would feel that way.
In order to mitigate that we introduced this Dynamic Mode in which even areas that you’ve gone through before, where you were at a lower level, enemies come back at a higher level, and you're still able to have this very fulfilling battle. In that way, it keeps people coming back and having this fresh experience.
“With Rebirth, players will be able to see how Zack plays this vital role as a key figure.”
You’ve talked a lot about the larger role Zack Fair has. Was that part of the plan for this trilogy from the beginning?
Kitase: Regarding Zack’s role in the Remake series, it was something from the beginning that we thought we wanted to make different from the original title, and have his character take on a larger role. For anyone that played Remake, they may already have felt some of the differences from the original title. With Rebirth, players will be able to see how Zack plays this vital role as a key figure.
Final Fantasy 7 is well known for having environmentalist themes. Twenty-six years after the original game, how do you feel about those themes now? And how did they inform your work on Rebirth?
Kitase: In terms of the actual environmental issues and energy issues, I suppose, as it’s not ceased 26 years later. But with these years, I do believe the ways of thinking and perspectives of people towards these issues have changed, in the way that there's a wider variety of perspectives.
But in terms of how it’s maintained its relevancy over the years, I believe this is due to how we have approached these issues within the Final Fantasy 7 fantasy world, exploring this through the Lifestream. If we were to depict the issues exactly as is back in ‘97, like exactly how the environmental issues or energy issues were playing out at the time, then I don't believe it would have been able to retain its relevance today. By expressing the issues within the worldview of Final Fantasy 7, I think it's become this immortal theme.
There are a lot of fans out there that have an interpretation of Remake and this trilogy being more of a sequel than a reimagining. What’s your reaction to that, and what is it like making these games when everyone has different theories and thoughts about what’s going on?
Hamaguchi: There are two main points that we took care of keeping intact for the Remake series. The first is, having had 20-something years pass since the original Final Fantasy 7, we now have the technology to be able to depict the game and the storyline in much more depth. So what we wanted to do was to look back at the original, see what we could not show and represent back then, and put efforts into making this a reality.
The second point is that the original title is a work that has a ton of fans, and a very well-known storyline. So when you're working with a title like that, when you're implementing small changes along the way, I do believe that this evokes a sense of “anxiety,” in a good way. Curiosity in players that might think “Oh, I thought I knew this story, but something is a little different. Is the path that the characters lead going to be different?” It evokes that curiosity and wonder.
I think, due to this point being effectively done throughout the series, that's a big reason why a lot of fans consider it to be a sequel and not a reconstruction. As for how it will play out, of course, we want players to see for themselves. But as far as the reactions that we're getting, it’s as we expected, and we're happy to hear that.
Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth launches on February 29 for PS5.
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