'Final Fantasy VII' Director Talks Star Wars, Remakes, And What’s Next
The very first thing Kitase brings up is Star Wars.
It’s the 30th of January, a chilly night in Piccadilly, London and I’m sitting right at the back of a packed screening room, eyes locked on a giant two-handed sword with sharp obsidian edges and an unwieldy shape that make it look more like an obelisk than a weapon. Set against the black background on an illuminated stage, it looks as though it was plucked straight from a fictional universe — which is exactly the intent. This replica is Cloud Strife’s “buster sword,” the impossibly huge weapon carried by the series’ protagonist that has come to visually define Final Fantasy VII. I wonder how many people in the audience wished – as I wished – they could hold and lift it, to pretend for just a moment that they’re the hero of a tale that changed video games.
Yoshinori Kitase stands at the other end of the stage with a translator, ready to give a masterclass on his long career in video games. Kitase is dressed in dark colors and has a low, pleasant voice. We’re in the Princess Anne Theatre at the BAFTA building. BAFTA is a renowned UK arts charity for “celebrating & supporting” the games industry. In 2021 the organization nominated part one of the remake of Final Fantasy VII (which Kitase produced) for two awards. The second part of the remake (named Final Fantasy VII Rebirth) is due to release at the end of February, after four years of debate and speculation about how the developers will handle the rest of the original story. I’m excited to see what Kitase has to say about his career, and especially the original FFVII, but I (and I’m sure many people in the room) also hope for more information on Rebirth.
The very first thing Kitase brings up is Star Wars; he was overwhelmed, he says, when he sat in the cinema with his father and saw a Star Destroyer on the screen. This 1987 experience clearly made a deep impression on him. (Is it a coincidence that Final Fantasy VII also opens on what looks like stars in space?) A movie like Star Wars, he notes, engaged people of all ages. Games, in comparison, were regarded as a subculture at the time. Kitase, however, was enamored with them (he mentions both Mario and Zelda) and at one point he played on his friend’s console all day. His friend wasn’t pleased. Kitase’s father didn’t seem pleased either; his father’s expression, Kitase recalls, was cold. Video games were like the music of The Beatles, thought to be a bad influence. They didn’t have the respectability of cinema.
Kitase studied filmmaking at university and got into animation too, but a big turning point for his path in video games was probably when he came across Hironobu Sakaguchi’s then new Final Fantasy series. (Yoshitaka Amano’s gorgeous artwork particularly grabbed him.) Final Fantasy, Kitase mused, felt adult, and was a new medium for telling stories. He managed to secure a position on the SquareSoft team for Final Fantasy Adventure, handling an emotional scene involving self-sacrifice that drew praise from fans and built his own confidence. He later went on to work on the classic Final Fantasy VI, a game he recently spoke about in regard to the potential for a remake.
FFVII, released in 1997, was an even greater achievement, and its success has stuck with gamers through the years. People kept asking for a remake and Kitase says that the media acted as if such a thing was actually decided and inevitable, but he was torn on the prospect. The younger generation was key to the remake; Kitase resisted the calls to remake FFVII for a long time, but what finally swayed him was one important question. Would the younger people now, the current generation, experience the same emotional impact as people of my own generation did when we played FFVII back in 1997? Would Kitase’s own son, a fan of the modern Apex Legends, experience that old impact if he played FFVII now? Kitase proceeded with the remake and now, promisingly, he says that he feels there is still so much left to do in games. His ultimate goal is to elevate the position of games within culture until they become something that people will casually discuss and debate over around tables in daily life as they would with movies.
After Kitase finished speaking we all filtered back into another room. I wondered, as I observed the busy room before me, what these people – who appeared to mainly be of my generation or a little younger – felt about the original FFVII, about Rebirth, and about the remake as a whole. I chose to stop hovering at the back of the room like an aloof, far less impressive version of Cloud Strife. I took more of an Aerith approach, wandering around and listening to opinions. During my bumbling exploration, I found a table downstairs in the corner of the room, where three men were enjoying a conversation. The one to the left (who actually got into playing the piano due to his admiration for Nobuo Uematsu’s work) told me, quite passionately, that he believed the remake project should take risks. Without risks, he said, what is the point in even remaking FFVII? What about perhaps the most talked about and memorable part of the original game, where a main character perishes? Change that too, he insisted. Let that character live. It’s something new, something brave. Their childhood, and the old game, will still be there regardless.
What hits me most from my discussions with people at the event is the lack of worry. Online, some fans seem wary of change; there is concern about deviations from the story of the original FFVII. At the event, however, people were welcoming change, approving of it. (Another person I spoke to particularly liked Kitase speaking about the importance of bringing in new talent to game development rather than just the same people over and over.) As Aerith says in part one of the remake: “Gotta look forward, not back.” Kitase, and the people I spoke to, are all indeed looking forward. As someone who adores the original game and has had mixed feelings on the changes in the remake, I can’t help but agree with them. I don’t know what awaits us in Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth, but I’m fascinated by the possibilities.
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