Final Fantasy VII Remake Ultimania Interview with Motomu Toriyama | English Translation | FF7 Remake

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This is a translation of an interview with the developers of Final Fantasy VII Remake. Read on for insight into the development of Final Fantasy VII Remake from Co-directors Motomu Toriyama and Naoki Hamaguchi and Battle Director Teruki Endo, with details about creating the world and battle system in the Remake, Part 2 and future parts!

All Ultimania Interviews
Origins, Story Changes and Mysteries: Tetsuya Nomura Building the Game and Going Beyond Midgar: Motomu Toriyama

How the Team Got Together

Those Who Wanted to Make FFVII Were Gathered

The first thing I'd like to know is how the remake development team got together.

Naoki Hamaguchi: Initially the remake was being handled jointly with an outside development team and I joined around that time. Some time after we moved development internally and with new staff joining we asked Motomu Toriyama and others to come on as well.

Motomu Toriyama: I had been under the assumption that a remake of Final Fantasy VII using modern day technology was going to happen for some time and I thought “This might end up being my last work,” so I wasn't able to make the decision to join so easily. But I had a duty as a member of the original development team, and even if development had continued externally, I figured I would end up lending a hand at some point.

Hamaguchi: I really had to commit myself as well. We had already announced that development had started and we were preparing a game that fans had high expectations of, so I felt I had no other choice to but to dive in.

Teruki Endo: I was originall working on another game at a different company but when development changed and they were looking for more staff I applied and joined the team. Ever since I was young I had wanted to try and make a Final Fantasy game myself, so when I had gotten experience I saw the recruitment for Final Fantasy VII Remake and thought this was the only way to go.

Hamaguchi: When it came to hiring staff for previous Final Fantasy games, we would often keep nature of the project quiet and put out a recruitment notice, but for Final Fantasy VII Remake we were able to say what game we were working on and got a lot of people who really wanted to make FFVII to join which made development proceed a lot smoother.

FFVII was dear to you as well, Endo?

Endo: Of course. I remember playing it when it came out and thinking “Games can really evolve this much!” At the last company I worked for I had been working on action games since I joined so when they were looking for people to make an action-based battle system for the remake it was the perfect chance for me.

Hamaguchi: We had a lot of experience making command-based battle systems and had been doing well with that for some time but the switch to an action-based battle system was new territory for us so we struggled. Right at that time Endo applied and I thought “There's no way we can let him get away” (laughs).

Endo: From the time my employment had been decided until I started work I spent a lot of time at home playing the remaster of FFVII on PS4. I analyzed what was good about the original's battle system and thought about what sorts of things we could keep and what we should change.

Focus and Vision of the Remake

Keeping the Essence of the Original While Expanding Upon New Ideas

With the development of the remake, what sorts of things did you try and emphasize?

Hamaguchi: My main focus was to avoid simply borrowing the world of the original and to take the parts that fans love and adapt them for modern day entertainment standards. The graphics being improved is one thing and the other staff were free to do with them as they'd like, but the biggest thing for me was to preserve the core essence of the original throughout development. Even when adding new things, everything came from the original in one way or another.

Toriyama: The issue is that there were times when sticking to the original was more limiting than anything. Staff members who have strong emotions regarding the original often didn't want to stray too far from the original. Of course when we made the original we didn't have any of those issues and made the game as a brand new Final Fantasy and added in whatever we thought was interesting. This time I wanted to do the same thing so anytime I realized I was limiting myself, I told myself “It's okay to do what you like,” and pushed those misgivings away.

The story of the remake is only up to the escape from Midgar from the original, were there any side-effects to splitting up the story?

Toriyama: Because we stuck to only Midgar for part 1 we were able to better use all of our resources to recreate Midgar with current technology. As far as game content goes, we were also able to include more events that dove deeper into other characters and strove from the start to create a game with the same amount of content as a mainline FF game.

Hamaguchi: For me, while I had no issues with the volume of the story, when it came to the battle system I ended up talking a lot with Endo about how much we should add in. For example with magic, we talked about if we had a situation where you can use Fire and Fira but not Firaga, players might not be pleased with that, so we make it so you can unlock up to Firaga and save spells like Flare for future releases.

Endo: After making a list of the things we wanted to include for the battle system in one game, we would compare it to the battle system from the original and decide what we could keep, what we could change, and so on. It wasn't deciding how to take the original's battle system and put it into the remake, but rather first figuring out what was necessary and then taking what we could from the original in that order.

Hamaguchi: For the summons, you actually don't gain access to them until after leaving Midgar in the original, but they're a big part of FF and players would be expecting them to be there so we added them in early.

Endo: Since summons were initially slated for the next release there were some worries about whether it would be okay or not, but I figured we could just figure any issues out as they came (laughs). Anyhow, we decided that putting anything that would be in a mainline FF game into the remake was our top priority.

Searching For the Right Way to Express Elements of the Original in the Modern Day

When you compare society now to when the original came out 23 years ago a lot has changed, did this have any effect on the story for the remake?

Toriyama: With the improvement of graphics, things like character's facial expressions become more realistic, and how much of that you depict, or don't, becomes something you need to take into consideration. For example, when the original came out we were all pretty young and things like “Is it really right to destroy the Mako Reactors to save the planet?” didn't really cross our minds at all. However with the remake, a lot of things have happened in the real world, so we as the developers have a responsibility to figure out how to make things relate as well as how far to go. In the original there aren't a lot of other NPCs around in Sector 8 so you only meet Aerith, but in the remake we added more people. Showing the player how destroying the Sector 1 Mako Reactor affected the people of Sector 8 was something I felt was important so we added it in.

Does this also relate to how there's a new plot point where Shinra is using Avalanche's actions against them?

Toriyama: That's right. With how the story flows we can't change the fact that Barret and the others are destroying the Mako Reactors, but we could add in that they're being used by Shinra to help soften their more extremist image.

It's also believed that the scene at the Honeybee Inn was changed to reflect the changes in society.

Toriyama: That's also true. The way games are rated has changed since the original, so from the beginning one thing we wanted to do was expand on the Honeybee Inn as well as Wall Market as a whole. We figured that if we were going to be changing it up, we may as well boost the entertainment factor and added in the dancing mini-game. The sort of sexy route that was at the Honeybee Inn in the original got moved to Madam M's portion.

Was the hand massage bit also hard to get past the rating check?

Toriyama: The way ratings are handled are different for each country so trying to make sure everything would be acceptable in any region was difficult, but thanks to the internal checks we started doing early on, I think we managed to get it just right without going too far.

Hamaguchi: This time the game is being released worldwide on the same day, so making sure that there wasn't anything that might be hurtful to other culture's took a lot of time.

Toriyama: Something more difficult for the rating check was actually Jenova. We all thought “Well she's not human so it should be fine, right?”, but the fact that she was both naked and headless ended up being a bit of an issue. To rectify this, we added a mecha-type thing to her head and made it so she was covered up when Sephiroth was carrying her in the Shinra Building. Jenova is a pretty big part of Final Fantasy VII so I didn't actually want to change it, though...

Hamaguchi: Lines regarding human experimenation would also run into trouble so we had to make more changes there.

Toriyama: But if we changed the fact that SOLDIER are a result of human experimenting done by Shinra, then the game stops being FFVII, so we really pushed for that to stay unchanged.

Hamaguchi: We also really wanted to leave the blood trail that was left behind by Jenova, but in order to keep a lower age rating we couldn't use red blood. Instead we chose to use a purple magma-like substance that has more of a fantasy feel yet still leaves that feeling of unease. We worked really hard and ended up getting that checked about 5 or 6 times before we got the okay. There were a lot of times we had to think about the current day ratings while figuring out how to adapt elements of the original.

There's also the scene where Scarlet puts her legs up on a Shinra Troop on all fours that had a pretty strong impact.

Toriyama: We wanted to show Scarlet's sadistic personality through that one scene so we had her use her underling as a leg rest. What would be considered power harassment by today's standards seems to be totally fine with people who work for Shinra (laughs). Behavior like this that gets totally overlooked might also be the result of Shinra's abusive dictatorship. The poor Shinra Troop on the ground might be fulfilling their duties as a loyal underling to their superior.

Something Only Naoki Hamaguchi Knows About the Remake

hamaguchi thumb.jpg Co-director, Game Designer, and Programmer
Naoki Hamaguchi
Works FFXII, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, Lightning Returns FFXIII, Mobius FF

The auto mode for upgrading weapons was originally something I had made for me to use while testing and adjusting the balance of weapons. I thought it was incredibly useful so it got put into the game as an official feature.

Something Only Motomu Toriyama Knows About the Remake

toriyama thumb.jpg Co-director and Scenario Designer
Motomu Toriyama
Works FFVII, FFX, FFX-2, FFXIII, FFXIII-2, Lightning Returns FFXIII, Mobius FF

(The following refers to the Japanese voice cast)
Toriyama: The voice for the VR video that plays on the Visual Entertainment Floor is actually voiced by the same actor as the Shinra Middle Manager, Eiji Hanawa. There's nothing official that states it's the Middle Manager voicing the video, but it's kinda fun to think about it that way.

New Additions in the Remake

The Reason the Cats in Sector VII Are So High Quality is...?

Was there anything from the original you felt bad you couldn't include in the remake?

Hamaguchi: There actually wasn't a whole lot that we really wanted to add but had no choice but to abandon. Rather, I feel we were able to recreate the density of Midgar as well as add to the various things that may have gone unnoticed in the original.

Toriyama: I kind of wanted to add the bit where Cloud can explain things like an ass in the Beginner's Hall (laughs).

Was there a reason you don't go into Avalanche's hideout below Seventh Heaven?

Toriyama: Compared to the original, the Cloud is a lot more distant from Avalanche in the beginning, and there's a portion after the destruction of the Sector 1 Mako Reactor where they separate for a time. Taking that into consideration, we decided that there was less reason to depict him entering the hideout.

Right before entering the Honeybee Inn in the original there's a line where Cloud says “Looks like I need to go inside to complete my disguise.” that was cut, too.

(TL Note: In the Japanese version the line literally translates to “Something in there will help me with dressing like a girl, I know it.” that seemed to leave an impression on the interviewer)
Toriyama: The original didn't have voice acting so we had a lot of lines that would explain situations or character's state of mind, but with everything being voiced we had to go back through and remove or rewrite a lot of lines.

In the original at Corneo's Mansion there was a chance that Corneo could choose Aerith or Tifa as his bride as well. This time it's always Cloud, right?

Hamaguchi: Yeah. I think the original did it best, but because of how much more effort we put into bringing Wall Market to life, having all three scenes would have increased our work load by quite a bit. Because of that, we decided that sticking to only having a scene for Cloud while adding a new section for Tifa and Aerith was the best route.

There's also a blues singer in Wall Market who wasn't in the original...

(In Japanese he's an enka singer)
Hamaguchi: That's something Toriyama wanted to add in (laughs).

Toriyama: Even in the original Wall Market was unique, not just to Midgar but the entire world of Final Fantasy VII, so this time I wanted to add something that broke through that. While thinking of what to do I came across the karaoke set in the bar in the original. I felt like the only thing we could do was have someone using it to sing, so we put an out of place blues singer on it. I was worried if Tetsuya Nomura would give it to the okay or not, but he said to go on ahead with it.

Hamaguchi: There was something I really wanted to add in as well... During development when making a scene where a cat appears, the model wasn't completed yet so there was a point where a really rough model of the cat showed up. I really love cats (laughs) so I thought to myself “There's no way I can release it like this!” and gave the modelers a picture of my own cat and told them to make it for me. Thanks to that they came out with an incredibly high quality cat model. During the scene in the Sector VII Slums at Jessie's house there are 3 cats walking on the fence, and the super detailed American Shorthair among them is my cat (laughs).

Toriyama: For a while in development that cat would show up in various places. At one point when you return from Sector VII and Wedge picks up all of his cats it was mixed in there but Hamaguchi told me “These 3 cats are siblings so it would be weird to have a cat that looks different among them,“ and had me replace it (laughs).

Hamaguchi: It's incredibly detailed so the staff making the cutscenes wanted to use it. During the scene when you meet Aerith in her dress, the person in charge of the cutscenes asked if they could use it, but if that were to happen then my cat would be going everywhere so I strongly requested they don't use it anywhere else since it's a cat that lives in Sector VII (laughs).

Voice and Facial Expressions Increased the Depth of Characters

With the inclusion of voice acting and more detailed facial expressions, how did creating the characters change from the original?

Toriyama: Compared to the original, we were able to depict the nuance that comes with facial expression alone and thanks to our incredibly talented voice actors, I think we were able to increase the depth and realness of the characters. One bit that sticks out is when Tifa visits Cloud at night in the Sector 7 Slums, the scene is full of emotion. When talking to friends the old Cloud comes out so he treats Tifa more kindly, the music builds up, and their feelings are conveyed better.

The scene when Tifa makes drinks for Cloud in Seventh Heaven where he says “Beautiful.” also left an impression.

Toriyama: That's a scene where Cloud tries to act cool but can't quite how much. Everyone has their image of Cloud, from how he is at the end of the original, to his much cooler demeanor displayed in other media, but we wanted to show parts of the true Cloud in the remake. We also wanted to show how young people who prioritize knowledge before action and try to play it cool can end up slipping up.

At the beginning of Chapter 14 there's a scene that occurs in the flower garden with one of your party members that's like the date scene from the original.

Toriyama: The date scene that happened in the Golden Saucer in the original is something we couldn't removed from FFVII when retelling the story so we decided to try and add in a similar event based on the events that occured up to that point.

Hamaguchi: These events are actually called Resolutions and this time who you get the scene with is dependent on the quests that you do to raise the party's affection with Cloud.

Toriyama: While not strictly a “date”, per se, I wanted to include a scene like this that would live up to the fan's expectations. For this reason, in the scene with Aerith you can't tell if it's a dream or reality and her words carry a lot of weight. For Tifa's scene, in the script I first wrote I had planned for Cloud to stop hugging Tifa quickly, but Kazushige Nojima told me “They're young so we can leave it as is,” so we ended it with the hug.

Hamaguchi: We even did the motion capture without the hug but redid it to reflect the change.

Something Only Teruki Endo Knows About the Remake

endo thumb.jpg Battle Director
Teruki Endo
Works Monster Hunter Tri, Monster Hunter 4, Monster Hunter: World

When I was creating the actions for when you're a frog I wanted to be able to attack enemies from anywhere, so I added in the tongue attack. Due to various changes over time, the frog's tongue ended up being able to extend to over 25 meters...

The New Battle System

Merging Immersive Action-Based Combat with the Command-Based ATB Combat

For the remake the battle system is a lot more action oriented than the original, what was your goal for it?

Hamaguchi: In the original when enemies appeared on the field you'd transition to a battle specific screen, but for the remake we planned to make Midgar more real so if battles didn't exist in realtime it would kill the player's immersion. On the other hand, the ATB battle system that FF has used allows for a higher level of strategy, so we combined the action-based combat with ATB's Tactical Mode (Wait Mode in previous FF games and the Japanese version) and came up with what we have now. By keeping the core ideas of ATB and inserting it into an action-based battle system, we were able to aim for a battle system that had elements of the original but a different feeling.

Endo: We tried to make it so that even if the real-time combat elements increased that the battle system still channeled the original. When it comes to pure action games, succeeding requires you to up your skill and be able to make decisions on the fly during battle, so trying to mix that with the more strategy-based FF battle system was difficult. But I felt since I was given the chance to work on a Final Fantasy game I should take everything I learned from previous projects and fully realize this battle system. To do that I regularly made test versions to check if the game felt like FFVII or if there was too much action.

Did you worry that the game might be come more difficult by going for strategic real-time combat?

Endo: In order to increase the level of strategy you need to think about what happens when you think about how to tackle a situation versus rushing in blindly. If you can keep doing the exact same things to progress through the game then there isn't any strategy required, so we have it set up so that you need to think about what commands you need to use and when otherwise you won't be able to succeed. However there are those who may find this difficult so we added in the Easy and Classic difficulty modes so they can enjoy the game as well.

How did you choose which abilities would consume the ATB Gauge and which wouldn't?

Endo: I like to think about attacking with the ▢ button as less for dealing damage to enemies, but more for filling the ATB Gauge. So you fill up the gauge with regular attacks and like the original use deal damage or recover with the ATB Gauge. Becuase of this, magic, abilities, items, and so on all require ATB Gauge to use and the strategy lies in that you have to decide whether or not you want to attack or heal.

By the way, how did you fine tune the battle system balance during development?

Endo: First off, we had to decide what sorts of characteristics each enemy had and how they would come at the player, then we had to look at how the player would react to the enemy and attack. After that we could implement all of this into the enemies, but the ways that enemies could be tackled ended up too few because we explained each concept in so much detail in order to not waste any time when making them. To help out with that, we listened to what others had to say and toned down things that might've been too much and from there adjusted everything.

Keeping the FFVII Feel with the Pedometer Materia

In the original, when you maxed a materia's level it would split into another of the same materia, why did this feature not make it into the remake?

Endo: It was because we wanted to more accurately balance the game's difficulty. With the materia splitting feature you could end up with a ton of the strongest materia and that would break the balance that we'd decided on. To prevent that we cut the materia splitting feature and limited the amount of certain materia you could obtain. The other reason was that in the original materia allowed you to fully customize your characters, but this ended up making it so that players tended to give everyone the same materia. We wanted to avoid this with the remake so we set a limit on how many of each materia could be obtained and tried to make the unique characteristics of each character stand out.

Toriyama: I think we were able to show each character's individuality in battle better than in the original.

Endo: We made it so the unique abilities for each character tied to the △ button and the various weapon abilities would have their own distinctive features and hoped that materia would be there to boost strengths or cover weaknesses.

What was the reason for adding a separate slot for Summon Materia?

Endo: We limited each character to one summon each and wanted there to be some strategy in deciding who has which materia. We also knew from the start that there would be times where summoning would be restricted so we didn't want players to agonize over whether or not to bring a summon or to constantly change it based on what they would be fighting and gave it its own slot.

I really have to ask about the Pedometer Materia.

(TL Note: The Japanese name is Walking Mania)
Toriyama: It's a materia that changes based on the number of steps you take so we thought it would be boring to give it a serious name that hinted at its contents and that something a little more fun would be better so we dubbed it the Pedometer. Honestly the original had a lot of goofy things like this throughout the game. A lot of games lately have been sticking with more serious naming conventions so we decided to go with something a little outside the norm and bring out some of the FFVII goofiness.

Beyond Midgar: The World of Part 2 and Beyond

Challenging Themselves to Make the World of FFVII in the Next Game

I'm sure everyone who played through part 1 is excited for the next release, have you already started work on it?

Hamaguchi: We're at the point where we have a vague idea of where we're going.
Toriyama: I was in charge of the Midgar portion in the original as well so a lot of my memories of that have stuck with me, but anything after that I've forgotten quite a bit of so for now I'm watching videos and reviewing. I didn't even remember how the party got to Kalm after leaving Midgar (laughs).

I'm pretty curious about how the world map is going to look myself.

Hamaguchi: That too is something that we're still in the planning phase for. For part 1, our main goal was to fully realize Midgar and have players experience everything it had to offer so for the next one we want players to be able to experience the large world of FFVII. With that set, we really want to think about how to make players feel the scope of the world while also having a dramatic story as well.

Finally, I want to hear what you're all excited for in the next release.

Endo: This is just a personal goal of mine, but I was only the Battle System Director this time so I want to expand my role in the next release and immerse myself in desiging a new FF game. I want to challenge myself by skillfully integrating gameplay into a story focused game.

Hamaguchi: I feel we were able to recreate Midgar and its story with modern day technology and successfully show it to fans. However, if we do the same thing for the next part, there will be less excitement and emotion. How exactly to go about doing so may be difficult, but I'd like to try and put in new things and make the next game differently from part 1.

Toriyama: With just Midgar we were able to make a game as big as this, so I have my worries about how to go about creating the enormous world after this. But I strongly feel I want to try and polish up the rest of the world in the same way we remade Midgar with improved technology or even some other method. I still don't know how exactly it'll turn out, but I hope players are excited for what's to come.

(This interview was conducted at Square Enix on March 19th, 2020)

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