Final Fantasy VII Rebirth’s creators want you to embrace the stress


There’s a moment in Final Fantasy VII Rebirth — one I won’t spoil but will say it’s not That Moment — where I could hardly breathe. The story had taken a slight detour away from the events of the original’s continuity but not so much to be wholly different. Characters were in the same places and had the same attitudes as they did before but were remixed just so. I had no idea how everything was going to shake out, which stressed me out because up to that point, I was deeply invested in predicting how Rebirth would depart from its predecessor.

That anxiety is exactly what Naoki Hamaguchi, director of Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, wants players to feel — along with a few other emotions. 

“By implementing these changes,” Hamaguchi says, “we bring about this new sense of wonder and excitement and anxiety in a positive sense that I believe is key to a work of entertainment.”

In an interview with The Verge, Hamaguchi and veteran Final Fantasy producer Yoshinori Kitase, who worked on the original FF7 and Remake / Rebirth, speak about the balancing act between honoring the 1997 original while creating something new.

“We bring about this new sense of wonder and excitement and anxiety in a positive sense that I believe is key to a work of entertainment.”

Modern reinterpretations of “classic” games isn’t a new trend, but Rebirth is unique in that it falls between a straight-up current-gen refresh like the Resident Evil remakes and complete reboots like the Tomb Raider trilogy of the 2010s. 

There is a lot of opportunity in that middle space and Hamaguchi says for Rebirth, there were two key points he and his team kept in mind to maintain balance between updating the old and making something wholly new. The first was expression.

“So much more detail is possible in what we’re able to portray and express in much of these scenes,” Hamaguchi says through an interpreter. “We’re now able to show certain [moments] that perhaps the original creators intended to but could not with the technology at the time.”

Utilizing technology in service of expression allowed Rebirth’s developers to deepen existing canon events such that they feel new without being new.

“Allowing players this sort of new discovery in experiencing these details was the first point we took care of.”

The second point was recognizing that FF7’s story had to be changed somehow and figuring out where to implement those changes effectively. Hamaguchi and Kitase worked to create a sort of guessing game with Rebirth, designed to keep players on their toes.

“If the story that we follow for Rebirth is exactly the same, players’ overall excitement would decrease,” Hamaguchi explains. “Zack, for example, was a character who died in the original game. But by bringing him back in the Remake series, we’ve created this sense of wonder and excitement in players that believe perhaps this is something different.”

Zack’s presence in Rebirth was indeed something that kept me wondering. He’s a pretty popular character, starring in Crisis Core, one of FF7’s prequel games, and I thought perhaps his inclusion was a bit of fan service — especially considering he’s supposed to be dead.

But Kitase says Zack’s resurrection wasn’t done in response to his popularity but because bringing in characters from across the FF7 universe, popular or obscure, was always the plan. 

Zack and other characters like Cissnei, also from Crisis Core, add “spice,” Kitase says. 

​​In my years of loyal service to the Final Fantasy series, I’ve kept abreast of most of FF7’s lore spread across multiple spinoff games that either star or feature music from one of my favorite J-rock artists. And the one defining throughline is that it can get pretty confusing.

This wasn’t too much of a problem in Remake, but things get a lot more complex as Rebirth starts. I wondered if resurrecting someone canonically dead while introducing copies of Cloud and Aerith might complicate what was already a complicated story — especially for players who didn’t go through a Gackt phase.

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Hamaguchi didn’t quite promise that the story wouldn’t get too unwieldy to follow, but did say you wouldn’t need my level of FF7 lore understanding to follow along. 

“There’s nothing that [a player] wouldn’t understand because they haven’t played the spinoff titles,” he says. “Everything you need to know will be addressed in Rebirth.”

One of the major criticisms of Remake was that certain sections were too much of a departure from the original. Moments like Remake’s Wall Market section, which once represented 20 minutes to an hour’s worth of gameplay, spiraled out into hourslong slogs that unnecessarily padded relatively inconsequential sections of the game. 

“Everything you need to know will be addressed in ‘Rebirth.’”

Hamaguchi acknowledges the criticism, explaining that he felt it wasn’t so much the side stories themselves that were the issue, rather that players weren’t able to decide whether to pursue them. I was indeed touched by the tragic backstory of one of Don Corneo’s henchmen, but supremely didn’t appreciate fighting through yet another sewer dungeon to hear it. (Or catching ghosts, or tracking down somebody’s lost wallet.)

Hamaguchi says those kinds of side stories are still present but shouldn’t be as disruptive as they were for Remake. “For Rebirth, the volume of side contents is quite massive,” he says. “But a key difference here is that players are now able to choose when they play the side contents.” 

Some of the “side content” you can choose from is well worth the detour. The protorelic quests — a series of treasure hunting quests in search of a collection of mysterious artifacts — in particular surprised me with all the different activities you participate in. In the grasslands area, you have to stymie the efforts of a bunch of thugs. In Corel, to win the protorelic housed there, you fight waves of cactuar to rack up points; while in Junon, Cloud and the gang are returned into their polygonal forms from 1997 to play the Fort Condor tower defense mini-game.

That variety, in both story and gameplay, is what makes Rebirth a valuable expansion of Final Fantasy VII — even if it means dealing with a little anxiety.


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