The development of Final Fantasy VII is a mysterious and hard thing to follow. While there is plenty of info out there, much of it is either rumors or unsubstantiated. The sad thing is, there is no easy way to find legitimate information on the game. This is why I am here now, this article will serve as a source of information and interviews about the development of the original Final Fantasy VII.
Below, you will find interviews from the games development and release. As well as links to the sources of these interviews( interviews copied so they will not be lost one day ). Beyond interviews there will be Press Releases and some other cool information. Enjoy.
Final Fantasy VII – 1997 Developer Interviews
Hironobu Sakaguchi – Producer
Yoshinori Kitase – Director
Tetsuya Nomura – Character Design, Storyboards, System, Mech Design
Yuusuke Naora – Art Director
Motonori Sakakibara – Movie Director
Akira Fujii – Battle Scene Director
Ken Narita – Main Programmer
Yasui Kentarou – Magic/Summoning Effects
Kenzo Kanzaki – Backgrounds
Nobuo Uematsu – Music
FF6 vs. FF7
Kitase: Our development concept for the story in FF6 was to have over 10 main characters, any of which could be called “the protagonist.” We challenged ourselves to create a world without someone you could point to and say, “this is the main character.” This time, with FF7, we knew from the beginning that we wanted Cloud to be the main character, and we were going to tell his story.
Aside from the story, FF6 had a lot of details undecided when we began development. A great many things were filled out along the way. In contrast, with FF7 we knew from the outset that we were going to be making a real 3D game, so from the earliest planning stage we had very, very detailed designs drawn up. The script was also locked in, and our image for the graphics was completely fleshed out. So when we began the actual work, we had already created what you could call “storyboards”. Of course there was some experimenting as we worked, but we were very clear about what we were supposed to be doing from the outset.
Actually, the very first thing we decided in FF7 was how the camera angles would change during battle scenes. We also decided on the materia system, where any weapon and armor can be equipped with any materia. Accordingly we knew the battles wouldn’t be about characters with individual, innate skills, but rather that combat would change depending on the way materia was used.
Sakaguchi: After FF6 was completed the staff had some free time. We then started thinking about what new hardware there was and what we wanted to do with our next creations, and we created a movie as an experiment. At that time we were working with the SG1 workstations, which had rendering software designed for next generation hardware. For that reason we thought it would be good if we could continue using this setup for our next game. With the SG1 software, we could develop graphics for any hardware. 1 However, for our purposes, we didn’t want the frame-by-frame, slow rendering that takes many hours; we wanted to develop a way to render the visuals in real-time for our new game.
Kitase: I believe we only had 3 months to figure all that out.
Choosing the Hardware for Final Fantasy VII
Sakaguchi: It was starting to become clear to us what the memory capacity for the different next-gen consoles would be. Our games were going to need a huge amount of memory. The Final Fantasy VI CG demo we made for the Siggraph exhibition took 20 megs all by itself. We thought that demo had a lot of visual impact, so there really wasn’t much question about which hardware we would use; if we were going to realize the promise of the demo we had shown at Siggraph, nothing but the CD-ROM format would suffice.
Another reason for choosing the CD-ROM was related to price. I think one of the big reasons the first Final Fantasy was favorably received by players, and the later games in the series gained so many fans, was that you could buy those games for around 5000 to 6000 yen. We tried to have the same pricing for Bahamut Lagoon, Gun Hazard, and our other later Super Famicom games, but using cartridge ROM meant those games had to be sold for over 10000 yen. New players did not flock to those games like they had before. If we used CD-ROM for Final Fantasy VII, we’d be able to have a 2-disc game at a price of 5800 yen. I was hoping it would be possible to make a game that could sell several hundred thousand copies.
Introductions, Difficulties, Favorite Moments
Sakaguchi: I’ve been working with Kitase for a long time, since FF5. He did most of the event scenes in FF6: the opera house, Celes’ suicide scene, the scene where Setzer climbs the stairs and reminisces, and more. I’m not exactly turning things over to the next generation just yet, but for FF7 almost all the story was done by Kitase. His original ambition was to be a film director, so he’s well-disposed towards this work–I’ve left all the in-game event scripting in his hands.
As for my part, since FF3 I’ve led the battle team, and that was my role this time too. Well, actually, the battle team is composed of solid veterans, so I stepped back a bit and played more of a producer role.
Nomura: For FF7 I worked on character design, storyboarding, and the underlying story.2 I have too many favorite parts to sum up quickly here… well, I like it all.
Narita: I was the main programmer. I did all the programming related to the field, and I also helped get everything together at the end. As for difficulties… hmm. Since it’s been a pretty sudden shift from the Super Famicom to the Playstation, we struggled first with getting used to the Playstation hardware itself, then finding out what appealing features it had, and learning how to bring out those features to make a good, balanced game. But on the programming side, what was really hard for me was going from 2D to 3D. Probably any programmer would say the same I think.
As for things I’m proud of, I thought the movies and the in-game field scenes transition into each other very smoothly. That was also the most difficult thing for us in terms of the programming.
Sakakibara: I worked on the movie cutscenes. The challenge for me was just the amount of volume we had to create, it was crazy. What I liked was the opening scene in the beginning. Although I’m already starting to forget it. (laughs)
Fujii: I did the backgrounds for the battle scenes. What was hard for me was that the field graphics would design their graphics with a very high polygon count, and I think had to find a way to reduce that count so the graphics could be rendered in real-time. Selecting the primary elements to render was very difficult. At first I was just fumbling through it, but I gradually got the hang of it and was able to connect things very well. When I first saw characters move around in those backgrounds I had made, I thought they looked great… if I do say so myself. Unless you’re specifically paying attention to them, battle backgrounds aren’t something you usually notice in a game, but we really had to prepare a huge number of different backgrounds for all the different map terrains.
Kentarou: I did the programming for the battle effects and summons. What was fun for me was recieving the storyboard mockups from Tetsuya and thinking “there’s no way, this is impossible.” But then when I got down to it, they came out surprisingly well. The Titan summon was especially memorable for me. The way we did it was new to me, and I think it compares really well with the work I’ve done in the past.
The CG Team
Sakaguchi: We definitely hired a lot more CG staff than we had before.
Kitase: Yes, but they didn’t feel like a separate, “detached force” from our main development team. They had experience in the game industry. What’s more, our existing staff at Square, who up to now had only worked on games, were able to learn a bit about CG from them.
Sakaguchi: For FF7, about 80-90% of the field and game mechanics were done by our traditional staff. For the CG staff with their specialized hardware knowledge, we tried to let them do their thing (but this time with a video game). Several top-grade special fx guys who had worked at Digital Domain and Lucasarts’ Industrial Light Magic also contributed to FF7.
Maps and Backgrounds
Naora: I worked on the unifying all the graphics, including the movies. The majority of my work was on the background graphics. In our previous games, most of those graphics were done with a fixed top-down perspective. To take a town for an example, the map would be composed of various sprites: houses, streets, foliage, fences, and so on. With FF7 we didn’t have to use sprites and could instead present the maps as one seamless image.
I had experimented with this before in the trial scene of Chrono Trigger. I used a bunch of memory to make one single image for the background. Previously we had to reuse so many sprites for our maps, but it was very exciting to be able to include whatever we wanted for FF7. We could have more varied terrain, and our whole image of the game world really expanded.
The work of mine that I really want people to see is, of course, Midgar. I had the image of a pizza in mind when I designed that city, and I really like how it turned out.
In any event, what we really wanted to convey with the backgrounds was a lived-in feel. Down to the beds and individual toilets, I put a lot of detail into everything.
And even after I stopped working, my boss was still making stuff. On one of the posters hanging on the wall, he added an image of Hironobu Sakaguchi. (laughs) I should be upfront: there’s many graphics that even I don’t know about hidden away in the game. Be sure to look closely at the walls inside the buildings. Who knows what surprising things you might discover. The Rocket Town especially has a variety of interesting things hidden away.
Kitase: Visually, I wanted Final Fantasy VII to be a completely unified work, with a single style running from beginning to end. The cut-scene movies, overworld map, and battle scenes would not be disconnected, but would instead smoothly and seamlessly transition into one another. To call this game “cinematic” would be correct, but what I really wanted was something where all the compositions and shots would be suffused with meaning and show the intent of the creators.
For all our previous games, when we’ve been in the phase of brainstorming ideas and sketching pictures, there’s always been the knowledge that we have to work within the hardware memory limitations. This time there were no limits, and no restraints.
That difference in available memory had a really big influence on the development. For the gameplay system, story, and in-game events, it didn’t change very much. What the increased memory allowed in FF7 was more painterly visuals, with a better sense of space and composition. Naturally the graphics quality itself has also gone up, but I think it’s in the cinematic presentation where you see the evolution.
Sakaguchi: Speaking of cinematic, we also wanted to have a soundtrack with no repeated music. In movies, you don’t hear music get repeated, you know. Depending on the scene the tempo or the intensity might change though. I think something like that should be possible… although there is the matter of how much available spirit/creativity we can get out of our composer, Uematsu. (laughs) Of course FF7 is a game that takes over 40 hours, so some music is repeated, but our overall goal was to make it as cinematic as possible in that regard.
We also had Yoshitaka Amano do illustrations for the world of FF7. Some of his work appears as a frescoe on a wall in the game.
Kitase: We had really been wanting to use Amano’s artwork in-game before. In FF6, we wanted to have one of Reim’s drawings being Amano’s artwork. In the ending scene Reim would have painted a wall mural showing scenes of all the adventures the heroes had undertaken.
Nomura: Since the characters in FF7 were going to be rendered in real-time, the nitoushin,3 chibi-style character design we’ve used in previous games wasn’t going to work here. If they brandished their sword overhead they’d end up stabbing themselves in the head. Not using the super-deformed style meant we had no limits on how to animate these characters.
Naora: I helped out on the character design too. In the previous games with the nitoushin, deformed sprites, it would look really lame if they rode a motorcycle or something. By changing the character’s dimensions, we were able to have them ride different vehicles.
Nomura: My involvement with FF7 goes back to helping create the basic story, and we came up with the characters during that time too. I think that was a good way to do things. Barret and Cait Sith were two characters whom I had wanted to create for a long time, but everyone else was created as we were writing the story.
As for things I personally designed, I think the Yin and Yang boss came out really well. Also, the Iron Giant. It wasn’t enough to just have a good initial design though. I had to create a design, then translate it into a 3D model, then see how it looked all-around, and only then could I say “alright, this is good.” Yin and Yang and the Iron Giant were two designs I felt that way about.
I also helped out on all the storyboad designs for the summons. Since 3D allows you to change the perspective in various ways, we decided to make the summons have really flashy camerawork.
Kentarou: I personally really like Red XIII’s scenes. Every time I remember that one scene of his, I start to tear up. (laughs)
Kanzaki: My favorite would be Tifa, because of her ample bust. (laughs)
Fujii: Yuffy. I like the sounds she makes. Also, it’s not a character, but I like all the summons.
Kentarou: Ah, yeah, I have a special love for Titan. Nomura said Titan should flip over the ground that the enemies are on. He would peel off a slab of the land: no matter what terrain he was on. (laughs) At first I had him come in on normal ground, and he’d flip the same slab of ground no matter what terrain… but that looked boring. I had a small insight into the problem and was able to solve it.
Narita: My favorite character is Barret. Because he does the same damage when he’s in the back row. (laughs)
Kanzaki: Yuffy and Vincent can do that too, though.
Narita: You can clear the game without getting Yuffy. I didn’t add her to my party. As for Vincent, I can’t forgive him. (laughs) Yeah, it’s Barret all the way for me.
Sakakibara: I like Jessie. She cleans your face for you. (laughs) If only you could have had Jessie in your party.
Nomura: For me, it’s of course Cloud and Sephiroth. My concept for Sephiroth from the beginning was that everything about him would be kakkoii.4 His battle movements, and all his in-game scenes too. My image of the relationship between Cloud AND Sephiroth was that of Musashi Miyamoto and Sasaki Kojiro, and I had them in mind when I designed their appearance, as well as their swords. Of course Cloud is Musashi, and Sephiroth is Kojiro.
Animating the Characters
Narita: The movement of the characters during the in-game events was actually all done by character designers in the planning group. Normally those designers convey what they want to a motion specialist, who then animates them. But in our case, the character designers learned how to do the motion work, and if they wanted to add some movement or gesture to a character they did it themselves. That’s why each character’s movements differ depending on who created them. There were designers who liked very exaggerated movements, and those who preferred more quiet, subtle movement.
For the character battle animations, however, we had motion specialists for each character. But for all the other in-game events, the designers created the character’s movements themselves.
Narita: Nomura was the Demon King of retakes. He was always making the designers re-do things. “Nope, that’s wrong there.”
Kanzaki: But it’s really thanks to him that we achieved very realistic motion.
Nomura: We spent more time on the typical, everday motion of the characters than we did on other types of motion. That’s where the character’s personality comes out, after all. So yeah, I stuck my nose into everyone’s work there. (laughs) I drew the designs for these characters from the moment we had our basic idea of them; no one told me “draw him this way” or anything like that. Every character in FF7 is one that I designed just how I wanted to.
The first characters we had were Cloud and Barret. From there we kept talking, and as we worked our ideas out, new characters would come up. All the characters were created in the course of our discussing our ideas for the game. None of them were created after the fact, as in “oh, let’s make this kind of character.” As we brainstormed about the game, we’d realize a character was already there in our minds.
Nomura: With each Final Fantasy, the entire team contributes to the initial design/planning documents, and we then pick out the best ideas from there. During that highly individual period of brainstorming, I came up with the idea of adding limit breaks to the battle system. In FF6 we had desperation attacks that would happen when you were near death, and I wanted to build on that idea. Since you were free to build your character by adding and removing materia, I also wanted to add limit breaks as a way to bring out the individual, innate personalities of each character. For that reason I’m really glad we were able to include them. It also allowed us to add more unique animation for each character, too, further emphasizing their individuality.
The Music of FF7
Uematsu: I know many players were hoping that with the move to the Playstation, we’d have studio quality music instead of the internal sound chip like that used in the Super Famicom games. And I know other companies are recording CD quality music for their games, but with FF7 we decided to do all the music with the Playstation’s internal chip.
That’s because as far as sound quality goes, we felt the Playstation’s hardware was more than capable. It has a higher dynamic range than the Super Famicom, and 24 voices (the Super Famicom had 8). The sound effects were all recorded in the studio, but the music, from start to finish, is all the Playstation’s internal chip. This way the music puts less demands on the read access time of the CD-ROM. It’s stressful to be playing a game and have to wait all the time for the CD-ROM to load data. So we prioritized a less stressful experience over better sound quality.
From the first Final Fantasy up to Final Fantasy V, the music has had a European atmosphere: the north, castles, blue skies… But FF6 started to break away from that, and FF7 begins with a new image, a dirty city of the future. So I was thinking the music should change too. I personally like a lot of different styles of music, so I saw this game as a chance to show parts of myself which I hadn’t been able to express before.
I used keyboard and guitar for the basic compositions, and I read the story and script as I composed. But there were so many songs this time that I was really worried I would run out of time. There were something like 100 songs needed. I’d compose, then program it in, and if it was wrong I’d revise it. Rinse and repeat. I write the music out first and then proram it into the sequencer, but there was no guarantee that the Playstation hardware would have the kind of sound I was looking for. And the sound quality might be very different. For that reason there ended up being a lot of unused songs.
Wrapping things up
Narita: At the end of the development we had a closing party. We gathered all the development staff together, and we all watched the credits roll after the last boss was defeated. As the staff was listed, each respective developer stood up and took a bow. It was the first time I realized “oh, he did that.” And it was the first time I really felt how many people had been involved in making this game.
Fujii: Once the field, battle, and world maps were all joined, that was when I first felt the power of FF7 as a finished work.
Narita: Until then, everything was being developed separately, and only at the end was it all joined together. When the world map was added and you could walk around, that was definitely the moment when I felt, “wow, we’ve really made it.”
You see, the way we made FF7 was totally different from the way we made the previous Final Fantasy games. Before, there was no real “director”–everyone was, individually, their own director, and everyone created the actual data that would be used in-game by themselves. There was a head person who generally controlled the flow of work and made sure everything got into its final form, though. I guess you’ve got to have someone like that.
But to imitate that with FF7 would have required a huge number of staff and hardware for them all to work on. You could say that the way we made FF7 was closer to the way they make movies.
Sakakibara: Speaking of that, we were also asked to make sound effects that would be of the same quality and character as those you hear in movies. It felt entirely different from the way we made sound effects before.
Kanzaki: The quality of the backgrounds took a huge step up, too. We didn’t have to reuse any sprites or tiles.
Kentarou: When I was making the battle effects, it felt like business as usual for me, so I didn’t have a feeling like “these are awesome!” then. But at the very end when we were debugging and I saw them, I thought for the first time how nice they looked. I also thought, “damn, it’s a good thing I didn’t slack off.” (laughs) It would have been really bad if we had just made a bunch of shoddy effects. (laughs)
Kanzaki: There were a lot of worries at the start of the development though.
Narita: Yeah, in a certain sense, FF7 is something of a minor miracle. I mean, we only had a year to do everything.
Fujii: It’s the shortest development we’ve had so far.
Narita: Yeah, that it was. And normally you’d start developing your game after you’d learned the new hardware. But we had to learn the hardware and create the game all in the same year. I really couldn’t believe it when I saw the finished product of FF7. It’s amazing that so many people were involved, and that we completed it in so short a time.
Fujii: Time is always the one thing you’re in short supply of. We had to do the battle system after all the field stuff was done, so practically speaking we only had half a year for that. The last dungeon was a real slap-bang, rushed affair.
Interview with Official UK PSX Magazine
Published in October 1997
Official UK PSX Magazine: Describe the game in 100 words.
Square: The latest in the Final Fantasy series is the closest Square have come to their ultimate goal of blending real-time action with FMV-quality animation, in an all-encompassing, totally absorbing and immersive interactive gaming experience. This seventh heaven is a mix of stunning backdrops, adorable and believable characters, intriguing plots, pulsating battles and tricky puzzles, which all add up to the best RPG yet to appear.
What’s the plot?
The world of Final Fantasy VII expands on FFIII’s concept of Magitek, where magical forces are a reality and have thus been incorporated into the technological progress of civilisation. This isn’t your typical fantasy setting: vast chimneys belch smoke, steam trains criss-cross the urban sprawl, neon signs crackle in the rainswept ratruns between towering factories. It transpires that Mako is a ‘dark’ form of magic, and its insidious corruption of the Shinra Corporation has created a police state by empowering a security force. You begin the game as an ex-soldier-turned-revolutionary, and immediately find yourself assisting a terrorist group called Avalanche in their attempt to overthrow Shinra and restore balance to the exploited world.
Is there anything in this game that we’ve never seen in any other?
If you’ve played SNES versions of the Final Fantasy series, then possibly not. There are slight deviations from the first six, and the music and graphics are obviously enhanced. But as a PlayStation starting point, continuity was very wise. For novice owners, however, this will be like nothing you’ve seen.
What other games have influenced Final Fantasy VII?
Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy II… need we go on? There is a whole history of RPGs and all the paths that lead Square here were winding. In Final Fantasy VII, however, there have been more Western influences both externally and from those on the team.
What’s going to be the best bit of the game?
Taking an already believable story and gameplay and placing it in an environment that now looks real it is a real shock to the senses.
Why will it be better than any other game of its ilk?
The characters for a start. Square’s scriptwriting talents are once again employed to make you fall in love with the characters, then mercilessly pull your emotional strings as they experience suffering, joy, love, betrayal and even (whisper) d.e.a.t.h. Also the quest is huge, straddling no less than 3 CDs, and with so many locations that the average completion time is reportedly 120 hours.
Any specific technical conventions to speak of?
At first the system might seem to bear similarities to Resident Evil, in that your polygon hero can move around a detailed pre-rendered environment, but the backgrounds are packed with interactive ‘hot spots’. The integration of old and new techniques also gives FFVII a unique cinematic quality. Its many cut scenes are CGI movie sequences that use the same pre-rendering as the rest of the game, so that when the dizzying camerawork finally comes to a halt, the scene on which it settles is also the environment in which your character can explore. The direction is seamless. The combat system boasts AD&D complexity. Weapons and items have slots in which to fit Materia, orbs that endow the wearer with extra powers such as the ability to steal, or summon Esper-like creature attacks, with some weapons boasting more slots for combining enhancements.
So why should anyone care about the game?
Because it’s the best RPG to appear on the PlayStation. It’s sold five million copies already in Japan!
Hironobu Sakaguchi Interview
Interview with Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of the Final Fantasy series and producer of Final Fantasy VII. From PlayStation Underground #2 demo CD set, released in the US in 1997.
Transcription and screenshots by Tuulisti.
PlayStation Underground: Why is Squaresoft publishing Final Fantasy FVII only on PlayStation?
Hironobu Sakaguchi: In the August of 95, one of the US’s largest CG conventions, Siggraph, was held in LA. At that time we were not sure what the next generation RPG game should look like, so as an experiment we created a CG based, game like, interactive demo to be presented at the show. It focused on battle scenes that were 100% real time and polygon based. This became the seed of Final Fantasy VII and it was then that we decided to make this a CG based game.
When we discussed designing the field scenes as illustrations or CG based, we came up with the idea to eliminate the connection between movies and the fields. Without using blackout at all, and maintaining quality at the same time, we would make the movie stop at one cut and make the characters move around on it. We tried to make it controllable even during the movies. As a result of using a lot of motion data + CG effects and in still images, it turned out to be a mega capacity game, and therefore we had to choose CD-ROM as our media. It other words, we became too aggressive, and got ourselves into trouble.
Why did you need such a large staff?
A larger developer team will not always create a better game, but when a project moves onto a scale such as this, you get to spend a lot of money, and work with highly qualified staff.
We were able to use many high-end machines and work with a staff of approximately 100 people, and I believe this was one of the largest game development teams in history. As a result, the final game generates a tremendous amount of energy. My theory is this: if one person creates a game – it can be a racing game or anything – or 10 people create the same game, the one created by 10 people will be much richer in scope. There is a larger pool of resources to draw from, and each person is able to put passion into his role, creating a greater sense of depth.
How has film influenced your game-making?
It is easy to get emotionally involved with both films and games, although in different ways. Adding certain interactive aspects to films however, I believe players can get further into them, even become one with the visual images. I have always emphasized visual and sound effects because rather than making my games equivalent to films, I want my games to surpass films. That is my goal.
Why is Final Fantasy VII getting so much praise?
Without changing the basic game play, the visual and sound effects have been significantly enhanced further drawing the players’ emotions in to the game. One way RPGs enforce too many images and too much sound on the players, robbing them of the feel of control. In order to avoid those responses, we did extensive research during Final Fantasy V and VI on how to make the players interactively involved in the game, while upgrading the visual and sound effects. The results of this research are reflected in Final Fantasy VII.
Are there any new themes in Final Fantasy VII?
When we were creating Final Fantasy III, my mother passed away, and ever since I have been thinking about the theme “life”. Life exists in many things, and I was curious about what would happen if I attempted to analyze life in a mathematical and logical way. Maybe this was my approach in overcoming the grief I was experiencing. This is the first time in the series that this particular theme actually appears in the game itself. See if you can spot it!
What was it like to work with director Yoshinori Kitase?
I have been working with him since Final Fantasy V. When he joined Square, he told me he initially wanted to become a film director, but that he thought this would be impossible in Japan. The previous version of Final Fantasy could be called puppet shows compared to this one. It’s a real film requiring innovative effects and various camera angles. His experience studying cinematography and in making his own films has contributed a lot to the making of the game. He is the director of this game.
The Making of Final Fantasy VII
May 2003 edition of Edge magazine’s regular feature “The Making Of…”, spotlighting Final Fantasy VII. Interviewed for this article were Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura.
Transcription by Tuulisti.
3.28m sales in Japan, 2.92m in the US and 1.77m in Europe. Three CD. Over two years’ development. Over 100 team members. Nine out of ten. Adults in tears. But Final Fantasy VII represents much more than cold record-breaking statistics. Here was the catalyst for the worldwide RPG revolution…
“This was undoubtedly the game that changed everything.” Yoshinori Kitase, the director the most important RPG ever, has cause for hyperbole. “We felt a wind of change inside the company during the development process. There was this incredible feeling I’ll never forget: we were making a new thing… making history. Imagine.” He pauses. Imagine.
At the time there were many doubters, but Kitase-san’s instinct proved right; Final Fantasy VII eventually propelled the high-production RPG into one of the most popular videogame genres worldwide. The first demo of the title, creatively bundled on an extra disc with Square’s first 32bit offering, Tobal No.1, stunned the world with its steam punk setting, achingly melancholic score and arresting visuals. And it bore evidence of a huge team working on a title with aspirations not yet though possible in the medium of videogames. “There was a huge number of people we had never worked with before. Up until that point Squaresoft’s teams had only ever dealt with the traditional 2D medium. All of a sudden we had new people coming in working with software like Power Animator and SoftImage that we had never heard of before. From and industry point of view, it was unbelievable what we were trying to achieve. That is why we all had this strong feeling; this great enthusiasm.”
As the software houses were jumping from the 16bit systems to 32bit hardware, Squaresoft made the headlines for choosing Sony over previous soul mate Nintendo. The story behind the split is yet to be explained and as the two companies only recently kissed and made up (with the departure of warring Hirosohi Yamauchi from Nintendo and Hironobu Sakaguchi from Squaresoft) we’re are unlikely to anytime soon. Kitase-san is predictably diplomatic, “We had a big decision to make in terms of which hardware to use. Nintendo was not one step behind in terms of hardware. In fact, the N64 was quite attractive actually. But as our goal was to develop the next-generation RPG we came to the conclusion that only a high capacity mass storage media would facilitate what we wanted to achieve. This meant CD was the only option and so from that perspective, Playstation was the only choice.”
Access All Areas
There was a great pressure on the team to maximise the benefits of the new medium. “At that time Sakaguchi-san (Square’s founder) was the series’ producer. Right from the time the decision to go with CD was made he set down a ground rule for the team saying, ‘If the player becomes aware of the access times we have failed.’ So we tried many tricks to circumvent the issue such as offering animation while the game was loading data, etc. The constant fear for us having worked with cartridges for so many years was that the player would feel bored while waiting for loads. However, only CD media was able to facilitate more than 40 minutes of FMV movies so we virtually had the decision made for us.”
Graphically Square was trying things only hinted at in the first generation of 32bit titles. Using polygonal characters on CG backgrounds and interspersing the action with streaming FMV was a bold aesthetic decision. “We were keen that the distinction between the in-game graphics and the CG movie sequences was not overly pronounced: something we could not have done on the N64. The change of dimension into 3D was a massive one for the Square team. You could see the game with maps and angles that only 3D could offer and in terms of game characters, we were able to offer far greater, detailed animations, so they would look more real and more alive on screen. But it was a daunting task.”
The change from Final Fantasy VI to Final Fantasy VII is as graphic a demonstration of the transition between 2D to 3D as one will see. Just how apprehensive was Kitase-san about this sea change? “It was during development that I realised the impact that 3D realistic CG visuals had on overseas players. In Japan, you have the manga culture with the traditional deformed style world design and characters that live through a story with very serious themes. Overseas, you don’t have this. To be honest we were pretty confident that FFVII’s characters and graphics would be accepted overseas and ironically I was much more anxious to see how Japanese users would respond.”
Undoubtedly at the heart of any RPG’s success is the plot. No matter how good your battle system or locations, without quality scripting there will be no incentive for the player to play. It is testament to FFVII’s story that the game is widely regarded as the acme of the series and still frequently referenced today. While Final Fantasy games have traditionally always drawn upon a huge selection of myths and legends, the seventh game used them as a framework for loftier ethical aspirations and ecologically conscious evangelism. “Sakaguchi had a great vision of the force behind the universe. He wanted to explore the idea that planets and people share the same basic energy and so are, in some way, intrinsically linked. He developed this philosophy from drawing upon other cultures that stated when a planet disappears an invisible energy is released in to space. This energy goes to some place to give life again when certain conditions are met. The same energy drives people. So matter who or what this energy comes from, it will concentrate all together to give life to something or someone again.”
These were ideas that the SquareSoft founder had long been toying with and it is unclear as to how much of the philosophy was pure fantastical fabrication and how much was his own dogma. One thing is certain, they posed difficulties for Kitase-san, “Sakaguchi’s ideas were incredibly difficult to represent in the game since they concerned an invisible abstract concept. It was something I’d never seen done in a game before. So, I came up with the Life Stream.
“This was an idea that planets have the same kinds of life systems as people’s blood or nerve network. It allowed us to more clearly examine the issues we wanted to. Sakaguchi-san’s main ideas for FFVII and the world he imagined for the game (the creatures, etc.) were very closely integrated into the “Final Fantasy” movie. FFVII and “Final Fantasy” started at the same time in their development process and they share nearly identical roots. I may have to play/watch both again and compare all their common elements.”
Although lengthy FMV, random battles and an arcane combat system alienated some gamers—especially in the west where anecdotal evidence suggests it became the most returned game history—the combination proved the winning formula for thousands who had never sampled such fare before. Boosting weapons and skills with Materia, summoning devastating guardians, scouring the planet’s highest peaks and deepest oceans for secret items and raising and training Chocobo gave both fresh and old RPGers an inconceivably large universe to explore and revel in. It also provided us with a legendary videogame moment.
Death of a Friend
Easily the most infamous and memorable character in FFVII was neither the main lead nor the central antagonist, although both Cloud and Sephiroth are premier examples of excellent design and characterisation, but rather a flower seller who appears a little more than a third of the game.
Tetsuya Nomura, character designer, conceived both the characters of Sephiroth and Aerith. “The main issues of contention for fans worldwide are still Aerith’s death and the ending sequence with Sephiroth. With the plot I wanted people to feel something intense, to understand something. Back at the time we were designing the game I was frustrated with the perennial dramatic cliché where the protagonist loves someone very much and so has to sacrifice himself and die in a dramatic fashion in order to express that love. We found this was the case in both games and movies, both eastern and western. But I wanted to say something different, something realistic. I mean is it right to set such an example to people?”
Kitase-san is adamant that cultural art puts too high a value on the dramatically meaningful death, “In the real world things are very different. You just need to look around you. Nobody wants to die that way. People die of disease and accident. Death comes suddenly and there is no notion of good or bad. It leaves, not a dramatic feeling but great emptiness. When you lose someone you loved very much you feel this big empty space and think, ‘If I had known this was coming I would have done things differently.’ These are the feelings I wanted to arouse in the players with Aerith’s death relatively early in the game. Feelings of reality and not Hollywood.”
At the time of release the internet was awash with rumours that it was possible to resurrect Aerith. Edge wonders if this was ever the developers’ intention? “The world was expecting us to bring her back to life, as this is the classic convention. But we did not. We had decided this from the beginning. There was a lot of reaction from Japanese users. Some of them were very sad about it while others were angry. We even received a lengthy petition addressed to our scenario writer asking for Aerith’s revival. But there are many meanings in Aerith’s death and that could never happen.
Final Fantasy VII is arguably one of the most significant games of all time. Not simply because it was so well conceived and executed, but mainly because of its wider significance to Sony. In Japan, history dictates that hardware can not succeed without a best-selling RPG franchise. With Final Fantasy VII Squaresoft secured its position as king of the adventure tale and won Sony an army of fans both in Japan and the west.
The continued pressure Square receives to do a remake of the title is evidence of the game’s continued popularity. Edge gently pursues the rumours. “If I were to redo the game onto today’s hardware I would like to make the characters more realistic, I mean like FFX for instance. I think I would try include full voice support but I would definitely keep very same plot and scenario. I know that other members of the team are eager to do the update, but, currently I have no plans. Cloud and Aerith have appeared in other titles (Final Fantasy Tactics, Kingdom Hearts) so it is possible FFVII character will appear in a future title but there is much discussion to be had first.”
Whether a new generation of videogamers get to experience this RPG in next-gen clothing is almost irrelevant. While few would go back to experience this epic again, it is one of those rare games that cast an emotional spell over legions of players. For that reason it will always remain the stuff of legend.
Afterthoughts: Final Fantasy VII
Interivew with Yoshinori Kitase and Tetsuya Nomura from Electronic Gaming Monthly, issue #196, October 2005.
In light of all these new FFVII offshoots, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the groundbreaking original PS1 game that popularized the role-playing genre in the United States. We waxed nostalgic with two of FFVII’s most integral team members: Director Yoshinori Kitase and character designer/battle director/coauthor Tetsuya Nomura.
EGM: What does Final Fantasy VII mean to you?
Yoshinori Kitase: FFVII was the first Final Fantasy for the PS1, and it was also the first 3D game in the series, so it determined the new direction that the franchise would take after the 16-bit Super Nintendo era. It’s by far the most memorable and important title for me, and when I had the chance to expand any of the past games, I immediately chose Final Fantasy VII for the project. The ending of FFVII seemed to me to open up so many possibilities with its characters, more so than other games.
EGM: When you were working on FFVII eight years ago, could you conceive of how much the game would affect the RPG marketplace?
Tetsuya Nomura: When I look back, I remember having no concept of just how massive that project would go on to become. Of course, I’d been associated with the Final Fantasy franchise before FFVII, as I did monster designs on Final Fantasy V (Super NES). I remember that before we started FFVII, the characters from Final Fantasy IV were still very popular, despite the fact that FFV and FFVI had been released. I found this really frustrating. Why would people still be talking about those characters? So I made it my goal to create my own batch of characters that would be remembered and loved by the Final Fantasy fans. Also, starting with FFVII, I was far more deeply involved with the story and characters, so I was really extremely excited to work on that project.
EGM: FFVII was a departure from the Super NES titles… were you worried about fan reaction?
YK: I wasn’t really worried about response to the graphical shift, as there were already several 3D games in America that were accepted by fans. My fear had been that the Final Fantasy franchise might be left behind if it didn’t catch up to that trend, actually.
EGM: What did you think of Cloud as a hero when you were making FFVII?
YK: There wasn’t really much controversy or criticism about having him as the hero from within Square, but he is definitely a mysterious character. That’s one of the game’s main themes, the fact that the protagonist has all these secrets to unravel. He isn’t a straightforward hero like Superman; rather, he has lots of mysteries, self-doubts, and a real dark side. Mr. Nomura was also very good at designing a character like that.
EGM: We heard that the death of Aerith and the creation of Tifa both originated in a phone call between you two….
TN: It’s funny, some magazine ran that story, but only the beginning and ending of it. People think that I wanted to kill off Aerith and replace her with Tifa as the main character! [Laughs] The actual conversation between Mr. Kitase and myself was very, very long. Originally, there were only going to be three characters in the entire game: Cloud, Barrett, and Aerith. Can you imagine that? And we knew even in the early concept stage that one character would have to die. But we only had three to choose from. I mean, Cloud’s the main character, so you can’t really kill him. And Barrett… well, that’s maybe too obvious. But we had to pick between Aerith and Barrett. We debated this for a long time, but in the end decided to sacrifice Aerith.
EGM: Did you pick her to increase the drama?
TN: In the previous FF games, it became almost a signature theme for one character to sacrifice him or herself, and often it was a similar character type from game to game, kind of a brave, last-man-standing, Barrett-type character. So everyone expected that. And I think that death should be something sudden and unexpected, and Aerith’s death seemed more natural and realistic. Now, when I reflect on Final Fantasy VII, the fact that fans were so offended by her sudden death probably means that we were successful with her character. If fans had simply accepted her death, that would have meant she wasn’t an effective character.
EGM: Which female character in FFVII is your personal favorite?
TN: [Laughs] I’m not really interested in any superdeformed females.
EGM: Since Dirge of Cerberus is, chronologically speaking, the furthest game in the FFVII timeline, does it have a happy ending?
YK: AC and DC both have their own resolutions, so don’t expect cliff-hangers there. Also, DC isn’t the direct sequel to FFVII, Advent Children is. So we can’t view DC as the ending to the whole big FFVII saga. Plus, FFVII definitely has so many diverse elements, and different fans have interest in different characters, so if, for example, one person is interested in Cloud, Tifa, and Aerith’s relationship, then AC may provide some sort of answers for them. Somebody else might be interested in Vincent, so they might want to explore DC. It’s not like this is going to complete the whole story, but it will satisfy fans who have strong attachments to individual characters.
EGM: At the very end of FFVII, we see the epilogue to the whole story that takes place 500 years later, so really, you still have another 497 years’ worth of games and movies to fill in….
YK: Ha, maybe I’ll try to do that. In a way, I consider that epilogue to be the true happy ending of FFVII. Well, it’s a happy ending even though all the human beings are destroyed. [Laughs]
Dengeki PlayStation Vol.17– Dengeki PlayStation Vol.40-Non Translated
Forum member Brooke dug up some old FF7 previews from August of 1997 and was kind enough to share them with us. If you were already a Final Fantasy fan then, you might enjoy the nostalgia of the excitement that had been absolutely ravaging the West after the game’s January Japanese release. If you were not, it’s a pretty fascinating look at just how beside themselves people were to play this game. Also included is the preview of Final Fantasy Tactics, another imminent release at the time, as well as a truly prophetic piece about gaming and the third dimension.-lifestream
FFVII 10th Anniversary Discussion: p. 8 to 13 of the FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania
FFVII 10th Anniversary Discussion
In 2007 FFVII hit its 10th anniversary. To find out the secret of its appeal, we went to the 3 central members of the development staff behind FFVII and the Compilation. How does FFVII look through their eyes?
Cloud’s Animations determined the image of the scenario
– It’s been 10 years since FFVII was released. I think the reason fans have continued to support it for so long is because it left that much of an impression on them, but what scenes stand out most in your memories as the creators?
Nojima: For me, it’s the scene where Cloud first appears at the start of the story. That scene used the cool standing animation Toriyama (Motomu Toriyama: FFVII’s event planner) made. If I remember correctly, it was named “Cloud showing off” (laughs). But when I say that animation I thought to myself objectively, “wow, this is great.” It was when I’d just started writing the scenario, and Cloud’s false persona was kind of determined based on that pose, and after that the image of the scenario started to solidify. Back in those days, a lot of different tasks would be going on simultaneously during production, so there were a lot of cases like that where the other staff would influence each other. All the important stuff was usually decided by talking it over in the smoking room (laughs). Nowadays since you’ve got the voice acting to record the scenario needs to be done first, so it’s turned into quite a lonesome task.
Kitase: That Cloud ‘showing off’ standing animation appears in the Nibelheim flashback as well. When the Shinra soldier asked about doing “the usual”, he does that pose. The same scene is in CC too, so I instructed the staff to recreate that animation (laughs). You were in charge of the Nibelheim events in FFVII, weren’t you, Nojima?
Nojima: That’s right. Right up till the very end we couldn’t get the bugs out of it, so it was pretty rough. Like when Cloud was waiting outside of the screen for his part in the scene, his hair would be poking out from the edge of the screen (laughs). Story-wise, the scene at the Northern Cave where Cloud talks while upside-down left an impression on me. I worked on the direction for that scene, but getting the characters to run to match with the movie scene was tricky, and I remember having trouble with it. The part where Cloud addresses Tifa as “Mrs.” Tifa, I made that hoping that the people playing it would be taken aback by the change in Cloud and it would really hit the player.
Nomura: The scene that sticks out for me is the scene when Tifa going into Cloud’s mental realm and he remembers the truth about what happened in the past.
Nojima: It was Katou (Masato Katou: FFVII event planner) who made the events for that part, and the movies were made by Ikumori (Kazuyuki Ikumori: FFVII movie designer). Ikumori was originally graphic designer for the maps, and this was the first time he’d tried his hand at movies. He said, “I’ve never worked on the movies before,” but looking at him now…
Nomura: Now he’s the movie director on DC and CC.
Kitase: Katou also did the event on the airship, the night before the final battle.
Nojima: Oh, the scene with the risqué line of dialogue? It was Katou who wrote that as well, not me.
– The line “Words aren’t the only way to talk someone how you feel,” right? That was quite a mature conversation for a FF game.
Kitase: But I remember having to get another version that was too intense toned down.
Nojima: The original idea was more extreme. The plan was to have Cloud walk out of the Chocobo stable on board the Highwind, followed by Tifa leaving while checking around, but Kitase turned it down. But even with the line in question, maybe at that time none of us thought it would be something so important (laughs).
In the original scenario, Zack didn’t exist
– Mr. Kitase, which scene do you find most striking even now?
Kitase: Like Nomura, I’d have to say the climax in the mental realm. The scene where the mysteries regarding Sephiroth and Cloud all become clear. I didn’t know until we were in the latter stages of development that Cloud’s memories were Zack’s. First of all, when I originally checked the scenario, the character of Zack didn’t exist. Zack was a character who came up as Nojima was building up the mysteries. So until that part was complete I was left wondering just how he was planning to solve this, and all the while making the event scenes, still in the dark about the truth.
Nojima: But with Zack, I didn’t simply bring him in just because it was needed for solving the mysteries. When I joined the development team, the concept of Aerith seeing her first love again in Cloud was already there, so I brought him in to link that with solving the mysteries.
Nomura: About the concept of her seeing her first love again in Cloud, at first we were thinking of making that man Sephiroth. When I got the request for the illustration of Zack we were already near the end of development, so when you look at it now it’s not even coloured, and I can’t really deny that it feels like quite a sudden request.
– Had you thought about the truth of the mysteries regarding Cloud and Zack from the very beginning?
Nojima: No, I thought of it as I went on with my work. So at the beginning there wasn’t much foreshadowing. The foreshadowing scenes, I asked the staff in charge of the event scenes to add after development reached a point where an outcome for the mysteries came into sight.
Kitase: In those days it was easy to go back and change things around later on. Lately, with the workload involved in making the graphics, it’s hard to ask people to change something once it’s been finished.
Nojima: Well, even back then, there were some people you could easily ask to change an event later on, and people who were difficult to ask, so the locations of the foreshadowing might be biased. I only went to the people who were easy to ask, and the foreshadowing is focused at the scenes they were in charge of (laughs).
Red XIII: Four-Legged Bane of the Event Planners
– I think one of the things that have helped maintain FFVII’s popularity is the uniqueness of its characters. How did you go about creating the characters?
Nomura: At the very start of development the scenario wasn’t complete yet, but I went along like, “I guess first off you need a hero and a heroine,” and from there drew the designs while thinking up details about the characters. After I’d done the hero and heroine, I carried on drawing by thinking what kind of characters would be interesting to have. When I handed over the designs I’d tell people the character details I’d thought up, or write them down on a separate sheet of paper. At that time, I still wrote everything by hand as well.
– So in exactly what order did you draw the characters?
Nomura: The first ones I drew was Cloud and Aerith. Next was Barret.
Kitase: And then Nomura said he wanted to have a four-legged character, and drew Red XIII…
Nomura: After that I think things kind of stalled for a while (laughs).
Nojima: Because you said you wanted to have a four-legged character, it was a real struggle to make the cut-scenes. Like, ‘how is he supposed to climb a ladder?’ and ‘when he turns around his tail and his body end up going into the wall’ (laughs).
Nomura: The scene with Red XIII standing on two legs on the transport ship was funny.
Nojima: The scene where he says, “It’s hard standing on two legs” (laughs).
Kitase: You named Red XIII, didn’t you, Tetsu (Nomura)?
Nomura: I thought a name that didn’t sound like a name would be interesting, so I combined a color and a number. The reason I chose 13 was pretty much because it’s an unlucky number. The official details for the character and his real name ‘Nanaki’ was something one of the other staff did.
Kitase: It was probably Akiyama (Jun Akiyama: FFVII event planner) who thought of those.
– This is something I noticed before, but to type in ‘Seto’, Nanaki’s father, in Japanese with the keyboard set to kana input, you press the keys ‘PS’. I was wondering if this perhaps was where the name came from…?
Kitase: Did he think that deeply about it?
Nojima: If it was Akiyama who was in charge of that, I wouldn’t put some deep-rooted reason like that past him (laughs).
Yuffie and Vincent, who were almost cut at one point.
– Yuffie and Vincent are secret characters who you don’t have to get in your party, but I was surprised that they had so many cut-scenes prepared for them.
Nomura: There was even a time when some people thought we should cut them because we didn’t have enough time. But we somehow managed to veto cutting them, and as a result they became the secret characters they are today.
Kitase: The main reason for there being so many cut-scenes for Yuffie is down it the strong attachment that Akiyama, who was in charge of them, had. Her appearing in a battle and talking with her afterwards, all those were his ideas, and as development moved along the scope steadily got bigger and bigger.
Nojima: It’s really annoying when you try to save after the Yuffie battle and get tricked (laughs). For the story in Wutai, I made the parts related to the main story, but the events in the Pagoda of the Five Mighty Gods were the work of Tokita (Takashi Tokita: FFVII’s event planner).
Kitase: Those bits do have a Tokita-feel to them.
Nojima: Tokita is involved in the theatre, and the characters who appear there have the names of people involved with the theatre like playwrights.
– Who was in charge of Vincent’s cut-scenes?
Kitase: I remember making the event where he joins you in the Shinra Mansion, but his episodes themselves was Nojima, wasn’t it?
Nojima: I did write his episodes. The back story for Vincent and Lucrecia was around from the start, and I remember linking that with Shinra. In the end, Chiba (Hiroki Chiba: FFVII’s event planner) crammed the Vincent-related events in right at the last minute.
Kitase: Chiba is in charge of DC’s scenario, but thinking about it now maybe it turned out that way because he worked on the events with Vincent in FFVII.
Nojima: However, despite Vincent not having many scenes due to him appearing in the latter half of the story, he has a fair amount of dialogue, and when he does show up he talks a lot. Even though really he’s meant to be a quiet person (laughs). Even now I have a problem when creating scenarios, where even though the character is a cool and silent type, I end up making scenes where they just keep on talking and talking. Roles like Barret, who appear from the start and have a lot of lines, most of the time, basically don’t know anything. But characters like Vincent, or Auron in FFX, it tends to be the case that the quieter they are the more they know about things, and they just end up with more expositional dialogue. I still haven’t found a solution to this problem.
The reason FFVII’s characters have continued to be loved
– When thinking of the character’s stories or working on their designs, do you have any kind of tried and tested methods, Mr. Nomura?
Nomura: Maybe not a method in particular. For FFVII’s characters, they’re the result of wanting to make varied, and in a sense going for an orthodox balance. In the recent FF games, I now receive the profiles of the characters before handling the designs, so I don’t worry about the character building much now. I think FFVII was it as far as me thinking of the character’s stories first goes.
– The characters of FFVII seem to be especially popular even out of the entire series, but where do you think the reason for that lies?
Nomura: Hmmm, I wonder? Nothing really hits me. Well, I guess that each character has their own individual episodes which are well told. You might say their personalities are too strong (laughs).
Nojima: Yeah, they were made nearly excessively individual. For example, once you’ve decided Aerith speaks like this, it starts to escalate in that direction. And like Cloud’s cool standing animation we mentioned before, all the staff in charge of the events took in anything that seemed interesting. Even Cloud’s “not interested” catch phrase comes up so much you start to think, you won’t normally say it that much (laughs).
Kitase: Everyone used it, didn’t they?
Nojima: In that sense, their characters were definitely strong. In FFVIII onwards, the height of the characters increased, and we starting to be conscious of realism. And when that happens, there are times when you start comparing them to real life people. But with FFVII’s height, even in 3D, you still don’t really get that sense of reality. Maybe in that aspect they were like cartoon characters, which was a plus. I think, maybe they had a kind of easy to remember quality as symbols.
Kitase: When I first read Nojima’s scenario, I felt strongly that his image of a heroine was fresh. The hero didn’t have a typical personality, single-minded or righteous, and Aerith lived in the slums. Those things were really fresh. And having 2 heroines, Aerith and Tifa, and having the hero waver between them, at the time that was something new. And Sephiroth too, who appears from the start and is the final enemy, and is sort of a rival. For me personally, I think those things which weren’t in past FFs might be the secret to its popularity.
Nomura: In regards to Sephiroth, I wanted to avoid having the kind of plot development where you get to the end of the story and suddenly this boss you’ve never heard of yet just appears. With FFVII, I wanted to do a story where you’re chasing someone you’ve known was the enemy from the get-go. As for the heroines, during development some people were of the opinion that compared to Tifa, Aerith has fewer scenes and didn’t really stand out, so we also increased her appearances.
Nojima: As a motif for them, Tifa is “the childhood friend who’s been with you since nursery school”, and Aerith is “the girl who transfers school mid-term and quickly leaves for another school.” Since she doesn’t have many scenes, you’ve got to make it so that the transfer student has a big impact. That was what I thought.
Feelings about Aerith, the tragic heroine
– You can’t talk about FFVII’s heroines without talking about the tragedy that befalls Aerith at the Forgotten City. That event was a very memorable scene not only for the FF series, but all RPGs.
Kitase: In the past FFs as well, important characters died and went away. Like Galuf in FFV for example, they followed a pattern where the character would go down after giving it his all in a fight. In this case, often it went that the characters think something like, they’ve tired so hard, and just accept the death and overcome it. When creating stories I think that is an option, but in FFVII we were thinking, could we take this a step further? Bring out a sense of loss somehow? What I didn’t want to have was the kind of story development where even when a character dies there’s no sense of loss, on the contrary it just raises motivation and pushes you forward.
Nojima: Kitase’s loss talk has been consistent since back then.
Kitase: And with a lot of stories, before they die there’s a lot of dramatic preparations, aren’t there? Like a “pre-prepared excitement”, or “using this as a step to fight evil further”, those are the kinds of developments I wanted to avoid. In reality, death comes without warning, and you’re left feeling dazed at the gravity of the loss… Rather than wanting to fight evil, you’re just overcome by a great sense of loss, like you just want to give up everything. I was in charge of the direction of that scene, and I tried to bring out that sort of sense of realism.
Nomura: It’s related to ‘life’, one of the themes of FFVII, so it’s not portrayed as a “death for excitement’s sake” but expresses a realistic pain. Death comes suddenly, so I think the emotion there wasn’t excitement or anything, but sadness.
Nojima: Speaking from a scenario standpoint, FFVII is ‘a story of life cycling through the planet’, so someone needed to be part of that cycle. In other words, although what happened to Aerith isn’t really based on logic, as far as the story goes, maybe one of the team was destined to lose their life from the very start. But how that one became Aerith wasn’t decided through a notice as is popularly mentioned. It was decided after everyone, including myself, racked our brains about what to do.
Truth hidden in the abbreviations of the Compilation titles
– 7 years after the release of FFVII, the Compilation began, but it was a surprise that Advent Children, the sequel, was a film.
Kitase: Originally the AC project came about when the staff said they wanted to make a film.
Nomura: But having that film work being based on FFVII was decided from the beginning.
Kitase: They’ve made several of the movie scenes for games before, so they have the know-how. But an independent film was a big challenge for us, so we had to be ready for it being considerably difficult. When thinking of what subject material we work with while having that readiness, we came up with FFVII. At first it was only planned to be 20 minutes, but before I knew it there were fight scenes, and finally it grew to 100 minutes… (laughs).
Nomura: After we started the project, there was a period where it was put to one side for a while. At that rate, the project itself seemed like it would just go up in smoke, so I put my hand up and said I’d do it, and started again from there, adding in fight scenes and so on.
– Was the formula for the Compilation’s titles, AC, BC, CC and DC, planned from the start?
Kitase: In order of release BC comes first, Advent Children was the first title we decided on.
Nomura: For BC’s title, Taba (Hajime Tabata: BC’s director) and Itou (Yukimasa Itou: BC’s producer) came to me saying they had a good idea. “How about linking with AC, and Before Christ (B.C.), and going with Before Crisis?” I just gave an nonchalant “sure, why not,” but I never thought it would end up being a formula (laughs). So, next we skipped C and went for DC. Then planning for CC suddenly began. Kitase came to my office one day and told me, “think of something” (laughs).
Kitase: That was how it all began. At then, we were thinking of a PSP port of BC. At the time, you could only play BC on NTT DoCoMo mobile phones, so we wanted to let a wider spectrum of players to have a chance to play it. So personally, I was planning releasing it on the PSP with basically the same graphics as the mobile phone version, even if we did fill in the story a bit. However, when I told Tetsu about this, I hadn’t realized at that time that that wouldn’t be enough (laughs).
Nomura: Since at first I was told it’s BC on the PSP, I thought of calling it “Before Crisis Core”. But at that time we’d already decided on having Zack as the main character, so we said, “since it’s going to be different from BC, we don’t need ‘Before’ in the title, do we?” So we took off the “Before”, and by chance it fitted the CC which we had skipped.
Kitase: When I saw the cut-scenes of the completed CC, the quality was good enough to release on the PS2, and I never expected it would be this good. With CC, I had only read part of the scenario when I worked on it, so when played up to the ending myself, as a consumer, I was moved, like “aah, so this is what Zack’s story was like…” (laughs). When I saw the ending, I though to myself, “all the titles have come together nicely. I’m glad we did the Compilation.”
WEEKLY FAMITSU ISSUE NO. 1224: YOSHINORI KITASE INTERVIEW
IT BEGAN ON THE SNES
—First off, can you tell us how the development of “FFVII” came about?
Kitase: After development on “FFVI” ended, we started the “FFVII” project on the SNES. All of the team put forth ideas for the characters and game systems, but during that time we needed to help out “Chrono Trigger” team who at the time had run into trouble, so for a time development of “FFVII” was put on hold.
—Was the “FFVII” being developed then different from the finished one?
Kitase: Yeah. It was completely different, and Nomura (*1) had proposed things like a design for a witch. In the end, when development started up again it changed to the current setting centred on mako and the like, but the design for the witch Nomura made was incorporated into “FFVIII” in Edea.
—I see. So then, when the development began again, it become the world we have now which has a strong sci-fi feel.
Kitase: At the time there were a lot of Western-fantasy RPGs around, so we wanted to set it apart, and we wanted to achieve more realist ways of showing the story. Also, Mr. Sakaguchi (*2) had suggested a modern drama-esque story with a strong sci-fi feel.
—Had you decided on making it an RPG using 3D polygons at that point?
Kitase: When development had restarted, talk of a next generation console was already in full swing. Since the next generation hardware was said to have chips that excelled at 3D graphics, we also made a 3D battle demo movie based on “FFVI” and studied using 3D. Soon the idea came up that movies would be indispensible to the evolution of “FF” and we decided to development for the PlayStation, which utilised CD-ROM that had a large storage capacity.
“ALONE IN THE DARK”
—Was the decision to make “FFVII” in 3D a unanimous one?
Kitase: There were two directions the development of “FFVII” could have taken. One was to put pixel characters on 3D maps, like “Dragon Quest VII” and “Xenogears” would later use. And the other was the method used in “FFVII” where the characters are rendered using polygons. The pixel characters used in the story scenes in previous “FF” games were extremely popular, so at first we were considering the former which is an extension of that method. But as we couldn’t made a realistic drama in that way, and with polygon characters we could use the movement of their entire bodies to express things, we went for the later to look for new possibilities.
—Was there no resistance from the team?
Kitase: There was at first. Particularly, with the loss of the pixel graphics, the designer team such as Naora (*3) seemed to have felt that their job was put at risk. But in their own ways, everyone went to the CG training sessions and such and learnt to handle it. The people who had been there since the old days are those who had overcome that sort of times of change. In a sense, that was really the turning point for the development.
—Were there any titles that served as a reference when making a 3D RPG?
Kitase: A foreign game called “Alone In The Dark” was an inspiration. The backgrounds were single images done in CG, and when the polygon character moved along them, the camera would switch and the viewpoint would change. That method was new. “Alone In The Dark” was an adventure game, and its story was set in a mansion, but I thought that by taking this and using in it in RPG with vast field maps, it could be something different and new, so I went around showing this game to all the staff.
MOVIE SCENES YOU CAN CONTROL
—In “FFVII” one of its unique features was being able to control characters during the movies.
Kitase: What I wanted to do most of all in “FFVII” was to seamlessly join the movies and the game parts. We wanted to avoid there feeling like there was a massive gap in the graphics when moving from the movies to the playable parts, and Mr. Sakaguchi also said to not make it feel like the movies stick out. So we did some tests and made the part in the opening where the camera zooms in from a shot of all of Midgar to Cloud jumping off the train. I was in charge of the composition of that part, we used a method where as it moved from the movie to a CG image, the characters were positioned so they didn’t move out of place, and we refined it numerous times to get it to sync up nicely. When it went well without moving out of place, it felt brilliant. By the way, the kind of showy events like the scene where Tifa jumps off the Junon cannon, I was mostly responsible for those (laughs).
—Do you think scenes you can control during movies not being in other games was down to Square’s high level of technical skills at that time?
Kitase: No, rather than technical skill, I think it was more the inventiveness to want to do those kind of things. We wanted to take what “Alone In The Dark” did, having polygon characters on top of a CG background, and take it one step further. And because this was our first 3D game, we didn’t know the limits so we could have reckless ideas. We commissioned an outside CG company for the movie scenes, but when the trial version was completed, we would say “the story’s changed so we’d like to extend the movie scene by about 30 seconds” which really surprised them. Since at that time even just extending a movie by a few seconds costed 10 million yen. We made these unreasonable orders without knowing that. In the end we made do with a few revisions, but we gradually learnt that you can’t get retakes as easy as you could with games (wry smile).
—(Laughs) Did Mr. Sakaguchi give any orders for other parts?
Kitase: I think Mr. Sakaguchi wanted to follow the tradition of the pixel graphics, and to show the characters’ expressions on the field screens, so he paid attention to the size of the heads. In battles you can zoom in the camera, but since the field screens are a single background image, you can’t do that. As a result, the proportion of the characters are different in battle and on the field. But when we looked at it after “FFVII” was released, we thought “people are probably going to feel something is off with the difference in proportion” and so in “FFVIII” we the proportions on the field and battle scenes the same.
A SCENARIO WITH A HINT OF MYSTERY
—How was the story, which was distinct from the RPGs that had come before it, created?
Kitase: Before “FFVI” we had Mr. Sakaguchi’s plots, and based on that each of the staff would throw in their ideas and flesh it out, but with “FFVII” we could express things more realistically, so we couldn’t take a mishmash of all the separate episodes the staff had made up and make a single coherent game. That’s where Mr. Nojima (*4), who was one of the new staff members, came in. He had written an RPG scenario with mystery elements for “Glory of Heracles III: Silence of the Gods” on the SNES, so to make it a surprising story like that we left the scenario to Mr. Nojima and he incorporated the elements everyone wanted to do.
—Things such as Cloud’s true identity were certainly surprising.
Kitase: For Cloud’s identity, we only vaguely had an image of Cloud’s own existence being up in the air and it ending there, but the actual unfolding of events was left in Nojima’s hands. And he made not only the scenario but the actual event scenes as well, and the parts where all the mysteries get made clear like Nibelheim in the past were all in Nojima’s head so he hadn’t written it down in detail in the scenario. So we were doing the test play with no idea how it was going to end, and that’s how we first found out what happens. In particular Zack was made like that as well, he was a character Nojima brought in while he was building up the mystery, so we had no clue that he was that important a character (laughs).
—That’s surprising (laughs). Did Mr. Sakaguchi have any directions for the story, having written the plot?
Kitase: Mr. Sakaguchi had been deeply involved with the story up to “FFVI” but with “FFVII” he focused his efforts on the battles. It was Mr. Sakaguchi who suggested the materia system. At first materia had the name “spheres” which Nomura proposed, but Sakaguchi thought we should make it something that would resonate easily even with elementary school kids, so we went for ‘materia’. Back then, the staff were trying to come up with some cool name, but Sakaguchi said that in order to get it embraced across the board you can’t just think about what’s cool.
DEVELOPMENT BRIMMING WITH ENTHUSIASM
—Was the wide variety of mini-games something you planned to include from the start?
Kitase: We had thought of the bike mini-game where you escape from Midgar, but apart from that we had no plans at all (laughs). Now we don’t have staff who aren’t working on anything, but back then we could have staff who had a bit of free time between projects. There were some new staff as well so, kind of doubling as training, we had them make things that needed specialised programs, like the roller coaster shooting game or the submarines.
—So that’s the story behind it! By the way, were there any specific episodes from back then that left a mark on you?
Kitase: Actually, 6 days after “FFVII” mastered up, my eldest son was born. I luckily got there in time for the birth, but afterwards my wife said “you can’t just simply show up for the moment he’s born and everything’s fine” (wry smile). So while I caused some worry, it was a memorable time also for the birth of my son.
—So finally, can you give a message to the fans of “FFVII”?
Kitase: Looking back on the development of “FFVII” now, the difference in proportion between the field and battle sections encapsulates how the desire to “include the stuff we wanted to do” won over consistency. Those bits that are rough but you can feel the energy behind them, those are my favourite points in “FFVII”, and I think maybe what has been supported for so long. As you get used to game development you try to make something more clean and refined, but even if some things were a bit irregular, like there being so many mini-games, later on you come to realise that those can create some unpredictable sort of fun. I hope we can treasure that energy in the future as well, and not forget the enthusiasm we had at first as we make new games.
*1: Tetsuya Nomura. Character designer for “FFVII”.
*2: Hironobu Sakaguchi. Produced heavily involved with the “FF” series.
*3: Yusuke Naora. Art director for “FFVII”.
*4: Kazushige Nojima. In charge of the scenario of “FFVII”.
– On the 15th anniversary
You’ve mainly received attention for your character designs, but you also suggested various systems like the limit breaks in “FFVII” which would be used in later games in the series. Limit breaks are similar to the special attacks in fighting games, but what an interesting idea it was to think it would be fun to place those into an RPG format. If I said it to you directly you’d get ahead of yourself so I won’t, but I would just like to say ‘thank you’ (laughs). (Kitase)
– On the 15th anniversary
While we were asking you to come up with a mysterious story like “Glory of Hercules III”, me and Nomura kept throwing these elements we wanted without considering foreshadowing, so I think incorporating them must have been tough. But I am grateful that you pieced them together without turning us down. Thank you. But around the time of “FFX” our unreasonable behavior was too much *even for you* and you had a displeased air about you, didn’t you (wry smile). (Kitase)
WEEKLY FAMITSU ISSUE NO. 1224: TETSUYA NOMURA INTERVIEW
CHANGES IN THE VISUAL ASPECTS
—What was the most significant thing for you in the transition from “FFVI” to “FFVII”?
Nomura: I guess it was utilising polygons. The difference in high between the characters on the battle screen and the characters on the field screen also kind of seems like the gap between “FFVI” and “FFVII”, and seeing that process of trail-and-error is memorable for me.
—At that time, I hear you could have gone in the direction of using pixel graphics, or 3D, but what were your thoughts on it?
Nomura: I originally handled the pixel graphics, so I thought that if there were no pixels then my work would be gone (laughs). Later I took some training to learn CD, but I went into design and direction rather than working as a modeller.
—The “FF” series had been particularly known for Mr. Amano’s (*1) illustrations previously, so did you feel any pressure when your illustrations were to become the main focus in “FFVII”?
Nomura: I thought of my drawings as the standing images for the pixel graphics of the previous games, so there wasn’t any pressure.
—Standing images for the pixel graphics?
Nomura: In the “FF” series, Mr. Amano’s image illustrations and the pixel characters’ designs didn’t necessarily match. Personally, I considered image illustrations and the pixel graphics as being different categories in a sense. I was in charge of the pixel graphic parts, so I never considered myself as standing alongside Amano or taking over from him. The company decided from a rights perspective to put my name out in front, but originally there weren’t any plans like that at all.
THE TRADEGY OF AERITH AND THE BIRTH OF TIFA
—It was apparently Mr. Sakaguchi who selected you for “FFVII”, but how did that come about?
Nomura: From before when making a “FF” title, everyone would put plans regardless of their section. While everyone handed in text documents they made on a PC, mine were hand-written and had illustrations attached. Because I had originally studied advertising, I would keep in mind how to make people want to read it. Mr. Sakaguchi thought those illustrated proposals were amusing. Then one day he said, “let Tetsu draw the characters.” The start of this was the brush images for “FFVI”.
—Because your proposals were amusing!?
Nomura: Until that point, I hadn’t had many proposals taken up at all, so I don’t think that’s the reason (laughts). I suppose he liked the illustrations on the proposals.
—When it was decided that you would draw the illustrations, was the world and characters’s details already pinned down to a degree?
Nomura: There was a plot for the story, and I drew them based on that. But during the course of it Mr. Sakaguchi put Mr. Kitase (*3) in charge of production, and at that point in time the plot went back to square one. From there, I was also included in coming up with the original idea for the story, and began drawing while thinking up character and story details. At first Mr. Nojima (*4) was still on the “Bahamut Lagoon” team, so Kitase and myself refined the plot.
—Was the Aerith’s shocking death scene also confirmed at that time?
Nomura: I suggested to Kitase about having either Aerith or Tifa die, and it was decided that we’d go in that direction.
—Were there two heroines from the outset?
Nomura: No, originally there was only Aerith, and Tifa was added as another heroine later. To make up for Aerith dying, we needed a heroine who would be by the hero’s side until the end. Plus with Aerith’s death, while there were characters in previous “FF” games who lost their lives, we wanted to try a different approach. By bringing out a ‘sense of loss’ with Aerith’s death, we also wanted to portray the theme of “FFVII” which is ‘life’.
—It did certain have a different impact than that of the loss of characters in past “FF” games. Were there any other points you focused on with the story?
Nomura: I wanted to have a story where you chase Sephiroth. One where there is a SOLDIER who was once a hero, and the heroes follow him. Following a moving enemy hadn’t been done before, and I thought that by chasing something it would help pull the story along.
RELATION BETWEEN THE ORIGINAL CONCEPTS AND THE DESIGNS
—Were there any aspects of the character designs that you struggled with?
Nomura: For Cloud, at first I thought that it’d be better not to use too many polygons, so I gave him sweptback hair, but I didn’t think that looked much like a main character so I changed his hairstyle.
—Were you already thinking about polygon counts at the design stages?
Nomura: While considering it, I tried to be as unreasonable as I could. I thought that was necessary in order to do things no one else had done. For instance, making Aerith’s dress with polygons was very hard at the time. But I believed that thinking about how to make that so it moves naturally would lead to improvement of skills and rendering.
—Sephiroth’s long hair must have also been tough work.
Nomura: That’s right. That was also because I wanted to make the contrast easy to see between Cloud and Sephiroth in their designs. Blond and silver, short and long.
—At the time you said in an interview with our magazine that the image of Cloud and Sephiroth was based on “Musashi [Miyamoto] and Kojiro [Sasaki].”
Nomura: Yes. In particular the weapons, and the “showdown” image, was Musashi and Kojiro.
—Were there any other parts where the story concepts or mental images came through strong in the designs?
Nomura: At first, Sephiroth and Aerith were to be brother and sister, so I gave them similarities in their fringes. That aspect was dropped during the early stages, but the fringes stayed (laughs). I believe the original idea for them to be siblings later became that Sephiroth was Aerith’s first love. Ultimately Nojima thought up Zack, and it was all tied up.
WHITE IS THE “FF” IMAGE COLOUR
—Back at the time, did you realise the extent of the influence “FFVII” had on people?
Nomura: The Internet wasn’t wide-spread yet, and there weren’t really any avenues to see the opinions of a vast number of people, so I didn’t really know how it was being received by the public. But as the release was drawing nearer, the commercials on TV were played a lot, which gave a sense of the scale of things.
—There were several variations of commercials, right.
Nomura: Among those was a commercial that Kyle Cooper (*5) had edited. That was really cool, and it impacted me the way that different editing can give such a different impression. It was because of that that I took an interest in video editing.
—So the current high quality trailers came about because of a commercial for “FFVII”!?
Nomura: No (laughs). There is an outside editing director who has worked with us for a long time, but the present trailers are created with him.
—I see. The novel design for the game packaging, with just the logo on a white background which would be carried over to the future titles in the series, was also talked about.
Nomura: A lot of that was down to (Tadashi) Nomura who lead publicity for “FFVII”. Actually, we were talking about removing the lettering of the logo and just having the image of Meteor Amano had drawn. To have people recognise that it was “FFVII” from that. I thought that was pretty cool, but it didn’t materialise. The background being white was because Sakaguchi said that the image of “FF” was white.
—So there were lots of ideas even for the packaging. By the way, I heard that you are also involved with overseeing merchandise and publicity?
Nomura: That’s true, at the time I wasn’t sure how much I should do, so ended up drawing everything like roughs for plush toys and such (wry smile). I think it’s precisely because I didn’t know, that I was able to try my hand at everything. It was “FFVII” that was the start of my involvement in publicity as well. Though I ended up revealing info about “FFVII” I shouldn’t have and causing trouble, after that I started getting confirmation first. After I started working together like that, I was also able to cooperate with their publicity strategies, and I think I managed to get them to understand the intent of the development. Most of all, it was fun to be able to do that together.
ENERGY FROM IGNORANCE
—What sort of impression do you have now looking back on time spent making “FFVII”?
Nomura: We were basically rushing headlong, without knowing what we could or couldn’t do. And that’s why I think we could generate that much power, and pack everyone’s ideas in there. Our being able to be reckless making games that way ended with “FFVII”. Personally, it was the first “FF” where a wide range of my ideas were picked up, so it was a lot of fun.
—But before then as well, you not only created the pixel graphics but also submitted proposals as well, right?
Nomura: I put forth ideas for “FFV” and “VI”, but they were only really a part of the whole. Unlike in “VI” where with the inclusion of my ninja and my gambler I was given charge of the stories for Shadow and Setzer, “VII” was the first “FF” where I was involved from the ground up. Before then, I had been giving my opinions to a few people like Kitase, so it was interesting to be able to openly introduce proposals.
—”FFVII” is a game that has been supported by fans for over 15 years, but what kind of feelings do you have for the “FF” series?
Nomura: I still remember well what Mr. Sakaguchi said about “FF” at that time. There’s no one to tell that to the new staff, so I’d like to ask Kitase if he’d do so (laughs). I watched up close how Sakaguchi had left Kitase in charge of the development floor, and personally I think that Kitase is the true heir of “FF”. Also, “FF” carries weight because it’s a title that passed through many people’s hands and not just a single person’s. For example, “Kingdom Hearts” has the same main characters and the story carries on, but with “FF” the fact that ‘each time it’s different’ can feel like a tall hurdle. But that’s exactly why the new “FF” must always exceed the ones of the past. Even “FFVII”, which has been supported by the players for a long time and many people hope for a remake, but right now we want to prioritise new titles, and to try our best to make those become like “FFVII” or something greater.
*1: Yoshitaka Amano. Works on the image illustrations and logo designs for the “FF” series.
*2: Hironobu Sakaguchi. Producer heavily involved with the “FF” series.
*3: Yoshinori Kitase. Director of “FFVII”.
*4: Kazushige Nojima. In charge of the scenario of “FFVII”.
*5: Kyle Cooper. A video creator who produces the opening credits for films, with many credits such as “Se7en” and “Mission: Impossible”.
– On the 15th anniversary
We see each other a lot normally, so I don’t really have anything to say (wry smile). Lately, there are getting to be fewer people who worked on “FF” with Mr. Sakaguchi. Among them, I’ve worked with you for a long time, and it feels like you’ve done a lot for me. Let’s keep on going into the future. (Nomura)
– On the 15th anniversary
I think it’s great how you write this dialogue that gives characters clever things to say, and surprising stories. In “FFVII” Cloud’s true identity was a real shock. You later founded your own company and went independent, but I hope we can keep on working together still in the future. (Nomura)
Sources and Other Links!
If you like to read about Final Fantasy VII, I would also recommend buying the Final Fantasy VII Ultimania.
- Interview with Official UK PSX Magazine – October 1997
- Hironobu Sakaguchi Interview – from PlayStation Underground #2, 1997
- The Making of Final Fantasy VII – from Edge #123, May 2003
- Afterthoughts: Final Fantasy VII –
- Dengeki PlayStation Vol.17– Dengeki PlayStation Vol.40
- “EGM2 August 1997 issue” scans
- FFVII 10th Anniversary Ultimania p. 8-13 “Creators’ Discussion”
- Final Fantasy VII Developer Speaks Out About “The Travelling Salesman”, interview by GlitterBerri.
- Yoshinori Kitase Interview
- Tetsuya Nomura Interview
- FFVII North American Release Announcement – SCEA, February 1997
- FFVII’s Marketing Campaign – SCEA, August 1997
- FFVII Official Release Date Broken – SCEA, September 1997
- FFVII Breaks Sales Records in First Weekend – SCEA, September 1997
- FFVII Sells Over 500,000 Copies in the U.S. – SCEA, September 1997
- FFVII Sells Over One Million Copies in the U.S. – SCEA, December 1997
- FFVII for the PC Official Announcement – Eidos, June 1998
- Marketing material https://www.resetera.com/threads/final-fantasy-7-marketing-stuff-etc-reunion.37961/page-2
- Xenon- http://xenon.stanford.edu/~geksiong/papers/sts145/Squaresoft%20and%20FF7.htm
- Final Fantasy Beta- https://www.unseen64.net/2008/04/11/final-fantasy-7-beta/
- See Also Beta versions of Final Fantasy VII’s world and assets- Here and here
- Deleted Scenes and unseen text- Here
- Concept arts here and here. Oh look more.
|From the FFVII Ultimania Omega (2005).
Early concepts for the world, characters and themes.
As time goes on, I will try and further enhance this article with more sources and interviews as I find them. I truly believe it is important to keep the history of classic games development alive.