I sat down with FFVII Rebirth Director Naoki Hamaguchi this week to discuss the upcoming project. I learned about the Director’s vision for the second installment in the Remake series and how they realized Final Fantasy VII’s open-world portion.
We naturally get off course and talk about riding segways with Ichiban Kasuga from Like A Dragon, If Red XIII has back problems from riding the Chocobo, and plenty of other weird questions.
This interview was done through an on-site translator.
FFVII Rebirth Interview With Director Naoki Hamaguchi | Segways, Red XIII, And Creating A New World
Jesse Vitelli: What do you think is the biggest enhancement from Remake to Rebirth?
Naoki Hamaguchi: “Yes, very good question. First of all, I was very focused on creating a new type of gameplay experience for this second title. The reason being that with the Remake series being a trilogy, I do find that the second title within the series is quite important. And, you know, just since we’re not able to do this sort of exactly the same way as we did in the first title, as in Remake, because if we have a very similar gameplay experience with the first title, second title, and then users will have a sort of expectation or kind of feeling that, you know, perhaps the third may be the same as well. And so in order to kind of keep this sort of excitement and wonder and feeling of, you know, what is it going to be next? How will the gameplay be, this was something that I felt was important.
We felt that, for this title, we did very much feel that the story-driven nature of the Remake series was still very important and key to it that we still wanted to keep and have this very cinematic story, and, sort of this very immersive emotional experience that that users can have by playing. So while still keeping that intact, we wanted to also sort of add this new element of being able to explore this very expansive world now. And so with the main storyline and just playing that, I would assume there would be about, you know, 40 hours of gameplay. But in addition to that, there is just a whole ton of different side content and areas to explore that players can devote a ton of time into that we’ve prepared for Rebirth, and we really wanted to give the option of players saying like, ‘Okay, do we want to keep on going with the main storyline and exploring that path or really kind of venturing and going through like the side routes and side content and exploring that aspect, too’. We wanted to give people that freedom of exploration, and I felt that was very important.”
JV: When you have something like Final Fantasy VII Remake where the main story is the crux, it’s the thing that everybody is there for. When you’re designing side content and sort of these open spaces, how do you make that enticing for the player to want to go off the beaten path and want to go explore these things and feel rewarded for doing so?
Naoki Hamaguchi: “This game is kind of based on one very large expansive world map, and so it’s going to be sort of a seamless experience where one can explore and go to just different regions throughout. And going through the main story, you’ll be able to sort of like go through certain regions and explore what there is to be had there. But then in doing so, I believe players will kind of realize that there are just so many other places already within the world map that you haven’t seen yet and haven’t discovered, and that alone, I believe, kind of piques that curiosity you know, like what? What’s going on over there?”
“I was very focused on giving players this sort of sense of freedom in having that choice of like where to go and how to explore it in what order for this title. And I really wanted to make it so that exploring this world map and delving into the side content doesn’t like merely just sort of, you know, check boxes. It’s not just to sort of check the boxes, like, Okay, I just completed this and made this accomplishment, but it really has a sense of enhancing the bonds and relationship between the character in how it’s structured. For example, for one side content, like Aerith and Cloud, they have to work together in order to accomplish a task, and thereby also meet either new characters, or perhaps characters also related to the main scenario, that also come in and are involved in the side content. In that way, the side content is not just its own thing, but it very much deepens the entire storyline and the player’s experience as well as the, sort of, the relationship the user themselves have to the characters and the characters within each other. So in that way, I do feel there’s the kind of major appeal of the side content sort of pulling you in, and also kind of feeding into the main storyline as well. And so I mentioned that just purely with the main storyline, one could devote maybe like about 40 hours of gameplay, but with the side content added to that, I’d say there’s easily about 100 hours of gameplay altogether. So I really envision some people really getting kind of pulled into the side content and being very much immersed in that and, almost, you know, finding it hard to perhaps like go back into the main storyline because it’s so appealing and there’s so much to do there as well.”
JV: So it sounds like Rebirth is much more expansive in scope. What is the lesson you learned from Remake that you brought forward into Rebirth whether that be a design decision or just lessons learned from developing the first game?
Naoki Hamaguchi: “I’m very much aware that there are so many users that really love the sort of overall worldview of FFVII. And so, you know, there may be those that are kind of worried and seem like, you know, if there’s just kind of a very expansive world and kind of more, free world, that type of gameplay could make the storyline suffer, but in sort of answering that, the way that the game is designed is that there just is a very kind of, I would say, natural sort of flow in which players will be able to feel that this is the time to kind of focus on the main storyline. And then, once we do that, you know, there’ll be kind of a freedom and sort of options to go and explore the world. And there’s just the right amount of balance and sort of a flow, a tempo, that players will be able to feel, and that’s very tangible within this game of both times where, you know, it’s very focused on the main plot, and areas where we feel more free to explore in and look at other places as well. This is something that I feel I’m very confident about and that type of feeling would feel very natural to the players”
JV: Does Red XIII’s back hurt riding the Chocobo?
Naoki Hamaguchi: “There is sort of a funny dev story behind that, that I wanted to share. So, you know, initially, Red XIII, seeing that he was kind of like an animal-like, creature, we were thinking, okay, like, should we have him just sort of walk along? Like Chocobo? Like, should he kind of be the only one that’s not riding as others do and just walking along? Or is he going to be, like, riding with the character? And, you know, we kind of tried out different variations of these and then brought these ideas to the Nomura-san. And Nomura-san said kind of just, you know, it’s fine to have him ride. Like, he just kind of told us that, and from there, you know, we were very kind of hyped about this, like the idea of having Red XIII like, literally ride the Chocobo. We got very excited in creating this. And, of course, with the reception of TGS in the trailer and like, that really making a buzz in Japan and worldwide as well. We really feel like that was, you know, that’s the best decision and we’re so happy about the sort of reception that it’s getting.”
JV: Cloud’s riding a Segway in this game? I need to know because Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth released their trailer and Ichiban Kasuga is also riding a Segway. Would Cloud and Ichiban Kasuga ride Segways together?
Naoki Hamaguchi: “We can’t have the ride tandem. That’s for sure.”
“Yes, yes. And I actually am familiar with the director of Like A Dragon. And so when we were kind of talking about it, we were like, Oh my gosh, like they’re both segways. We had a laugh, like it’s pretty funny.”
JV: So the synergy attacks, you sort of introduced them in Intergrade with Yuffie having some of the team-up attacks, and you’ve really expanded the breadth. Where did that idea come from in terms of wanting to do these big team-up attacks with all the characters and picking which characters get to team up and do certain abilities? How did that sort of process go?
Naoki Hamaguchi: “So the moment that I started thinking about these Synergy Attacks for Rebirth really came in when the scenario first came in from Nojima-san, and seeing that Rebirth goes to the Forgotten City. And we understand that there’s just so many people that are kind of curious about Aerith’s fate and you know, that’s sort of the journey that the party goes on to experience within Rebirth. And so when you’re thinking about the sort of epic journey that the team, the characters cover, throughout Rebirth, I felt that the battle system really also has to align with that in that it serves the storyline and this journey that they’re going to go through together as well. And so that’s where, you know, I started thinking about this sort of synergy idea in which that you’re kind of implementing this into the battle system you, like, one can experience more of the storyline and the connection between the characters through battle as well and that that really made sense to me.”
And like, as regarding the sort of combinations of different characters. I wanted to kind of mention that, in perhaps, other types of expansive games with expansive worlds and a sense of freedom, want to offer that type of gameplay, there may not be many that have almost sort of, like, multiple protagonists, and that’s likely from more of a resource reason. And it’s more so that there might be, like, a main character, but then like, have guest members and whatnot. But for Rebirth, I really wanted to kind of stick to the sort of the original gameplay of having these like, you know, characters within the team that are sort of equally very kind of important and crucial to the story. And so I felt that was very vital to keep in this way, and that that really contributed to the synergy portion as well.”
“So, in terms of the combinations, like, we actually almost kind of thought of every single combination possible between the characters. And of course, that was a big undertaking and a big ask, but we really wanted that choice and freedom and that experience of, like, characters working with each other and seeing what that’s like. So yeah, I believe that players will be able to see for themselves what that’s like. And so we’d really like for everyone to try that. And there are also attacks that can be sort of unlocked as the player moves within this story, as well. So yeah, that’s something I’m very excited about for people to try.”
JV: Who would win in a fight – Red XIII or Torgal?
Naoki Hamaguchi: “Yeah, it’s really hard to say and, you know, also personally because Hamaguchi-san actually has worked with a lot of the creators that worked on 16 and, you know, we all have a very great and really like, you know, respect, we have a great relationship with each other. So, yeah, I actually am curious to know like, which Who do you think when you win?”
JV: “Oh, Red XIII Hands down. Don’t get me wrong I love Torgal but I was seeing some of the stuff that Red XIII was doing in that demo. Torgal could never. Torgal wishes he could do Stardust Ray.”
Naoki Hamaguchi: “Thank you for your truthful answer.”