Just a week away from the remake of Resident Evil 3 another PSX relic will be revived in a modern key: after years of relentless public demand, Square Enix has in fact decided to produce the remake of Final Fantasy VII, one of the most loved and successful flagship titles for the company.

Released for the first time on January 31, 1997, this milestone of the JRPG contributed enormously to the growth of the then Squaresoft and to define the identity of the first PlayStation.

Despite the achievements, however, Final Fantasy VII, born between two drastically different generations of consoles, had a decidedly eventful development, which began on the fateful April 2, 1994.

Thoughtful decisions

In fact, Final Fantasy VI was released on this date, a title that quickly reached the greatest success ever recorded for the franchise both in terms of sales and reception from critics and the public.

This result, certainly satisfying for the staff, demonstrated once again how the unconventional methods of approach to the development of Hironobu Sakaguchi, oriented towards proposing new characters, new settings and new stories at each iteration rather than reproposing familiar and already consolidated elements, a very risky approach if we consider the fickle nature of the gaming market of the time, they could prove successful.

But if the first five titles of the series had already marked the evolution from the last breath of a resigned and disillusioned developer to an avant-garde franchise, Final Fantasy VI turned out to be special for having redefined the figure of Sakaguchi in the schemes of Final Fantasy : although an important figure, in fact, the "dad" of the series was not integral to the success of a title of the franchise, as demonstrated by the debut of the young Yoshinori Kitase, a former student of cinematography and screenplay who had in Final Fantasy VI his first job as Game Director alongside the creator of the ATB system Hiroyuki Itō, with whom Kitase changed the development team's working method in a clear and more dynamic way.

Having amply proved that Sakaguchi's choice to place his trust in him was correct, Kitase inevitably found himself in the direction of the next project.

In a Square guided by principles of innovation and perfectionism, the difficulties with Final Fantasy VII arose almost immediately in the choice of which form the title should have taken.

After what we can imagine to have been a long series of debates, the team reached three possible conclusions: to produce a title from the artistic direction similar to Final Fantasy VI and to publish it on Super Famicom / SNES, benefiting from a simple, rapid development and easy return cheap but which, on the other hand, would have contributed little to pushing the franchise into the future; the second alternative, risky and which would have included more substantial investments, was to produce a 3D title in the next and imminent generation of consoles, compensating the risks and resources with Square's potential positioning in the vanguard of videogame development and a very public wide; a middle ground between the two alternatives was the third, eligible option: a title for Super Famicom with a new approach to art design and new systems and mechanics.

Each alternative available had its pros and cons, and although today we know that Square ended up focusing on the second option, that was not the original direction chosen: to help the growth of the company, in fact, the leading members of Square they chose to list the company on the stock exchange, a choice that would bring new lifeblood into the resources available to the company but which, consequently, would include investors to satisfy and convince, with the inevitable obligation to avoid unnecessary risks.

However less fascinating, it is not surprising to find that it was the first alternative to be chosen as the direction for the game, as it was safer and more economically sustainable.

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Work in progress

Just three months after the launch of Final Fantasy VI, therefore, the pre-production of the sequel begins by Yoshinori Kitase and his team of about thirty people.

At the expense of the creative restrictions imposed by the top floors of the company, the innovative spirit of the employees did not go out immediately leading the team to explore options and ideas on how to propose something innovative and original.

If the art direction and game systems were out of the question, the only option left was narrative, a perfect option for Kitase's studio background.

Posthumous to the experience of Final Fantasy VI, the director concluded that, although pleasant and successful, the cast of characters proposed was too large to allow the story to follow each of them fluently, giving them their respective moments of appropriate emphasis: Kitase therefore he chose to approach every aspect of Final Fantasy VII by shifting his attention to the density of content rather than its length.

The title could have been completed quickly, but the substance and the different narrative paths would have encouraged players to repeat multiple games.

Inspired by The Godfather - part 2, Kitase imagined a story told through two periods of time related to each other following the events of two protagonists, father and son, with the idea of ​​proposing different decisions in the father's story that the player should have take changing the course of events in the period involving the events of his son: accepting or refusing to carry out a heroic act would, for example, have determined the fame of the father and, consequently, the way in which the son is welcomed . Likewise, the father's skills would have indirectly evolved the child through objects such as, for example, a book containing his teachings.

Kitase also wanted the story to change based on the composition of the party: there would obviously be a central narrative in which the hero would have to save the world from a comet, but based on who had been present at certain times they would have started various secondary events.

Among the numerous ideas there was also the inclusion of random events within the game map, easily missed by the players, encouraging the idea of ​​replayability that Kitase wanted to convey in the title.

On paper, therefore, Final Fantasy VII would have been a drastically different title than previously done and, for this reason, the director's initial intentions were to bring a new narrative genre with these changes.
Despite hints of technological elements, Final Fantasy had always presented predominantly traditional fantasy settings: the characters used swords, axes, spells and faced monsters, mystical and mythological creatures.

Already with Final Fantasy VI the idea that the series should not remain confined to this genre had begun to express itself, and it was also by Sakaguchi's will and drive that Kitase wanted to move away from those traditional boundaries.

The myths and legends typical of the fantasy hero would therefore remain in the game, but as a frame for greater ethical aspirations such as a strong ecological awareness and the general celebration of life, a thematic feeling from which Sakaguchi was strongly taken since the development of Final Fantasy III during which his mother's death occurred.

Sakaguchi's suggestion for this type of story, where the theme of life would unite the planet and all people as a collective unit, was in the mold of film noir with a traditional base that would have had New York as its main setting.

At the heart of this yellow-mood narrative would be an ecoterrorist organization bent on destroying industrial complexes, constantly pursued by the story's pivotal detective, named Joe.

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Obstacles

After a quarter of development in which the concepts and ideas thrown by Kitase and Sakaguchi were put in place, between possible characters and even a playable prototype, the team in charge of producing Final Fantasy VII found themselves immediately stopping the work due the growing importance of Maru Island, a parallel project that was facing a profound production crisis.

The Maru Island project was born from Square's needs, already felt at the time of Final Fantasy IV, to leave behind the use of ROM cartridges, limited by their storage space, which the naturally vast titles produced by Squaresoft were desperate for .

Once they learned of the collaboration between Nintendo and Sony for a CD player that would expand to the Super Famicom, the company welcomed the idea with enthusiasm by starting the development of Secret of Mana to make full use of the new technology being worked on.

Unfortunately, when the development of the device (and the collaboration between the two companies) was abruptly interrupted, Square had to take all the work one step back to allow it to be published on a standard ROM.

Reassured by Nintendo and the second attempt to switch to CD-ROM with Philips, Square began the ambitious project called Maru Island, which combined the creative minds behind Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Dragon Ball.

Even the Nintendo-Philips peripheral, however, faded into a fact that left Square in a highly vulnerable position, forcing them to eliminate a great deal of the work done in order to be able to publish the remains on a cartridge for Super Famicom.

To this end it was necessary to reassign many internal key resources, which is why Final Fantasy VII was put on hiatus to allow Kitase to work in support of Maru Island, radically changed and renamed Chrono Trigger.

The title was a huge video game success, but the amount of time required for its development led Kitase to reevaluate many elements of Final Fantasy VII also thanks to the changes brought by Nintendo's Ultra 64 project, which had pushed Square to work with the infrastructure console and experiment with three-dimensional graphics.

Storage space, however, remained a non-negligible problem: Saturn and PlayStation would have used discs, while Ultra 64 would have continued to use cartridges, limiting the possibility of using cinematic cutscenes within games.

The promise of a peripheral (the Nintendo 64DD) capable of expanding the storage space of cartridges convinced Square to continue with the work carried out until then with constant and decisive progress: Kitase, an avid cinephile, was strongly convinced that it was time video games to venture into 3D and, seeing the progress made during the time he worked on Chrono Trigger, convinced Sakaguchi to abandon the idea of ​​releasing Final Fantasy VII on Super Famicon and embark on the risky undertaking of making it for the first time a Final Fantasy in 3D.

Having got the go-ahead, Kitase started putting together a team of creators ready to work on the production of the title for Nintendo 64DD, but before they could make real progress Square interrupted relations with Nintendo from which, due to the constant referrals and interrupted projects of recent times, it was no longer possible to benefit.

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New platform, new team

It was early 1996 when Squaresoft announced the development of Final Fantasy VII for PlayStation.
The implications of this decision caused the entire disruption of the whole project, making the title a big bet for Square: the project would have required more resources, staff and technology than had happened before, so the company invested to bring the team of 20-30 people to become a studio of 150 professionals, with the best talents available to Square reassigned to ensure that the artistic, musical and mechanical direction was worthy of a transition from the old 2D to the new 3D.

With a constantly changing technology and development environment, the team found itself having to adapt and change quickly, all under the overwhelming pressure of the scope of the project, the responsibility it entailed and, finally, the stress due to the fact that much of the work done so far should have been discarded or changed significantly.

With much more space available, Kitase set to work to expand the narrative of the title, which was easier thanks to the renewed support on the writing side.

Kaori Tanaka proposed, for example, an in-depth story partially focused on a warrior with multiple personalities, Motomu Toriyama proposed the idea that the characters received dreams from gods, giving them special powers aimed at realizing the dreams received as a mission.

Many ideas received by the various team members were discarded, deemed incompatible with the project, although individual elements of the various suggestions were used to assemble a new narrative.

Everything that was not used at the same time was kept to be taken over by other projects: the Sakaguchi draft, the one set in New York, was partially reused as a step to give life to Parasite Eve; Tanaka's script was widely used to make Xenogears while Toriyama with his ideas laid the foundations of Final Fantasy XIII and the Fabula Nova Crystallis project.

Even Kitase's initial idea of ​​father and son was pushed aside and partially reused for Final Fantasy VIII, showing how pragmatic and open-ended Squaresoft's production methods were to welcome ideas from any team member to receive solutions to any problem, keeping the proposals even in cases where they were not ideal for the current project.

With only a year to produce the game, Kitase took full advantage of this philosophy, bringing many areas of development to change suddenly, a method that undoubtedly may seem extremely chaotic and disorganized despite welcoming collaboration in any form.

Kitase's method, however informal and disordered, allowed to maximize the individual talents of the staff beyond their official duties, allowing each kind of development area to generate new ideas, then channeled by the specialists of the case, a method in in line with his broad and vague vision of how the title should be but which also made the processing of the narrative more natural, since it allowed individuals to express themselves based on their passion, rather than their duty.

It was this perspective that made it possible to make the young Tetsuya Nomura, still young in the company but who had already had his first role of responsibility during the development of Final Fantasy VI.

Knowing that Kitase wanted to abandon the idea of ​​a story focused on father and son, Nomura thought that the intention was to return to a more traditional scheme with hero and heroine and, without having an effective confirmation of this intention, he designed Cloud and Aerith with the possibility that they were unnecessary and gave them a distinct story and personality, with possible hints of history for both characters.

He suggested Cloud as an ex-soldier in search of Sephiroth and a sense of identity, without an attachment to saving the planet. In the process, Barrett and Red XIII added, generating an immense amount of unsolicited work to be submitted for evaluation by Kazushige Nojima.

Nomura's ideas were enthusiastically accepted by Nojima and Kitase, noting also several stimulating challenges for the team such as the realization of Red XIII, which would have allowed for the first time in a JRPG (2D or 3D) to have a quadruped character.

The two, together with Nomura, actively collaborated for the creation of Sephiroth, trying to formulate the type of character and its role in the general history of the title, finding inspiration in Spielberg's The Shark: a threat largely invisible but capable of intimidating the viewer through small signs of his presence without appearing directly for much of the story.

In this creative phase, many scenes, kinematics and game traits were constantly modified based on the new ideas that emerged or the old ones discarded. Only one was the fixed point of the narrative, a point that served to fully realize the theme of life as a fleeting element and cyclically linked with the planet: the fate of Aerith, determined from the early stages of the final writing of Final Fantasy VII , it would have distinguished itself from that of characters with similar fates in terms of modality, weight and depth.

No act of courage and idolized value, no great battle, but a profound connection with reality: irrevocable, unexpected and tragic.

The iconic sequence was made with the very close participation of Kitase, who took care of every single detail by choosing every element and detail of the scene so that the event was amplified as much as possible.

FINAL FANTASY VII REMAKE - 1st Class Edition [PS4] | Square Enix Store

Icon

The ecological premise and that puts at the center of its themes the concept of life, originally conceived in the early stages of development, remain intact in the final version of the game. However, there is another important theme that distinguishes most of the cast of characters, especially the main protagonist: identity is a recurring and fundamental theme in the story of Final Fantasy VII, ending up directly touching the developments of each of the members of the Avalanche group, sometimes in a revolutionary way.

Identity is also a theme that is used, in parallel, with the main antagonist Sephiroth and his link with his "mother" Jenova, an antagonistic entity that owes a lot to the Lovecraftian narrative and that exerts a very strong presence of malicious guide on the entire sector of characters (both the protagonists and the antagonists) for the duration of the story.

As originally planned, some perspectives on the story are actually different based on which members are present in the party: if on the one hand this allows the player to partially construct the narration with the characters he likes most, this choice overshadows the characters not used, which will rarely appear in history and will lack interaction with the course of events.

Even the random sequences have been, in part, preserved in the form of two completely optional cast characters: Yuffie and Vincent are easy to lose for a player in his first game, rewarding meticulousness in exploration in line with one of the ideas of main designs for Kitase, namely to focus on content density rather than its length.

Taken directly, in fact, the narrative of Final Fantasy VII is not long and, on the contrary, sometimes it flows too quickly from one event to another, leading the Avalanche to travel the planet from city to city, sometimes stopping for one , quick dialogue before leaving for the next destination.

Between trips, however, the game can rely on extra content made in depth, which breaks the gameplay loop typical of Final Fantasy in favor of a remarkable variety of gameplay.
Hence the Gold Saucer and its numerous minigames, the Chocobo cattery and the defense of Fort Kondor become significant elements of the game that help the player become more involved in the world he will find himself exploring.

The numerous game sections from the gameplay specifically designed to create unique and memorable sequences also contribute to this: the motorbike escape, the snowboard descent, the Junon parade, etc., contribute to giving a very strong identity to the title making Cloud one of the most immersive protagonists of the franchise.

Even the main gameplay of the JRPG, however, detaches itself from the canons of the past with a new, particular development system that reduces the limitations of the classes, giving total control of the party's structure and capabilities to the player.

The Materia System, with its wide customization options and development separate from that of the characters, contributes to the replayability of Final Fantasy VII by encouraging experimentation.

Unfortunately, however, it is also a system with its limits, dictated by characters who inevitably end up being better than others because of their differences strictly falling on the Limit Breaks available to them and by the equalization of the cast characters against individualism and specialization that distinguished the protagonists of the previous Final Fantasy.

Son of a troubled development and made of constant changes, although it shows the side in some of its components Final Fantasy VII remains a solid title that, with its varied and well-built cast, leaves no surprise in front of the position that the title, the first to bring such work to the JRPG, she has earned.

As it was in 94, the Final Fantasy VII Remake also seems to want to focus on bringing something new to the franchise, both from the narrative point of view and from the gameplay point of view: the promising demo released on March 2, which proposes the iconic attack on the Mako reactor that opens the original title, showcases some of the novelties of this modern proposal with expanded and more developed narrative elements and a game system that better communicates the energy and dynamism of the Final Fantasy VII battles without however sacrifice the more strategic aspect of gameplay.

The choice of dividing the story into several chapters is more delicate, a formula that must be carefully approached to better understand what the development team's proposal is and what it actually entails beyond what is released in the interviews.

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The launch and the legacy

The arduous journey of the Kitase team, with dedicated specialists who gave their best for the full realization of the vision behind the game, saw its full fulfillment on January 21, 1997: with over 2 million copies sold, the title immediately became the franchise's best seller, and one of the most significant games released on PlayStation up to that point.

Square, however, had few doubts about the success of Final Fantasy VII in Japan, and believed it was the western market to represent the real definitive challenge: a very expensive advertising campaign was prepared which saw the western division of Square completely reorganized from the inside, with a estimate and goal of placing at least 750.000 copies: in less than three months, Final Fantasy VII exceeded one million copies in North America, reaching 3 million copies by the end of the year with another 2 million placed in Europe.

Becoming an international phenomenon, Final Fantasy VII managed to make the JRPG an international genre and, above all, to make PlayStation acquire the reputation of machine for JRPG, bringing numerous other developers to focus on this platform for the evolution of this type of game. .

Final Fantasy VII was, in those years, one of the most expensive games ever produced in the whole gaming landscape that was widely repaid over the years.

Made iconic by the arduous work of the development team, the designs of Nomura and the music of Uematsu, the title would have become the basis for an entire expansion project that includes films and spin-off titles of various kinds, reiterating the elements several times key of the particular world of Final Fantasy VII leading the most passionate players to request, over the years, a remake, finally announced in 2015 and out on April 10, 2020.

The latter, for Square Enix, represents today as then one of the greatest risks taken by the company: a relic of the past, a milestone of the fifth generation and iconic JRPG, the widely discussed choices of approach and design must prove successful in order to conquer definitively the public, and the slightest mistake in the contemporary transposition of such a visionary title could cost the whole franchise irreparably.