Interview: Tetsuya Nomura on FFVII Rebirth story changes, new characters and how the ending will hit differently
The top-selling Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) has retained its popularity and devoted fanbase since hitting PlayStation 1 consoles back in 1997. The game’s iconic characters such as Cloud and Sephiroth are so memorable that they have become representative of the whole Final Fantasy series.
Tetsuya Nomura was the lead character designer for FFVII. Since then, he has become even more deeply involved with the Final Fantasy series, serving as one of the directors for FFVII’s remake trilogy. There is much hype for the second installment, Final Fantasy VII Rebirth, which will be launching on February 29 for PS5.
We recently had the opportunity to ask Nomura about his role in the upcoming game, the reasons behind new characters and changes, and his approach towards creating a compelling revival of the original. We also found out how Rebirth will offer an exciting experience for FFVII veterans and newcomers alike.
──First of all, how are you feeling ahead of the game’s release on February 29?
Tetsuya Nomura: I just want everyone to play it as soon as possible!
──I thought that you were the type of person who takes his time to create things, so I was a little surprised by your answer. Is it because it’s FFVII Rebirth that you feel so strongly about people playing it as soon as they can?
Nomura: Actually, it’s like this every time. People say I tend to make them wait a long time for the games I’m involved in, but I really don’t want them to have to wait. Whenever we have team meetings to discuss the release date, I always ask for it to be as early as possible, even though others often suggest a release date that gives us a bit of leeway to be on the safe side.
──You’re a creator, but you speak like a project manager… (laughs)
Nomura: Yes, I’m surprisingly like that (laughs). But I just want everyone to play the game ASAP, as in eat your food while it’s still hot!
── For FFVII Rebirth, could you tell us about your position and what areas of development you focused on?
Nomura: Basically, I continued to work on the same aspects I worked on for FF7 Remake, but as the basics were completed in Remake, I was able to entrust a lot of things related to the new system etc. to staff.
The world of FFVII has expanded to include spin-offs and sequels, so rather than focusing on one title, I look at the world as a whole. However, that does not mean that I’m not involved in detailed aspects, but rather that I am responsible for the direction of core elements and the overall game.
──I get the sense that you focus on the feel of the action gameplay, but do you often look at the story/worldbuilding as well as the game system?
Nomura: We completed the foundations of the battle system in FFVII Remake, so this time, I basically left the battle system to the team in charge. I did sometimes give instructions to them on things I felt particularly strongly about.
── There are characters in FFVII Rebirth who did not exist in the original Final Fantasy VII. Could you tell us about your intentions in creating these new characters?
Nomura: It is the first time these characters have appeared with names, but their roles existed in the original game. This time around, the faces are much more detailed, so we had to flesh out the supporting characters a bit. Otherwise, everyone you meet would just be a generic NPC. This wouldn’t give the story a sense of depth, so our policy is to flesh out the characters that are involved in the story, even if they were insubstantial in the original version. Our intention is to depict even the smallest details in the world in order to reveal new things in the story, so we have also introduced new characters to that end.
──Thank you. Indeed, I got the impression that although the new characters weren’t in the original version, they are the sort of characters that players could easily imagine filling the gaps. Regarding additional elements, there’s a new town called Side Junon that appears in FFVII Rebirth. Could you tell us why this new town was added to the game?
Nomura: In FFVII Remake, we also added new places and areas of land that weren’t depicted in the original FFVII and placed people in them. I think this made the world denser and richer, giving the city of Midgar a realistic feel.
In the original game, Junon was naturally smaller than Midgar. So, when it came to recreating the place in FF7 Rebirth, all the elements, such as the scale of the town and the placement of people, had to be convincing. In other words, we implemented new places and buildings to make the worldbuilding of FFVII Rebirth even more convincing.
We’ve taken the motifs of what was originally there and expanded them with modern design elements so that even if the structure and look has changed greatly compared to the original version, people who played FFVII will be able to recognize the feeling and atmosphere.
── As the original Final Fantasy VII is considered a legendary game, I think that some fans who have a strong emotional attachment to it might misinterpret some of the additions made in the remake. Do you have any concerns about this?
Nomura: I do. (Yoshinori) Kitase, (Kazushige) Nojima and I had discussions when we first started the remake project, and Nojima was very concerned about this aspect. More than 20 years have passed since the original game. In that time, each player has probably developed their own image of what FFVII is. However, it was precisely because of this that I wanted to take on the challenge of remaking it. I think that you will be satisfied if you play through the trilogy to its conclusion.
── It is expected that the story of FFVII Rebirth will be even more different from the original game than FFVII Remake, as it has been revealed in trailers that Zack and other characters will make an appearance. Could you tell us why you have decided to develop different storylines for the remake trilogy even if the overarching story is the same?
Nomura: One reason is the previously mentioned concept of each player having a different image of FFVII. Also, the Whispers that were introduced in the previous game do not exist in the original FFVII, but they play a big role in the main story. There are people who have played the original and will play the remake trilogy, and on the other hand, there are players who started out with FFVII Remake. I also think there will be players who begin with Rebirth too.
We want all these different players to experience the same sense of surprise, regardless of their entry point into FFVII. Of course, people who played the original will already know about the surprises in that version. However, we didn’t want the remake trilogy to be just a callback to the original. We don’t just want people to play it from the perspective of “oh, that’s how it’s changed,” rather we want people who are familiar with FFVII’s story to feel like they don’t know what will happen next and enjoy it from this perspective.
So, although we didn’t deviate much from the original game’s story, we added new elements because we wanted all players to have an equally exciting experience.
── When playing FFVII Remake, I felt that the buildup to the final scene was very powerful. I can’t ask much about the ending of Rebirth before it is released, but I wonder if there will be any twists?
Nomura: For FFVII Remake, I wanted players to slightly question “Isn’t it almost the same as the original….?” and then surprise them with the ending.
But with Rebirth, I honestly cannot imagine what players will be thinking. For example, I set up the direction of the final scene in FFVII Remake that you asked about. I can’t really talk about it now, so I’ll just say that the final scene of the next game will have a very… different impact to the previous one. I’m even more nervous about how people are going to react to some of the things in Rebirth than I was for Remake. I would like you to play it as soon as possible before I end up giving away spoilers! (laughs)
Lastly, your style as a creator is something that tends to attract attention. How do you think these “Tetsuya Nomura-isms” are incorporated into FFVII Rebirth?
Nomura: I don’t know (laughs). I watch videos of people discussing and commenting on my work here and there, and this is something I think about while I’m watching. Sometimes even lines in the scenario that I didn’t write are called Nomura-isms. It’s funny, isn’t it?
Overall, I think that “Tetsuya Nomura-ism” is something that the players have established regardless of whether I was involved in that aspect or not. Sometimes players who are playing something I had absolutely nothing to do with go “This feels so Nomura,” and I’m thinking “That wasn’t me…” (laughs). However, players’ feelings and impressions are their own, and if they feel something while playing the game then I think that’s fine. Either way, I’m happy if people enjoy the game.
── (laughs) I think more research is needed into what exactly a Nomura-ism is! Thank you very much for your time today.
Final Fantasy VII: Rebirth is scheduled to be released on February 29 for the PS5.
[Interviewer, Editor: Yuuki Inoue]
[Writer, Editor: Yusuke Oizumi]
[Interviewer, Editor: Ayuo Kawase]
[Translator: Verity Townsend]
[Translation Editor: Amber V]
The original Japanese interview can be found via Automaton Japan.
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