Final Fantasy VII is the seventh installment in the Final Fantasy series, released in 1997 by Square Co., Ltd., and the company's biggest undertaking in game development at the time. It is directed by Yoshinori Kitase, written by Kitase and Kazushige Nojima, and produced by the series' creator Hironobu Sakaguchi. It was the first game of the series to be developed for the PlayStation and with entirely 3D (polygonal) character models.
Early concepts and development
Planning sessions for Final Fantasy VII began in 1994 after the release of Final Fantasy VI. At the time, Final Fantasy VII was planned to be another 2D project for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi has noted the game's central theme of "life" dating back to when his mother passed away while he was working on Final Fantasy III (uncertain whether the interview is referring to Final Fantasy III or Final Fantasy VI), after which he always wanted to explore the theme of "life" in a "mathematical and logical way to overcome the mental shock."
Sakaguchi intended the story to take place in modern New York City in the year 1999. Several of the staff were working in parallel on Chrono Trigger, and development for Final Fantasy VII was interrupted when the other project became significant enough to require the help of director Yoshinori Kitase and other designers. Some of the ideas originally considered for Final Fantasy VII ended up in Chrono Trigger and other ideas, such as the New York setting and the sorceress character Edea, were kept unused until the later projects Parasite Eve and Final Fantasy VIII respectively.
Square opened graphic research facilities in Japan and the United States, including one located in Los Angeles, for which in 1995 they advertised job vacancies for roles in high-end graphics development and animation production.
Development of Final Fantasy VII resumed in late 1995, and required the efforts of approximately 120 artists and programmers, using PowerAnimator and Softimage 3D software. This was the largest game development team at the time, and included Japanese CG artists working alongside Hollywood CG visual effects artists, such as Ron Sabatino, former British ILM artist Paul Ashdown who worked on Star Wars and Jurassic Park, and artists from Digital Domain who worked on Terminator 2: Judgement Day and True Lies. Final Fantasy VII was the most expensive video game of its time, with a production budget of around US$45 million, equivalent to $67 million in 2015.
Aside from the story, Final Fantasy VI had many details undecided when development began with many things filled out along the way. In contrast, with Final Fantasy VII the developers knew from the outset it was going to be "a real 3D game," so from the earliest planning stage detailed designs were drawn up. The script was also locked in, and the image for the graphics was fleshed out. So when the actual work began "storyboards" for the game were already in place.
The co-director and scenario writer of Final Fantasy VI, Yoshinori Kitase, returned to direct and co-write Final Fantasy VII and was concerned the franchise might be left behind if it did not catch up to the 3D computer graphics used in other games at the time. Production began after the making of a short, experimental tech demo called "Final Fantasy SGI" for Silicon Graphics, Inc. Onyx workstations. The demo featured polygon-based 3D renderings of characters from Final Fantasy VI in a real time battle. This experiment led the development team to integrate these design mechanics into Final Fantasy VII. It was unveiled in August 1995 at the SIGGRAPH show, where many incorrectly assumed it to be for the Nintendo 64.
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.Hironobu Sakaguchi
As a result of the high quantity of memory storage required to implement the motion data for characters, only the CD-ROM format would be able to suit the project's needs. Nintendo, for whom Square had developed all previous titles in the Final Fantasy series, had decided to continue using cartridges for its upcoming Nintendo 64 console, which led to a dispute that resulted in Square ending its long relationship with Nintendo. Square announced on January 12, 1996 it would be developing Final Fantasy VII for Sony's PlayStation platform.
Another reason for choosing the CD-ROM was related to price. One of the big reasons the first Final Fantasy was favorably received and the later games gained so many fans, was that the games were relatively cheap. Using CD-ROM for Final Fantasy VII Square would be able to have a multi-disc game at a price of ¥5800, and the projection was to sell several hundred thousand copies.
Sakaguchi stated that they were also considering the Sega Saturn and personal computer as possible platforms, before deciding on the PlayStation.
About 80-90% of the field and game mechanics were done by Square's traditional staff, but the rest were left up to the CG staff with specialized hardware knowledge. Several top-grade special effects people who had worked at Digital Domain and Lucasarts' Industrial Light Magic also contributed to Final Fantasy VII.
The first thing decided for the battles of Final Fantasy VII was how the camera angles would change during battle scenes. The battle backgrounds were to have a lower polygon count than the field areas, and thus choosing the main elements to include in the battle backgrounds was sometimes difficult.
The Materia system was decided upon, where weapons and armor can be equipped with any Materia. It was decided the battles wouldn't be about characters with individual, innate skills, but that combat would change depending on the way Materia was used. Tetsuya Nomura would do the storyboards for the summon and other effect sequences, and it was the programmers' job to realize them for the game.
With each Final Fantasy the entire team contributes to the initial planning and the best ideas are picked from among them. During that highly individual period of brainstorming Tetsuya Nomura came up with the idea of adding Limit Breaks to the battle system as an expansion of the Desperation Attacks of Final Fantasy VI. Since it was planned players would be free to build their party via Materia, Limit Breaks were envisioned as a way to bring out the characters' individual personalities and the unique character animations would further emphasize their individuality.
Tetsuya Nomura was chosen to draw the character designs by Hironobu Sakaguchi. The company used a system where everyone would put out plans regardless of their section, and while everyone handed in text documents they had made on a PC, Nomura's were hand-written and illustrated. Sakaguchi thought the illustrated proposals were amusing and chose Nomura to draw the characters. The first characters Tetsuya Nomura created for Final Fantasy VII were Cloud and Aeris, followed by Barret.
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.Tetsuya Nomura
Unlike with Final Fantasy VI that had an ensemble cast, Cloud was planned as the main character since the beginning. Nomura helped create the basic story, and the team came up with the characters during that time. He cites Barret and Cait Sith as two characters he had wanted to create for a long time, but everyone else was created during the writing of the story.
Zack did not exist until late and was the last character Tetsuya Nomura drew for the game; it was thought Cloud would remind Aeris of her first love, but who this person would be wasn't decided on before Zack was made, and it was decided Cloud's self-made persona would be based on Zack's. Nomura wanted a four-legged character in the game and thus Red XIII was born. Nomura was the one to come up with the name; he wanted it to be "interesting" and combined a number with a color. Yuffie and Vincent were almost cut from the game due to lack of time, and they became optional characters.
In early 1996, when Final Fantasy VII was around 15% complete, Square unveiled screenshots showing the characters Cloud, Barrett, Aerith and Red XIII.
Visuals and art direction
The game follows in the footsteps of Final Fantasy VI in presenting a world with more advanced technology than previous installments. The gamut of the game's technology covers space flight, robotics, advanced genetic engineering, automatic firearms, directed energy weapons, automobiles, helicopters, limited anti-gravity technology, and major global corporations; the level of technology in the world of Final Fantasy VII could be said to approximate that of near-future science fiction.
Visually, the goal was to make Final Fantasy VII a completely unified work with a single style running from beginning to end, including the cutscene movies, overworld map, and battle scenes. The aim was for all the compositions and shots to be suffused with meaning and show the intent of the creators. For all previous games during brainstorming phases there had always been the knowledge of the hardware memory limitations, but with Final Fantasy VII there were no restraints. That difference in available memory had a big influence on the development with the painterly visuals, and a better sense of space and composition.
Without changing the basic gameplay the visuals and sound effects have been significantly enhanced, further drawing the player's emotions into the game. One way RPGs force too many images and too much sound onto 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 in how to make players feel interactively involved in the game while upgrading the visual and sound effects. The results of this research are reflected in Final Fantasy VII.Hironobu Sakaguchi on Squaresoft Collector's Video from 1997
Kitase has described the process of making the in-game environments as detailed as possible to be "a daunting task." The series' long-time character designer, Yoshitaka Amano, was busy opening art workshops and exhibitions in France and New York, which limited his involvement. This was addressed by bringing Nomura on board as the project's main artist, while Amano aided in the design of the game's world map. Yoshitaka Amano did do some illustrations for the world of Final Fantasy VII, with some of his work appearing as a fresco on a wall in the game.
There were two directions the development of Final Fantasy VII could have taken: either use pixel characters on 3D maps (like Xenogears) or render the characters using polygons. Upon release, Final Fantasy VI was met with widespread critical acclaim, but wasn't a huge commercial success in North America. Hironobu Sakaguchi has later lamented that in terms of the pixel art and the character size, the game "didn't jive" and that's why Final Fantasy VII got bigger with 3D models and CGI graphics. At first the development team were considering pixel art for Final Fantasy VII, but decided it wouldn't be possible to make a realistic drama that way, whereas with polygon characters the movement of their entire bodies could be used for expression. Kitase has mentioned the game Alone in the Dark as inspiration for this style.
Since the characters were going to be rendered in real-time, the chibi-style design used in previous games wasn't going to work, but not using the super-deformed style meant there were no limits on how to animate the characters. In the previous games it would have looked silly to have them ride a motorcycle, but by changing the characters' dimensions, the team was able to have the characters ride different vehicles.
Sakaguchi wanted to follow the tradition of the pixel graphics, and to show the characters' expressions on the field screens, so attention was paid to the size of the characters' heads. In battles it is possible to zoom in, but since the field screens are a single background image, it is not possible to do that there. As a result, the characters' proportions are different in battle and on the field. Afterward the team thought players will feel something is off with the discrepancy, and so in Final Fantasy VIII the character proportions on the field and battle were kept the same.
Character movement during in-game events was done by the character designers in the planning group. Normally, those designers convey what they want to a motion specialist, who then animates them, but with Final Fantasy VII the character designers learned how to do the motion work. That's why each character's movements differ depending on who created them, as some designers liked exaggerated movements, while others preferred more subtlety. For the character battle animations, however, the team had motion specialists for each character. Most time was spent on the typical, everyday motions to depict the characters' personalities.
In Square's previous games most of the field graphics were done with a fixed top-down perspective. For example, a town map would be composed of various sprites: houses, streets, foliage, fences. With Final Fantasy VII maps could be presented as one seamless image, allowing for complex environments to be created. The goal was to provide a "lived-in feel" by for example furnishing houses with beds and individual toilets.
The transition from 2D computer graphics to 3D environments overlaid on pre-rendered backgrounds was accompanied by a focus on a more realistic presentation. While the extra storage capacity and computer graphics gave the team the means to implement more than 40 minutes of full motion video, this innovation brought the added difficulty of ensuring the inferiority of the in-game graphics in comparison to the full motion video sequences would not be too obvious. The aim was to seamlessly join the movies and the game parts, and this approach is seen in the game's opening where the camera zooms in from a shot of the entirety Midgar to Cloud jumping off the train. This was Square's first time implementing FMV movies to a game and they used an outside CG company for making the scenes. When the trial version was completed, Square would want to change some of the movie scenes to match the changes made to the story, without knowing big changes are unusual and costly, as it is not possible to get retakes as easily as one can do with games. In the end the team made do with a few revisions.
The green and blue of the game's logo set the theme for the color tone for the rest of the game as well, reflected in the Mako energy and Lifestream that play crucial roles. The logo illustrator, Yoshitaka Amano, has described creating the Final Fantasy VII logo as a challenge. He drew many variations and concepts around the Meteor motif, and in the end wasn't sure if it was good and thus let the developers choose the final version.
The original script of Final Fantasy VII, written by Sakaguchi, was rather different from the finished product. Tetsuya Nomura has recalled how Sakaguchi "wanted to do something like a detective story." The first part of the story involved a "hot blooded" character named "Detective Joe" in pursuit of the main characters who blew up the city of Midgar, which had already been developed for the story. Despite having written the original plot, Sakaguchi focused with developing the battle system rather than the final version of the story.
Yoshinori Kitase and Kazushige Nojima came up with the sections on AVALANCHE and Shinra Electric Power Company, Cloud's backstory, and the relationship between Cloud and Sephiroth, the main antagonist. Sakaguchi came up with the specifics on the Lifestream in his original plot, but this saw some work by Kitase and crew before being placed in the game.
Sakaguchi wanted to craft a story that told of how someone having passed away does not mean they are gone, and to show a realistic death rather than a "Hollywood" sacrificial death that previous games in the series had done. These desires developed into the Lifestream, and Aeris's iconic death scene and subsequent continuing role in the lives of the cast.
It was Tetsuya Nomura's idea to have a story where the player would chase Sephiroth. Following a moving enemy hadn't been done before in the Final Fantasy series, and Nomura thought chasing something would help pull the story along.
During the writing of the script, the development team were discussing the possibility of killing off nearly the entire cast of player characters, with only three surviving, an idea suggested by Yoshinori Kitase. However, the team eventually decided against the idea, as Tetsuya Nomura argued that it would dilute the meaning of Aerith's death. Eventually, they decided that only Aerith should die. Her death scene was written by Kazushige Nojima.
Called by composer Nobuo Uematsu his "greatest harvest" in terms of creativity, the soundtrack, despite its length, was composed in a period of eight months, as opposed to the bi-annual period of producing that had become the standard regarding the previous original soundtracks. Final Fantasy VII's soundtrack was innovative in that it was the first game in the series to include a track with digitized vocals, "One-Winged Angel", which has been described as Uematsu's "most recognizable contribution" to the music of the series.
Uematsu has said that the transition from SNES to PlayStation made him look forward to what he could do with the new hardware, and was happy they were able to experiment with things they hadn't been able to do prior to the development of Final Fantasy VII. One thing that came up in the early stages was that the developers wanted to include a theme song with lyrics, but it never really happened, apart from "The One-Winged Angel", but Uematsu doesn't consider this song as the game's theme song in the sense they had originally envisioned. Uematsu has also noted the part of experimenting with new ways to insert and apply music was the best thing to happen with Final Fantasy VII to him personally.
Despite it being possible to record CD quality music for PlayStation games, Square decided to do the music for Final Fantasy VII with the PlayStation's internal chip because as far as sound quality goes, the developers felt the hardware was more than capable with its higher dynamic range than the Super Famicom, and twenty-four simultaneous music output channels (the Super Famicom had eight), allowing for more complex compositions. Eight channels would be reserved for sound effects, leaving sixteen for the music. The sound effects were recorded in the studio, but the music is all the console's internal chip putting less demand on the read access time of the CD-ROM; faster load times were prioritized over better sound quality.
The team wanted to have a soundtrack with no repeated music to mimic movies, although depending on the scene the tempo or the intensity might change. As Final Fantasy VII is a long game some music is repeated, but the overall goal was to make it as cinematic as possible in that regard.
From the first Final Fantasy up to Final Fantasy V the music had a European atmosphere, but Final Fantasy VI had started to break away from that, and Final Fantasy VII had a whole new image, one of "a dirty city of the future". Uematsu personally likes many different styles of music, and saw Final Fantasy VII as a chance to show parts of himself he hadn't been able to express before.
The field music has a unique flavor compared to Square's RPGs of the past. Uematsu intentionally eliminated the uptempo meant to encourage the player to embark on a journey. Instead, some parts rise melodiously and some parts make the player feel insecure, creating various expressions within the same field of music. Uematsu hoped players would get a different feel from it compared to previous RPGs and has described it has this his own "experiment."
He used keyboard and guitar for the basic compositions, and read the story and script as he composed. Due to the volume required of the soundtrack Uematsu worried he would run out of time. He'd first compose a theme, then program it in, and then revise it. There was no guarantee the PlayStation hardware would have the kind of sound he was looking for, and the sound quality was sometimes very different. For that reason there ended up being many unused songs.
For Aerith's theme, Uematsu noted that he did not compose the song with her death in mind, so it was not "designed to make you cry". His intent was to write "a kind of sad but beautiful tune" that conveyed "she wasn’t a very happy character. She was really innocent and pure but had a tragic kind of life". Nomura added that it "was more wanting people to understand what it means to hurt and to feel that sense of loss."
Ted Woolsey, who had done the translation of Final Fantasy VI, was invited to do Final Fantasy VII and he traveled to LA where Square had invited him to the new headquarters, but ultimately Woolsey turned down the opportunity due to personal reasons.
Although the resulting translation was perhaps more true to the Japanese version than the previous game had been, it was criticized by some as awkward and containing numerous grammatical errors. The Microsoft Windows port is based on the same localization script, but many lines were rewritten and many of the grammatical errors were corrected. In future games, Square would hire American translators to collaborate with the Japanese development team, instead of having the translation done entirely by one or the other.
The English localization was handled by a team consisting of approximately fifty staff members, led by Seth Luisi. He said the most difficult thing about the translation was making "the direct Japanese-to-English text translation read correctly in English" because the "sentence structure and grammar rules for the Japanese language is very different from English", making it difficult to make it seem "as though it was originally written in English".
PC version development
Final Fantasy VII was the first Final Fantasy title to be ported to a Windows system. Shareholders felt Square was limiting their market by not delivering games for multiple platforms; the company thus started to update the old games to modern programming languages and platforms, and to port Final Fantasy VII to the PC.
Final Fantasy VII was ported to PC by Square Soft, Inc. in Costa Mesa, California by a team of eight. Porting Japanese PlayStation games at the time was difficult due to the language barrier (the documentation and the comments—if any—being in Japanese) and 3D graphics accelerators being still in their infancy.
Eidos was chosen as the publisher, as at the time Eidos successfully converted and released Core's Tomb Raider from PlayStation to PC, and thus seemed like a company experienced in marketing and distributing PlayStation to PC conversions. Eidos bought the rights to publish Final Fantasy VII for the PC for $1,000,000, and Square contracted out the port team in Honolulu.
The PC port of Final Fantasy VII suffers from many problems. After the PlayStation version was finalized, Square shut down the Final Fantasy VII project and broke apart its development team; the coders, artists, managers, and equipment were either transferred to the Final Fantasy IX project, moved to other parts of the company, released from their contract, or simply deprecated. The programmers working on the port had never made a PC game before, and so it is ridden with architectural mistakes.
The only thing the port team could work with was the pre-compiled PlayStation data on backgrounds and FMV movies, because the computers used to render the originals were gone and the 3D models for the cinematics were no longer available. Many of the original artists and animators were contract workers and no longer with Square, so they couldn't help with the port. The original MIDI music was tweaked by audio engineers after being compiled into the PSX SEQ format; the original MIDIs the PC received were not even the final versions. Square refused to have anything changed for the port, apart from the text input, because the game's original director was not part of the project and could not be consulted.
The PC version was released June of 1998, but it was buggy and initially incompatible with Cyrix and AMD CPUs. The PC version was ridden with problems; movies playing upside down or crashing the system, users' sound cards not being designed for MIDI playback, and the initial keyboard configuration using only the numeric keypad, meaning the game could not be played on many laptops. One of the most notorious flaws was a glitch that crashed the game during the Chocobo racing sequences; like most issues of the PC version, it was addressed with a fan-made patch.
The game featured separate General MIDI and Yamaha XG MIDI files; a Yamaha S-YXG70 software synthesizer was provided on the install disc, which was, according to the readme, specially made for the game by Yamaha to make the XG MIDI files playable on computers without appropriate hardware. Additionally, the game is one of the very few Windows titles with support for Creative Labs' Sound Blaster AWE32/AWE64 ISA sound cards, as it provides a custom soundfont for their EMU8000 synthesizer.
Having learned from the Final Fantasy VII PC version mistakes, Square started a long-term project to "up-port" their core games and standardize all data, so the faults made with the Final Fantasy VII PC port would not happen again. The later re-releases of old Final Fantasy games use a new 2D engine.
PC version re-release
Rumors of Square re-releasing Final Fantasy VII for PC surfaced in 2012 when Square Enix purchased the domain for finalfantasyviipc.com. Product description for the new release was posted on the page, but was quickly removed; however, a number of news sites had got whiff of the scoop and the product description remained in Google cache.
On the July 4, 2012, the site was officially opened with information about the release, albeit without a release date. Later, the version was released on Steam. The re-released PC version includes new online features, such as cloud saving, achievements and the player can to boost characters' stats and gain more gil via a system known as "Character Booster".
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