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How Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth Unites Parents and Kids Across Generations

Naoki Hamaguchi spent his high school years obsessively poring over gaming magazines for news about Final Fantasy 7. Now, a quarter century later, he's directing the latest entry in the series, and looking to wow fans of the original and newcomers alike.

A direct sequel to 2020's
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, Hamaguchi's
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is a heady, unusual blend of pure remake, bringing players through all the familiar locations and story beats of the original, as well as sequel, introducing new elements to the story as dreamy antagonist Sephiroth attempts to rewrite the events in the original game to change the ending.

It's a big, bold idea. But Final Fantasy 7 has always been big and bold going back to its meteoric 1997 debut, which changed not only what players expected from console RPGs, but from gaming as a whole with its incredible set pieces, riveting story, and one of the most memorable plot twists of all time.

"I still remember the sensational debut of Final Fantasy 7," Hamaguchi tells IGN when I asked about his experience with the game in the late 90s as the industry shifted from 2D pixel art games to brand new 3D tech. Times were different back then, he explained. Nowadays you can get up-to-the-minute updates about your most anticipated games thanks to the Internet, but back then it was a drip feed.

Like Hamaguchi and many other Millennials, I also spent my high school years obsessively flipping through gaming magazines. Now, 27 years later, I'm 40 years old, still carry high school memories with me like ghosts, and, once again, I'm counting down the seconds until I get to join Cloud Strife, Aerith Gainsborough, and Tifa Lockhart on an epic journey. The big difference these days? The people waiting at our sides aren't our high school friends, but another set of impressionable youngsters: our kids.

For Ky S., a parent, poet, and lifelong gamer, 2020's Remake wasn't just a way to introduce their young children (five and nine, at the time) to Cloud's infamous conflict with Sephiroth, but the entire RPG genre as a whole. "It was absolutely incredible to be able to share this huge part of my childhood and young adulthood with them," they described, likening the experience to introducing their children to "old friends and old ghosts." They followed it up by playing through many of the older Final Fantasies together while waiting years for Rebirth.

"Nostalgia sells," S. says. "Millennials are getting old. It's the same reason all the holiday songs appeal to past generations." These reboots are "new beginnings."

The people waiting at our sides aren't our high school friends, but another set of impressionable youngsters: our kids.

Appealing to nostalgia while bringing in a new audience of younger fans isn't as easy as just releasing the original product, though. The original Final Fantasy 7 has been available via an upscaled HD remaster since 2012, but it didn't suddenly create a new generation of fans. Younger fans have different expectations and tastes compared to kids of the same age in 1997.

"Due to blocky graphics and a mangled English script, [Final Fantasy 7] relies on a player’s imagination to fill in the blanks of exactly what happened and why," writes Bloomberg critic Jason Schreier. He described the original Final Fantasy 7, with its rudimentary 3D character models and pre-rendered backgrounds as a "partial, metaphorical representation of bigger ideas." While I may dig the abstraction and metaphor used by older games, our kids aren't always sold, and that makes it harder for those older games to tell their stories to modern audiences.

How to Retell a Story for Our Kids

While developing Remake, Hamaguchi found himself emotionally wrung out in a way that was "devastating and gut-wrenching" even beyond his adolescent experience with the original game. "Back when I played the original, I don’t recall feeling much guilt about being involved in these terrorist activities," he explains. "I was a young child, but because the visual realism of the experience has increased, I do think it’s become much easier to convey the same message more consistently across a wider group of people."

Hamaguchi—whose own sixth grade daughter's obsession with a Hatsune Miku iPad game inspired Rebirth's exceedingly popular piano minigame—believes the gap is shrinking thanks to major advancements in game visuals, replacing the abstraction of Final Fantasy 7's low-poly characters and pre-rendered backgrounds with the film-like realism of Remake and Rebirth.

"The visual storytelling techniques available back when the original was made didn’t allow for a detailed expression of the world, which I believe meant a large portion of the worldview had to be supplemented by the user’s imagination themselves," he says. 25 years later the PlayStation 5 has infinitely more processing power than the original PlayStation, and Final Fantasy 7's three CDs seem quaint in comparison to Rebirth's massive 145GB installation. Where Remake was confined to the halls and streets of Midgar, Rebirth uses all that juice to recreate Final Fantasy 7's overworld and location in stunning, sprawling detail.

"Remake was the fully realized vision of Final Fantasy 7 that I had when I played it," says Tomm Hulett, a Game Director at Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp developer Wayforward. He loved the original as a high school senior, and then played through Remake as a 40 year old alongside his five year old son and his 17 year old niece. "Everything was larger than life." And while he was soaking in memories, the kids were loving the "flashy, colourful battles," and the various silly side games, which were a hallmark of the original. "The fact they retained this spirit is the only reason I had moments to share with my son. He can't follow complex melodrama about clones and ecoterrorism, but collecting cats? That he can process. Flamboyant music and dancing? Keep it coming."

How the Devs Approached Nostalgia

Reaching established players and newcomers
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of what it meant to be a remake. Remake and Rebirth aren't a one-to-one remake, but rather a blending of remake and sequel. "The Final Fantasy 7 remake project is not just remaking the original FF7, but rather a new Final Fantasy 7 game that introduces new elements and changes to the original storyline," Hamaguchi explains.

Rebirth intentionally takes the broadly familiar story from Final Fantasy 7 and incorporates elements that were not clearly present in the original—such as the Whispers and Zack. "We wanted users to feel a sense of unpredictability as they played the game, where they’d be uncertain whether the narrative arc will remain on course with the original plotline or diverge from it," Hamaguchi says. "We hope that users will have the opportunity to re-experience the climax of Rebirth, and what will await them regarding Aerith's ultimate fate."

This emphasis on rewriting history came internally from many of the staff who were involved in the original game according to Hamaguchi. Meanwhile "current generation" staff tended toward a more conservative and literal recreation.

"Given this, we decided to have staff members involved in the original game—members like Kitase-san, Nomura-san, and Nojima-san—take charge of any central changes that were going to be made to the main story," he says, "while the creative staff from the current generation, including myself, undertook the helm of unifying and adapting things to that story to construct the title as an entertainment product. By clarifying the scope of responsibility between the two groups, a very positive ecosystem was established within the development team, which I believe enhanced the final quality of the work."

Weaponized Nostalgia

I've thought a lot about what it means to replay a wholly new Final Fantasy 7 and have come to think of this phenomenon as "weaponized nostalgia." Like film and television, gaming is an industry at odds with itself. It's full of creative dreamers and passionate craftspeople like Hamaguchi—people who want to create experiences that evoke strong emotional reactions, and to explore the boundaries of what video games can provide as an art form. But nostalgia also drives the business and grows profit margins and increases shareholder returns as well. Because, as previously mentioned, nostalgia sells.

What 40 year old doesn't want their kid to get into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Final Fantasy?

Nostalgia taps into our core memories. These building blocks have shaped us into who we've become and form a foundation of our identity. Purposefully taking nostalgic properties and examining it with new perspectives, and contrasted against our newer interests gives us an opportunity to look in the mirror and think about how the modern us intersects with the past us. It's nostalgia invoked to capitalize on the yearning to recapture the magic and wonder of youth.

So, while we all love brushing shoulders with Ky S.'s "old ghosts," this resurgence in popular franchises from the 80s and 90s serves a very deliberate and lucrative business case: the people who loved those things as kids are now the same people with increasing buying power. What 40 year old doesn't want their kid to get into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Final Fantasy?

"It’s the circle of consumer life. 90s teen gamers are now adults with disposable time and income again, and they want to experience the best versions of what they did for fun," says Ty Schalter, a writer and podcaster who grew up on 90s RPGs and recently helped his teenage kids discover Final Fantasy 7 through Remake. "Developers who grew up in the Aughties want to make games that capture the vibe of (or, in these cases, literally are) the same ones they played as kids." And, as Schalter points out, many classic games are simply unplayable now.

"Further, at a time when genres have more or less all collapsed into 'exploratory action/adventure game with loot and skill trees,' and they all have to sell 10 million copies to justify their development budget, getting original ideas greenlit is hard," Schalter adds.

So, is this a predatory tactic to use nostalgia to drive profits? Or a means to let people rekindle feelings and experiences that have lived inside them for decades?

"The cynical answer is companies hoping for guaranteed profit from tested properties that already have a fanbase," concludes Hulett. "The hopeful answer is passionate creators wanting to do justice to the properties that cemented their love of the medium, to share it with the future."

The Hopeful Answer

As the opening scene from Final Fantasy 7 Remake played out, Schalter's eldest, 15, turned to him and said, "You did it, dad. You made me feel nostalgic for your childhood.”

Part of what makes the Remake/Rebirth series so special, explains Schalter, is that it's hyper-aware of the tensions between the original version, gamers’ memories of the original version, and the development team's goals in revisiting and altering the story. Nostalgia means marking your own growth, for better or worse, he continued. "Seeing an old toy, or playing an old game, or walking into your old school, can remind you not only of all the good times you had back then, but also allows you to re-perceive both the thing and yourself. Maybe that old toy was a lot cheaper than you realized, and you wonder why you treasured it so much back then. Maybe the old game is every bit as fun as you remembered—and maybe you’re actually good at it now (or maybe, you’re much worse!)."

"You did it, dad. You made me feel nostalgic for your childhood.”

From fans to creators, newcomers to old timers, original timelines to alternate timelines, Clouds to Zacks, Rebirth is the story of the malleability of history, of its inconstant state, and tendency to be rewritten by the winners. For old fans and newcomers alike, it's a modern take on one of gaming's classic narratives, and alongside their parents, a whole new generation of fans is gonna party like it's 1997 and fall in love with Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, and Sephiroth. "We hope that by playing Rebirth," Hamaguchi said, "you’ll see for yourself why Final Fantasy 7 has been supported by so many fans over the years."

Sinking into Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth isn't the same as other games. It's a chance to rediscover old stories, old haunts — old ghosts — with our kids by our side.

Aidan Moher is a freelance writer for IGN.

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