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10 Things We Learned From Final Fantasy VII: An Oral History

Even the most dedicated Final Fantasy VII fans will find tons of new information from Matt Leone's extensive feature.

Analysis by Nadia Oxford, .

Matt Leone's oral history of Final Fantasy VII, published on Polygon, is a Bahamut-size breakdown of literally everything there is to know about the world's most influential Japanese RPG. It features dozens of interviews, and is packed with facts and trivia we never knew about the game and the circumstances surrounding its creation.

This history isn't just a look into Final Fantasy VII: It's a snapshot of an industry that was undergoing a massive change – a change Squaresoft played no small part in.

Here are ten new facts we took away from the feature.

"Final Fantasy 64" was not actually a game, but a tech demo for Silicon Graphics workstations

Most Final Fantasy fans know the screenshots we saw of "Final Fantasy 64" in game magazines towards the latter half of the '90s never existed. Regardless, some people still hold onto the belief that the demo, which features Locke, Terra, and Shadow beating up a golem, was intended to be an N64 game. Who can blame them? That demo was super-cool (and far better-looking than anything the N64 was actually capable of producing).

"We made a demo on them to show people, 'This is how Final Fantasy could look in 3D,'" Final Fantasy series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi told Matt Leone.

Final Fantasy 64 only existed in our imaginations.

The limitations of the N64's specs, not just its cartridge format, prompted Square to make the jump to PlayStation

The N64's hardware had some advantages over the PlayStation, but Square quickly discovered the PlayStation was far better suited for Final Fantasy VII's needs. The tiny amount of storage offered by the N64's cartridges is one well-known problem, but the N64 couldn't match the PlayStation's raw processing power, either.

"I saw a couple of the tests [of the PlayStation and N64 side-by-side], but it was obviously different. The quality was so different," says Final Fantasy cutscene director Motonori Sakakibara. "So I thought they’d never take Nintendo because the result was very clear."

Square told Nintendo it needed a CD drive for the N64, but Yamauchi was adamant about sticking with cartridges

Late Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi was a brilliant businessman, but even he made epic missteps. Making the N64 a cartridge-based machine was a particularly big bungle. Though cartridges let Nintendo combat piracy – and also let it exude control over its third party developers – developers were ready to ditch the format for CDs. Square is a famous example, even though the company tried to make Yamauchi see reason.

"We gave [Nintendo] lots of advice [about its new system]," says former Square USA President Shinichiro Kajitani, "but [Nintendo president] Yamauchi-san at Nintendo basically refused to listen to any of it. And that's when Sakaguchi-san and the management team at Square decided, 'OK, we’re going to go with Sony now.'"

FF VII was finished very quickly, but you'll be lucky to play the FF VII remake before arthritis cripples your fingers.

Final Fantasy VII was made in less than a year with a huge team

Modern Square-Enix isn't renowned for speedy game production. It's therefore hard to believe that Final Fantasy VII was made in about a year, but it's true. While no-one who worked for Square at the time can draw a bead on the exact number of people who worked on the game, it's generally believed that well over 100 people were on the team, possibly closer to 150. Game development teams averaged between 20 to 40 warm bodies in the late '90s.

"Final Fantasy 7 came very quickly; the development period was a little more than a year," recalls Yoshihiro Maruyama, Square US's former Executive Vice President. "That was very unusual at the time."

Why Final Fantasy VII Still Resonates After All These Years

After all these years, Final Fantasy VII is still one of the most popular games ever made. Why has it left such a strong impression even after all these years?

Tetsuya Nomura's art style and Final Fantasy VII's 3D polygon worlds turned out to be very well-suited for each other

Square-Enix character designer Tetsuya Nomura has been with the company since its Super Famicom days – and his art style is controversial to say the least. But his penchant for creating characters with sharp, angular features and striking trademarks (like spiky hair and big, big swords) translated well into Final Fantasy VII's polygonal 3D world.

"Nomura-san was a great 2D artist, but his characters worked especially well in 3D," Sakakibara recalls. "He spent a ton of time making the game characters look like his original designs, which was one of the big secrets behind the creation of the Final Fantasy 7 characters."

One Winged Angel was a very experimental theme for Final Fantasy music composer Nobou Uematsu, and it was inspired by The Rite of Spring

One Winged Angel, the theme that plays when the party battles Sephiroth's final form, is Final Fantasy VII's most famous piece of music. Uematsu's main point of inspiration for the song is The Rite of Spring, a piece of classical music by Igor Stravinsky that "narrates" a pagan sacrifice. One Winged Angel is also experimental, as it's more of a patchwork than a single piece.

"[A]fter two weeks, I had a lot of random phrases piled up," says Uematsu. "Then I took those as puzzle pieces and tried to line them up in an interesting order to make sense as a track. That was a totally new approach for me."

FF VII is not remembered for its polished translation.

Uematsu was "jealous" of Suikoden, and the game encouraged him to worry less about exchanging sound quality for load times in Final Fantasy VIII

We here at USgamer love us some Suikoden. Uematsu came to greatly admire the games' soundtracks. They caused him to re-think how he composed Final Fantasy VIII.

"I don’t remember the specific title I was jealous of," he says, "but it was from the Suikoden series (...) It loads a lot, and I was thinking that it stopped the game too often, but the quality was really high. That was kind of the trigger to make me think in a different way [for Final Fantasy VIII]."

Originally, much of Final Fantasy VII's cast was scheduled to die – not just Aeris

Aeris's death is still held up as the iconic Final Fantasy VII moment, but there was a point when Square Japan director Yoshinori Kitase planned to have most of the cast pushing up daises alongside the doomed flower girl. Nomura stopped the slaughter, which was supposed to occur when everyone parachutes into Midgar towards the end of the game.

(Nomura to Kitase:) "I was the one who said 'No way!' and stopped you guys. You wanted to kill everyone except the final three characters the player chose for the endgame."

Final Fantasy VII's infamously sloppy localization led the team to take translation efforts more seriously with future games – though the localization team for Final Fantasy VIII still had to use a GameShark to access the text files they needed

Though Final Fantasy VI's excellent localization is still held up as a gold standard for RPGs, Final Fantasy VII did not fare nearly as well. Infamous lines like "This guy are sick" melded with "quirks" like Barret's ebonics to make for a localization few look back on fondly.

"I did hear complaints about Barret," Nomura recalls. "I think it had to do with the localization and translation not being very good. Ever since that experience, we've paid a lot more attention to localization. Back then, we weren’t very strict about controlling it."

Nevertheless, localizer Alexander O Smith remembers having to use a GameShark to access the text files he needed. "'Oh, you need files to do translation?' That was news to the dev team at that point. So that sort of complete lack of communication was emblematic of those days."

Eidos, which handled the PC port of Final Fantasy VII, almost merged with Square in '98

Eidos became Square-Enix in 2009, but the two companies nearly merged in '98 after Eidos ported Final Fantasy VII to the PC.

"It's funny because the deal actually led to us becoming very close to merging Square and Eidos," says former Eidos President Keith Boesky. "The way that we saw it was, our philosophy of game building was very similar. (…) We had a big, private dinner and came really close to a merger in ‘98 [but Square decided to go another way]."

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for otenko #1 otenko 6 months ago
    Final Fantasy VII: an oral history is one of the best videogame articles I read in a long time. It's long and I took one evening to read it all, because I couldn't stop. I am not a FFVII fan, but it has tons of info about Square on the PlayStation 1 days. It's really awesome!
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  • Avatar for TrustyPanda #2 TrustyPanda 6 months ago
    I started reading the FFVII oral history last night, probably just under halfway done but I can already tell it's brilliant work. Reading about their break-up with Nintendo was interesting, and how smart Sony was to court Square at the time. The story has given me a new respect for Sakaguchi too... well added it.

    **EDIT: I finished the oral history a day or so ago and listened to the USGamer RPG Podcast today. I think Matt Leone should have listened to the people telling him to cut the last third of the story down a lot. The story is 25% pre-FF7, 20% development of FF7, and 20% when it hit the market and the PC version. Those are the best parts. What felt like 35% about the aftermath... and it drags.

    The whole story goes off the rails about Microsoft trying to get a foothold in Japan. I mean a lot more is written about Mistwalker and Lost Oddessy than is said about Final Fantasy 8, 9 and 10. Surely he could recognize this needed to be a totally separate story? Even Final Fantasy The Spirits Within is given way more space than it needed.

    The Compilation of Final Fantasy 7 games are only briefly touched on too, and truthfully I wanted to know way more about how the game was made. That whole part is glossed over so quickly. What was scrapped from the game? How was the team divided up? When did they realize the game would need three discs? I mean the developers talk about there being a real energy around the creation of the game, but so few examples are given. Who came up with the snowboarding mini-game? Little questions like that remain.

    Leone said in the RPG Podcast he's not a huge fan of Final Fantasy 7 and even expressed a dislike for it going back to it recently. I think his lack of passion for the game came through in his writing sadly. It's clear he cared about the developers and the human element of the game, but it really did need more 'making of' stuff mixed in.

    Imagine someone made a documentary about The Beatles recording their final album Let It Be. But they weren't a fan of the music, didn't go into specifics about how it was produced and spent half the documentary talking about Paul McCartney's Wings. That's what this article ended up being. It's a good read, but it has flaws.

    To be clear, I liked about 70% of Oral History of Final Fantasy 7 and it's obvious Matt Leone worked hard on this. I think fans of the game should read it for sure. But this USGamer list gives you some of the best bits from it, and they mostly come from the first half of the piece. Even he said he was stubborn and didn't want to cut the story down. Ultimately I can't help but feel that less would have been more.Edited 2 times. Last edited January 2017 by TrustyPanda
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  • Avatar for Karisu #3 Karisu 6 months ago
    I've learned that I find it infuriating for something to be called an "oral" history without an audio component.

    How is it not just a written history?
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  • Avatar for Thad #4 Thad 6 months ago
    @Karisu Because it was assembled from interviews?
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #5 VotesForCows 6 months ago
    @Karisu "Oral history" is a term used a lot in social research. Its a history derived from oral accounts, rather than any written records. But you then write it all down!
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  • Avatar for SatelliteOfLove #6 SatelliteOfLove 6 months ago
    One of the best video game history articles of the last 5 years for the sheer size as well as the quality.
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  • Avatar for Y7748837 #7 Y7748837 6 months ago
    Deleted January 2017 by Y7748837
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  • Avatar for otenko #8 otenko 6 months ago
    @TrustyPanda Maybe you didn't read yet the part where Sakaguchi almost break Square with the FF movie. lol Just joking, the man is awesome even so. The thing is Square become a lot more conservative after FF: The Spirits Within. It was after this that they started to make continuations of mainline games with FFX-2, the first. To me at least, it was when Square loose its magic.
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  • Avatar for mwack #9 mwack 6 months ago
    Great summary of the original piece!
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