Cloud Strife In New York? The Changing Faces Of Final Fantasy VII

Final Fantasy VII is one of the most important video games of all time, but it almost looked very different. Final Fantasy VII was developed at the time when Squaresoft made the jump from Nintendo to Sony, so its development was heavily influenced by factors outside of its creators’ control.

The popularity of Final Fantasy VII has led to a number of books and interviews about the development of the game, some of which paint a vastly different picture of what could have been. Big shout out to the fans at for translating a number of the Final Fantasy books that never made it overseas, Unseen64 for its screenshots, the Final Fantasy Wiki, and the translators of Final Fantasy Ultimania Archive Volume 2. 

Final Fantasy VII entered development shortly after work was finished on Final Fantasy VI. It was originally planned to be on the Super Nintendo, but work on Chrono Trigger caused the game to be delayed. A single screenshot of the game at this early point in development has been printed in the Ultimania guides and it shows Locke from Final Fantasy VI as the main character in an isometric 2D game, though he was only meant as a placeholder.

The Godfather Part VII

Ultimania Archive 2 has several design documents written by Yoshinori Kitase that were created three months after the release of Final Fantasy VI. In these initial documents, the story was very different. One of the original ideas for Final Fantasy VII was something directly compared to The Godfather: Part II. The idea was for a game that was set at two points in time, with a father’s deeds in the past being reflected in the present and his son would have to deal with them. One example of this is the father leaving a weapon in a dungeon and his son reclaiming it years later, at a point when it has become more powerful.

The intention was for the player to select from a group of characters and have them be the protagonist, though the story wouldn’t reflect the choice. Dungeons would only appear on the map when the player learns about them (similar to the Romancing Saga series). Abilities would be tied to equipment, in an early iteration of the Materia system. There were plans for a city sinking in water and the player needing to save the residents (possibly through resuscitation), while another idea involves a comet striking the planet in five years’ time, in what is an early iteration of Meteor.

Toriyama’s Ideas

Ultimania Archive 2 also contains several design documents written by Motomu Toriyama. His ideas included talking weapons and armor that the player had to win over, the seasons changing over the course of the game, timed attacks that deal more damage when the player hits a button (which was later used with Squall in Final Fantasy VIII), terrain being important in battle, and a yellow/red card system (which was used in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance) to stop people from breaking rules/participating in battle.

One of the initial story ideas involved opposing viewpoints between adults and children, in a world where the gods appear and select mortals to be their chosen ones (kind of like the story of Final Fantasy XIII), with their stories all converging into one.

New York, New York

Hironobu Sakaguchi has discussed his early ideas for Final Fantasy VII in different interviews, in which the story would be set in New York City. The main character was a detective named Joe who was pursuing a terrorist group that was blowing up Mako Reactors, resulting in the destruction of Midgar. The New York setting would later be used in a different Squaresoft game called Parasite Eve, along with some of the Jenova elements mentioned below.

The Drug-Addled Sephiroth & The Jenova Gene

The character who underwent the most changes throughout the development of Final Fantasy VII was Sephiroth. His relationship with Aerith was changed from being siblings to lovers to strangers over the course of the production.

Another character (if you could call her that) who underwent a lot of changes was Jenova. In early drafts of the story, Jenova was the name of a gene/part of the brain that allowed people to access magic. The people with access to Jenova magic were referred to as Thaumaturges. Sephiroth had his Jenova gene artificially awakened by Mako energy, turning him into a desperate addict for more Mako. The design for Edea from Final Fantasy VIII was created for Final Fantasy VII as a priestess of Jenova. Tetsuya Nomura liked the design so much that he reused it for Final Fantasy VIII. 

The Character Differences

There were a number of character differences during the development of the game. Red XIII was meant to have two clones (Cobalt XIV and Indigo XV) that he would battle throughout the game. The Weapons were created by Sephiroth and not the planet. Yuffie was meant to be twenty-five years old. Vincent was a detective who investigated supernatural events and he could transform into monsters outside of battle, and Zack Fair was created at a late point in development and originally wasn’t part of the story, despite going on to star in a game of his own.

The Beta Version Of VII

There was a beta version of Final Fantasy VII that was shown off by Squaresoft, where the game looks closer to its final form but was still in an unrefined state. The beta footage of Final Fantasy VII shows early designs for Aerith, Barret, and Cloud in battles with basic backgrounds and unrefined 3D enemy models. There are early versions of places like Nibelheim and Rocket Town, which have basic assets for their buildings and furnishings.

Final Fantasy VII could have gone in a number of different ways and it’s crazy to think how the story could have played out. The release of Final Fantasy VII was a pivotal moment in gaming history, especially when it came to the JRPGs, and it almost went down in a totally different way.

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