'Final Fantasy' Producer on Remaster Appeal: "Classics Never Go Out of Style"

The classic RPG franchise's executive producer, Shinji Hashimoto, explains the series' enduring popularity, the company's "respectful" approach to classic games and gives a hint on the 'Final Fantasy VII Remake.'
Courtesy of Square Enix
The classic RPG franchise's executive producer, Shinji Hashimoto, explains the series' enduring popularity, the company's "respectful" approach to classic games and gives a hint on the 'Final Fantasy VII Remake.'

For over 30 years, the Final Fantasy franchise has transported gamers to distant worlds, introduced them to colorful casts of characters, and challenged them with complex narratives and deep gameplay mechanics. This week, remastered versions of the 2001 RPG Final Fantasy X and its sequel, Final Fantasy X-2, were released on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One for the first time.

What began in 1987 as the last-ditch effort of a struggling game company (hence the "Final" in the title), has grown into one of the most successful series in gaming, selling over 140 million copies worldwide in its lifetime. Created by Japanese game developer Hironobu Sakaguchi, the franchise now has 15 numbered entries in the main series; dozens of spinoffs, remasters and remakes; and even a number of feature films (the 2001 release Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within features the voice talent of Alec Baldwin and Steve Buscemi).

As the years have ticked by, the popularity of the franchise has endured, and even with new main-series releases every few years, older titles continue to hold audiences' interest. As the entire video game industry continues to mine its archives for remasters and remakes (this year's Resident Evil 2, a remake of the 1998 original, shipped 3 million copies in its first week alone), Final Fantasy and Square Enix, its publisher, have been at the front of the trend.

Over the past two decades, mobile and PC ports of nearly every main numbered entry in the Final Fantasy franchise have been released. In 2017, Square Enix released a completely HD remastered and rehauled version of 2006's Final Fantasy XII for the PlayStation 4. Titled Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, the new game featured updated visuals and sound, as well as new gameplay options and mechanics, and sold over 1 million copies. 

Now, Square Enix is expanding its slate of remastered titles even further, bringing Final Fantasy VII, IX, X, X-2 and XII to both the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. Meanwhile, the planned Final Fantasy VII Remake is still in the works, a project fans have been clamoring for for over a decade.

With a slate of Final Fantasy titles coming to new systems this month, Heat Vision caught up with the series' executive producer, Shinji Hashimoto, to talk about the franchise's enduring popularity (“classics never go out of style"), the company's "respectful" approach to classic Final Fantasy games and a progress update on the Final Fantasy VII Remake.

Why do Final Fantasy titles from 18-22 years ago still have so many fans?

When we were developing these titles, all of the staff members thought about how they wanted to create something “better” — something that would surpass the previous Final Fantasy title. We were very passionate about these titles, which I think also helped shape the contents into something everyone can enjoy, no matter the generation.

What is Square Enix’s approach to remasters? Does it differ from remakes?

I always want to treat the original versions with a lot of respect, due in part to the great amount of thought and passion that the original team members dedicated to them. And I don’t mean in respect to the hardware, but more things like all the thought that went into the original pixel art. Things that were created back then specifically for the old [CRT] television screens, the controls, issues that couldn’t be fixed at the time — these are the things that we want to revise and provide in our remasters, making adjustments to fit with current times, and definitely so that the younger generation can play too. Regarding differences between a remaster and a remake — in a remake, you rethink the original version all the way from the ground up. It’s actually quite an arduous task, and isn’t something that can be done for multiple games at the same time. I want to approach our future plans, which of course include the Final Fantasy VII Remake, in hopes that the players who love the originals will love the remakes as well.

What goes into remastering a title?

After we analyze the past data sources, we get together with the original creators and discuss which portions to revise in order to match with modern times. It goes without saying that we check for any issues, but there are also cases where the 4:3 screen ratio of yesteryear is updated to be 16:9, for example, or cultural references are revised to fit with current times.

Different titles have different remaster experiences. FFXII brought so many new features while FFIX feels largely the same. Do different FF titles have different approaches when it comes to remasters?

As I mentioned in my answer to the previous question, one big challenge is reassembling the original team. If the original staff members express that they would like to make things more a certain way, sometimes we end up revising quite a few points. That said, as a fundamental rule, we make sure that the revisions always respect the original version.

Why do you think remasters are so popular right now? It’s not just the FF series that is going through this.

I want to say that the Final Fantasy series sort of acted like a trailblazer in this respect, but perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement! Final Fantasy XII, for example, has been incredible — it’s sold more than a million copies. New games nowadays are of course created with amazing technology, but back then — and I think other companies also understand this — there was a certain intensity in the creators’ pursuit of what they wanted to create, and I think the very way in which games were created at the time differs from how it is today. That meticulous attention to detail has been ingrained into players as part of the gaming culture during that time, and consequently, even 10, 20 years later, you can see that the classics never go out of style, so to speak. People’s memories of each of the mainline Final Fantasy titles attest to how deeply this avenue of entertainment has impacted the lives of each of the players from back then. Though I’d love to introduce a brand-new title once again for them to play in this generation, I still think that for people in their 30s or 40s today, the mainline Final Fantasy titles they experienced as teens or in their 20s will always be unforgettable. With this significance in mind, we consider these past titles as treasures.

The recent FFIX port to Switch was based off of the mobile version. Moving forward, will more ports to the Nintendo Switch be based off of mobile versions as well?

“Based off of the mobile version” isn’t entirely accurate — to start, we used the original Final Fantasy IX as a base and re-created the game using the Unity engine. Using that version as a base, we created the mobile version as well as the Steam and Switch versions. As such, it’s not actually based off of the mobile version; rather, it’s based off of the version created on Unity. The mobile version was released first, so I think there may be many people who think that was the version used as the base, but in fact that isn’t the case. Additionally, when it comes to other titles, we wouldn’t necessarily use this method every time — we port titles using the method best suited for each one, so it varies.

What games won’t be remastered or re-released? I’m sure that all the recent re-releases have opened the doors for fans calling for more obscure titles to make their way back onto current hardware.

Yes — we have in fact received various requests from a multitude of people. Put simply, developing multiple games simultaneously is very difficult. Therefore, we listen to the fans’ feedback and treat each title with care, taking into account the company’s strategy as well.