In June, Square Enix quietly announced a new mobile game called Final Fantasy VII G-Bike, based on the mini-game from their iconic RPG. The general reaction was a resounding "uh, what?" But the trailer was cool, as is the concept, though we haven't heard much more about what we'll get to do in G-Bike, or how it will be different from the 17-year-old mini-game that shares its name.
At E3 in Los Angeles last month, I sat down with G-Bike producer Ichiro Hazama — who also produced the Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games — to chat about what the next Final Fantasy VII spinoff will be like.
Hazama, who spoke through a translator, had some interesting things to say about G-Bike. And since I finally had time to transcribe our interview while on a flight last weekend, I thought I'd share some interesting excerpts from our chat (edited for brevity and clarity):
This is more than just a port.
Hazama: It isn't like a straight resurrection of that actual mini-game. It would be very difficult to have that as an independent game on a mobile platform. But it does have the roots in the G-Bike. We took that as a launch pad, and it expands on that.
Expect equipment, monsters, and even materia.
Hazama: I'm sure you're familiar, but the original version of the G-Bike mini-game was, you're running on the highway in Midgar, and you're protecting allies while defeating your enemies in the way to get to the goal. And the thrill of the chase in that mini-game is something that we definitely wanted to keep. But everything else, including the graphics, has all been revamped for this game.
As mentioned earlier, this is not just a mini-game: it's going to be a solid game on its own. So we're still in the middle of kind of ironing out the details, but for example, we're thinking about including elements based off FFVII, like monsters that would appear in different areas and materia to bolster your weapons. We're also considering different types of weapons that the character can equip, as well as the different types of bikes that he can ride. So there are various new elements that have been added to expand on the original mini-game.
Don't expect FF: All The Bravest-style microtransactions.
Schreier: So correct me if I'm wrong: it's a free-to-play game, right? And there will be paid microtransactions? The question of in-app purchases has been a little bit controversial, at least here in the US: the question of how much is too much, what's the right amount that should be offered... How are you handling that?
Hazama: In terms of setting IAP, nothing has been set in stone yet. But I can say, I don't want to make it a game that you have to pay to play. Of course, with mobile games, so many casual players are installing it, downloading the app. And this is a free-to-play game so even more people would be interested in taking and trying it out.
So my concept is that it has to be fun for those who play it for free. And it shouldn't be something that you have to charge every step of the way. We'll need to observe how the game cycle works, and how people are downloading it — if certain items should be popular — and determine based on what people's habits are after they have already started playing the game.
So at this point I'm afraid we're not able to tell you how we're going to approach it. But please be assured that it's not gonna be like "oh, you bought an IAP and five minutes later you have to replenish again." We are not gonna make it like that.
Making a spinoff to one of the most popular games in history ain't that easy.
Schreier: Final Fantasy VII obviously is a beloved world. Tons of people are very devoted, very obsessed with that world. I'm wondering: is there any pressure making a game with the name FFVII on it? That seems like a tough task.
Hazama: Very much so. (laughter)
Just the fact that with Theatrhythm, having to handle a Final Fantasy-related title is already a very big undertaking. Even with Theatrhythm, I was treading very lightly, being very careful about trying to please and satisfy fans. But this is FFVII — such an iconic title. And of course I'm sitting here talking calmly, very casually. But when people are not watching, I'm cowering, and crying in fear. (laughter)
I believe that there's a certain special quality in people who handle a Final Fantasy title, whether it be talent, or personality, or charisma. We have [Final Fantasy producers] Kitase-san and Nomura-san, and I believe they do have a special something that qualifies them to work on a Final Fantasy title. If I'm asked what my special quality would be, it's that scaredness to handle a Final Fantasy title. (laughter)
But it's a good kind of nervousness and anxiousness, because you're handling it with great care. So that's something that's very important to have if you're handling a Final Fantasy title.
They chose the bike mini-game because it's iconic... and because it looks cool.
Schreier: FFVII has a lot of different mini-games; there's a lot of stuff in the Golden Saucer and elsewhere — why did you decide on the bike as the one to enhance and turn into this mobile title?
Hazama: So in terms of why we chose the G-Bike segment, there's two major points to this. The first one is, when I was talking with the development partner, CyberConnect2, because this is gonna be the first game that's based off on an element from FFVII, we didn't want it to be just something out of the Gold Saucer amusement area. We wanted it to have elements that left a very strong impression from the main part of the game as well.
And then the second part is I'm sure you're familiar with FFVII: Advent Children. Nomura and Natsue-san from VisualWorks worked on this intense bike action scene. Because I was also involved in the production of that movie, I saw the scene. It was very cool, and radical, so I wanted to incorporate those elements, not just in the original mini-game but have it expand on the G-Bike game utilising that coolness of the visuals from Advent Children.
They discussed a game based on Triple Triad, but...
Schreier: Would you ever consider making a mobile game based on another Final Fantasy mini-game? Ever considered making something based on Triple Triad from FFVIII?
Hazama: I think it's a wonderful idea, and there may have been talks about it within the development team. Is it in production? I'm afraid not. But of course we have to consider — it's a mini-game but if we were to take it to a mobile platform, it has to stand on its own as an independent game. And if we were to build an independent game — a game that can stand on its own — we have to start from scratch, from the assets to the game mechanics, to trying to get it onto that platform
In terms of the game mechanics, it's very high-polished and might be able to stand on its own, but it would take a lot of time and consideration and work to build it, because we'd have to start from scratch.
Don't expect much of a story in G-Bike.
Hazama: To be completely honest with you, we don't have real plans to incorporate a full-on story. It kind of relates to what I was saying earlier — it's a big undertaking to handle something that relates to FFVII, and so hypothetically if we were to consider including a story element, it would have to be very strong, and like a very robust and meaty story, with voiceovers and cut-scenes. And our focus would be taken away to develop a story element of it.
So with this game, when I talked to the development partner CyberConnect2, first and foremost my request was: "we want to have the thrill of the chase." The chase has to be a lot of fun. So if we were to make that second request: "oh it also has to include a story and it has to be related to FFVII," CyberConnect2 would probably come back and say "which do you want to focus on?" So our goal this time is to focus on the enjoyment of the chase and the thrill of the chase.
You play as Cloud. Only Cloud.
Schreier: Does the game feature characters from FFVII? Do you play as characters from FFVII?
Hazama: If this were a game that had a storyline, then it may have featured different characters, but because we're focusing on the thrill of the chase, you'll be playing as Cloud and that's our primary main character.
Can't hurt to try it, right?
Hazama: Because I'm a producer, it's natural to say oh this is a fun game. But that being said, I won't bring a product out to market if I'm not confident in the product and believe that it is a fun game. So with, for example, G-Bike, it's on a mobile platform, it's free to play, it's really easy to get started on. So I urge everybody to please give it at least one try. And of course there's no worries if you find it boring or don't like it, but I urge everybody to try the game at least once.