Few projects have amassed the level of expectation as Final Fantasy VII Remake. The highly-anticipated reimagining of the classic RPG is finally coming–at least, as a first piece in the multi-part saga–on April 10 for PS4. Unlike the original, it will feature a full voice cast to help imbue the iconic journey with a more cinematic quality. At PAX East, GameSpot spoke with four of the upcoming remake’s cast members–Erica Lindbeck (Jessie), Gideon Emery (Biggs), Briana White (Aerith), and Britt Baron (Tifa). They each shared their thoughts on stepping into the roles of such beloved characters, the challenges of getting their performances just right, and how some parts of the story are timeless.
For some of the voice cast, the journey started years ago with the second trailer shown at the PlayStation Experience in 2015. That trailer will look familiar to those who have played the now-public demo, which heavily features the opening bombing run organized by the Avalanche revolutionary group. It uses the resistance members Jessie, Biggs, and Wedge to introduce the world and the stoic Cloud, and so their voice actors were brought on early.
“Gideon [Emery] and I have been on this project for about five years now because we had to do that trailer that premiered at the PlayStation Experience, so I remember auditioning for Jessie and booking her,” Lindbeck said. “I didn’t know a ton about FFVII barring the main characters, but I’d seen it in other forms, like in Advent Children or Crisis Core. And I just assumed that she wasn’t a very big character. A couple of my friends like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Jessie, she’s basically in the first quarter of the game.’ Then the trailer premiered and she was the first English line of the first English trailer for FFVII. So I did some research and found out that her story was being expanded. The team Avalanche story was being expanded a lot and that was really exciting because I remember being so excited to just be in a Final Fantasy game.”
Emery himself added that he particularly enjoyed the change of pace in being a secondary character, having voiced other famous voices for the series like Balthier in Final Fantasy XII and Urianger Augurelt in Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward.
“I think what was fresh for me honestly, was getting out of my comfortable leading man lane, which I do for some stuff, but maybe 40% of the stuff I do,” said Emery. “So it was kind of cool to be American. Some good wisecracks back and forth with Jessie and Wedge. And so it’s been cool. I totally removed the whole expectations [issue] because it doesn’t help to have that stuff in my head, so I didn’t even think about it at all.”
That feeling of taking the first steps into a massive world is a common one, especially since the Final Fantasy VII Remake is just the start of a multi-part saga. Square Enix has not yet revealed just how many parts it will be. So for the actors, this is just the beginning of a journey that will continue for a while. For some, that meant immediately learning about some of their characters’ most memorable moments.
“Aerith has a pretty big moment in gaming history,” said White. “It’s iconic enough that everyone knows exactly what they were doing. Everyone remembers, ‘it made me cry’ or ‘I was sitting next to my cousin’ or ‘I had the guide open, thinking this can’t be right.’ They know exactly where they were when that moment happened. And so from the very get-go, beginning my research for this project, that’s the first thing I saw. Knowing that she has that place in people’s hearts was a lot of pressure from the very beginning. To actually take on that challenge of giving this character life, it’s been one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my entire life.”
White’s female lead counterpart, Baron, similarly came at her role fresh and unfamiliar with the world, and she quickly fell in love with the character.
“I grew up in a house where video games weren’t really encouraged or allowed,” said Baron, “so I felt a little in the dark and with a lot of catching up to do. However, as an actor I can only be myself and I can only bring who I am to the characters. So it was this fine line between honoring who Tifa is and trying to do her justice for this massive fan base that is expecting so much, but also just making my own choices and trying to be who I am because that’s really all I can do.”
“Tifa is my goal–hashtag goals–she’s who I want to be,” Baron continued. “So first of all, she’s beautiful, obviously, that’s the first thing. She’s gorgeous, she’s athletic, she’s so strong. But then her personality is surprising–cool, calm, collected, empathetic, kind. So caring, especially with Cloud. So I fell in love with her because I think she is very unique. In other video game characters I’ve played that are athletic or tough, usually their personality also is very tough and mean and aggressive, and she’s not. But then she also kicks ass! So I fell in love with her. I want to be Tifa.”
The actual recording of the voice-overs was done individually. In fact, many of the actors had never met face-to-face before PAX. So the key to the performances, they say, came down to the direction of the sound engineers. It was especially tricky to match their own English voice lines to animation that had been originally created for Japanese voices, and they agreed that the engineers were exacting in their approach.
“With Final Fantasy XII we had all the animation, but obviously what we had there was, we were fitting English lines to Japanese flaps,” Emery said. “So that required a lot of nuancing lines in the booth, whereas this by-and-large–there was some animated reference, but then also for timing, there were oftentimes phrases to work to. If you’re a frame over we would do it again. In my mind I’m thinking… It’s a frame! It’s a frame. But then I think that’s a testament to the care that’s been taken.”
“It was a new challenge doing this Final Fantasy because we did have to fit it in prerecorded times and sometimes the translated English doesn’t fit so we have to either speed it up or slow it down,” Baron said. White added that the engineers were “meticulous” about timing. Final Fantasy 7 Remake Vs. Original (Bombing Mission)
But while the technology has certainly changed in this remake when compared to the 1997 game, elements of the original’s story are both timeless and timely. The plot as originally envisioned incorporates elements of climate change and corporate responsibility, among other heady themes. The relationships, too, felt very modern for the voice cast, who noticed that for an ostensible love triangle between Cloud, Aerith, and Tifa, the female characters didn’t fall into familiar rivalry tropes.
“I was very confused by that relationship. I asked a lot of questions because I didn’t understand. Are we rivals, competing for Cloud? What’s happening?” Baron said. “And what I ended up learning, at least in this iteration, I love the relationship that they have. They’re friends. They’re on the same team. It’s not about these two women who could hate each other and be at each other’s throats. [They] end up working together and becoming friends and fighting side by side. So I think coming out at a time like this, I was so happy for it. It’s a really good lesson that women don’t have to tear other women down.”
“I loved the relationship between Jessie and Tifa too,” Lindbeck added. “It was so sweet. I was like, ‘Oh, this is dope. Girlfriends, girl power.'”
That doesn’t mean the voice actors don’t expect fans to take sides in the love triangle, however.
“Cloud has his various friends and all the dates he can go on as well, in the original game,” White said. “So the way that it’s written is that you fall in love with every single character no matter who you are. And everyone has their favorites of course. But each character is given something that makes you just go, ‘Oh my gosh, I just love this character.’ And you fall in love with them. And so I know a lot of people have Cloud, Tifa or Aerith, which is it? But truthfully all of the characters are amazing and worthy of falling in love with. And Cloud could end up with any one of them, and I’d be happy, honestly.”
Mostly, though, the actors are pleased to see long-time fans so excited for this re-envisioned classic, and the welcoming tone they’ve experienced so far.
“Obviously it’s a very intimidating universe, for me at least, to walk into,” Baron said. “But I think especially today, meeting the fans and social media engagement has been incredible. I feel I’ve done a lot of projects and Final Fantasy, by far, has been the most fans have ever engaged with me. So in a really positive way, even just from one or two lines in a trailer, ‘You did an amazing job.’ It’s been a really warm welcome.”
White, who began playing through the original game after finishing her voice work for the Remake, has been seeing scenes she recognizes in a totally different context.
“When I was working on Remake I was like, ‘Okay, I’m specifically not going to play VII while I’m working on Remake because I wanted to keep it separate enough,'” White said. “So I played VII after and it’s just been really interesting how people are watching the trailers for remake and going, ‘It’s exactly how I imagined it.’ I have the exact opposite experience because I’m seeing remake for the first time and then going back and seeing VII the reference material, which is absolutely wild. And I’m like, ‘Wow, that line is exactly the same. Or this scene happens exactly how it does or looks a little bit different in this way.'”
The enduring appeal of Final Fantasy 7 has to do with the elements that appeal across generations, to both veterans and newcomers alike. While the Remake has a number of updates to make it sharp and modern, the cast is giving a new voice to characters and scenarios that continue to be timeless. That will ultimately determine how well Remake captures the spirit of its predecessors.