A co-director for Final Fantasy VII Remake has stated the Honeybee Inn section was designed “from a gender free perspective.”
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In an interview with multiple Remake staff, celebrating the original Final Fantasy VII’s 25th anniversary, Co-Director and Scenario Design Motomu Toriyama was asked about the Honeybee Inn.
“The entire Honeybee Inn section of the game has been praised by both fans and critics alike for being tasteful and respectful,” Square Enix praised. “Keeping in mind that this is all brand-new compared to the original FFVII it can’t have been easy to write this entire section from scratch.How did this come together?”
“We had decided to change the original FFVII’s Honeybee Inn episode from a gender free perspective right from the start of development,” Toriyama revealed. “We remade the whole scene as a song and dance show, in order to make it the big stage for Cloud’s cross-dressing event and to give it a ‘maximum showbusiness’ vibe as part of the Remake story.”
“We collected together references of dance shows and decided on an overall direction, then tentatively edited that footage together while adding music and lyrics, before going even further and setting down the choreography. I think that just that preparatory phase here took up the longest period in the whole development,” Toriyama muses.
For those unfamiliar, the original Final Fantasy VII has Cloud and Aerith attempting to get into crime lord Don Corneo’s mansion, in order to rescue Tifa. The pair learn the Don auditions nightly for a “bride.” To ensure they get in, players not only gather clothes for Aerith but, at her advise, also Cloud.
Players engage in several tasks, ranging from chatting to some of the girls of the Honeybee Inn to bathing with buff stereotypically gay men in a hot tub. Other than comic relief, the scenes act as a way to undermine Cloud’s desperate attempts to look capable and cool — leading into his character arc — and Aerith instigating it shows she’s not a as meek as some may have expected. The true nature of both are hinted at.
Final Fantasy VII Remake features more dialogue during side-quests, giving more chances to show Cloud being demeaned and Aerith being street-wise and savvy. Still, Cloud insists Aerith going alone is a bad idea, and she recommends he cross-dress to gain entry as well. However, there are several changes.
To start, the Honeybee Inn is no longer a heavily implied brothel — arguably fitting a poor and run-down area under a totalitarian corporation — but an exclusive night-club.
Even so, there are private rooms where players can guess the shape a bee-girl is drawing with her “stinger,” see Palmer playfully chasing a girl around with a net, a make-up room, a man very enthusiastic about his massage from another man, and another man being playfully chased by a bee-girl. The heavily muscled men from the hot tub are now in a gym, part of a minigame.
The club is owned by Andrea, a flamboyant man who acts as one of three henchmen that Don Corneo trusts to scout out his brides. Aerith manages to secure a meeting with Andrea, and the pair seemingly concocting the cross dressing plan off-screen before telling Cloud.
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After a brief bit of practice where Cloud is told he was “Chosen by Andrea himself,” Cloud is initially settled into his seat, before being dragged onto the stage to dance with Andrea amid a cabaret and burlesque-style song and dance number about casting aside doubts and “standing up with pride.”
To earn Andrea’s approval, Cloud must impress him with his dancing. To celebrate Cloud’s success, Andrea gives him a makeover live on stage, a “vision of beauty.” After the makeover he comments “True beauty is an expression of the heart. A thing without shame, to which notions of gender don’t apply.”
It could be argued Andrea’s comments are more in line with doing and acting how you wish regardless of your gender, rather than being “genderless” or non-binary. None of the Honeybee Inn staff use atypical pronouns, with the odd male staff member arguably acting “camp.”
Cloud’s cross-dressing is also slightly changed from him having to endure something embarrassing in order to protect and rescue friends, but something he should feel no shame in. Arguably themes of not denying who you are do come into Final Fantasy VII’s plot, though perhaps outside of the plot covered in the remake.
In 2019, prior to the game’s release, Final Fantasy VII Remake Director Tetsuya Nomura admitted that Tifa’s chest was “tightened” due to Square Enix’ own “ethics department.” As her chest was made smaller so it didn’t “look unnatural during all the intense fighting,” fans were worried about censorship in other areas, such as the Honeybee Inn.
The ethics department’s job was to “evaluates game content to make sure it is aligned with the anticipated age ratings standards across the globe (CERO, ESRB, PEGI, etc),” a Square Enix representative later insisted.
A later job listing and employee interview would reveal the role involved examining “game expressions, including scenarios, illustrations, designs, and effects, to ensure that they do not contain expressions that are discriminatory, prejudicial, or offensive, and that they are in compliance with the game rating.”
Nonetheless, Toriyama stated in an earlier post-release interview, “Given how famous the cross-dressing was in the original FINAL FANTASY VII, we were aware that people would have high expectations for the remake. We knew we had to do it in a way that both lived up to those expectations, but took modern sensibilities into consideration.”
“For example, fans these days expect stories and dialogue in games to go beyond stereotypical depictions of gender. Through Andrea’s lines and the lyrics of the backing track, Stand Up, we tried to build in a positive and supportive message for Cloud during his cross-dressing scene,” Toriyama justified.
A team of professional dancers were commissioned, with prior experience in burlesque shows. “We actually went through multiple recordings and corrections when making the scene,” he discussed. “Initially, for example, there was a pole dancing scene included, which meant that filming began on an elaborate set. We decided to take that part out due to the impact on the rating!”
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“This scene is a key example of something that was changed dramatically from the original FINAL FANTASY VII,” Toriyama confessed. “I was a bit worried about what fans of the original game would think, but the whole scene got a much more enthusiastic reception than I could ever have hoped for, so I was quite relieved.”
“Going forward, I’m sure some parts of the remake will differ significantly from the original,” Toriyama stated. “I hope this scene can be a good example of how to approach such changes.”
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