A couple days ago Famitsu made an online update with more content from the interview with Kingdom Hears series director Tetsuya Nomura that was published in print last week.
Along with covering the new content in the Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix compilation, Nomura discusses how the cover illustration came about and how it hints to the Keyblade War. He also discusses how he fought for the game’s catchphrase, “An unforgettable journey.”
He also elaborates on the Kingdom Hearts concept, calling it a “wolf in sheep’s skin” in regards to though it’s playable, it offers a lot of challenges for players who seek it. When asked about the multiplayer aspects of the series, he says that it’s not been a priority in past titles, but with the storyline turning towards the Keyblade War, it’s something he is considering more seriously in the future.
He comments on the fact that this Kingdom Hearts Recoded‘s second remake, and calls the DS version the most playful title in the series. He also discusses how the storyline is decided simultaneously as worlds are added in each game.
Most importantly, he reveals that Kingdom Hearts 3 is now being developed in Unreal Engine 4 in cooperation with Epic Games.
You can read the entire compiled interview below. I’ve also included the few comments that only appeared in the print version.
– You drew a new main illustration for the package of Kingdom Hearts 2.5, but the overall composition this time is really gorgeous. Can you tell us about it, your concept and what gave you trouble, etc.?
Nomura: Like the cover I drew for KH1.5, I drew the characters from all 3 of the compiled games.
Master Xehanort was drawn as a main point, and the Keyblades drawn around the perimeter hint at the Keyblade War, which he plays a big role in. Xehanort ended up smaller due to the logo placement, but I drew him bigger in the beginning.
Besides that, since it’s being used as package art, the ratings mark is included. In the overseas versions, especially Europe, the ratings mark can be quite big. The mark mustn’t cover the Disney characters, so the layout gave me some trouble.
– I see, so you structured it will those considerations in mind. An impressive catchphrase is something else that each title carries and the one for KH2.5 is “An unforgettable journey.” Can you elaborate what the intention of that catch phrase is?
Nomura: In the beginning there was a phrase that the advertising guys were considering, but I personally wanted the words to be more concise and have more appeal, so after a heated discussion it was decided. Since I went to Comic Con International 2014 in San Diego, I’ve been quarreling with the advertising guys via the messaging application, Line. (Wry laughter)
Finally, in a way that conveyed the intent of the advertising guys but stayed Kingdom Hearts-esque manner, we have a phrase based on the word “journey,” which is important to KH2.5 and the series as a whole, and also highlights, “What kind of journey?”
– I see. Next I’d like to ask you about the content of KH2.5. When you are working on it, what parts are you especially careful of?
Nomura: Many fans pointed out it was disappointing that due to resource constrictions, battles were omitted and stuff was abbreviated into text explanations when Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was compiled into cutscenes in KH1.5. KH Recoded is smaller volume-wise than 358/2 Days, so we made the battles and stories of the Disney worlds into cutscenes and added narration by Mickey and I think that portion flows now. KH Recoded has Mickey from beginning to end, so having him narrate really is the best.
Besides that, Birth by Sleep is going from a portable system to a home console so we had to make adjustments to it’s controls.
At first I tried to find a way to incorporate the multiplayer components as they were in BBS. But at anyrate BBS is just one of three titles in KH2.5, so we geared the multiplayer components for singleplayer use instead.
– How was taking a second look at the past titles when you were working on KH1.5 and KH2.5?
Nomura: A lot of the time you can feel the era of an old game when you play it now, but I don’t think Kingdom Hearts is like that. It hasn’t been streamlined in HD either.
As I looked at everything again, I got the impression we put in more special worlds than I thought. At the time I put them in, I thought as a game, they’d be easy to use. Before I had decided whether or not to include worlds like Olympus Coliseum etc., the staff had already advanced a plan with the assumption they’d be in KH3 as well. (Laughs)
Besides that, I also noticed Sora’s growth as a character. Kingdom Hearts at its core is obviously very Disney-esque, but adding up all the titles, I really think it has achieved it’s own originality.
– Having been involved in a series as long as this, as you look over them again, what do you think about the appeals of the Disney works?
Nomura: I am extremely careful about how the Disney characters are shown and portrayed in and around the games. What I mean by that is, I consider the works of Disney to be universally top class. Even in a game, their portrayal is very important. Depending on how the characters are portrayed, it affects how good or bad the overall title is perceived. I am diligent about it.
– I see, that’s fascinating. Can you tell us about Disney titles you like or have noticed recently?
Nomura: I think I mentioned this before, but my love for Lion King hasn’t changed. As for recently, I was invited to an early preview of Frozen, and I thought it was really good. Pixar’s Mr. John Alan Lasseter is also working as the Disney Chief Creative Officer from now on, and I look forward to even more ambitious titles from him. As a big fan, I am also looking forward to the premier of Big Hero 6 in December.
– Speaking of Frozen, there was an article when Co. Director Tai Yasue was overseas that mentioned including Frozen in future titles if it was possible…
Nomura: I was surprised to hear that myself, so I confirmed with Mr. Yasue. He said if that’s the case then he hasn’t had anything to do with it, and confirmed he was not saying that “we’re putting it in temporarily just in case.” Having something in their own mind, the overseas interviewer is probably asking, “Is this something you want to happen?” And in response, the Japanese neither confirms or denies it clearly. Then, it may be taken as a “fact.” It’s misinformation due to a cultural misunderstanding.
– So that’s what happened. Well, how do you actually choose new worlds to include?
Nomura: As for KH3, everyone contributes their ideas about new worlds and what kind of things we want to do, then we decide while looking over those ideas. The potential titles are extensive and there is a lot to choose from, but that doesn’t mean we can make everything happen. And finally, we need permission from Disney.
However, regarding KH3, the staff has been adamant about what they want to include, even more than before. (Laughs) They are really fired up, saying things like “I want to do this no matter what!” Since they’re creating these elaborate ideas for me, it’s tough to choose.
– From here on out I’d like to ask you about each title in KH2.5 individually. What are the highlights of the HD version of KH2 Final Mix?
Nomura: The maps and production density is greater in KH2 than in KH1, plus there are more characters. In HD, the characters are centered on screen and you can really see their facial expressions as well as easily understand the situation around you. There is a lot of information in KH2, and I think it’s gained more from the benefit of being in HD.
– It’s been a while since we’ve had a KH title on a home console, it might feel difficult to play after the absence. What are your thoughts in regards to the “degree of difficulty”?
Nomura: I’ve considered Kingdom Hearts a “wolf in sheep’s skin” since the start, and I think that concept hasn’t changed throughout the series. Personally, I think a game should be about repeated trial and error until you find your way, and Kingdom Hearts must embody that.
Nonetheless, what I mean by calling it a “sheep” on the surface, is the premise that the games are playable even if the player isn’t good at action games. Hence, if you raise your level high enough, you can defeat the last boss and see the game through to the end.
For the players who want to go beyond that and get the full experience, the games are structured to include elements with a higher degree of difficulty like Proud Mode and secret bosses. Even further, I want players to be able to investigate and make discoveries over things like the right timing to invoke abilities and finding more efficient ways to defeat enemies. Thanks to the hard work the staff put in, I think that we’ve implemented a wide range of difficulties.
– I see. Kingdom Hearts is certainly a series packed with content that keeps you coming back because the more you play, the more there is to play. I get what you mean about extending the degree of difficulty. Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix has a lot of additional elements like that, but what do you especially recommend players check out?
Nomura: The battle with the Lingering Sentiment, because it’s the most stand out match in the series. Defeating it is tough, but even if you can’t win I want players to experience a glimpse of that strength. Birth by Sleep Final Mix is in the KH2.5 set, so I recommend that first you fight the Lingering Sentiment in KH2 Final Mix, and then go play BBS.
– Next, tell us about the highlights of the HD version of Birth by Sleep Final Mix.
Nomura: Talking about an HD version of a portable console game, in a sense, implies that it has a greater impact than KH2 Final Mix which is for home consoles. Naturally, players haven’t seen it look this good before, so in a way it feels new. As for the story, since there are 3 main characters and many impressive scenes, I can’t narrow it down to one thing. I think it’s the most heart wrenching title in the series so far, so I want everyone to definitely check it out in HD.
– Out of the components added to BBS Final Mix, what do you especially recommend?
Nomura: The secret episode. All the other titles have had secret movies, but as an episode, this is something you can actually tread into and play. With the urgency of it’s story and battle, I’m glad we included it. By the way, in the end there is a message that says “Birth by Sleep -Volume Two-”. It indicates the existence of Aqua’s story that develops in the world of darkness. She didn’t just wander around in the darkness for 10 years, there is a story about her experiences. However, like the message “A fragmentary passage” implies, that episode cuts off and more isn’t written. But if there is an opportunity to tell it somewhere, that’d be good.
– I’m interested in Aqua’s episode. By the way, the original version of BBS had multiplayer elements, can you share what your thoughts about multiplayer compatibility in the Kingdom Hearts series?
Nomura: If anything, I want the players of Kingdom Hearts games to be absorbed into this world and take their time playing, so for that reason, I haven’t approached the multiplayer aspect assertively. I think the series is more suited to experiencing the connections asynchronously, like with Recoded.
Of course, Kingdom Hearts X [chi] has a basis in the Keyblade War and BBS had 3 main characters that you switch between, so as the series comes together, I am considering multiplayer components more seriously.
– Tell us about the highlights of the HD version of KH Recoded.
Nomura: The whole thing is a highlight. We’ve fixed the text parts and lines in the original version to suit being spoken, so I think the impact is very different. Also, we adopted the production process that anime works use in regards of the audio. For example in the Alice in Wonderland world, the subtitles of the Cheshire Cat might not have his cat like inflections, but the audio recording of his voice does. With that, I think it’s something with lots to observe. Besides that, we’ve put in more of the Disney worlds, battle scenes, and narration, care was taken to make it as long as possible with a cohesive story.
– This marks the 2nd remake of Recoded. What kind of significance does each one hold?
Nomura: Kingdom Hearts Coded, the first version was developed on mobile phones and was a real challenge. Even though there were memory capacity issues, I wanted the way each world was played to be different so that it wouldn’t be monotonous. After that, Kingdom Hearts Recoded, the Nintendo DS version, was pretty much an entire rebuild, but that concept was inherited and as a result the growth system was something unique. I think it ended up becoming the most playful title in the series.
– The HD version became a gorgeous series of videos, including some additional new scenes. The content of the new scenes are surprising.
Nomura: Two new scenes were added in, one where the term “Tome of Prophecy” which relates to Kingdom Hearts X [chi] appears. Right now there are a lot of fans that consider KHX to be something cut off from the main series, so I included that element in KH2.5 because I wanted to convey that it actually is firmly connected to the series. The other scene takes place before Axel (Lea) and company wake up in Kingdom Hearts 3D. I think questions will arise when you pick at it in detail, so please use your imaginations.
– By the way, as the migration to next-gen systems continues especially overseas, will you want to release KH1.5 and KH2.5 on the PS4 and Xbox One as well?
Nomura: As for looking into the technology to make HD versions on next-gen systems, we recently just finished producing KH2.5, so I’ll need some time to think about it.
– So you used part of the beginning of KH3’s story in a previously released trailer for KH2.5. The conversation of the two unfamiliar people in it was seeded in mystery.
Nomura: I felt like we had a lot of reactions when the gameplay trailers were released, and it got everyone anticipating KH3. We couldn’t really show content in it’s current state, but I wanted to put out some sort of message. So, I wanted to show something that starts in a spot no one is expecting, with new voice actors who hadn’t appeared in the series so far. I also wanted fans to have fun suspecting who those two people are.
– It is certainly an unexpected way to start, I was surprised.
Nomura: I want an introduction that everyone can look forward to. When players see the start, I didn’t want them to know what was unfolding, I want everyone from big fans to new players to wonder, “What is this? What happened before this?” This is the case every time, but I wanted everyone, long time fans and new, to be on the same level.
By the way, the actual conversation between those two is longer, it goes beyond just 2 minutes. When you hear the rest, what you’ve seen so far will make sense.
– The phrase “lost master” came up in their conversation…
Nomura: That’s not specifically a proper noun. For now, let’s say it refers to a “keyblade master who is gone.” (Laughs)
– So that’s how it is. (Laughs) I’m really looking forward to KH3, but since KH2.5 is releasing next, we’ll have to wait a while. Between that wait time, are there any new developments in the series?
Nomura: I’d like to think that along with the browser game Kingdom Hearts X, fans won’t be separated from the series for a while.
– What is going on in KHX from here on out?
Nomura: In order to closely connect the scenarios of KHX and KH3, I am writing them concurrently. Because of that, the stories for KHX have sort of stopped. I’m sorry about that, but just wait a little more. I am also looking into developments that will encourage more fans to try out KHX.
– By the way, what are you doing about KH3D since it’s not a part of KH1.5 or KH2.5?
Nomura: If we excluded KHX which is currently in progress, then KH3D would be the only title that hasn’t been HD-ified. Personally I don’t want it to be left out, so I think it’s a matter of vital consideration.
– Once again, I’d like to ask about KH3’s development status.
Nomura: Progress is going steadily as scheduled. We have changed to Unreal Engine 4 for various reasons, and due to that change we’ve had some trouble creating visuals, but we’ve had cooperation from Epic Games and we are making progress smoothly.
– That’s a drastic change. But at the same time, I’m more excited to see how it will turn out now. Besides that, what else have you been working on?
Nomura: Right now, I am writing scenarios and choosing the worlds. I’m also drawing new outfits for Sora and Riku.
– Ah, I hope we can see them soon! On that topic, what takes precedence when making worlds? Do you choose the world and write the scenario for it, or do you write a scenario and choose a world because of it?
Nomura: Those things occur simultaneously. I personally write out a rough version of the story and the staff works out the flow of the gameplay. Then we fit each world into it while keeping the story in mind. After that, we work out the details even further, deciding the story of the main title and each world as well.
– I see. Next, can you tell us how the action parts are faring?
Nomura: The other day, when I was looking at development progress in Osaka, I saw that Sora’s mobility was just too much, we’ve reached the stage where if he moves like that, he’d be invincible. (Laughs) Naturally, you won’t be able to move like that from the start, but by the end it’ll be outrageous, I’m looking forward to my next check in.
In the previous trailers, Sora was fighting with a transformed Keyblade, but those variations have become even cooler. It’s getting closer to the way original Keyblade Wielders fight as seen in BBS.
– We are looking forward to the next information update. Next I’d like to ask you about your work outside of the Kingdom Hearts series. There was an announcement regarding FFXV at Tokyo Game Show 2014.
Nomura: About that, it was the company’s decision. Right now that’s all I can say.
– You mentioned before that you happened to be doing a variety of jobs, have you been busy with those?
Nomura: There are various projects besides KH3, but for some reason right now I am getting a lot of offers from both in and outside of the company, so the first thing to do is to respond to them. There are personal undertakings as well as game related jobs, things outside of games, and several unannounced things. Most recently, I am going to New York Comic Con in October. I hope to make progress on my own projects while being able to do those kind of jobs.
Margin Interview Comments from Print Version
P.86 – Guest Characters
What are you careful of with guest character appearances? Nomura responded, “In original worlds, I consider original works with similar outward appearances or characteristics, like the arrangement with Yuna, Rikku, and Paine in KH2. When I put them in Disney worlds, I match them according to taste. For example, Zack has a very slim waist to suit the style of that world.”
P.87 – Line Stamps
What’s the whole story about the Kingdom Hearts stamps coming to the smartphone app, Line? Nomura said, “I spoke with Disney, and chose the characters and their comments myself. I especially like the one of Vanitas that says ‘Tch’, but I use the Sora one that says ‘OK’ a lot. I even use it when I respond to editorial decisions. (Laughs)”
P.88 – Is there a possibility for a PS4 version?
As the migration to next-gen systems continues especially overseas, will you want to release KH1.5 and KH2.5 on the PS4 and Xbox One as well? Nomura responded, “As for looking into the technology to make HD versions on next-gen systems, we recently just finished producing KH2.5, so I’ll need some time to think about it.”
P.89 – First off is Comic Con!
In regards to Hajime Tabata becoming the sole director of Final Fantasy XV, it’s like the statement from Square Enix CEO Yosuke Matsuda on p.18 says. Nomura commented in regard to this, “It was the company’s decision. Right now that’s all I can say.” Fans should look forward to KH3 as well as the announcements of the several other projects he’s working on. First, keep an eye out for New York Comic Con!