KH on Smartphones: Nomura on KH Unchained χ

Last week’s Famitsu magazine featured the announcement of Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ, a smartphone version of the browser title, Kingdom Hearts χ [chi]. Pronounced as “unchained key”, the game is more or less a port of the browser game, with changes to the interface and system that make it more intuitive for mobile gaming.

Just like it’s browser counterpart, Kingdom Hearts series director Tetsuya Nomura promises it will contain links to the upcoming next-gen title, Kingdom Hearts 3. Along with that, he plans to include corresponding features with the browser game as well as bonuses for players who have already begun their journey in KHχ.

Unlike the browser version which is available only in Japanese, Nomura says there are plans to make versions of Unchained χ available by language, implying an English version will eventually be available for overseas fans.

You can read my translation of the entire interview below. Like it or link it, let me know on Twitter!

Please note, certain character names and objects may differ in the official English version one it’s available.

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— Can you explain what the meaning behind the subtitle, Unchained, is?

Nomura: Unchained means to be set free. The title doesn’t mean that χ (pronounced as “key”) are set free, but that in a physical sense, the player is breaking out of the Kingdom Hearts worlds.

— Did development on Unchained χ begin after the initial service of KHχ had already started?

Nomura: KHχ and KH Unchained χ started at the same time and were developed to be interactive with one another. However, more power was poured into KHχ first, so Unchained χ was temporarily halted. The plan from the start was more simple, I imagined that the battle portions of KHχ would be the main focus in the smartphone version, it’d be offered as something you could play even just for short periods of time. Meanwhile, when we went to start it up again, the specs of smartphones had become even more remarkable and we could do more than we when first started. So we ended up bringing KHχ to smartphones without much change.

— So initially, the plan wasn’t to bring KHχ as is to smartphones?

Nomura: Well, the design for PC browser games and smartphone games are fundamentally different. On smartphones, you have actions like tapping, flicking, swiping, etc. and those have to be connected to Kingdom Hearts type actions. Also, in order to make it playable even for short periods of time, we’ve adopted a turn based battle style. We reconstructed the contents to suit the latest smartphone specs, while doing something different than the titles in the series so far, resulting in something new.

— Well then, in what ways is it different than KHχ?

Nomura: The main system is completely different. One major difference is that in KHχ, it’s just like in past games in the series, where you progress from world to world. In KH Unchained χ, you clear stages. You can play one stage in 1 to 3 minutes, even when you are on the move. In KHχ, you play whatever adventure according to the quest, but in KH Unchained χ, battles can be handled in a short turn. The exhilarating sensation of a one turn finish is the axis of the system.

— In KHχ, you used cards in battles, but in KH Unchained χ, you use medals.

Nomura: We plan on expanding to overseas audiences as well, so we are regulating it in accordance with them in mind. We did a test version with American smartphone users, and when the KHχ cards came into play, people recognized it as a “card game”. The actual gameplay parts were received quite positively, but on the other hand, the card game aspect didn’t have a positive first impression. First impressions of a game are very important so as result of searching for something other than cards, we came up with medals.

— I see. In terms of design, I feel like they are easier to see on smartphone screens than cards.

Nomura: I suppose so. Like I said before, we are renovating the gameplay operation for smartphones, so there are some meritable changes, like the addition of the frame the medals fit into. Also, compared to cards, they are intuitively easier to use. You just put a medal into a slot, and it cycles through on the bottom left of the screen. It is really compatible with the new battle interface. The menu etc. have also also been renovated with smartphone operationability in mind. Our focus point was to make it operationally intuitive.

— You mentioned expanding to overseas as well, how will server structure and division work out?

Nomura: We plan on adding new servers, but we are also considering chat features, so I think it will be split into versions by language.

— Speaking of chat, does that mean there will be a feature where players can cooperate with friends?

Nomura: Like in KHχ, there is a function to form a team. You progress through the stage until the raid boss appears, but other players can lend a hand in defeating it. Unlike in KHχ where raid bosses appear at special time intervals, the raid boss appears when flags are raised in response to the player’s actions, so when the conditions are met, the raid boss appears. Also, the players are linked, and depending on the people, the type of boss that appears is different.

— That sounds interesting. By the way, what kind of merit is there for players of the current KHχ to pick up KH Unchained χ?

Nomura: I am thinking of a bonus for players who have continued playing KHχ thus far.
In my original project draft, there would be interaction between the titles, which may have ended up being the most difficult thing to deal with. Many topics are being discussed; from the matter that the services for both titles didn’t start simultaneously, the nature of the games are different so there are limitations too, and just how much can the features be shared? Personally, I don’t want KHχ and KH Unchained χ be completely separate from one another, so I plan on including elements that interact with KHχ eventually.

— Things that can be shared between games?

Nomura: One of the big motivations to play KHχ is collecting avatar items, your avatar is one character that becomes an alter ego for the player. Thus a feature I’d like to implement from the beginning of the service period is to have the player’s avatar from KHχ loaded into KH Unchained χ. With this feature, no matter how you play, your avatar is the same, and that way the sensation of being immersed in the game is shared.

— Are you looking into any other systems that would influence between both games?

Nomura: There are a few things I am considering, for instance, a ranking feature, as well as parts that can’t be synchronized after service is initiated. KHχ will continue to be updated as it has up until now, so fans can continue to play it without worrying. On the other hand, it might be a good idea to start KHχ now before service for KH Unchained χ begins if you want to earn whatever bonuses may be available. As conceptualized, I’ve designed it so that you’ll have fun with both individually as well as coming and going between both worlds.

— Story wise, KH Unchained χ follows the plot of KHχ?

Nomura: Yes, however the story for the browser version will continue being updated, so it might take some time to catch up.

— So, the story in KH Unchained χ will also relate to KH3?

Nomura: That’s right. It connects to KH3, to the oldest part of the story in the series, before Sora and his friends even existed. The events that happened a long time ago are told in this story. As for new keywords relating to KH3, there may be moments that peak your interest when you play KHχ and KH Unchained χ. I want everyone who plays to think it was worthwhile.

— It sounds like those “related keywords” are directly connected to KH3.

Nomura: If I explained the keywords, I’d end up talking about KH3’s story (wry laughter). But KH3’s story isn’t hindered by knowing them either. The main story of KHχ doesn’t progress until it reaches KH3, rather it’s more like there are several things going on, and they are unfolding all at once after this. At any rate, the story experienced in KH χ is experienced a second time in KH Unchained χ.

— A second time? Previously, you said that it would be about coming and going between both worlds, implying that the worlds of KHχ and KH Unchained χ are two separate entities?

Nomura: Well, I wonder what that means… (laughs) There will be a hint about that in the next story scenario coming to KHχ soon. We’ve made improvements to the story distribution in KHχ, so that’s something to look forward to as the story progresses from here onwards. Furthermore, the story of KH Unchained χ is fundamentally the same as KHχ. But as a matter of course, they are two titles in a sense, and there is definitely something to playing both of them.

— May we ask about the story taking place hereafter?

Nomura: Well, about that… The story will involve scenarios that head toward the Keyblade War, caused by the Keyblade wielders. However, there are Keyblade wielders in the future, so obviously it doesn’t mean that everything is annihilated in the Keyblade War. That will be the basis of the story told hereafter.

— So you are confirming that it will have to do with the Keyblade War. Have you decided on the plot?

Nomura: The plot huh. The origin of everything is told in KHχ and KH Unchained χ. Why has χehanort been obsessed with Kingdom Hearts for so long? Players should get a glimpse of why among other mysteries in these two titles.

— There’s really too much to explain! (Laughs) Besides that, there is activity related to the Book of Prophecies and the Oracles as well.

Nomura: The Oracles know who will become Keyblade Masters in the future and they gradually begin to sway them individually in the scenarios that take place later on. Also, in the KHχ scenario that most recently appeared, according to the character called Ephemera, the player character should have questions about the Union, the Book of Prophecies, etc. From there, it’ll draw closer to the mysteries of the Oracles and the Book of Prophecies, and in turn, closer to the Keyblade War. However, the player character is trying to avoid the war, so you’ll want to see how things play out in that regard.

— This must mean you have to play it to prepare for KH3!

Nomura: There’s no mistake, the more you know about the KH world, the more you enjoy it. However, knowing everything isn’t necessary. Especially because there are things that even the main character Sora doesn’t know. Nevertheless, it’s best to play it for yourself (laughs). If you play it, I think you’d be surprised at the rich experience you’ll find in KH Unchained χ, despite it being a free game.

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