Rebuilding Kingdom Hearts With Tetsuya Nomura
Despite creating the series, Tetsuya Nomura was reluctant to return to Kingdom Hearts, but he came to use the tensions at Square Enix as creative inspiration. We spoke to him about how the game is progressing…
Disney is very franchise-oriented – we’ll never see the “final” Mickey Mouse story – is there a pressure to keep Kingdom Hearts going forever?
The discussion of the end of Kingdom Hearts has never come up between me and Disney, so I don’t know what their intentions are. But while creating Kingdom Hearts, with each generation I think to myself “This should be something that can’t be accomplished by just Disney”. It has to be something uniquely Kingdom Hearts. So it’s a matter of how long can I keep creating for Kingdom Hearts! I don’t know if the fans would enjoy it as much if it was just Disney, if it wasn’t a combination of Disney and my own creativity.
Has there been anything that Disney has stopped you from doing?
I don’t feel they inhibited anything. The Disney worlds that appear within our game are their franchise so they’re interested in maintaining those worlds. But anything unique to Kingdom Hearts hasn’t been a source of disagreement from Disney. Of course, sometimes when we’re writing the story then sometimes they ask us to give it a lighter tone or happier ending – but they haven’t stopped us from doing anything.
What has skipping the PS3 era allowed you to do with this new iteration of the Kingdom Hearts systems?
There wasn’t a specific intention to skip a generation other than Kingdom Hearts being on a console has a very high bar to reach. Fans who love the series would want something even greater than Kingdom Hearts II. Unfortunately, during that period I didn’t get the chance to start on a project that big and other key developers were working on other projects. We needed to get our experience and polish our skills at creating Kingdom Hearts games so that there was a proper preparation for a big title like Kingdom Hearts III. It just happened that this preparation took the life cycle of the PS3.
Since you switched engines during development, what was that transition like? Did it take the team a long time to adapt to that new engine or was it relatively smooth?
The transition was quite a process. We pretty much had to start from the ground again. We had to make sure that we could recreate our key effects in the Unreal Engine and that the effects we specifically needed for Kingdom Hearts could be adapted. We were also developing a Kingdom Hearts-specific shader and we had to make a lot of adjustments so we could use that shader on the new engine. That goes a long way to explaining the long distance between the announcement and now, when we’re able to reveal more information about the title.
Are new battle systems based on modifications you wanted for the previous games but couldn’t achieve on the previous hardware?
I feel that going through the different spin-off titles and ideas for battle systems, how the gameplay there works, we kind of learned from that and implemented a new battle system as well as introducing new and unique moves. There’s also the Keyblade Transformation which is involved around the plot point where Sora has gone through a test of mastery so it makes sense story-wise that this transformation is part of his combat. There have been many bold additions to Kingdom Hearts III in combat and those are only possible because we have access to the better hardware but it hasn’t necessarily been things I couldn’t have done then. It’s more that I learned from the experiments of the spin-offs.
In the first game there was one playable character, in the second there were two – will there be three in the third?
It’s a secret but by saying that we imply that maybe something’s going on. We can’t disclose anything but, maybe, something will happen there.