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Archive:Iwata Asks Vol 12 (Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance)

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"Iwata Asks: Nintendo 3DS Third Party Game Developers: Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]"
Highlights

Interviewee(s)
Interviewer(s)
Publisher(s)
Nintendo
Date
01 April 2012

The Impact of Super Mario 64[edit | edit source]

Iwata: Thank you very much for joining me today.

Nomura: Thank you for having me.

Iwata: This is the first time we've met like this, isn't it, Nomura-san?

Nomura: That's right, yes.

Iwata: Well, though we've never had a reason to meet previously, I've been wanting to talk to you for a long time.

Nomura: Oh, really?

Iwata: Now, I'd like to get things started by talking about THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY[1]. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Hazama-san[2], the producer of the game, and I really felt like you were his mentor, Nomura-san.

Nomura: Oh yes, we're good friends.

Iwata: I got the impression that, for Hazama-san, you are someone who provides guidance during the creative process. How did you feel when he told you about the idea for THEATRHYTHM?

Nomura: Well... I thought it wasn't the kind of idea that could come from a developer.

Iwata: Ah, I see. You mean that the people who usually make games couldn't have come up with an idea like that?

Nomura: Yes, because most people approach games from a different perspective. Hazama-san, on the other hand, started out with the idea of "I want to use existing visuals to make a game". I thought that was a really interesting concept, and I encouraged him to go ahead with it.

Iwata: I felt that Hazama-san found your words very supportive. I also remember him saying something to the effect of "creators are amazing people. They walk their own path, and though it is sometimes dark and difficult, they always believe that they will reach their goal. I have a long way to go before I'm able to do the same, but I really respect and admire those people." I found that very interesting.

Nomura: I think it's always interesting to talk to someone who has some characteristic or quality that you don't. When I spoke to Hazama-san, I really felt that he had something I lacked.

Iwata: Now, I believe that THEATRHYTHM's good reputation was established largely on the back of its demo version.[3] It was actually you who proposed the idea of this demo, wasn't it, Nomura-san? I was wondering if you'd be able to tell us a little about it.

Nomura: Well, there are various game events held every year, and I make a habit of watching players' reactions to the titles that are presented there. The queue to play the first trial version of THEATRHYTHM was unbelievable. Lots of people wrote things like "It was such fun", and "I kept queuing over and over" on blogs and Twitter, so I felt there was a really good response from day one. I realized that actually playing the game really improved the impression people had of it.

Iwata: So you believed it was better for people to have a hands-on experience of the game, did you?

Nomura: I did. That's why I proposed the idea of creating a demo version.

Iwata: Do you often watch how players react to games, Nomura-san?

Nomura: I do, yes. Obviously, I watch them play the games themselves, but I like to watch their responses to promotional videos as well. Watching such reactions is a way of understanding which parts of a game resonate with the audience, so I've started doing it at every possible opportunity.

Iwata: There are always going to be discrepancies between the reactions you want players to experience and the ones they actually have, and correcting such discrepancies is something that must be done on an almost daily basis. Is that conventional practice for you and your team, Nomura-san?

Nomura: Yes, I always pay attentions to how the audience reacts, whenever the games we've created are displayed to the public. This is something I've been doing for a while. I've also told key staff members to observe customers' reactions in the same way.

Iwata: It seems that this is something you just figured out yourself, not something that anyone taught you to do. Artists don't always believe in just giving their audience what they want. Instead, they sometimes deliberately do things that go against people's expectations, that aren't part of the mainstream. At the same time, however, they carefully observe how people react to their proposals, and try to reconcile their vision with customers' reactions as they work on a project.

Nomura: That's right.

Iwata: This conversation is showing me a side of you that I didn't know existed, Nomura-san. I actually think I have a similar mentality myself, so your approach really resonates with me.

Nomura: Oh, I see! (laughs)

Iwata: Now, let's talk about Kingdom Hearts.[4] It's become really big story over the last 10 years, but it was actually the first title you ever directed, wasn't it?

Nomura: Yes, it was.

Iwata: Now, characters in the Kingdom Hearts series inhabit the same worlds as characters created by Disney—one of the strictest companies around when it comes to how their characters are used. I remember having a similar experience back when we were making Smash Brothers,[5] and thinking how difficult it was. I'm therefore really interested in how such a collaboration got started, and how you got over such difficulties.

Nomura: It's often said that it started after we happened to meet while in the same building... But the story of making a game with Disney actually goes back further than that. So, one day I was, for some reason, in the same room as Hashimoto-san[6] and Sakaguchi-san...[7]

Iwata: All three of you just happened to be there at the same time?

Nomura: That's right. I had been called there for some completely different reason, but when I arrived, Hashimoto-san and Sakaguchi-san were talking about a discussion they'd had with Disney, having an exchange along the lines of "Mickey Mouse would have been great, but we can't use him". At that moment I basically put my hand up and said "I want to be a part of this". That's how it all began. But at that point, I wasn't really thinking of making a game that featured Mickey Mouse...

Both: (laughter)

Nomura: Anyway, in the end they both came to the conclusion that they would "let Tetsu give it a try".

Iwata: But why did you put your hand up in the first place? What interested you?

Nomura: Well, just as I was working on FFVII,[8] Mario 64[9] was released. The fully three-dimensional spaces and the freedom you had to run around them had a big impact on me. When I told my colleagues I wanted to make a game like that, they said "but Mario's already a world-famous character. It would be impossible to start from scratch with an all-new character."

Iwata: They didn't think you could compete with Mario?

Nomura: Exactly. Somebody even said "The only way you could do it is with characters that are as well known as Disney's". That really stuck in my head, so when I heard we could be working with Disney characters, I naturally jumped at the chance.

Iwata: So, you put your hand up for this project because of the impact Mario 64 had on you, and because your colleague had mentioned that it would be impossible to create a game like that unless you used Disney characters. You remembered those words, and the rest is history!

Nomura: That's right, yes! (laughs)

Iwata: Well, well... Destiny is a curious thing, isn't it?

Nomura: (laughs)

It'll Definitely be Fun[edit | edit source]

Iwata: Did you then go to Disney's offices for a meeting?

Nomura: Yes. At first, we decided to just have a discussion. I had no idea what we were going to talk about; I just went to listen to what they had to say. I already had a vague idea of the game I wanted to make, though.

Iwata: Are you the type of person who visualizes what you want to make before starting work on it, then?

Nomura: Yes, I am. In fact, I'd already visualized the game within a 3D space, and this was taking shape in my mind when I went to see Disney. Of course, they had their own ideas and asked us if we'd be interested in making a variety of their ideas into a game.

Iwata: Their ideas were different from yours, naturally...

Nomura: Yes. They appeared to believe that we would make whatever they wanted us to make and came up with rather specific requests such as, "We'd like the game to feature this character." They were really excited, explaining their ideas... To be honest, though, I wasn't really interested in any of them. (laughs)

Both: (laughter)

Iwata: You wanted to borrow Disney's characters in order to make a new game that could compete with Mario 64, and you already had a vision of what this game would look like. I suppose their ideas didn't fit in with this vision.

Nomura: They didn't, no. In the end, I actually stopped a presentation halfway through. We didn't have that much time, and it looked like it was all going to get taken up by various Disney presentations. So, I interrupted them and told them the conclusion by saying, "I won't make such games."

Iwata: Oh my! (laughs) I imagine they were quite surprised to hear that?

Nomura: Yes, they were certainly surprised. (laughs) However, since I did not understand what they were saying in English, I decided not to care too much about that, and told them about my primitive idea for Kingdom Hearts: all-new characters going on a journey through the worlds inhabited by Disney characters. I visited their place several times afterward. In the first meeting, I showed them a design document with a picture of Sora, the main character from the game. I'd drawn him carrying a weapon that looked like an enormous chainsaw. "What on earth is this!?" they said.

Both: (laughter)

Iwata: They were probably wondering how that would look in the Disney world!

Nomura: When I told them it was a chainsaw, they looked really shocked - absolutely speechless. (laughs) They were looking at the design document, probably saying "this is terrible!" and so on. It was all in English, though, so I didn't understand a word.

Iwata: I suppose sometimes ignorance is bliss! (laughs)

Nomura: Yes. (laughs) Sora went through a lot of fine-tuning before becoming the character he is now.

Iwata: But Disney did eventually accept the character? The one that had originally rendered them speechless?

Nomura: They did. They were very generous.

Iwata: Perhaps the people on the Disney side were looking for new ideas and changes. After all, quite a few people have become fans of Disney as a result of Kingdom Hearts. The fact that you've been able to make Kingdom Hearts for a decade must attest to the fact that Disney is recognizing its importance.

Nomura: They always say that Kingdom Hearts is very important to them, and I'm very happy about that.

Iwata: Now, as you told me this background story, I found myself wondering, "Could such a thing really happen?"

Nomura: Oh, really? (laughs)

Iwata: Well, you had to overcome a lot of difficult situations to create the game – Disney's presentations about the games they wanted to make, their becoming speechless while looking at your design document, and so on... "They shouldn't have been able to do this..." I thought, "How have they managed it!?"

Nomura: People say that a lot, but at the time I didn't think it would be impossible.

Iwata: Everything is impossible if we think it is. Often all it takes is for one person to believe strongly that something can be achieved and to continue pursuing that goal to the end.

Nomura: I agree. I kept saying, "If we can do this, it's going to be really great" and, "If we don't do it, it's our loss!" (laughs)

Iwata: It sounds like you've learned something from working with Americans! (laughs) But if you've already got an image of what you want to do, and are bumping ideas off each other, there will come a moment in that process when the other party accepts your idea.

Nomura: I think so... We had several opportunities to speak directly to Disney's president at the time. He was very generous towards us. Even when the people around him were opposed to something, he'd say it was OK, and we'd be able to move on.

Iwata: When you're dealing with another company, having someone there with authority who understands you is an important factor in building a relationship with them, isn't it?

Nomura: Yes, we were very lucky.

Iwata: Now, at this point Square had been making RPGs for a long time. Were there many people in your organization who had experience of making a game as action-oriented as this?

Nomura: No, there was hardly anyone.

Iwata: I get the feeling that the process of taking your original vision and turning it into a satisfactory finished article was far from straightforward. Am I right?

Nomura: From the very start of the project, when I assembled the team, we realized that there were lots of staff who'd never worked on an action game. So naturally, yes, there were some dark moments.

Iwata: Well, you were a first time director, assembling your staff, trying to persuade Disney to accept your ideas, working in an unfamiliar genre... Those extra hurdles probably made this project three or four times harder than usual.

Nomura: I think you're right. (laughs) There were several moments during development when the staff would panic and become anxious, not knowing whether the game we were making was going to be fun or not.

Iwata: If you've been involved with a game from its very inception, it often becomes hard to tell whether it's actually fun or not, doesn't it?

Nomura: That's right. I did keep telling them not to worry, that it would definitely be fun...

Iwata: So you always believed firmly that the game would definitely be an enjoyable game, and that you would reach your goal in the end?

Nomura: I did.

Square's Intentions[edit | edit source]

Iwata: Back when you started out as a director, Nomura-san, how did you establish your own style in terms of what a director should be?

Nomura: The first directors I worked for were Sakaguchi-san and Kitase-san.[10] I think those two had a big influence on me. When it comes to battle planning, I think I've been influenced by (Hiroyuki) Ito-san,[11] who was the director of FFIX.[12] My other influences include Monolith's[13] (Tetsuya) Takahashi-san.[14] He was in charge of graphics at Square, and looked after me in the early stages of my career. I imagine that those four would be my "seniors", as it were.

Iwata: So you absorbed everything you could from these four "seniors" before becoming a director yourself?

Nomura: Not really. I think the only thing I really absorbed was how to think about creative projects. When I became a director, I thought "I'm never going to be able to be like those guys." I'd really had fun working with them though, so I just vaguely hoped I'd be able to create the circumstances where everyone could enjoy the work.

Iwata: I personally believe that a leader's main role is to tell his team what their goal is, and to ensure that they believe good things will happen if they reach that goal. When I listen to you speak, Nomura-san, it sounds like you are a leader who can make your team understand and believe in what they have to do.

Nomura: I hope so... I'm a designer as well, so I start out with a visual image in my mind. Maybe that's easier to communicate than something written.

Iwata: But even a "visual type" like you doesn't just visualize a series of still images. You also have to think about how things like combat would work, don't you?

Nomura: Yes, that's right.

Iwata: How do you communicate things like that to your team?

Nomura: Well... At first I talk about my ideas and quickly draw some images in order to try and explain them. I suppose it's a bit like if you were describing a film you'd just seen to someone. That's what it feels like.

Iwata: I see. So because you have the complete picture in your mind, you can say "this bit's different" or "this bit's fine" and gradually make your vision a reality. You have a complete model image to work with from the beginning and to base your work on.

Nomura: I think that's why the staff says it really helps when I make a promotional video.

Iwata: So your promotional videos are not just for customers. You also use them to make presentations to staff? I suppose they act as moving spec sheets, in a way.

Nomura: Yes, I think so. They get the idea of what kind of action we want to make, when they watch those videos.

Iwata: Ah yes, I understand. Now, one more thing that surprised people about Kingdom Hearts was the collaboration with Hikaru Utada. I must say, I was quite shocked myself. How did that come about?

Nomura: Well, I'm a fan of Utada-san, and I thought that since we were using world-famous Disney characters, we'd need a song by the very best artist. For me, that could only be Utada-san. Lots of people said it would be impossible to get her, but we made her an offer anyway, in the spirit of "you never know until you ask". Surprisingly, she seemed keen on the idea, and so the matter was settled.

Iwata: She was probably impressed with your straight-talking nature. There aren't many people who would go to Disney's offices and tell them "I don't want to make a game where your characters are the stars. I want to make my own characters!" (laughs)

Nomura: (laughs)

Iwata: Utada-san probably doesn't have someone coming to her and saying "please make a song for our game" every day, either. Most people would think it's impossible and not even try.

Nomura: I suppose so... I'm not really the type to think that something is impossible before giving it a go. I generally believe in giving things a try.

Iwata: It's certainly better to keep trying than to think that something is impossible and just give up. Now, it's been a long time since the first Kingdom Hearts game was released, and I'm sure that there are always new obstacles for you to overcome as the series progresses. I know that such an epic series has a lot of subplots and so on, but how much of it did you have in mind at the beginning, Nomura-san?

Nomura: At first I only had a vague general framework. I'd sort of thought up to about KH II.[15] Yes, when No. I was announced, I had thought up to KH II, and by the time of the three titles being announced simultaneously,[16] I felt like I'd got everything fitting together quite well. When this game, Kingdom Hearts 3D,[17] was announced, it felt like just one more stage of the grand plan.

Iwata: So you've gradually managed to construct a plot and work out how everything ties together. Was that a painful process?

Nomura: It was, but...

Iwata: You don't look pained at all, Nomura-san! (laughs)

Nomura: Don't I!? (laughs) Well, let's see... There are always limits when you are creating something. There is never a situation where you're just allowed to do whatever you want.

Iwata: That's right. Limits and restrictions must always be in place. If you had been completely free and unrestricted, the development work would never have been finished, would it?

Nomura: I think you're right. In fact, part of the enjoyment of making games is trying to make them as fun as possible within the limits we're given. I sometimes even think that having more restrictions actually makes the creative process more enjoyable.

Iwata: Yes, I totally understand what you mean. Sometimes thinking that you're fond of restrictions means you end up with more of them, and though this usually causes some problems as well, you have to choose not to see them as such. After all, you want players to enjoy playing the game, not experience the same difficulties you had during the creative process.

Nomura: Yes, that's right.

Iwata: So you see, limits and restrictions are an unavoidable part of the creative process, and have you decided to enjoy the challenge of dealing with them?

Nomura: Yes. That's precisely why I enjoy finding ways to deal with restrictions. (Tadashi) Nomura-san,[18] who produced the advertisements for Kingdom Hearts and who taught me a great deal, always said that "players don't want to see the difficulties you've had".

Iwata: Just as we were discussing!

Nomura: He always said "don't talk about difficulties". I think he influenced me quite a lot.

Iwata: You agreed with him, then?

Nomura: I did. I think it's more interesting to hear about enjoyable things than about difficulties. I still live by a lot of things like that, things my seniors told me.

Iwata: That was part of the culture of creativity they had at Square, wasn't it?

Nomura: I think so, yes. When (Koichi) Ishii-san[19] left the company, he told me "I trust you to keep up Square's creative culture." I think I do try and value that kind of mentality.

A Jump Big Enough to Make You Laugh[edit | edit source]

Iwata: Please allow me to change the subject a little. What did you think of Nintendo 3DS when you saw it for the first time?

Nomura: I'd heard it was stereoscopic, but I imagined the effect would be more subtle. I was really surprised at how solid and three-dimensional everything looked.

Iwata: Now, this is a thought I had when I saw the Kingdom Hearts game you made for the Nintendo DS as well: you're one of these people who isn't comfortable unless you're making as much use as possible of a console's features, aren't you?

Nomura: I suppose so, yes! (laughs)

Iwata: I remember thinking the same when I saw The World Ends With You.[20] I think it's therefore fair to say that your fans are thinking "what is Nomura-san going to do with Nintendo 3DS?"

Nomura: I suppose so... With a brand new title like The World Ends With You, you can be really adventurous and try all sorts of new things. When I think of Kingdom Hearts' fans, however, I know I can't go that far. Instead I've tried to find ways of using the new features wherever it seems possible. The thing I'm happiest about with Nintendo 3DS is that it supports analogue controls. Analogue controls are really important for action games, so this was a big relief for me.

Iwata: The free-flowing action in this title seems to be the most dynamic of any game in the series so far. Looking at it, you do feel that analogue controls are a must.

Nomura: That's right. The Nintendo 3DS system is a really bold machine, and the stereoscopic graphics give an incredible feeling of depth. That's why the visuals are so dynamic. Free-flowing action was actually the first feature I wanted Kingdom Hearts 3D to have.

Iwata: This free-flowing action was part of your original vision of the game?

Nomura: Yes, it was. This idea was born from the fact that the Nintendo 3DS system has both stereoscopic graphics and analogue controls. In fact, staffs who've been working on this latest game now complain that the movements in older games like BBS[21] and KH II are too slow. They say things like "once you've experienced the 3D free-flowing action, you can't go back", and "a Kingdom game where you can't jump-kick off the walls just isn't a Kingdom game." (laughs)

Iwata: So even your own staff said they couldn't go back to enjoying a previous title after experiencing the free-flowing action in this one! But was it difficult to build a game using such dynamic visuals?

Nomura: It certainly wasn't straightforward. Because you can now kick off a wall to jump as far as you like, we had to make maps that are much bigger than in usual Kingdom Hearts games. These jump-kicks are also a little difficult to control, but...they'll make you laugh! You won't believe how far you can jump! (laughs)

Iwata: You laughed at a feature you added yourself!? (laughs)

Nomura: I did, but then I thought it's probably a good thing that it's funny. What's more, learning how to control moves like that is part of the fun of an action game.

Iwata: You can certainly get addicted to such things. Watching somebody play it really makes you want to give it a try.

Nomura: I think so, too. My favorite part of Mario 64 was in front of the castle. You didn't have any particular goals there; you could just run around, jump and slide. Whoosh! That's the kind of thing I had in mind when I was imagining Kingdom Hearts 3D's free-flowing action.

Iwata: Ah, I remember (Shigeru) Miyamoto-san saying that he wanted to create the game where just picking up the controller and moving around in the world was fun, even when there was no particular game mission to complete. When I saw that he'd actually managed to achieve that, I was really impressed, as it was something I had wanted to do myself. Mario responded exactly to your intentions when moving, and it looked like all his motions were smoothly connected. I think Mario 64 changed action gaming forever, actually.

Nomura: I agree. Being able to freely jump around is at the very root of what action gaming means. In this game, we tried to make it freer than ever. Jumps are not easy to pull off at the beginning, but they are incredibly satisfying once you have mastered them.

Iwata: I hope lots of people get to experience that satisfaction. Now, how many of the new action game ideas that have made it into the game were things that were part of your original vision, and how many of them were things you uncovered or worked out during development?

Nomura: I don't think anything's made it into the game exactly as I originally imagined and drew it. Many staff members contributed their ideas, and I was happy with that – as long as they were fun. Actually, it wouldn't be that much fun if the things made it in the game exactly the way I'd imagined. I'd had the original vision for the game in my head for a long time, but when other people shared their opinions, this vision really grew, and I could say "we're doing something audacious here".

Iwata: I suppose you always believed there was a good common solution lying ahead, so you had the faith to carry on searching for it.

Nomura: Yes. I can never deviate from the course that I set originally, and I always keep in my mind this image of a rather vague and broad goal where we should finally arrive. So, even when the newly proposed ideas aren't exactly what I had originally envisaged, it is OK as long as I can feel they are fun or interesting.

Iwata: All right. Now, I'd like to ask you about the benign Dream Eaters.

Nomura: They came about because my family had cats and dogs when I was a child. The thing with pets is that you're present from the moment they're born all the way through their development, so you develop a real affection for them. That's why I thought that, if some Dream Eaters became players' companions as soon as they were born, players would feel a similar level of affection towards them as they do to towards their pets. That was my motive when I created the friendly Dream Eaters.

Iwata: I see.

Nomura: What's more, most of the games up to now that have allowed you to befriend your enemies involved command-based battles. I wanted to try doing that with full action battles.

Iwata: There certainly aren't many action battle games that allow you to befriend and fight alongside characters that originally appeared as your enemies.

Nomura: Actually doing that was quite troublesome, but I was determined to do it before anyone else did. I knew that fighting alongside your former enemies in such audacious action battles would be really fun, so I wanted to be the first company to achieve that. Sora can now swing his companions around and throw them, ride on their backs, and all sorts of other things.

Iwata: You casually mentioned "riding around" there, but actually implementing riding in a game always massively increases your workload, doesn't it? (laughs)

Nomura: Yes, it's certainly easier said than done! (laughs)

Iwata: So the concept of friendly Dream Eaters was born from your pursuit of an original game system and your vision of unique visuals, in addition to the fact that you had cats and dogs when you were a child?

Nomura: That's right. Nintendogs[22] made an impact on me as well – the way that game puts you in contact with your pets. I always had battles in mind, though. I wondered "why can't I make my Nintendogs fight?" (laughs)

Iwata: (bursts out laughing)

Nomura: When you take your Nintendogs for a walk, and they meet other dogs via StreetPass...[23] Imagine if they could have a battle!

Iwata: You wanted to fight against the other dogs you met!? (laughs)

Nomura: I did occasionally think "are they going to fight...!?" But of course, they never did. (laughs)

Iwata: (laughs) But, of course, whenever we encounter brand new creative works, we always receive some inspiration from them. In that sense, we've been tossing the invisible ball back and forth amongst ourselves, so to speak.

Nomura: I suppose so. I've always made RPGs in which the battle system has been pivotal, so I find it quite hard to think of something other than the battle system. I told the THEATRHYTHM team to add battles to the game as well. I said that I was imagining four people, lined up, and four rows in front of the enemy...[24]

Iwata: Oh, I see. It seems you feel quite strongly that a game revolves around its battle system, then, Nomura-san.

Nomura: That's probably a reflection of what I want from a game. Maybe I'm just not happy unless I'm fighting! (laughs)

Kingdom Hearts-esque[edit | edit source]

Iwata: Now that the series has gone on for so long, I suppose you must have gradually established a "Kingdom Hearts-esque" style.

Nomura: Hmm. I wonder...

Iwata: Or perhaps your team didn't need to discuss it, because you had a clear vision of what the final product should look like from the very beginning, before a game was even produced?

Nomura: I think so, yes. We don't really talk about whether games are Kingdom Hearts-esque or not. Staff are aware that if I say "this is what I want to make", that means it's already a Kingdom Hearts game.

Iwata: So Kingdom Hearts as we know it actually comes straight from your mind?

Nomura: Yes... Now, if you're asking what "Kingdom Hearts-esque" means, one of the things it involves for me is a sense of depth.

Iwata: What do you mean by "depth"?

Nomura: I hope people feel a sense of depth when they enter the world of Kingdom Hearts. I don't want it to look like we've just made something flimsy and superficial, and are just trading off the Kingdom Hearts name.

Iwata: So it's not just a matter of sticking the world and the characters into the game?

Nomura: No, it's not. I really don't give much thought to that, to be honest... What really matters is the "setting" of the game – and that is not necessarily something that can be seen on the surface.

Iwata: So you have a coherent idea of how everything works, and the game only works if this is adhered to. Whether or not it's all mentioned is irrelevant, it's about you knowing how everything is interconnected, and being able to explain it without contradicting yourself.

Nomura: That's right.

Iwata: Tell me, when you actually revealed this game to the public and watched their reactions, what kind of responses did you observe, Nomura-san?

Nomura: When the game was first announced in Los Angeles,[25] I was sitting on the first floor, watching you make the presentation. The title came up on the screen behind you, and I could see the audience getting really excited. "Thank goodness..." I thought. It was a real relief.

Iwata: I remember standing on stage and witnessing the audience's reaction as well. People seemed really thrilled.

Nomura: I did think "I have to take this seriously now"... Ever since that first announcement, there's been a big reaction to every trailer we've put out. People are really taking an interest in the game – I didn't think they would, not to this extent.

Iwata: Why is that?

Nomura: A really great line-up was being announced at the time, and I didn't think that this title stood out, particularly. But I really felt the audiences were showing an interest in it. The reaction to the bundle[26] was also really good.

Iwata: There certainly was a very positive reaction to the bundle.

Nomura: Yes. Though I'm confident that the game has achieved to become something that the fans will like, but I felt the general response was actually better than I'd been expecting.

Iwata: When you create a long-running series like this, there must come a time when you worry about the conflict between meeting fan's expectations and being accessible to new players. What do you think about that?

Nomura: I worry a lot about that... I feel it's something that has to be dealt with eventually. We try to make the introductory part of every game accessible for new players, for example by having the main character enter the world and ask "what is this place"? That puts them in the same boat as the player.

Iwata: So you always start from a situation where the player knows nothing?

Nomura: Yes. We give players who don't know anything some information about the characters and the game setting that we think is useful. But it's hard for the players who're familiar with the series to understand the things that new players will be uneasy about.

Iwata: And the fans of the series probably feel that explanations aimed at new players are a bit excessive.

Nomura: If a puzzle is presented both to players who have experience and those who don't, the ones who don't have experience may think that they are lacking some prior knowledge required to solve the puzzle. That is, they think they can't solve the puzzle because they haven't played previous titles in the series. So, although it's always a difficult question that will never go away, we've included a system in this game that will allow players to learn the entire plot of the series so far.

Iwata: You certainly don't feel like you need to have played the previous games in the series in order to enjoy this one.

Nomura: I hope that's the case. We've made this title so that it contains all the information you need to know, even more so than previous titles. (laughs) But still, we didn't forget that concept of "just picking up the controller and playing around - even without any specific game mission - is fun enough". So you don't need to know every detail in order to enjoy the game.

Iwata: This series did come about after you enjoyed jumping around in front of the castle in Mario 64 and decided to create gaming world where even just moving around can be fun for the players.

Nomura: That's right, yes.

A Satisfying Tangle of Sub-plots[edit | edit source]

Iwata: Now then, what would you say is the main appeal of this game for existing fans of the series?

Nomura: I think it's the all-star line-up of characters from previous titles in the series.

Iwata: Was it always your intention to make a game with an all-star line-up like this?

Nomura: Actually, in terms of story flow, there actually was no other option. This game is like a prologue to a forthcoming battle, so it's necessary for all of the characters from the series so far to make an appearance. I think fans of the series will be happy to hear this.

Iwata: When we showed movies of the game to the audience, you could hear their shouts and exclamations every time a character came on screen.

Nomura: We recently held an event at Odaiba (in Tokyo), and it was pretty incredible! (laughs) The audience's reaction when the opening movie was played was amazing. They really revealed their emotional attachment towards these characters. They've been with these characters for a long time, after all, and had developed affection towards them. I started out as a character designer, so it always makes me really happy when players react well to characters.

Iwata: And an "all-star" game like this is just the thing for players who feel that kind of affection, isn't it?

Nomura: Yes. This game's plot is a little difficult, but I really think it develops in a way that fans of Kingdom Hearts will enjoy. A lot of complicated sub-plots are connected together, while I think the new mysteries that are introduced are also very interesting.

Iwata: If bonds are revealed between plots that players thought were unconnected, I could see how this game could be quite refreshing for fans of the series.

Nomura: I think so. We spoke earlier about "development in a restricted environment", and how this is difficult. But when things click together in such a situation, it's incredibly satisfying. Connecting mysteries and sub-plots in the game world is a similar feeling.

Iwata: So you consider the two things to be similar challenges... I see. Now, this title is being released at a time when the situation for Nintendo 3DS is looking good, but it's only come this far because of the wonderful support it's received from so many people. In return, I want to create an equally good situation for everyone involved in video games. I'm really excited to see how players will respond to this game.

Nomura: I've done everything I can. Now it's just a matter of waiting for the game to be released and seeing how players react to it.

Iwata: Talking to you today, you seem to feel a certain sense of completion.

Nomura: Yes, I do. This game's development period was short for a Kingdom Hearts game, but we really put everything into it and didn't cut any corners. I do feel a sense of completion and achievement.

Iwata: I see. By the way, Nomura-san, I'm sure you knew about "Iwata Asks" before you came here today, but how did it feel to actually take part in a session?

Nomura: I found it quite easy to talk to you... Though I was really nervous at first! (laughs) It's always fun to talk to someone who loves games. That's probably why I found it easy.

Iwata: Likewise, I found it very easy to talk to you. I started out as a programmer, so I'm not able to visualize game concepts in advance in the same way designers like you do, Nomura-san. When it comes to the actual development period, however, I was very surprised at how many things we had in common. I learned a lot today.

Nomura: I'm glad to hear you say that! (laughs) I'm actually not very good at talking to people I haven't met before...

Iwata: But you've got so many interesting things to say!

Nomura: I hope I have...(laughs)

Both: (burst out laughing)

Iwata: Talking to someone who has gone through the thought processes and difficulties involved with creating something is always interesting. I think the difficult part is transmitting those interesting stories to the world at large. In fact, my motivation in continuing the "

Iwata: Asks" series is to try and inform fans of the interesting dramas that surround game development.

Nomura: I see. I saw how people reacted to the one about THEATRHYTHM, and it seems that fans are really looking forward to reading this interview as well.

Iwata: Our discussion today has taught me that you are someone who really does visualize and imagine things very vividly. That is the secret behind the success of the free-flowing action in this game as well. Forgive me for saying this, but looking at the screen, it really is a mystery to me how you managed to incorporate such crazy action into the game.

Nomura: Yes, my colleagues did say it would be difficult when I mentioned I wanted to do something like that. (laughs) But the fact that we've managed to achieve it really is a testament to our staff. Coming up with the concept is one thing, but making it a reality is the staff's role, and I'm very grateful to them for doing that.

Iwata: In the same way, your seniors were once grateful to you for the work you did for them. If they hadn't been, you would not be where you are now. You always have respect and gratitude for staff who can do things you can't.

Nomura: I agree. I feel grateful to them for putting up with my wild ideas. I'm sharing these ideas in the belief that they can make them happen.

Iwata: You have your staff to thank for making these "wild ideas" happen, while your staff do their utmost with the conviction, "Nomura-san can surely navigate us to the goal in the end."

Nomura: Well, I generally can't say anything more than "everything will be fine"...

Iwata: Yes, Hazama-san mentioned that. Another connection! Lots of previously unconnected things have been tied together during our conversation today. It was very interesting indeed.

Nomura: I'm happy to hear that! (laughs)

Iwata: Thank you very much for today.

Nomura: Thank you very much.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY is a rhythm-action game, which will be released in Europe in summer 2012.
  2. Ichiro Hazama works for Square Enix. He is the producer of THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY.
  3. "Demo version" refers to the demo of THEATRHYTHM that can be downloaded via Nintendo eShop.
  4. Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG series, created by Tetsuya Nomura. The first game in the series was released in March 2002 (in Japan). It is notable for using themes and subject matter from the world of Disney.
  5. Smash Brothers refer to Super Smash Bros., an action fighting game series. The first title in the series was released for the Nintendo 64 system in January 1999 (in Japan).
  6. Shinji Hashimoto is a corporate executive who works for Square Enix Holdings. He has worked as a producer on many titles, including Final Fantasy VII, dating back to the Square era.
  7. Hironobu Sakaguchi is the father of the Final Fantasy series. In 2001, he set up his own development company, Mistwalker Studios.
  8. FFVII refers to Final Fantasy VII, released in January 1997 (in Japan). It was the seventh original title in the series.
  9. Mario 64 refers to Super Mario 64, an action game for the Nintendo 64 system, released in June 1996 (in Japan).
  10. Yoshinori Kitase is a producer in Square Enix's 1st production department. He has worked on a large number of projects dating back to the Square era, including Final Fantasy VII.
  11. Hiroyuki Ito is a game creator who works for Square Enix. He has worked on a large number of titles, and directed FFIX and FFXII.
  12. FFIX refers to Final Fantasy IX, the ninth game in the series, released in July 2000 (in Japan).
  13. Monolith refers to Monolith Soft, Inc., a game developer based in Meguro, Tokyo.
  14. Tetsuya Takahashi is a game creator who worked for Square. He left the company in 1999 and established Monolith.
  15. KH II refers to Kingdom Hearts II, an action RPG released in December 2005 (in Japan). Though it was called KH II, it was actually the third game in the Kingdom Hearts series.
  16. Kingdom Hearts Coded was released in June 2009 (in Japan), Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was released for the Nintendo DS in May 2009 (in Japan), and Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep was released in January 2010 (in Japan).
  17. Kingdom Hearts 3D refers to KINGDOM HEARTS 3D [Dream Drop Distance], a new software title for the Nintendo 3DS, released on March 29th 2012 (in Japan) and to be released in Europe.
  18. Tadashi Nomura worked as the advertisement producer on many Square Enix titles. He is currently a director of Monolith Soft Inc.
  19. Koichi Ishii was involved in the creation of Final Fantasy I-III, IX, and other games. He is currently representative director of Grezzo.
  20. The World Ends With You is an action RPG released for the Nintendo DS in July 2007. Tetsuya Nomura was the main character designer and creative producer.
  21. BBS refers to Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, an RPG released in January 2010 (in Japan).
  22. Nintendogs is a communication game, released for the Nintendo DS in April 2005 (in Japan).
  23. StreetPass is a communication feature that allows you to swap data with passers-by, simply by leaving your Nintendo 3DS switched on and carrying it around with you.
  24. In THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY's multiplayer battles, up to four players stand in a line facing the enemy. Each player has their own horizontal 'row' on the screen, and symbols move along these rows, showing the actions each player must perform to help battle the enemy.
  25. The game was first announced at E3 2010. E3 in an abbreviation of "Electronic Entertainment Expo", a video game trade fair held annually in Los Angeles.
  26. "Bundle" refers to the version of KINGDOM HEARTS 3D [Dream Drop Distance] that is packaged with a Nintendo 3DS system in Japan. The system included in the package is colored Cosmos Black, and its front and back are decorated with an original pattern depicting images from the game, such as Mickey Mouse and the crown symbol.