- Although assets were created for Toy Story in the past for Kingdom Hearts games, development on those elements never began.
- Nomura announces games like Kingdom Hearts III early because he prefers to give out official information rather than that information be found in leaks.
- Nomura assures that there are many more surprises beyond the world list that have not been revealed.
—Kingdom Hearts is a series that talks about light and darkness, friendship and rivalry. But most of all, represents a journey into the hearts of its protagonists. How’s your and your team’s heart now that the development is almost over?
Nomura: We're getting near to the end of the works, so I can't deny that it was a very busy and tense period. Even today, regardless of the E3's events, I keep receiving requests to revisionate some in-game elements. There is no break time: despite the daytime, the team keeps sending me things to check and approve, messages to answer, and feedback requests. Now that we announced the release date we absolutely need to fulfill things for that day without trespassing it. That's why everyone is doing their best pushing themselves to the limit, with the goal to both respect the timelines and the premise of creating a great game. However, at this development stage, I try to avoid giving so much feedbacks that would require many changes, because I'm convinced those would create more stress and anxiousness in the whole team. I try myself to stay as calm as possible.
—What is your first memory of the Disney Universe?
Nomura: I'm not that sure, however, I think that the first time I got in touch with the Disney Universe, was with "The Little Mermaid". When I was a young boy, I lived in small countryside town, in a house where the TV only broadcasted two channels. One of those was showing The Little Mermaid: I think it was the first Disney film I ever saw, and, as you may know, it is featured in the Kingdom Hearts series.
—It is well known the story of how the collaboration between Square and Disney started in an elevator, during a conversation between Shinji Hashimoto and a Disney Staffer. What brought you to propose for getting in charge of that project?
Nomura: It happened between the development of Final Fantasy VII and VIII. It was after Super Mario 64 came out, when the videogame industry was shifting from 2D sprites to the polygon graphic. When I played Super Mario 64 I was astonished by its world and by the fact that you were able to freely move among this openworld. Working to Final Fantasy, I thought that our battle system would have worked perfectly in a similar setting. So during that period I started thinking about the possibility of creating and action, but in 3D. I talked with my colleagues about my idea, but there was a problem: Mario was an icon/symbol, recognized all over the world, and to realize an as much recognizable videogame I was supposed to create one with Disney characters. When I heard that the directors of both Square and Disney were taking into consideration the possibility of doing something together, I seized the opportunity. I knew I should have, otherwise I would had no other occasions. There is no complex reasoning behind it.
—Did Hironobu Sakaguchi give you any advice in that period?
Nomura: When I started working on the first Kingdom Hearts, Sakaguchi asked me for an advice. He asked what kind of videogame I was intended to create, and I told him that I wanted to realize a simple adventure, at the end of which the main character would have to defeat a witch. He told me it wasn’t a good idea, and that I had to create which also Final Fantasy fans would have loved, so it shouldn’t have been supposed to be that simple. That was the only advice he ever gave to me, and after game’s release I had no feedback from him. Before the release, he only told me: “I don’t need to play your game, because I know it will be well done and funny. You don’t need any suggestion from me”. Sakaguchi is the father of Final Fantasy, the one who built the saga. In our offices there are few who got to know him, and many of the people who today work on Final Fantasy, had no chance to collaborate with him. My generation is probably the last one which had the chance to work with Sakaguchi. Maybe I wasn’t even that sympathetic to him, and I think I was someone difficult to work with, for him. He had many students, and among everyone I was “the weird one”, but I guess I also was the one the only one who inherited his way of doing videogames. Today, although, we’re not in touch anymore, and they might have passed years since we last met.
—Toy Story finally arrived in Kingdom Hearts 3, but elements related to the film of Pixar were already founded in both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II code. Can you tell us why they weren’t inserted in those games, in the end?
Nomura: I always wanted Toy Story in Kingdom Hearts, and I already hoped to insert a world based on it in the first chapter. For this reason, I asked our staff to create something related to Toy Story, in case we were able to get the OK from the Disney. Sadly no possibility were given to us and so the idea never entered in the development stage.
—Was this connected to the old divergences between Disney and Pixar?
Nomura: We didn’t looked deeper into the motivations related to the licences. We were never given a proper explanation: they simply told us we couldn’t use that material. People thought that the idea of a Toy Story world was an end-stage thing because of the stuff found in the code. However, it is not like that: we prepared those assets just to show them to Disney, in case something could have been made, but we were soon given a no answer, without further motivations.
—The combat system is one of the most characterized elements of Kingdom Hearts, and any chapter introduces different innovations. How difficult was finding the right balance?
Nomura: The combat system is something on which we work until the last development weeks, and the balance is a seriously difficult procedure. We’re there, trying to fix the game at our best. Even the demo which was available weeks ago at the launch event has been modified: after the press had the chance to try the demo, we kept testing and analyzing it. Is something we’ll keep on doing until the very end, but there’s no real correct answer on which is the best battle-system or the best balance: it’s a matter of finding a merging point between what we want to create as developers, and gamers/players wishes.
—In Kingdom Hearts III we are going to see new Pixar-based worlds. How do you choose the settings to insert in the game?
Nomura: By now the series has been going on by a long time, and the fans would be annoyed by visiting the same world each time. So, in Kingdom Hearts III, despite the strictly necessary worlds in terms of lore, we tried to introduce whole new worlds. As I said before for Toy Story, I always desired to put Pixar films in Kingdom Hearts, an this was the best occasion to do so. Regarding the method that we use to select worlds to feature, the procedure is quite linear: I ask my staff to submit new world ideas, as well as related settings and contents. Afterwards, they create design documents and then they show me, so that I can choose the ones which I like the most. There would have been many other Disney and Pixar films that I would like to have in game, but considering the prefixed release date, we have to reduce the worlds to a limited number. In general, the team found easier to search for new ideas working on newer and popular films.
—In each Kingdom Hearts chapter, characters have unique outfits. Is there any particular process behind it?
Nomura: For Sora’s main costume I always had pretty clear ideas on how I want him to appear. I usually arrive to the office with some clothes or accessories photos, or even I directly bring clothes which I bought, saying then to the team “i want this jacket” or “I want this part for the trousers”. Relying on those requests, the team realizes different character designs, then I might fix or directly approve them. For Kingdom Hearts 3, since Sora’s outfit frequently changes based on that specific world, I firstly create a draft about how I would like him to appear in those worlds, then I present the draft to Disney and Pixar’s art directors, acquire their feedback, I apply those and then I propose new drafts. The thing goes on until we’re satisfied.
—Many publishers prefer to announce their projects when the development is in an advanced stage, but games like Kingdom Hearts III and the remake of Final Fantasy VII have been revealed with huge anticipation, creating much expectations by the fans: wouldn’t you prefer to work without having fans pressure from the beginning?
Nomura: Announcing your game to the public is always a difficult choice to take. I understand why some companies awaits longer times and I think it is a good thing for them. However, in our case we receive pressures from fans even when we don’t announce anything. They continuously ask us “are you working on this?”, “why don’t you make a new chapter for this one?”. After the announcement the situation doesn’t change, because they start asking “when will it be available?” or “when will you show a new trailer?”. People are awaiting for new information regardless the game was announced or not. It’s fantastic when we keep it secret as long as possible, but today many important projects are affected by rumors and leaks. I honestly prefer that we officially announce a game of ours despite seeing a leak or a rumor spreading online. Especially when part of the development is given to third part companies, there’s always the risk that external people spreads information and images online. And it is even worse when, during the development, a false rumor spreads online and people start believing to it, and you need to decide about confirming or denying it. Also with Final Fantasy VII remake it happened the same thing: I’m aware of the fact that we announced it very soon, but in the videogame industry the voice about us working to it was spreading already, so we decided to stop keeping it secret and so announcing it.
—With the new E3 trailers you shown in few days a great amount of characters and worlds. A dark version of Aqua, Riku Replica, Frozen and Port Royale worlds but also Ratatouille’s minigames. Aren’t you afraid of showing too much before the game comes out?
Nomura: I assure you there are still a ton of surprises which awaits the fans, and I’m not only referring to the worlds we still haven’t shown. In E3 trailers, there have been some small samples concerning what players will encounter during the adventure: to be fair, we haven’t deepened any of those characters or worlds, but what we revealed is enough to shake fans imagination and curiosity. We will go in deeper details with the next announcements, while there will be things which we’ll keep secret until the end, so to leave players the possibility of discovering them by themselves. I can tell you, however, that many of the characters appeared in the previous chapters will make their return, and there are still many which we still haven’t shown. We kept secret also some characters that will leave fans mouth opened. I’m sure that many people will be even surprised by the trailers which we’re going to show in the next months compared to the ones which we have shown so far.