Last month at E3, Square Enix not only surprised the world by revealing the title now known as Final Fantasy XV, but also used the event to reveal the long-anticipated Kingdom Hearts III. While we’ve learned much about both games in the weeks prior, many have started to wonder if director Tetsuya Nomura would be able to keep his promises from interviews past. Though Nomura himself is one of few words, Final Fantasy World had a chance to catch up with him at Japan Expo to discuss both titles while fielding some unique questions.
Although Nomura has been apart of the company since his twenties, Kingdom Hearts was actually the first game he served on as director. Obviously it’s been ten years since the original game released, but Nomura doesn’t feel like the game is very old at all. “It still feels fresh and new. Back then, all the staff I worked with, included myself, had a rich passion about this game. That’s why I still don’t think it’s dated at all, even after 10 years.”
Ten years is a long time and given that sort of time gap, it’s not unusual for some developers to update their games beyond visuals and controls. In the case of Kingdom Hearts HD, there was actually a lot more ambition to it than what ended up in the final product. “The one thing I probably should mention was 358/2 Days,” said Nomura. “Obviously in this one there were only cinematics, the HD movie. I wanted to put the full playable in 358/2 Days in HD 1.5 if we could, but obviously we couldn’t – because we had to prioritize the KHIII development instead – which the fans have been waiting for such a long time. We prioritized that over the addition of elements in the HD version.
“The elements of the original version, like the systems and everything, were okay back then because of the balance of the original game. There were a lot of new systems I created over the past 10 years, but if I wanted to put these new things in the original KH1, I don’t think the balance of the game would really work. The original version is set on the system I put on it. If we’re going to do a remake, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can put in additional features.”
Of course, it’s no secret by now that Nomura is eying the next set of Kingdom Hearts HD remasters. Based on the end credits for HD 1.5, it appears Kingdom Hearts II, Birth by Sleep and Re:coded will be bundled together for the next high definition outing. Further information – including an official announcement – has yet to be made on that project.
With the announcement of Kingdom Hearts III, it was revealed that the core Kingdom Hearts team would be shifting duties to Square Enix Osaka – the team who previously worked on titles such as Birth by Sleep, Dream Drop Distance and even the recent HD Remaster. Aside from HD 1.5, the Osaka studio hasn’t actually developed any original Kingdom Hearts titles for console from scratch, and so for KHIII the team has done a lot of prep work – testing various situations and the like. “I feel like the preparations are actually done, so we are good to go for the development,” Nomura replied.
The proximity of both studios – Square Enix Tokyo and Square Enix Osaka – isn’t exactly near, so how does Nomura interact with each team? “In the Osaka studio there is actually the co-director Tai Yasue and the producer Rie Nishi,” he explained. “They are core members of the Kingdom Hearts project and when they actually have a lot of topics to discuss with myself, they always come to Tokyo.” This process is typical for Kingdom Hearts, however, with the relocation of Square Enix’s offices in Shinjuku, things have become a lot easier for the team. They now have access to a TV conference system, so if Yasue or Nishi send out a document or proposal in advance, Nomura can add his own comments and show it to them on video.
In a sense, Nomura has become more of a supervisor to the Osaka team – especially with KHIII as both Yasue and Nishi propose their own ideas and Nomura then discusses whether they will implement them or not. “Of course there are a lot of good and interesting ideas coming from the team. Obviously, the more the merrier, so if we have more people to think about something it’s always better than thinking all by myself.”
Within its ten years of existence, the Kingdom Hearts series has gained its own identity, even though it’s sort of this mash-up between Square and Disney. The question is then, at this point will Final Fantasy characters be a necessary inclusion in KHIII? There is still that possibility, according to Nomura. “It’s not something like, because the KH series is already established we don’t need more FF characters. But it’s more like we have been releasing a lot of KH handheld spinoffs over the past few years. Because of handheld space capacity and limitations, the story volume was quite limited. For KHIII obviously the disc space is going to be bigger, so we can include a lot of in-depth story. It depends on the volume of the game itself – there is a possibility that we are going to insert a lot of FF characters into KHIII as well.”
On the subject of Final Fantasy XV, the soundtrack will be composed by Yoko Shimomura – the same composer who also works on the Kingdom Hearts series. Although she will be helming the score for both of Square Enix’s next generation games, Nomura assured that he is guiding her on different directions for each title. “In the case of KH, I usually ask Shimomura to create music scene by scene, so that different scenes have different kinds of themes or requests. But for FFXV, I gave her the overall image of everything from the beginning already, as well as some examples of what types of music to use.”
The project originally known as Final Fantasy Versus XIII has been in development for the better part of seven years – a project with a lofty goal of recreating the feeling of old school FF games despite its unique name. Now with the direction change to that of a mainline title, one has to wonder if Nomura’s vision had changed. Nomura admitted, “Yes, I probably mentioned the old school Final Fantasy feeling [when talking about] FFXV. If you see the trailer you might actually think it’s very action based – especially compared to the previous FFs. We wanted to create like an action-based FF this time because we wanted to create a dynamic feeling between the story and the game itself. Of course, we are going to put many FF elements into it, because otherwise there is no point calling Final Fantasy XV. Naturally, we still think we should have some old school FF feeling to the game.”
On that same subject, Nomura had promised over two years ago that the real-time cutscenes in Versus XIII would all be playable. Much like other untouched elements, it seems this one will be making its way into FFXV. “Yeah, I would like to achieve that as much as I can,” said Nomura. “Our goal is to ensure that the player never actually stops playing. This is the reason behind it and it will be great if we can achieve that.” Naturally, the power of the new consoles will help make this a reality.
Following the announcement of Final Fantasy XV, Nomura has revealed that he would be assisted by Crisis Core: FFVII and Final Fantasy Type-0 director Hajime Tabata – in which he seems to have placed a lot of confidence. “He’s been doing a great job already,” explained Nomura. “Meeting with the team on a daily basis to discuss development and everything – he is extremely passionate about this project.” Nomura did not elaborate fully on Tabata’s involvement, but Tabata himself will have the chance to express himself fully in interviews with both the Japanese and Western press.