It’s no surprise that so much of the current Japanese output of Square Enix hinges of the creative talents of one particular individual. He’s now at the helm of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III, the company’s two biggest next-generation bets. In a sense, Tetsuya Nomura embodies all that Square Enix currently is – and many are looking to him to produce results.
Our network affiliate, RPG Site, caught up with Nomura during Japan Expo – his first outing to Europe since 2006 – to talk Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts and how the director himself views game development philosophies.
Right now is an interesting time for Nomura – one highlighted by the revision of the original Kingdom Hearts, while at the same time building the foundation for both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III. For many, he’s the face behind many titles that made the company successful during the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 eras – but what if he could have done anything differently? “Well, as a creator I always create something new – I keep challenging myself to create something new,” explained Nomura. “Looking back on my old games and everything I was involved in, I often think to myself ‘I could have done this’ or ‘I could have added that,’ and stuff like that. It’s part of the process.
“Right now, though, for Kingdom Hearts specifically – the original game was released more than ten years ago now, but looking back, the original Kingdom Hearts Final Mix… I don’t feel like I should add this or that, or any more. Back then, it was perfect as it is.
“Even though I’ve played this HD version of the game knowing its age, I don’t feel that it’s very old when I play it. I can still feel the passion I had back then in this original game – so, yeah. If we remake a game, maybe we then go and think about adding new elements and sequences and stuff like that, or making large changes – but I think a HD remaster, with the visual upgrade, is the right thing for this particular game.”
Balance seems to be a very important word in Nomura’s vocabulary, so one has to wonder if he feels it a vital factor in his game design or perhaps his love of movies – do they provide some sort of parallel between movie and game creation? “To an extent, but of course there’s a massive difference between balance in films and balance creating a game,” said Nomura. “Especially creating some games for next-gen consoles – because the next gen consoles have a high spec and a lot of new functionality and everything – there’s a kind of gap between the film-making and game creating at the moment.
“Especially at the moment for game-making, there’s just loads of staff involved… as a director, I can’t do anything by myself! A director on a film can control things more, but I can’t instruct all the people by myself. If the game is triple-A, a big, big project… the way I can use my power, and how to direct people… it’s very difficult!”
Of course, Nomura isn’t just focusing on one AAA project at the moment, but two. Two full-fledged games that many people have come to perceive as having the same Kingdom Hearts-style combat. When XV was still Versus XIII, it was often thought as sort of an experiment – one that once finished, the team would go on to work on Kingdom Hearts III. Now though, we know Square Enix’s Osaka team – of which previously worked on Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance – is taking the helm. To that end, one has to wonder if there lies any concern about both games playing to similar. “Okay, so… two games. Both directed by myself,” Nomura said with a laugh. “However, both games are developed by two completely different teams. The two of them – they don’t fight, but they compete – in a friendly way – and they try to create better things together. Both sides are, of course, developed for next-gen consoles as well.
“There’s a difference between the two, of course; Final Fantasy XV is a numbered title – the big history behind Final Fantasy, the task they have on their shoulders is huge, because it’s the latest Final Fantasy game and has to live up to that history.
“For the Kingdom Hearts team there is less history, but there are thousands of people around the world who are so passionate about the Kingdom Hearts series and have been for years – and this of course is the first announced numbered Kingdom Hearts title in many years, as well. People’s hopes and expectations are very, very high there, as well – so that is on their shoulders as well.”
Nomura stressed that he doesn’t think users really worry about such things. For him, the most important thing is that both teams simply focus on their tasks at hand.
Square Enix and Nomura are both now no strangers to sequels or spin-offs. Kingdom Hearts has seen its fair share since the release of KHII, while Final Fantasy has enjoyed its own with the likes of FFX-2, Compilation of FFVII and more. Even Final Fantasy XV – a title yet unreleased – is poised to follow the sequel route. Having to plan that many titles at once can sometimes be difficult and “believe it or not,” said Nomura, “creating a HD game is unbelievably difficult.”
Even HD remasters – revised PS2 titles, aren’t as easy as people make it out to be. “Everything is difficult in the process, even with a HD remaster of a game,” explained Nomura. “For 1.5 for instance, when we decided to make it, we had to decide where we were going to concentrate because it was so difficult, there was so much work involved.”
On spin-offs, Nomura stressed that production on Kingdom Hearts III wasn’t able to begin for quite some time for reasons he couldn’t fully share. Because of that, he didn’t want fans to forget about the series and thus spin-offs were born. “So, in a way, because of this, if there were no spin-off games, there was no Kingdom Hearts III,” said Nomura. “It was kind of needed to have all those spin-offs – a lot of spin-offs – because the time was quite long before the Kingdom Hearts III preparation started.”
With Final Fantasy, Nomura cites each game having their own different reasoning for sequels or spin-offs. With FFX-2 we know that the team could easily reuse the assets from the original title, while the Compilation of FFVII fleshed out both past and future events of the FFVII universe. “Of course, with Final Fantasy XV, we announced at E3 that there will – probably – be a sequel to this game, as well,” according to Nomura. “There’s a lot of different reasons, and they all depend on the game and the situation as well. Of course with FFXV I wanted to release the previous version of the game constantly – but it was very, very difficult to do so. Now we have re-revealed the game, I’m excited to bring more information in the future.”