We’ve already gleaned a little bit of insight into Nomura’s thoughts on the PlayStation 4. Having shared some of his vision for Final Fantasy XV last month, he’s back again as the headline of Sony’s latest Conversations with Creators interview series to talk about Kingdom Hearts III and the evolution of the series and the improved gameplay, visuals and memory allocations that come with it.
—So many fans were ecstatic with the announcement of Kingdom Hearts III back in June. Could you give us another run down of the series and the new title Kingdom Hearts III?
The Kingdom Hearts series has a lot of Disney characters, and you play as original characters, traveling to the various Disney worlds. It’s a story about the “heart” as the series unfolds. It’s a story that’s been ongoing for more than 10 years and continues into Kingdom Hearts 3 where we’ll see the conclusion of the Dark Seeker Saga.
—Since it’s the latest console game in the series since Kingdom Hearts II which released in 2005, what kind of changes can we expect to see?
I think when you watch the in-development trailers, you get a feel of the depth that’s possible on a console title. In the case of mobile systems, the amount of information is limited, but with the home consoles you can make a game with a wide field of view. It’s been such a long time since Kingdom Hearts has been on the home console, that I think you can feel the considerable scale of it.
—On that large a scale, I expect we’ll be able to enjoy even more dynamic action.
Kingdom Hearts is a series where action continues to evolve. With the past spin off titles, we did something new and the bold action elements changed each time. One thing I want to do with KH3 is to pick and choose the challenges and unique systems from the spin off titles while keeping the system based in the flow of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II.
—What’s an example of bold action?
Sora’s mobility has really improved. There are so many possibilities, but implementing all of them would be extravagant, so right now I’m considering what elements and to what degree they’ll be liberalized. After all, it’s an RPG as well as an action game. It does have that “jump as far as you want” kind of the action characteristic.
—Jump as far as you want? That’s insane!
In the actual game there will be some sort of limit, but this time we are adopting the “free run” style like in current action games, where you can run around, climb, etc. Additionally, your aerial ability and jump ability rise rapidly, so it feels like the action elements are really extravagant. I think people who have played Kingdom Hearts II might understand it easily, it already has greater mobility than Sora’s Final Form from that game.
—That kind of mobility, no doubt the next-gen system PlayStation 4 has the ability to realize it?
I think that PlayStation 4 power is capable of handling a diverse array of actions in a wide area and battles against large numbers of enemies.
—Are you powering up the map’s traits as well?
We’re preparing a fair number of actions that involve the world maps. Things like climbing up a cliff that crumbles with falling stones, and enemies lifting up a building that you are in.
—In the E3 2013 trailer, we see a large number of Shadow Heartless squirming and moving almost like a tidal wave. It seems like the enemies’ mobility has evolved too.
This time we are focusing our attention on developing the AI. The AI of both your allies and enemies has evolved in a way that hasn’t been seen so far. Before when a large number of enemies appeared, they all followed a program action pattern. But this time each enemy behaves according to it’s own thought process. I think it’s something that has been drastically powered up compared to the previous Kingdom Hearts titles.
—Speaking of allies, will the actions of our travel partners Goofy and Donald change as well?
Their AI is also being powered up considerably. Since Disney characters have concrete personalities, I want them to act according to their own thoughts instead of just giving them an order and having them obey like in the Final Fantasy series. Relating to their AI, we’re configuring it so Donald and Goofy act more like themselves.
—Even when they cooperate and mobile, it’s not like you give them clear instructions like before.
The direction we’re taking in their growth is to have it so they consider the situation, and help out accordingly. As the player is busy controlling Sora in battle, they consider how they’ll participate and their actions increase accordingly.
—With PlayStation 4′s and memory volume, is the PlayStation 4 able to implement those features?
Well, even with the Kingdom Hearts games so far, we’ve made it as seamless to the best of our ability, but the data is resident in the memory… So we include as many actions, motions and effects as possible. Luckily, PlayStation 4 memory volume is big, so it helps.
—Bold action, map features, and enemy AI. That’s a lot to squeeze into one screen. When I consider it compared to Kingdom Hearts II, it seems to become a pretty different game.
Since it’s a numbered Kingdom Hearts title that crosses into the next-gen, I think you’ll be able to feel how it’s evolved proportionately.
—How about the graphics?
Rather than a photo realistic representation, we’re aiming to match the tone of each Disney world.
—You’ve mentioned before that Kingdom Hearts III has a new shader being developed for it, can you tell us about it again?
This isn’t the official name, but it’s something we call the Kingdom Shader. You saw it a little bit in the E3 trailer, this visual of a Disney 2D produced painted image represented in 3D. This time, when I was thinking about how the graphics in Kingdom Hearts III would be visualized, it started with Takeshi Nozue working in Visual Works, and he made patterns of various visuals for me. He gave me this “painted looking visual” pattern and I wound up showing it at E3. Visual Works makes pre-rendered footage, and this is based on a way to make it work in real time.
—Is the painted looking visual something that you’ve wanted to implement for a long time?
Since the very first title, the graphic gradation was made with the intention of representing the painted look of Disney’s animations. But with the hardware back then didn’t have the capability to adjust the lighting freely, so we tried to portray a painted visual in the textures we used. But this time the hardware’s capabilities are better, there is no option of “not using light.” You don’t get a sense of graphical evolution just by setting old graphics to HD, my goal with the next-gen isn’t to do something that reproduces the pre-rendered scenes from Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II in real-time. I considered the concept of the visuals and thus the representation Kingdom Shader was created.
—I think all the fans are wondering, what worlds will appear, what enemies will we battle against, etc… Do you have anything to share about that?
Not yet right now. (laughs)
—Nothing, huh? But of course new worlds will be introduced, right?
As for worlds, I’ve made some choices and started making them, but at this stage I can’t announce what world and which characters. Information will come little by little… There are a lot of new worlds since there are so many Disney titles that haven’t appeared yet. As for familiar worlds and characters, you can expect that the locations will be completely, the visuals will be different.
—Are there plans for Kingdom Hearts III to utilize DualShock 4 functionality?
Like Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts III is being developed in DirectX 11, so in what ways it will use PlayStation 4 functions hasn’t been decided concretely yet. Right now we’re in a stage where we are making note of the hardware and it’ll become clearer in the future. When I have an idea, I think, how about we use the DualShock 4 touchpad? So I think I’d use it in some form, but right now nothing is decided.
—Are you thinking about corresponding functions with tablets or the PS Vita?
Naturally I’m considering external devices, but I’m still thinking of ideas right now.
—Many things can be realized with PlayStation 4, but there seems to be a lot of troubling things too.
I suppose so. Ideas I think are original are already being realized by other makers, so we are waiting to see what they do, but it’s also nerve wracking. So far I’ve made games on a variety of hardware, but since I want put in as many elements as I can, I have a lot to think about. Because there are various possibilities, I want to make the kinda games that stand out as interesting.
—As someone who has seen the generation changes of many systems, what about PlayStation 4 has impacted you?
I thought it was overkill (laughs). As expected I gradually accepted it and then I wanted one (laughs). Players are swelling with expectations, but to make something suitable for this system, this is a hurdle that developers must overcome. The things you can do have increased immensely, so once you start broadening the possibilities, it doesn’t end, the possibilities just grow. You’re pressed to choose what ideas to keep and what to toss. The announcement at E3 has passed, and I am still feeling the huge response that Kingdom Hearts III received. Everyone was so happy in that moment, I’m challenged by how I’ll live up to that expectation with this title. It’s a big challenge when you have this system where the power of expression is so high. There have been a variety of systems so far, but I feel like this one is the greatest mountain to overcome.
—Not just in Japan, but fans around the world are waiting.
The mountain is being exceeded so far. I think we’ll be able to do something, I believe in my staff.
—So are the Final Fantasy XV team and Kingdom Hearts III team influencing each other in any way?
Well, when they see the other team, they get inspired by the great things they see, but that’s because that’s how things were created in the Square era. Kingdom Hearts III development started later, so it’s not as far along, but I think that it’s good motivation.
—By the way, we’ll see the end of the Dark Seeker Saga in Kingdom Hearts III, but what will happen after that?
Kingdom Hearts is a Disney title, so I can’t speak for them, but naturally, in my own mind I have ideas about what happens after Kingdom Hearts III. About characters and developments. Maybe sometime there will be a chance to talk about that, but rather than thinking out the concrete details regarding that, right now my first priority is completing Kingdom Hearts III. I want to put out Kingdom Hearts III quickly.
—We’re looking forward to it. All right, any last messages for the viewers?
Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II were for PS2 and we skipped PlayStation 3, and now we are releasing Kingdom Hearts III for PlayStation 4. The power of expression has increased drastically, and from the developments accumulated so far, even the gameplay by itself, I think that it’s become something with depth. So that the day fans can experience it for themselves, we are all working are hardest, so please look forward to the next update.