Kingdom Hearts III director Tetsuya Nomura and co-director Tai Yasue sat down with Square Enix Presents at E3 today to discuss the newly announced Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ for smartphones and the new Kingdom Hearts III trailer.
Get the full interview transcription below.
Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ
Regarding the Final Fantasy VII Remake
Nomura: “If I can take a little bit of time to speak about this… Thank you so much. We’ve gotten such a reaction from everybody. People from Japan have been contacting me with their congratulations, and fans here have been so excited about this announcement. I’m very relieved that we were finally able to make this announcement. I contacted Kitase-san and Nojima-san in our Tokyo office about how the trailer was received, as well as started discussions about things moving forward.”
Regarding Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ
Nomura: “Just a little bit of background: In Japan, we already have a browser game that we call Kingdom Hearts χ, and there’s actually been a few people overseas that have been playing this Japanese version of the browser game. There’s been a demand from people overseas that want a version that’s available to them also. That breadcrumb was there, and with our concept of Kingdom Hearts χ, Unchained χ on smartphone was conceived around the same kind of timing. So now that we’re able to announce Unchained χ to smartphones, we figured because there is demand from the North American audience, we would love for them to also take part in this experience. So with the launch of the project, we are pleased to announce it for the North American audience.”
What’s going to be different about the game for smartphones?
Nomura: “The basic story-line between Kingdom Hearts χ and Unchained χ are, for the most part, similar. But there is a bit of a gimmick, per say, between the two versions, so that there is a bit of a differentiation between the browser game and the smartphone version. You’ll find out the two different χs as the story unveils. And a certain secret will be revealed as you’re going through the story-line. On smartphones, of course, you have your touch features, so that’s one of the major differences from the browser version. Where earlier on the screen you saw metals show up for the smartphone version, in the browser version that was originally a set of cards that you’d be playing with. But so that it’s easier on smartphones where you have a touch-based environment, we changed that card mechanic to metal.”
Where does Kingdom Hearts: Unchained χ sit on the timeline?
Nomura: “It might be easier to just look at the chart over here, but throughout the Kingdom Hearts series, we’re following one timeline, so to speak. And then, with Unchained χ, we’re experiencing the earliest part of Kingdom Hearts history. Sora appears in the original Kingdom Hearts installment, but they’ve been hinting at a Keyblade War. Unchained χ takes place right before the Keyblade War and kind of leads up to that event.
“And in the Kingdom Hearts III trailer that we premiered, in the beginning you see a young Xehanort and Eraqus talking to each other about the Keyblade War, and that is kind of, where you see on the chart towards the beginning of this timeline, the front part of the history. But that plot actually connects to the story-line of Kingdom Hearts III, as well. So Unchained χ has a relation to Kingdom Hearts III.”
Will we learn any secrets from this title?
Nomura: “Of course, in Unchained χ, we will encounter characters that have not appeared in the Kingdom Hearts series yet. And of course, they play a very ‘key’ part in our story-line—a very important role—so it’d be great if people can take this game into their hands, try it out, and see how the story unravels so that you’ll get a better understanding of what’s going on in the story-line.”
Can you talk about how the art style of Unchained χ was approached?
Nomura: “If you’re a Kingdom Hearts fan, you may already be familiar with this concept, but there has been certain mentions about a fairy tale that talks about the Keyblade War. You may remember Kairi’s grandmother told that tale of the Keyblade War. Considering the story-line of Unchained χ takes place right before the Keyblade War, we wanted to make it look like a page out of a storybook, where you’re listening in on the story of how we’re leading into the Keyblade War. Not only about the characters, but the background images, as well. Sort of like a page out of a fairy tale.”
Are there any Disney characters we should be on the lookout for?
Nomura: “As you can see from this screenshot, you see Alice there. But familiar characters from the Disney world, or characters who’ve made their appearance from the Disney world, are more than likely to show up. And everyone has an importance concerning the role they play within the story, and we hope that we can continue to add content to it, but I’m sure a lot of Disney fans that can appreciate these characters will enjoy seeing them in Unchained χ. The art style is so different from what we call the ‘consumer version,’ on the console or handheld unit Kingdom Hearts installments have come out on, but this art style takes a more storybook approach to it. Say for example, in the Alice world, the look is closer to that of the storybook Alice. And the other characters will have their uniqueness in the art style, so we’re hoping that the Disney fans can enjoy the characters that appear in Unchained χ, as well.
Before we watch the Unchained χ trailer again, is there anything we should be on the lookout for?
“Social games, or mobile games, tend to demonstrate the game system and things like that. But with Unchained χ we wanted to make it so that it piques your interest in the story, and make it very much like a Kingdom Hearts title. So we tried to pick the portions that relate very much to the story and the dialogue that is being spoken between the characters. So I would love for everybody to pay attention to what is being said in the text bubbles that you see in the trailer.”
Kingdom Hearts III
Regarding the first Disney world announced: Tangled
Nomura: “This is the first time we’re showing the world from Tangled. And actually, during interviews, I’ve been asked by a lot of media ‘why choose Tangle?’ This is actually one of the first worlds we determined would be in the game. The process usually runs where the development team would come up with suggestions and present it to me as a proposal for the worlds. But for the world of Tangled, they just really wanted to get this to come through, and they just had this determination—this desire—to have the world of Tangled featured in Kingdom Hearts III. I was explaining it earlier, but the reason they focused on Tangled was, at first impression, the characters Rapunzel and her strong personality, as well as her hair, the way she is able to utilize her hair in such a way where she’s whipping it around. She can even use it for attacks, and that was just so appealing, and we thought it would make for such great gameplay, so we had a very strong desire to include that.”
Can you point out anything else in particular about this?
Yasue: “Of course, in one of the first meetings with Nomura, we talked about the first transformation of the Keyblade. And we wanted to incorporate a system where they Keyblade transforms in real-time to form another weapon. For example, there’s the double bow gun where you’re shooting arrows, as well as the magic blaster, where you’re shooting blasts of magic. You have one Keyblade, but different forms it can take. And that’s one of the major elements that are going to be featured in Kingdom Hearts III.”
Are there any worlds we can look forward to seeing besides this?
Nomura: “Of course, the Disney worlds that we are choosing for this new iteration of Kingdom Hearts are going to be primarily newer areas that may have not been experienced before. We just recently had a meeting with Disney to discuss what we’re going to announce next. I was personally very unexpected about this, but we might be able to announce another world very very soon.”
What kind of heartless will we meet in the Tangled world?
Yasue: “You may have noticed in the trailers, you saw some dandelion-like heartless. These guys, the more you hit them, the more those fluffy seeds fly out and more heartless that spawn out. It’s a very unique gameplay battle against those heartless. We have more of those—something to pay attention to is that the heartless cooperate with each other, and sometimes it’s like a parent-child relationship, so we try to bring out a variety and range in the heartless battles you’ll experience in Kingdom Hearts III.”
What was the inspiration behind Sora’s new costume design?
Nomura: “In terms of the costume, I noticed that the Kingdom Hearts II costume was very popular among fans, so I was actually torn until the very last minute about whether or not I should keep the Kingdom Hearts II outfit. But of course, this is Kingdom Hearts III, the first proper numbered title that we’ve put out in a while, so I did have the desire to change it. And staff members were pushing me, ‘no, you have to change it!’ So I was driven to redesign a new outfit for Sora. The basis is a mix between Kingdom Hearts II and the one iteration before Kingdom Hearts III was Dream Drop Distance, so we’ve taken a mid-point between the two titles. The previous new outfit was a red-and-black color palette, so we took the designs from Kingdom Hearts II and the Dream Drop Distance outfit. You may have also noticed that it’s a lot more sleek and sporty, so to speak. Because, as you may have seen in the trailer, Sora does a lot more movements, more acrobatic movements, more action-oriented movements, so we wanted to make sure that it is a sporty fit and that he can move comfortably.”
Sora seems to be getting more mature. Is the new costume tied to Sora’s growth as a person?
Nomura: “At first glance, you may feel that Sora’s proportions have changed. But actually, when you’re looking at the trailer where he’s in Hercules’ world, he’s actually in the Kingdom Hearts II costume. So the skeletal structure is basically the same—Sora is the same size and proportion. It might seem, at first glance, that he may look a little taller, or his hair is less wild. We kind of muted the volume on his hair—it’s not as wild. Or, as we mentioned earlier, it’s more sporty, kind of like an athletic look, very sleek and slim, and less change in decorations. Maybe that might give the impression that he’s a little bit slimmer.”
Can you tell us about the Disney attraction attacks?
Yasue: “A major part of the gameplay, as you have seen, is what we call the ‘Attraction Flow.’ These are basically like rides. You see the spinning teacups, or the roller coaster, or the viking ship. We wanted to bring out the sense of thrill and excitement of riding these different theme park attractions. At one point, we had the camera angle so that you’re in the perspective of Sora, so that you’re spinning around in the teacup, but the camera movement was just too severe that some of our testers got a little motion sickness from that, so we’ve made adjustments there. But we definitely want to recreate that excitement and fun of the theme park. Hopefully we can incorporate many different types of attractions so that it’s as if you’ve through all of the rides in the theme park.”
Is there anything we should know before seeing the trailer again?
Nomura: “In creating this trailer, we actually prepared so many different materials to incorporate, but there’s just so many things to put in, and we’re so limited on the length of the video, so unfortunately there were elements we weren’t able to bring in to this trailer. But our choice leaned towards more flashy, very eye-catching moments. But again, there’s just so many elements that are included in there. Just traversing the world, or a regular battle, just still looks so good. There are so many new and wonderful things to look out for.”
Hopefully it won’t be long until we see more…
Nomura: “We mentioned how we had to cut some assets that we were considering to put into the trailer. We had so much camera time on here. We could have just been showing assets instead of having us on camera!
“It’s been announced that D23 is coming this year. We are planning to have a presence there, hopefully. And we want to be able to reveal more information this year. Of course, we have plenty of material that we couldn’t bring today. So hopefully we will be able to share it with the fans that are waiting for more new information.”
Any last words before we go?
Yasue: “Being on the development team means late nights, exhaustion, and being tired all the time, but being able to see the fans at events like these, and being able to interact with them and getting their encouragement and support is so reassuring. It feels great, and it helps us to stay motivated. So thank you to all the fans out there.”
Nomura: “You mentioned about E3 happening tomorrow and the next day also. It felt like today is the last day. I didn’t even realize that there’s still E3 tomorrow and the next day! There’s just so much preparation that went into getting ready for E3. And there’s so many people outside of the glass here that people watching the stream won’t be able to see, and I’m so happy that everyone is here. As mentioned earlier with the Final Fantasy VII Remake also, there’s just so many fans, and so many reactions from the people who’ve seen it and congratulated us on it. So much work has been put in here. It almost feels like today is the last day of E3, but I appreciate everyone being here, and I’m glad that we’re here and putting out information.”