Kingdom Hearts III Interview -- Tetsuya Nomura Talks Development, Keyblade Mechanics and Much More

Kingdom Hearts III Director Tetsuya Nomura explains what happened behind the scenes during the game's development, meeting the expectations of the fans, packing each world with as much gameplay and fun as possible, gameplay mechanics and more.

July 17, 2017

Kingdom Hearts III has proven to be one of the most anticipated video games of the past few years: With it’s newest trailer reaching over 3 million views in 24 hours, the series has grown from a action RPG collaboration between two companies into a Goliath franchise with a story that has expanded to multiple platforms and many releases over the past 15 years.

Yesterday, DualShockers had the chance to sit down with Director Tetsuya Nomura in a round-table interview to discus the game’s development, the efforts made to meet the expectations of the fans, the possibility of releasing post-launch DLC, keyblade transformations and much more.

Azario Lopez: In the past few months there have been quite a few misleading articles in the west, alleging that we’d have to wait up to three years for Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy VII remaster. How confident are you on the ability to release Kingdom Hearts III by the end of 2018? When was the release year decided?

Tetsuya Nomura: In terms of how confident I am, no creator is going to say, “No, I’m not confident” after they’ve revealed the release timing (laughs), and I am very hopeful for that release timing. In terms of when we decided that it’s going to be 2018, I can’t say for certain, but we knew that from the start of the project… We had determined how long the development period was going to be.

We had this goal that we set in our planning: we would spend this amount of time, and then our personnel would be  increased at such timing. So the plan was already there, but there were some factors that tied-in with our company’s decisions. There was the decision to change the engine, also some personnel planning that had also changed. So there were some factors that were related to the company’s decisions which affected the actual timing at which we will be releasing. That being said, the period that we were planning to spend to create the game was still there, and it just naturally shifted. So we feel that we have been moving according to plan.

Later during the round-table interview, Nomura-san elaborated further on this topic:

TN: First and foremost, the title being announced and the actual [full-scale] development are not necessarily linked. To be quite honest with you, a lot of people have been making it sound like “oh, Nomura is taking too much time.” And it hurts.

I’ve explained this to Japanese media, it may or may not have been relayed to western media: after about a year worth of development, when we were initially utilizing an engine developed by Square Enix, and we were progressing on that engine, but there was a decision made to change to Unreal Engine 4. When we switched over to that, unfortunately there was a bit of time that needed to be rewinded and [work that needed to be] started over. So there was a bit of a setback there.

I want to stress that it’s not a problem that we had on the development team, nor it was something that I had personally changed my mind upon.

Yet, it was a decision that the company had to make, and it was inevitable. I want to stress that it’s not a problem that we had on the development team, nor it was something that I had personally changed my mind upon. So, as I mentioned earlier, we had a plan on the period that it was going to take for us to create the content at that time of the project. We laid out that after a certain number of years we would need to add more personnel and resources, so that we could mass-produce the assets. The plan was to progress and hit our targets, we had submitted it to our headquarters and it was approved.

Of course, internal personnel is very limited, and there are various different projects that happen within our company, so unfortunately the timing didn’t work out. We had to make due with the timing that was appropriate for the company. We feel that has contributed to the shift in our [development] period. The company makes the decisions, so unfortunately some times this is out of my control. But again, I want to emphasize that it wasn’t a problem our development team’s side. It just happened that way. The company had to make those decisions and it didn’t work out for the targets that we were hoping to hit.

AL: At the moment, you’re Directing two different large-scale games, Kingdom Hearts III and Final Fantasy VII Remake. Is it difficult to coordinate work on such extensive games at the same time?

TN: Being so busy managing both projects is the biggest challenge. I don’t really feel any hurdles or difficulty due to the fact that the two titles are so different. The differences between them actually work to my advantage. If both titles were too similar, they might start to look the same. With the two being so different, if there was one thing that I could not do in one title. I might be able to do it in the other. This actually works out well for me in that way.

As an example of how busy it is, when we were making preparations to come to D23 for Kingdom Hearts III, in the middle of the rush of getting ready, we had to schedule a mandatory meeting for Final Fantasy VII. Juggling that is the biggest challenge, but it comes with the territory and it’s to be expected.

AL: The expectations for Kingdom Hearts III have grown exponentially over the past four years. Do you feel any pressure? And has the need to meet those expectations ever caused you to change your original plan?

TN: I’m typically not the type of person who feels pressure, but with Kingdom Hearts III I actually do feel a little bit of pressure. Only because I’ve been feeling the passion and sentiment that’s coming from the fans and their anticipation pretty much directly. As I continue to absorb that sentiment over the years, in my mind I’m thinking, “I can’t betray those expectations.” So there is a little bit of pressure that I feel in that aspect.

In terms of changing my vision or making changes to my original plans, I am not changing anything. Of course there’s the physical element of it: it’s very hard to make sudden changes last-minute. We can’t frequently do trial and error at this point.

I feel that I have packed-in much more fun than I had in my previous Kingdom Hearts titles.

I have an original plan that I had laid out for the project, and we’re progressing within that plan. That being said, the original plan was pretty ambitious to begin with. You saw in the Toy Story trailer when Sora rides those Gigas… those big robits,  and the game switches to first person mode when you’re fighting in them. There are elements like that in each of the individual worlds within Kingdom Hearts III, so I feel that I have packed-in much more fun than I had in my previous Kingdom Hearts titles. If I were to ask for any more changes, I think team would probably get mad (laughs).

We continue to progress forward within the plans that we have laid out, and I’m hoping that if we are able to accomplish everything that we did plan… I’m pretty confident that people will enjoy and be fully satisfied with the end product.

AL: With all the new worlds be shown in trailers, are you planning on saving some to be discovered in the game itself, without revealing them in a trailer first? Could you give a hint on the number of worlds that we’ll see in Kingdom Hearts III?

TN: I don’t think we will be keeping any of the worlds a secret until the game’s release. I think we will be introducing them leading up to launch. 

In terms of the number of worlds, I’m sorry, I’m not able to say. Yet, when it comes to revealing worlds, nowadays with games you can add content after the game has been released through DLC content, so there’s no need to hide any of the worlds.

I don’t think we will be keeping any of the worlds a secret until the game’s release.

AL: Is DLC a route that you’d like to take for Kingdom Hearts III?

TN: Nothing is set in stone, and I’m afraid that we can’t go into details, but I have told the team to be prepared to be able to accommodate for something like that. That’s only because we can’t develop a system to accommodate for downloadable content suddenly. I’m not confirming or denying either way, but I have informed the team to make preparations, just to make sure that we will be prepared.

During the round-table interview with other media outlets, Nomura-san gave some interesting information on Keyblade transformations, and changes in appearance for Sora himself.

TN: Now with Kingdom Hearts III, we are in the current generation of gaming hardware, and aside for 2.8 this is our first full HD game, so we’re still in the process of creating the assets from the ground up, but in terms of dramatic transformations our focus was on Keyblades this time.

They turn into different forms during combat. In the trailer you may have seen the Keyblade turn into a giant hammer, or a drill. There are different transformations unique to each Keyblade that Sora wields. I think those crazy and dynamic changes, you’ll see them more in the Keyblade transformations. That being said, as you saw in the trailer when Sora jumps into the world of Toy Story, his form changes to match that environment. There will be some appearance changes reflective of the environment that Sora is going to be in, so I would encourage you to stay tuned on this.

Afterwards, Nomura-san also commented on how the workflow has shifted since previous chapters of the series, focusing on packing as much fun and gameplay into each world, instead of having many different and small worlds.

There are different transformations unique to each Keyblade that Sora wields.

TN: It’s been ten years since the last numbered title, Kingdom Hearts II, but we did have different Kingdom Hearts titles and spin-offs that were released on various hardware. Each different gaming machine has its specs, and there are differences between different hardware. We did our best to match the hardware we were developing on, and push the limits, challenging ourselves to maximize the gameplay experience for each particular hardware.

With the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III, aside from Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, this is going to be our first full HD game in our current console generation, as I mentioned earlier. The stance hasn’t changed, but the way in which we’re working has sort of shifted. Since these are HD graphics, we need to be efficient on how we’re working on creating these assets. It involves a lot of bandwidth and resources in order to create [them] in full HD, so our directive was to have as many elements of gameplay included in each single world, rather than having many different little worlds with few elements. We wanted to pack in as much gameplay and fun into each world.

At D23 Expo in Anaheim, Square Enix finally disclosed that Kingdom Hearts III will be released in 2018 for PS4 and Xbox One. If you want to see more, you can check out the latest trailer, and enjoy numerous screenshots and character artwork.

Azario Lopez

Azario Lopez has held multiple positions in the game's media industry. At DualShockers he focuses on providing coverage for niche and indie video games in the form of news updates, reviews, and interviews.

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