Nintendo Dream June 2009 – Birth of Kingdom Hearts

This interview came from a special sixteen page spread in Japanese gamer magazine Nintendo Dream June 2009 issue. Please do not repost translation without crediting to Heartstation.

Tetsuya Nomura tells the secret story concerning the birth of Kingdom Hearts

Beginning from Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories, and Kingdom Hearts II, then latest work Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days on DS, other than that there’s Kingdom Hearts coded which will be released on the mobile phone, and the PSP’s Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep; we are being shown a huge, expanding scenario. The parent of the series, Mr. Tetsuya Nomura, kindly spoke with us about how it was born, what developments have unfolded, and the establishment of the story and such in a talk centering around CoM, the title that affects 358/2 Days.

The series that continued because there was player support

–The Kingdom Hearts series will amount to four games with 358/2 Days, however, where do you think the cause of it continuing this far lies?

Nomura: It’s thanks to the backing that the players have given us. As for myself, if I didn’t have everyone’s backing, I don’t think I could have made a sequel, and because there is support from all the fans, the Kingdom Hearts series continues.

–This means that there was a possibility with the first Kingdom Hearts, put on sale large scale in 2002, that players could have thought of it as a story to be continued or it could have been the end, doesn’t it?

Nomura: Though, even if it had ended there, I think I would have been satisfied.

–Is that so? Even with Mickey, who is synonymous with ‘Disney character’, not appearing in the game except for one scene?

Nomura: It was one scene, but because it was used quite effectively, I think it was good as it was.

–Even so, wasn’t there anything left undone?

Nomura: No, at the time of finishing the first one, I didn’t think there was anything left undone. And so, I thought it could have been okay to end it there. The staff other than me also didn’t seem to be assuming at all that there would be another game! We were thinking of doing the next Final Fantasy, you see (laughs).

The first game in the series stars Sora as the hero, as he adventures through Disney worlds with Donald Duck and Goofy.

CoM, the title which challenged the limits of the Gameboy Advance

–But, you did make a sequel, Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories for the Gameboy Advance.

Nomura: Before we started making the GBA edition which went on sale in 2004, the development of KH: II had already begun. It released first since the development of the GBA one was completed quickly.

–Why did you make a sequel on the GBA, in the first place?

Nomura: At that time it was merely because I heard those around me say ‘children are saying they want to play KH on the GBA’. And if that’s so, then let’s make one.

–We have heard before that adjusting to the volume limits for the DS game 358/2 Days, which goes on sale on the 30th of May, was very hard, but it cannot be compared to the strictness of the GBA platform environment, though you defied it, didn’t you?

Nomura: Yes, that’s true. From the outset, because it couldn’t be expressed as it was on the GBA, without thinking of CoM as a sequel, with that invigorating feeling the way it was, as a new idea we went with a card-using system. But, we hated the thought of using a card system with no meaning, so we thought of a link to make the cards important to the story.

–Though there was no problem leading from the first game to KH: II, if you look at what the series has become now, thinking of the DS game as included, it’s a title which holds great meaning, isn’t it?

Nomura: I myself think of CoM as, rather than a sequel, a shadow episode of the first game and KH: II, and there’s a whole story to make up for it even without CoM. That’s why Sora, the hero, has no memory of the things that happened during CoM. But, to 358/2 Days, which has the story of CoM, there are also those who say that people who don’t know CoM can’t grasp KH: II completely. To me it was a title with the rank of ‘series spinoff’, but even though it was on a handheld console, I think it was able to take that level of ranking within the player because I had not made something I intended to relax on one bit.

The third installment in the series; the heroes adventure through Disney worlds the same as in KH with new worlds that also appear. In the opening, you can watch the peaceful daily story of Roxas, the hero of 358/2 Days.

Organization XIII, who make their first entrance in CoM

An important point in CoM was the first appearance of the name Organization XIII, who becomes the main focus this time, was it not?

Nomura: This time, that’s true. Without putting Final Fantasy characters into 358/2 Days, we could do it with only original characters; I think thanks to only that view of the world has gotten bigger.

–FF characters don’t appear in 358/2 Days?

Nomura: Strictly speaking, only moogles appear (laughs). As for showing FF characters such as Cloud in the KH series, I thought that in worlds with recognized Disney characters, even making original characters enter in numbers all of a sudden the nature of the characters was weak. In order to cancel that worry, I put FF characters in to bridge the gap between the original characters and the Disney characters. Only, because the series has continued this far and I thought maybe the original characters have also come to have strength, and because there are many original characters in the DS game. So pretty much, if there is no necessary situation, I think its okay not to go through all the trouble of making FF characters appear.

To say original characters that have come to have strength of the KH series, it’s definitely Organization XIII. With 6 people in CoM, and 7 people appearing in KH: II, so the enormous set up to do with them, crossing pieces of work from CoM onwards was magnificent, I thought, but had you thought of all of the set up from the start?

Nomura: If ‘a set up not told until now’ appears in later works, people say ‘a postscript?’, but, let’s not do it strictly, in games working from previous games, I’m also thinking of set ups for from next time onwards, to a certain degree. In the DS game, too, from the start there were assumptions of ‘if we were to describe Roxas’ year, these things happened in that one year’ so I wrote a story modeled on that feeling. To say it backwards, if things are thought of afterwards without thinking anything about the part lacking from the time axis of the whole story, the story won’t flow!

Why is it received even overseas?

–I think it is amazing that KH is being sold even overseas, not just within Japan, but why do you think it can be sold even overseas?

Nomura: I don’t really know that (laughs).

–Huh, you don’t know?

Nomura: Certainly, the KH series is even popular overseas, but action genre games have always been stronger overseas, so maybe it’s because this is a game with a high nature of action.

–In America, it’s being sold enough to stand by Square Enix’s signature Final Fantasy RPGs, and such.

Nomura: It does look like KH is strong overseas too, doesn’t it.

–The worldwide cumulative total of the number of shipments is 1, 200,000,000 copies, isn’t it?

Nomura: I think that it is pretty hard to achieve those figures from the first game going on sale in 2002, in 7 few years with three games.

–Will the DS game also spread strongly overseas?

Public Relations: Of course, spreading overseas is also included in our vision.

Nomura: Naturally, spreading overseas is important, but the present foreign game market is vigorous, and we occasionally come across a title made being aware of the overseas market, but KH isn’t created especially with overseas in mind. ‘If we produce something of precision that we are happy and proud of, surely the overseas players will also enjoy it’ is what we think. Making things with an eye on the foreign market is no good. It’s a way of doing it similar to ‘we made it targeted at little children’, and little kids reject it, don’t they? If we provide something with a really good quality by our ‘grown in fertile soil’ way of doing things, I think results will follow after.

A surprise prepared in CoM

–As the cause of gaining the support of players, adding to the contents of the high quality compilation, I think that a happy surprise being definitely in there is an important thing. The first game and KH: II had hidden movies hinting at the contents of the next piece, for the GBA game CoM, it was a surprise that it went so far.

Nomura: Riku’s story, isn’t it. I am able to say it now, but there was talk that if we put that in and it went on sale late, we would have been in trouble.

–Even so, you wanted to put it in.

Nomura: Because I’d thought of having Riku’s volume right from the start.

–Adding to Sora’s story, which was to be exhibited from the beginning, the inclusion of Riku’s story, which advances along the opposite route to Sora’s story, doubled the volume a first-time players had imagined, wasn’t it?

Nomura: If we hadn’t lain that surprise in from the start, we couldn’t have done it. If we had have said ‘let’s do this afterwards’, we wouldn’t have had time (laughs). From the beginning, the DS game 358/2 Days also has a surprise…

–Wait a minute! As for the talk about a surprise in 358/2 Days, talking to co-designer Mr. Hasegawa, I think I want to ask him anew, slowly and carefully (laughs). And so, those who are interested please look at the 358/2 Days interview on page 78, ok!

The second work in the series. A story immediately after KH, set in ‘Castle Oblivion’, a story concerning memories unfolds. The Organization XIII who pulls strings behind the scenes in order to get their hands on Kingdom Hearts makes their first appearance.

The miracle born from a strong heart

On the other side of the scene of the birth of KH, like Sora, the hero carrying a strong heart, there was the efforts of Nomura who continued tirelessly to negotiate with Disney. Let’s return to look at the ‘this wonderful world’ interview telling of behind the scenes, from the September 2007 issue.

–Even going on sale on the GBA, KH is also the first game you have directed, but, I think it’s okay to call you a certain meaning, ‘Miracle Soft’. To make a Disney game, it’s normal to use Mickey and Donald Duck as main characters, but you’d think it’s impossible to use non-Disney characters as the heroes, wouldn’t you.

Kandou: When we made that, it was like nothing but miracles were happening. It was a succession of surprises. When I first heard the plan from Nomura, I even said ‘that’s impossible!’

Public Relations: From the beginning, inside the company, people had said they wanted to make an RPG where Mickey was the main character.

Nomura: Afterwards, however, there were various proposals from Disney, like ‘we want to make a game for Donald’.

–It means that inside Mr. Nomura’s head, there was nothing but for Sora and the rest to co-star with Mickey and the others, doesn’t it? Until that plan which could be called reckless passed, wasn’t there great anxiety?

Nomura: There was considerable anxiety. It’s there now, too, and it was there yesterday, though (laughs).

Kandou: For about one year, Nomura did it all alone. And so, it was a one-man project. For that whole time, he continued to work on his plan as he negotiated with Disney.

–What was it like when Disney nodded approval to the plan that Mr. Nomura presented?

Nomura: Of course, they didn’t say okay without any trouble. There was a feeling like they submitted to me, who put forth my plan over and over again.

–Usually, to negotiate even a little is no good, and you’d think to give up in the early stages. But, the negotiator was American, so...

Nomura: Maybe, if I could speak English, I would have given up in the early stages. I didn’t really understand what they were talking about (laughs).

Everyone: (laughs)

Nomura: And so, there was nothing but to say the things I wanted to say, more and more.

Kandou: Disney is a company with a really tight copyright policy, so we had preconceptions of ‘this is the type of company Disney is’, and we couldn’t emerge from that shell at all at times. But, because Nomura ripped up that shell bit by bit, it was really thrilling to watch from the end. Like, ‘Huh? That’s become okay?’ (laughs).

–For Mr. Nomura, were there prospects of success from the start? Like, ‘they’ll give the okay, for sure!’

Nomura: It was there somehow. I had confidence I wouldn’t be shaken by what they would say, so whatever they said, I would retort logically (laughs).

–There’s definitely the steadfast image of ‘Kingdom Hearts’ there.

Nomura: There is, isn’t there. In that, the president at the time was very generous. Even when the people around me opposed, if that person was okay with it, then it was okay.

–Mr. Nomura, he liked it, didn’t he?

Nomura: Probably. It was in English, so I didn’t understand what he was saying (laughs).

Everyone: (laughs)

At the time, Tetsuya Kandou spoke together with Mr. Nomura. As the animation director of the KH series, he has made many works with Mr. Nomura. He is also participating in the same way as the animation director of 358/2 Days.

Director Tetsuya Nomura

He is representing Square Enix. He was born in Kouchi prefecture in 1970. He joined Square in 1991 where he handled monster and character design, and FFVII caused his name to be spread. In 2002 he directed for the first time the work KH, and since then has been in charge of directing the whole series. Other than this, he supervised such things as FF Verses XIII (PS3), and FFVII Advent Children (film), he is the top creator representing Japan, acting in various fields.