Nomura Talks Mysteries, Mechanics, and Future of KH


With the recent release of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance Ultimania, Kingdom Hearts series creator and director, Tetsuya Nomura, sat down to talk about KH 3D and the future of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. Be warned, the interview below contains some pretty intense spoilers for Kingdom Hearts 3D, so if you want to avoid ruining things for yourself, you might not want to read it.

KH 3D Ultimania

When did you start planning for KH 3D?

That was during the production of KHBbS. We didn’t originally plan to start thinking about the next game so soon already, but as soon as I saw the Nintendo 3DS, inspiration hit me.

KH already has a reputation of being spread across many different consoles, but what was that special inspiration that hit you when you saw the 3DS?

The Free-Flow-Action System was already something I definitely wanted to try with the next KH game I make, so the one idea I really only got after I had seen the 3DS was the “Dive Mode”. In KH1 and KH2, you generally use a Gumi Jet as means of traveling, but this time, I wanted to think of something that makes you feel like you were jumping and falling right into the world. What I can say with certainty is that I feel like the Dive-System was the very first thing that came to me, and starting with this, I began to decide on the rest of the game’s system.

Why did you decide that you were going to implement the Free-Flow-Action?

Aside from the KH Series, more and more different Action RPGs, like Final Fantasy Versus XIII have been made and I wanted to have something that makes Kingdom Hearts clearly different from those other games. I wanted to clearly show the direction in which we want to take the series, so when I began to think what might be the best representation of what Kingdom Hearts “is”, I came to the conclusion, that unrealistic stunts and jumps, as well as maneuvers that’d be risky or even impossible in real life are something very defining for the action of the games. So I came up with the concept of Free-Flow-Action

Wasn’t it hard to ensure that this system wouldn’t end up as unpleasant to play with or a downright failure, but work smoothly?

Well, the staff certainly didn’t think the idea was good. (laughs) If you allow the characters to preform huge jumps like this freely, it’d be hard to determine where they would end up if you don’t support every action of the player, so when I first mentioned the idea, the staff thought that this would be hard to get under control. However, after I explained to them that this was just the direction I had decided I want to take the KH games, they finally went along with it.

In previous KH games you generally had to collect abilities from treasure boxes if you wanted to be able to preform stunts like the “Hi-Jump”, but this time around, things like this things are all included in the Free-Flow-Action, right?

Well, actually, this is a pretty interesting topic. When using Free Fall Action, your controll over the character’s movement is somewhat limited, so you can’t use it for precise jumps, which is why we left acquirable abilities, like “Hi Jump” in the game. I think that this is one of the great strengthens of the system, it gives the game a unique flavor compared to other KH titles, while not dragging down the amount of control you have during gameplay.

When did you start thinking up the idea for Kingdom Hearts 3D?

Probably during the production of Birth by Sleep. At the time there weren’t plans to start another Kingdom Hearts title, but when I looked at the 3DS hardware, the idea came to me.

It seems that every entry into the Kingdom Hearts series aims to utilize the features of its platforms, so what elements of the 3DS were you looking into?

I thought that the Flowmotion ability was something I wanted to do in the next Kingdom Hearts, so why not do it now with this title? I thought of the Dive Mode function afterwards when I saw the 3DS in action. It’s similar to the Gummi Ship mini game that appeared in KH1 and KH2, but this time rather than ride a vehicle I wanted the characters to drop directly into their destination world. Since the Dive Mode appears first, it feels like the game’s system is established from there.

What sparked the idea to introduce the Flowmotion ability?

I’ve been working on a few action RPGs outside of Kingdom Hearts like Final Fantasy Type-0 and Final Fantasy Versus XIII, so the first thought I had was I wanted it to clearly stand out from the others. I planned on showing that this is the direction the Kingdom Hearts series is headed. When I thought of the elements that really defined the Kingdom Hearts series, I thought of the bold sort of action that realistic characters can’t express. My idea was that with Flowmotion, you’d be able to jump to impossible heights in comparison to how you could jump in the previous titles.

It seemed that the Flowmotion system might dishevel the game’s balance, but there was a lot of attention put towards regulating it.

Well, the staff really didn’t like it. (Laughs.) If the character could make a huge jump freely, then there is no telling where he’d go. Since you had to deal with every action the player made, the opinion coming forth in the beginning was that it was difficult. But since I explained to the staff that this was the sort of direction Kingdom Hearts was going, we did it anyways.

In the games prior to this one, there were treasure chests you couldn’t reach until you had obtained High Jump, but this time it seems you can take just about all the treasure using Flowmotion.

It makes things interesting, doesn’t it? Flowmotion is designed to take over the movement if you don’t control it, but if you’re able to use it well, you can obtain the treasure chests without needing the High Jump ability. It’s a different style compared to the regular Kingdom Hearts games, which I think is one of the system’s charms. I thought it’d be better this way rather than making it boring with restricted actions.

For the title KH3D, we thought it was very clever how the ’3D’ doesn’t just stand for ‘three-dimensional’, but also for the first letter of each of the three words in the subtitle.

I thought of making it ’3D’ with three D’s early on. However, while I was able to settle on ‘Dream’ and ‘Drop’ smoothly, the last one just wouldn’t come to me. When we were at the point where we had a scenario, ‘Distance’ occurred to me from the distance between Sora and Riku, on the verge of meeting but unable to. There’s one more unsaid meaning behind deciding on ‘Distance’, and that is the distance between ’3D’ and the number 3 itself.

When you included ‘Dream’ and ‘Drop’ in the title, were you assuming from that point in time that there would be a Drop System?

Yes, I suppose so. We have made KH titles before in which the story is divided between characters, but because some people were of the opinion that each story felt like a short-story, this time we decided to think of the plot as one string from the beginning. For it to be like that, we had to consider many things regarding how to best handle switching back and forth between which character the player is controlling. We considered whether we should let people choose when to switch, but we wanted some sort of thrill. Throughout the series so far there’s always been that thrill of danger when HP is running out, but that becomes less of a threat as the player levels up. I thought, I want to put in something else on top of that, and it took the shape of forcibly switching the character being controlled with Drop. Also, if we had made the switching completely optional there would be people who only went along playing either Sora or Riku, and one of the characters could get too much stronger than the other, so it’s also a means of controlling that.

With more than fifty breeds of Spirits you can make friends with, the Spirit growth system is also a factor that makes this game worth more than a speedrun, isn’t it?

Well it was like, if I were to make a system where you get an enemy character onto your team and develop them, this is how I’d want it to be. I wouldn’t want players to get enemies on their team by defeating them, I would want to have people experience the process of raising them from birth until they got strong, and have them feel attached to the target of their raising. To bring that system into reality, it would have been weird setup-wise to make friends with Heartless and Nobodies, so we went with creating a new type of being called Dream Eaters. In the beginning there were less breeds, but I thought it was lacking variation, and I told the staff they’d probably need to make more than fifty. We had to show they were cooperating with Sora and Riku to fight enemies, so riding on their backs and the like with link attacks was necessary too, which made our workload incredible.

Which Dream Eaters did you design yourself?

The only one I drew myself is Meow Wow. I drew it basically all in one go, and didn’t edit it at all. As for the other Spirits, I showed Meow Wow to the staff and requested that they ‘please give them a design that is strange, charming without being too cute’. They drew for me in high spirits, and came out with one interesting design after another.

This title is the first KH game in a while to feature Sora and Riku as protagonists.

I heard from many fans that they wanted to play as Sora again soon, and I felt I wanted to answer them. However, the true protagonist in plot for this title isn’t Sora, it’s Riku. The story depicted in this title is of Riku’s growth as he changes stance and makes the darkness he had been locking inside himself up until now into his own power. This is symbolised by Riku being chosen as a Keyblade Master at the end.

Many worlds in this title are appearing for the first time in the series. How did you choose them?

Basically, from the Osaka Development Team’s proposals. Worlds they wanted to have appear, what they wanted to do there–I received proposals for both those things, and I chose from among them. You know, in the beginning there was even the idea to divide ‘Fantasia’ and ‘Fantasia 2000′ between Sora and Riku in Symphony of Sorcery.

Did the characters from The World Ends With You appear in Traverse Town due to the Osaka Development Team’s proposal, too?

No, in the first scenario they planned to have Leon and Cid and the others like always. However, it would have been weird for them to be in the Traverse Town in this title, and maybe it’s time to give the “arrive in Traverse-Town, Cid says ‘Hey kid’ routine” a rest. So, when I thought about who’d feel fresh to put in, I thought it might be interesting to depict teenagers from a city like Shibuya coming into contact with country kids like Sora, thus I decided to put in the characters from TWEWY. Also, another reason was that in this title, Traverse Town is a world in which many things must be explained, and Joshua is just right for the role of explainer.

Being able to view flashback scenes whenever we wanted with the Memento feature was new.

Production-wise, we were trying to make the story as deep and layered as possible, but then we’d have to show many explanatory cutscenes. I’d always thought there was no way to progress the story other than to increase the number of cutscenes, but I think we found a way after all with the Memento feature. It’s like, people who want to enjoy the story can watch it whenever, and people who want to hurry and advance through the game can fly through and perhaps watch it while taking a break.

We thought it was very refreshing being able to read summaries of all the past titles with the Chronicles feature too.

Those were originally written by Oka (Mr. Masaru Oka: Scenario and Cutscene Director) with revisions by me. If we’d had time I would have wanted to do them in pictures, but we couldn’t go that far this time. It is, of course, so people who hadn’t played a title could follow along, but the text is written to be so clear that it even includes parts that weren’t asserted definitively in each game, so if people who already know the story read along to see if they had things right, they may discover new things. I think pictures would have been a good way to do it too, but text does have the advantage of allowing people to reexamine the necessary parts straight away.

The scene after the final battle where you get three multiple choice questions is a condition for unlocking the secret movie. That’s a system that hasn’t been used in the series up until now, isn’t it?

The truth is, we put that condition in as a trap. With only the same conditions as always, being able to view it condition-free if you clear the game on Proud Mode or having it unlock when you collect a certain number of trophies like up until now, there are some people who end up only playing to see the secret movie. That’s fine, but even if people are solving it quickly I still want there to be a puzzle to solve. Having said that, it’s very easy to choose the right ones. The correct answers all have ‘important’ in them. I wanted to make it so that you can solve it if you notice the regularity, and also I would have been in trouble if I had forgotten it myself, so I went with that. (Laughs.)

Now we would like to ask a few questions about the future of the KH series. First of all, if you get the letters ‘Secret Message Unlocked’ in the credits for this title you can read a message in the Keyword Glossary. The English letters there surely mean we can hope for KH3 next?

I will leave that to your imaginations. Well, you’ll know the answer soon, I suppose.

At the end of the credits, when Sora and Riku go into the light, the shape of the light looks like a III…

I can’t go into detail, but you could think of it as a secret message from me.

Now, is there a possibility you will make a KH3D Final Mix title?

I don’t know what might happen in the years to come, but as of now there are no plans. Osaka Development Team have several titles on their hands, it’s not the right time for that.

At the end of the secret movie for KHBBSFM, an interesting message that said ‘Birth by Sleep -Volume Two’ appeared. Is there a chance that a KHBBS2 will be appearing?

It seems that many people thought that, but during that movie there were the words ‘A fragmentary passage’, weren’t there? That means a ‘bits and pieces of something whole’. In short, a story for ‘Volume Two’ exists that ought to be told, but the story cuts off with those scenes. Because of that, I won’t say there is absolutely no chance that we will produce a title to follow KHBBS , but there are no plans as of now.

In an interview in the KH Days Ultimania, you said ‘I’m thinking of a mystery KH that made the producer go “what??”‘. Was that KH3D?

No, it wasn’t. I originally planned to make that after KHBBS, but we ended up making KH3D and the project was stopped. It’s a shame, but we won’t be starting that project again.

If we were to guess from the plot so far, the next title must surely follow on from KH3D and depict the confrontation between the 13 Xehanorts that are seeking the χ-blade and Sora and the others who make up the 7 Guardians of Light?

Well, yes, I think so. That will feel like it’s leading to the conclusion of the Xehanort saga.

We’re intrigued as to who the Xehanorts will use to replace Sora as the 13th Darkness.

I left that a mystery in order to intrigue you all, of course. It’s unclear who about half of the other twelve are too, seeing as they didn’t come out from under their black coats, so I would love for you to try thinking about their true identities. It’s all set up properly who is sitting in each seat, even regarding people who didn’t show up in the scenario of this title.

Are there also familiar characters?

There are many familiar characters. However, fundamentally who they are is still a secret.

Are the 7 Guardians of Light the 7 people raising their Keyblades at the end of the opening movie?

But among them, you’re missing Kairi, who appeared in the secret ending of this title. Please look forward to finding out whether those seven will actually be the 7 Guardians of Light.

Before the ending, Riku receives research data from Ansem the Wise. In the next title, will that be the key to bringing back the people who are sleeping inside Sora?

You could say it’s the key. That data contains the details explaining the way to connect lost hearts.

Are there any Disney titles you’d like to see appear in the future of the series?

I wish and wish, but I’ve wanted for a long time to have Pixar titles appear in the series. I’m already working on many ideas, but I can’t say whether they will become a reality or not.

Pixar has many wonderful titles, and we’d love to see them appear. Finally, when will we next play a new Kingdom Hearts game?

I still can’t say when, but various developments have already started regarding a new title in the Kingdom Hearts series.

More than one?!

I am sure we’ll be able to make some kind of announcement when the time is right, so in the meantime I’d like you to keep playing KH3D. There’s a high degree of freedom in the play style and the story is full of mysteries, so I would be very pleased if you tried playing on a high level of difficulty and investigating the plot. Also, the mini game ‘Flick Rush’ is pretty exciting, so please give it a try.

Is the first cutscene we see in KH3D a flashback to 10 years before the first Kingdom Hearts when Xehanort and co. lost their hearts in an experiment?

That’s right. That’s because in a sense it was the beginning of the story of this title.

The Brown Robed Figure, a Heartless born from that experiment, says “This world has been connected.” While in KH1 that meant that the island was connected to the darkness, in this title does it signify that Xehanort and co. have connected to the dream world?

It means both of those things. In that scene, the Brown Robed Figure becomes a “portal” himself as a result of contact with Sora and co., making it possible for the other Xehanorts to intervene within the dreams.

Why did Xehanort and co. word things as if to try and wake Ventus who is inside Sora?

They did so in order to tempt Sora’s heart and have it fall to the darkness. In the story it also talks about how abandoning the self leads to losing the heart. When you see Vanitas (the dark half of Ventus who appeared in KHBBS) overlay Young Xehanort for a moment, that represents Ventus’ heart reacting inside Sora.

In the latter half of The World That Never Was, despite returning to the real world, why do Sora and co. stay in that form and why do Dream Eaters appear etc?

Sora and co.’s form is due to Yen Sid’s magic, so the way it works is that they can’t turn back until they return to the Mysterious Tower, and Dream Eaters were appearing because Sora was still asleep. Also, ever since Organisation XIII was defeated in KH2, the The World That Never Was’
existence as a world has become uncertain. In the first place, the worlds in the rift between darkness and light have different rules than other worlds. The Mysterious Tower isn’t always standing in a fixed place. Traverse Town too reforms its shape every time, which is why the version that appears in this title is clearly different than the version in KH1.

Did King Mickey’s time magic not work properly on Young Xehanort because Young Xehanort has the power to control time?

Not Young Xehanort’s but rather Master Xehanort’s power. King Mickey was surprised at the time, seeing his Keyblade and noticing he harbored the power of Master Xehanort. That Keyblade was designed as the one Master Xehanort used in KHBBS combined with an hourglass, you see.

Were the 13 Seekers of Darkness, who were meant to be in different times, gathered by transcending time with magic?

Just as it says in the story, to transcend time one must ‘first’ discard their form. As a result of the actions of the Brown Robed Figure, they all were in a state where they had gained the power to transcend time. The Brown Robed Figure explains the facts. The thirteen were summoned at the same time, this time thanks to Young Xehanort who borrowed that power. However, apart from Young Xehanort, that does not mean that all the members transcended time.

In other words, Ansem and Xemnas were, at the same time, existing in the time and space of KH3D as well as having returned to their true human form after being destroyed?

Yes, it does turn out that way. However, as I said before, ‘The World That Never Was’, where the thirteen all met, is a special space. The mechanics behind how they were all able to exist at the same time is a mystery. From KH1 on, Ansem has returned no matter how many times he has been defeated, perhaps the same sort of thing happened.

Lea said the same lines, “Why do I always get the icky jobs,” and “I’ll always be there to bring you back,” to Xion in KH Days when he brought her back. Does he remember that?

The nature of the being known as Xion and all memories to do with her were erased, but he would remember other things.

Why did Lea visit Disney Castle when he should have been looking for his friend?

To search for his friend he needed the power to move between worlds, and there is no way to do that other than becoming a Keyblade Wielder. At the time, wanting to be made a Keyblade Wielder, Lea saw a message recorded by Ansem the Wise in the past and, knowing it was dangerous, used the Corridors of Darkness once more to go talk with King Mickey and the others. That’s why after Maleficent left he was asking at the Mysterious Tower.

So, in ‘The King Departs’, when Yen Sid said ‘great sorcerers and fairies have hastened the flow of time in a different place for you’…

Upon request, those who can manipulate time, Merlin and the three fairies who appeared in KH2, changed the flow of time in a special place, and there Lea received hastened training in order to be able to use the Keyblade, basically. In the original scenario, we had planned to have Lea able to use the Keyblade when he ran to Sora.

Ansem the Wise is an old acquaintance of Riku’s, why did he ask him his name in the end?

That’s what you could call a “wise joke.” (Laughs.) He’s purposefully asking the same thing as he did in KH2 to a Riku who had changed into Ansem’s form.

While at the time Riku lied and said his name was Ansem, this time he replies with a bright ‘Riku’, doesn’t he?

Yes, because the main part of the plot in this title is Riku’s growth. The point that unlike before he can declare ‘I am me’ is intended to show that growth symbolically.

It was declared from Ansem the Wise’s own mouth that everything can grow a heart.

Yes it was, I thought I’d leave it clear in this title.

Were the members of Organization XIII that grew hearts unsuitable as vessels for Xehanort?

That’s not necessarily the case, however the details are a secret.

Xigbar and Saix appeared as members of Organisation XIII. Did they return as humans like Lea and the others?

The conditions of becoming a human have been met, so you’d think they had returned, wouldn’t you? For them to have been with Xehanort and the others, perhaps they were collected after they had become humans and before Lea and the others woke up. You could say the same for the members of Organization XIII that didn’t appear in this title, however… I’d rather everyone use their imaginations.

So what does everybody think? Let us know by leaving your comments below!