Kingdom Hearts III Co-Director Teases What's To Come
Square Enix is extra secretive with its coveted Kingdom Hearts franchise, but we were able to interview co-director Tai Yasue, who's currently working on Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix. The collection includes the Final Mix for Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep, on top of updated cutscenes from Re:coded. Yasue not only offered insight into Kingdom Hearts 2.5, but he also shared how development on Kingdom Hearts III is coming along.
Did you take any fan feedback from Kingdom Hearts 1.5 into account that influenced Kingdom Hearts 2.5?
Actually with 1.5, there weren't a lot of complaints. There usually is, right? But one thing there was from more of our Japanese players was for the [theater mode]; they wanted more battle scenes. They wanted to see the battle scenes. So, we put a lot of battle scenes in Re:coded and we made them have cutscenes. They're not real-time battles, but they're actually made like an action movie, sort of. You get a whole new understanding of the story that way.
I read that with Re:coded, you added more scenes and there was one that was going to transition more into Dream Drop Distance? Is that true?
Actually, not the secret...Well, there's actually a secret event at the end, right? But that doesn't transition - well, actually - how do you know that? It sort of does connect to other Kingdom Hearts titles, so you get to know about the backstory, how they started maybe, and what happened at the other end where there wasn't really much of an explanation. You get a fuller understanding if you watch it all; it gets added at the very end so you can see that.
Westerners are going to finally get to play the Final Mix versions of Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep, but outside of that, what other additions are there?
I think the big thing is Re:coded and the Final Mix, because it was really well received in Japan. We really wanted our American and European fanbase to play that. There are a lot of boss scenes added, there are [Mushroom Heartless XIII] missions in Kingdom Hearts II, and a lot of forms added in Kingdom Hearts II that should be really enjoyable. Also, for Birth By Sleep, there's a secret episode at the very end where Aqua has an adventure in the realm of Dark and [it has] a boss and a lot of stages, so that should be enjoyable.
A lot of the things I love about Kingdom Hearts were in the Final Mix version. Right now I'm attempting to fight Roxas... He's very strong and I'm fighting him in the critical mode, which is very difficult, [but] I get a lot of satisfaction. For the hardcore gamers, I think that would be very enjoyable; you need a lot of strategy. Also, Lingering Will. Lingering Will is an armored guy who is a manifestation of Terra in Birth By Sleep. His weapons actually transform into different shapes. A lot of our Japanese players say that is one of the most intense battles in Kingdom Hearts.
Up next: Teasers, trophies, and the missing multiplayer from Birth By Sleep...
The multiplayer for Birth By Sleep isn't going to be included. Why was that decision made?
That's right. We get that a lot. We didn't get that much feedback like that from our Japanese players, but I guess in the European and American market I think multiplayer is important, so we did take that into consideration. But for the Mirage Arena, we took [our] schedule into consideration. We were actually developing Kingdom Hearts III and 2.5 at the same time, and it's very difficult. There was a point where we wanted to switch our resources to Kingdom Hearts III and get that moving faster, so we didn't put the multiplayer in. But we actually left the Mirage Arena world, so you can enjoy the stage using single-player mode. We readjusted the battles and the enemies for single player. We added a game-specific rule where there's a challenge mode for each battle that wasn't in the original multiplayer mode and you get bonus medals for that. And also the A.I., we tweaked that, especially the ones at the end. The end A.I. are more complex, intelligent, and quicker. Also, there were a lot of long battles and in single-player mode that can get stressful, so we adjusted that, so it doesn't take that much time. [They're] shorter battles, but more advanced.
Have you thought of doing anything with Dream Drop Distance, like as a standalone digital HD release, or doing something for people to experience it who maybe don't own a 3DS?
We're definitely going to consider [Dream Drop Distance], but we just made it, right? Two years ago. So I don't know. One of the things that we're going to take into consideration is that a lot of the titles are now old and people are starting to forget about them. So we put out 1.5 and 2.5 before III, but [Dream Drop Distance] was actually really recent, so we didn't incorporate that into 2.5. We will consider how we're going to do Dream Drop Distance, but there are a lot of things to think about. We don't want to stop [progress on] Kingdom Hearts III. That has to move along quickly.
The controls were smoothed out pretty considerably in 1.5. What things are you doing with Birth By Sleep's PSP controls?
Yeah, we actually changed it. Camera wise you can use the right stick to move the camera, so that's been readjusted for the PS3. It will feel very natural. I think it's something that you won't feel stressed about. People won't even notice it because it's smooth.
The Kingdom Hearts games are infamous for their ending teasers. I'm guessing that 2.5 would be teasing something into Kingdom Hearts III?
I can't really say at this moment. For Kingdom Hearts 2.5, I think everything has to do with Kingdom Hearts III. It will connect. The whole experience, the theater and the story, will all connect to Kingdom Hearts III. I'm not being specific on purpose. [laughs]
In 1.5, seeing what trophies were introduced was interesting. Do you know of any from 2.5 off the top of your head?
Yeah, for 2.5, there's a lot...several actually. For example, there are a lot of easy and difficult ones that we're actually tweaking right now. One of them is Anti Form - how many times you become Dark Sora, or how many times for Kingdom Hearts II, Mickey comes along, Mickey stays with you. For Kingdom Hearts II, the gameplay is very diverse; there are a lot of things you can do, so there was a lot of room to make trophies. I think there's a lot more trophies in Kingdom Hearts 2.5 than 1.5. Kingdom Hearts II and Birth By Sleep really have a lot of gameplay.
Up next: Kingdom Hearts III's progress....
How are things going on Kingdom Hearts III?
We've been working full throttle. It's moving along. We structured our team in a way that development of 2.5 doesn't impede Kingdom Hearts III. I'm actually very excited about Kingdom Hearts III.
What are you most excited for?
The technology and creative stuff. There's a lot of stuff we have never ever done before. There's a lot that's the same, but there's a lot that's changed. We're moving from a totally different console to [a new] console. The technology has evolved; it's very new and everyone is doing a lot of research. And look-wise, it looks amazing as well. We've shown you some of the trailers and teasers. There are a lot of Disney-themed attractions, so that's exciting as well. It's very exciting for me and I want to tell you more about it, but I really can't at this moment.
I know some fans were disappointed, they were hoping for some sort of trailer or teaser for Kingdom Hearts III during E3...
I understand that, but this year, it was the year of 2.5 for us. When we were first planning out Kingdom Hearts III, we wanted 1.5 and 2.5 out in a timely fashion, so everyone would really get an understanding of the story. And so we really wanted to push 2.5. Making teasers and trailers really does require a lot of work, and we just wanted to get the development moving along quickly on Kingdom Hearts III, so this year we really focused on 2.5.
When can fans anticipate more information on Kingdom Hearts III? Are you going to wait until next E3?
We are planning. We're coming up with ideas for game shows and etc. I can't really say which ones at this moment.
Up next: Yasue discusses more Kingdom Hearts III and seeing fans' reaction to its announcement...
The last trailer we saw showed off Disney attractions as part of Sora's special attacks. Has anything been expanded off that since then?
For the rides, we want it to be very varied. For anything in Kingdom Hearts, there's a lot. For those attractions, we want different types, many types, so we're thinking about that.
Were you paying attention to fans' feedback from that trailer, specifically about the attractions?
Yeah, we are. It was well received. The exact look is not going to be the same as that. We're really working with our engines and everything. I think people were excited, and it felt very Disney. I think that was one of the good points, like creating Disneyland gameplay-wise. I think we'll focus on making different, varied versions of that.
I know we'll be visiting new worlds, but will you still have some of the old, iconic ones in Kingdom Hearts III?
It's going to be a mix. Whenever we come up with worlds for Kingdom Hearts, we want to have them be varied. You don't want the same type of world, so we will have different categories. That will make it feel fresh, like you're having an adventure.
Disney acquired a lot of new licenses and had movies since the last Kingdom Hearts, upping the potential for new worlds, like Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, etc. Are you guys looking into those?
Everyone wants to know. I can't say at this moment, but news will come out about the worlds. There's a lot of Disney content that's new and coming out and we're considering which ones to use, which would be good from a gameplay perspective. This is not an announcement or anything, but personally I enjoyed watching Frozen. It was magical: the stories, the songs, the ice expressions.
Thinking back last year, it was a big moment for Square Enix finally confirming Kingdom Hearts III. Did you watch any of the fan reaction videos?
Yeah. It's crazy! We all watch [the reaction videos]...the development team, the marketing team. That's been a huge boost for morale. Especially the American users...they don't do that in Japan. They're more quiet. We get a lot of our energy from [the fan reactions]. Watching that, I felt like I needed to make Kingdom Hearts III quickly. We were feeling all this pressure, but we're also really excited that everyone's so passionate about it. That reaction? That's why we're making Kingdom Hearts III. That's the main reason. That's most important to us.
For more on Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix, check out the most recent trailer comparing the old version to the new.