Director Tetsuya Nomura was recently interviewed by Satoru Iwata, the President of Nintendo, where he speaks about subjects such as Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy (which is due for release in North America on July 3rd) and Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]. Thanks to our amazing translator goldpanner, we have the entire interview translated, so click "Read More" below to check it out!
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1. The Impact of 'Mario 64'
Iwata: Thank you for coming today.
Nomura: The pleasure is mine.
Iwata: Mr. Nomura, this is the first time we've met like this, isn't it?
Nomura: That's true, yes.
Iwata: It just didn't seem to happen until now. Actually, I've wanted to speak with you at least once for a long time.
Nomura: Oh, really?
Iwata: Now, just to begin, I want to ask you about 'Theatrhythm' (※1). The other day I met with Producer Mr. Hazama (※2) and listened to what he had to say, and I could definitely feel how you were his mentor.
Nomura: Oh, okay. Well, his friend, rather.
※1 'Theatrhythm' = 'Theatrhythm Final Fantasy'. It's a theatre rhythm action game for the Nintendo 3DS that went on sale Feb 2012. ※2 Mr Ichirō Hazama = Member of Square Enix Holdings Co., Ltd. and producer of 'Theatrhythm Final Fantasy'.
Iwata: To Mr Hazama, you yourself are the 'compass that shows the way of the craft'. So, Nomura, when you heard the idea for Theatrhythm from Mr Hazama, what sort of feeling did you get?
Nomura: Um.... I thought, 'that idea probably won't make it out of development'.
Iwata: Ah, is that so. 'The people who normally make the games won't go for that concept,' sort of thing, right?
Nomura: Yes. However, he had been thinking about it from an even more different point of view. His idea was, 'I want to make a game that uses the images we have so far'. That was an interesting idea, so I told him, 'why not?'
Iwata: Those words definitely support the vibe I got from Mr Hazama. Mr Hazama said to me something like, 'People who create things are amazing. They go on and on along a dark road all alone, believing in their goal. It will be a long time yet before I have walked as far as they have, but I really respect the people who can do such a thing.' It was very interesting for me, too.
Nomura: ...For sure, it's definitely interesting to talk about things we ourselves lack. I can feel the things we lack when he and I talk, too.
Iwata: And then, I think the fact that the 'Theatrhythm' demo version (※3) went well gave it a chance to establish value in the world's eyes. You were the one who proposed the demo, Nomura, so I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.
※3 demo version = The 'Theatrythm Final Fantasy' demo version is available at the Nintendo e-shop. You can also try it out in stores Japan-wide. Please go here [link] for more information regarding the in-store demos. Please understand in advance that the demo version may end without prior notice.
Nomura: Well now... Every year, there are gaming events, right? I always try to watch the customer's reactions, you see, and the line of customers at Theatrhythm's first demo booth was amazing. The people who got to play even wrote blogs and tweets saying things like 'that was fun!' and 'I lined up over and over', and from the very first day this game gave vibes of good reception, and so I thought I'd like to make an even bigger impression within those who got to play.
Iwata: You believed in the hands-on approach, didn't you.
Nomura: Yes. And because of that, I talked to people about doing a demo version.
Iwata: Mr Nomura, do you often go to see the customer's reactions?
Nomura: Yes, I suppose I do. I watch the demos, of course, but I also watch when the trailers are playing. The customer's reactions tell me which parts make an impression, so I always check.
Iwata: There's naturally a gap between the image of how we want them to react and the actual reactions of the customers, so everyday we have to revise over and over, don't we? Is it customary with the people around you, too?
Nomura: We directly circulate responses to the things we've made, and we have for a long time. Even the chief members say they try to go see the customers' reactions.
Iwata: They do it without having been taught to do so, don't they? People who make things don't just make things that their customers want, they have to be brave and betray them, and do things differently to the rest of the world's mainstream. On the other hand, the process of making involves watching customer's reactions closely, while bouncing their own image and the actual reaction off each other until they become rounded.
Nomura: That's true.
Iwata: ...Just now with what we were saying, I think I've come to understand a side of you I didn't know before, Mr Nomura. See, I'm relatively similar. I can feel so much empathy for you.
Nomura: Ah, oh really (laughs).
Iwata: Now, about 'Kingdom Hearts' (※4). Ten years, what a grand topic we've come to. 'Kingdom Hearts' was the first title you ever directed, wasn't it?
※4 'Kingsom Hearts' = An Action RPG series that Mr Tetsuya Nomura works on. The first title went on sale March 2002. It's main characteristic is that it uses Disney worlds for themes and settings.
Iwata: One thing about Disney is that they have the strictest control over their characters in the world, but they let us throw our own creations into those same worlds. See, long ago, I had a similar experience when I made Smash Bros (※5), so I know it must have been terrible. First of all, how did it begin, how did you climb over the obstacles, I'm really interested.
※5 Smash Bros = 'Super Smash Bros'. It was a fighting action rpg, the first title releasing Jan 1999 on the Nintendo 64.
Nomura: Firstly, we were in the same building... I've told this story many times, but it originally began from making a game together with Disney. One time, Mr (Shinji) Hashimoto (※6) and Mr (Hironobu) Sakaguchi (※7) were talking together, and I was there too for some reason.
※6 Mr Shinji Hashimoto = Square Enix Holdings Corporate Executive. In the days of the old company Square, he was first the producer of Final Fantasy VII and worked on many titles. ※7 Mr Hironobu Sakaguchi = The creator of the Final Fantasy series. He became independent in 2001, and established the game development company Mist Walker.
Iwata: Were the three of you just together by chance?
Nomura: Yes. I had been called over there for a completely different matter, but at that moment Mr Hashimoto and Mr Sakaguchi were talking back and forth about Disney, something like, 'Mickey would be great but we can't use him'. And then, I put up my hand and said, 'Ah, I want to do that,' and that's how it began. However, at the time I had absolutely no motivation to make a Mickey game...
Nomura: So then it went sort of like, 'Okay, we'll let Tetsu have a go'.
Iwata: What was the background behind raising your hand? What part interested you?
Nomura: From the start, when I was working on FFVII (※8), that was right about the time that Mario 64 got famous, and the way you could run around freely in a full 3D world impacted hugely on me. When I talked with other staff about how I wanted to make a game like that, they told me, 'No, Mario is already a world-famous character, you can't do it now with a new character.'
※8 FFVII = Final Fantasy VII. It went on sale Jan 1997, as the seventh title in the series. ※9 Mario 64 = Super Mario 64. An action game for the Nintendo 64 that went on sale June 1996.
Iwata: Like, 'We can't go up against Mario,' sort of thing?
Nomura: Yes. The colleagues I talked with at the time said, 'It would be impossible to do without Disney-level star power characters'. But, it stayed in my head. So, when I heard them talking about doing something with Disney, I knew I wanted to do it...
Iwata: You must have had it quite firmly stuck in there...! So basically, the impact of Mario 64, hearing it would be 'impossible without Disney-level characters', and then talk about a Mickey game spawned something inside your head and you raised your hand, right?
Nomura: Yes (laughs).
Iwata: Hmm! Fate sure is a strange thing!
2. 'It will definitely be fun'
Iwata: So, then did you go to Disney for meetings?
Nomura: Yes. First of all there were going to be talks, and in the beginning I went to talk to them without even knowing what sort of talk it would be or anything. At the time, I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to make.
Iwata: Are you the type where, with the image of what you want to make, the concrete visuals change and move inside your head?
Nomura: Yes, I think so. I an image of 3D space was the first image I had. It was taking shape one way or another inside my head, and then Disney also asked me if I could do certain things for them, and they presented a lot of things to me.
Iwata: And those things were different to your own image, naturally.
Nomura: Oh, yes. 'Make a game about this character', they'd say, and it seemed on their side they were thinking I'd make what they ordered, so they were explaining things to me very excitedly and happily, but I honestly had no interest at all (laughs).
Iwata: So from your point of view, you wanted to borrow Disney's characters and make a new, fun game that could stand up against Mario 64, and you had that image in your head, but you couldn't engage, right?
Nomura: Yes. And so I said 'no, I'm good thanks,' and stopped the other person's presentation halfway through. The schedule only allowed the other side to make presentations before the time was up, so first of all I concluded by telling them what kind of game I wasn't about to make.
Iwata: Wow. (laughs) Were they surprised?
Nomura: Yeah, they were (laughs). But, they were English-speakers, and since I had no idea what they were saying I paid no attention, and I talked about the beginnings of 'Kingdom Hearts'. I explained how I wanted to 'do the story of a new, original character journeying through the worlds of the Disney characters', and then we went back and forth a few times. In the beginning I showed them an early design sketch of the protagonist, Sora, but he was holding a giant chainsaw-like weapon, and they were all like, 'what on earth is this?'.
Iwata: Well, Disney worlds, right (laughs)
Nomura: When I said, 'this is a chainsaw', they were stunned into speechlessness (laughs). Several people were crowded around one design sketch, and I think they were probably saying 'this is awful,' but I can't understand English at all, so.
Iwata: In that situation, not being able to understand is a blessing (laughs).
Nomura: Yes (laughs). And then, while we bounced ideas back and forth, he became the Sora of today.
Iwata: So, Disney accepted something that at first shocked them into silence, didn't they?
Nomura: Yes, you're right, they were quite tolerant.
Iwata: Perhaps the Disney side was looking for new stimulus and change too, don't you think? As for practical results, there are many people who have come to love Disney through the world of Kingdom Hearts, and the fact that the series is still ongoing after 10 years is surely something Disney appreciates.
Nomura: They have always told me that Kingdom Hearts is important content to them, and I'm glad.
Iwata: This is the first time I've heard these stories. I was thinking, what?? These things really happened?!
Nomura: Yeah (laughs).
Iwata: And also because, if you hadn't been able to overcome those things like the other side being shocked speechless, and them telling you they wanted you to make a game about a certain character, then it wouldn't have ever reached the shape it has now. Usually you couldn't do something like this, how were you able to? It made me wonder.
Nomura: Well, I say this a lot, but in those days, I didn't think anything was impossible.
Iwata: Humans are certainly unable to think the word 'impossible', aren't they? When someone firmly believes 'I can', and that person keeps steadily moving forwards, things often work out one way or another.
Nomura: Yes, that's true, isn't it. I believed that once it was done, it would definitely be interesting, so if we didn't do it it would be such a loss, and just kept talking (laughs).
Iwata: That presentation method, you could definitely call it 'American' (laughs). However, in the process of bouncing ideas and creating a visual image, I'm sure there was a moment where the other side began to approve, wasn't there?
Nomura: Well... Back then, there were many meetings where we spoke directly to their director of the time, and he was a considerably tolerant guy. Even when the staff around him opposed to something, that director would say 'yeah okay' to me, and the talks would move forward. There was that.
Iwata: Having one person who understood on the other side, and that person holding so much power, was an important factor, wasn't it? Like fate.
Nomura: Yes, I was very lucky.
Iwata: On the other side, in those days Square had only been making RPGs, so were there not many people who had experience with making games that had that degree of action?
Nomura: You're right, there weren't very many at all.
Iwata: I get the feeling that perhaps it didn't go as usual, until the image had enough shape to satisfy, but how was it?
Nomura: I began by collecting staff from scratch, and there were many who had never done action, which meant the dark times were long.
Iwata: So, this new director had to begin with gathering staff, convincing Disney, and then make a game in a genre they'd never done? Those hurdles are three or four times higher than regular games, aren't they!
Nomura: Yes, that's right (laughs). During development the staff moved from impatience to anxiety many times, and there were times we weren't sure if the thing we were making would even be fun.
Iwata: That does happen to people who've been making a game for a long time, doesn't it?
Nomura: Yes, it does. Although, I just kept saying the whole time, 'It will be fine, it will be fun'.
Iwata: So despite everything, you yourself believed firmly in your goal to definitely make it fun, didn't you.
3. Square's Intentions
Iwata: When you first became a director, how did you establish your personal style? How did you think a director should be?
Nomura: The first director I worked under was Mr Sakaguchi, and the next director was Mr (Yoshinori) Kitase (※10), and I think the two of them had a huge influence on me. Then, there was the director when I worked on battle plan for FFIX (※11), Mr (Hiroyuki) Itō (※12). Then, there's the man who went to MLSI (※13), Mr (Tetsuya) Takahashi (※14). He was the graphics leader, and was quite affectionate to me. Those four make up the image I have of a boss.
※10 Mr Yoshinori Kitase = Producer of the Square Enix 1st Production Department. In the days of the ex-company Square he worked on many titles beginning with Final Fantasy VII. ※11 FFIX = Final Fantasy IX. Released July 2000, it is the ninth title in the series. ※12 Mr Hiroyuki Itō = Square Enix game developer. He first directed FFIX and FFXII and has worked on many titles. ※13 MLSI = Monolith Soft, Incorporated. A game development company headquartered in Meguro, Tokyo. ※14 Mr Tetsuya Takahashi = An ex-Square game developer. He went independent in 1999 and founded a game development company, Monolith Soft.
Iwata: So you became the director you gathered from the image of those four?
Nomura: No, I didn't pick up anything but the way to think about the craft, really. When I became a director, I knew I wasn't able to be like them, but I had fun creating with those four, so I thought it would be good if I could at least be fun.
Iwata: But, I think that the most important duty of a leader is to say 'this is our goal!' and to get everyone to believe that 'when we get to our goal, it will be great'. Listening to you, I think that you make those things very easy to understand and then turn into reality.
Nomura: Well... I'm also a designer, so for me it's the visual image that comes into my mind first, and perhaps it's easier to convey that to other people than ideas put into writing.
Iwata: But when you say you're the type to go in from a visual angle, I'm sure that doesn't mean that you yourself see the visual as a still image, so to speak, but rather you imagine the structure of the action at the same time, and how you can make it fun, right?
Nomura: Yeah, I think so.
Iwata: So how do you convey that?
Nomura: Hmm... In the beginning, I'd scribble pictures as I explained. See, for example, it's the same way you'd talk about a movie you've seen. It feels like that.
Iwata: Ahh, so because you yourself are seeing the complete image, you can explain things like 'this part is a bit different' and 'this part is fine like that' until gradually it takes shape, right? You're the exact type to begin from the complete visual image, aren't you.
Nomura: That's why when we make trailers, the staff tell me they are easy to grasp.
Iwata: You don't only present trailers to the customers, but to staff as well, so they become like a moving specifications document, don't they?
Nomura: That's true. The game department can grasp the sort of action we want from watching the trailer.
Iwata: Indeed. I totally understand that. Now, when we think of Kingdom Hearts, there's one more thing I'm sure a lot of people were very taken aback by, and that is the fact of Ms Hikaru Utada's collaboration. I was surprised, too. How did that come about?
Nomura: Well, I personally like Ms Utada, and because of course Disney is the world's largest assembly of characters, I knew that I absolutely had to have a top artist to do the music, and I said that Ms Utada would be the only way to go. They told me it would be almost certainly impossible, but I said we'd never know if we didn't ask, and that if we sent an offer it wouldn't be as bad as we thought, and so we did.
Iwata: You must be glad that they can be so frank with you. That said, I suppose there aren't a lot of people out there like the guy who could go to Disney and tell them 'I'm not doing a game with a Disney character as the main, I want to make my own character' (laughs).
Iwata: I think it's probably unusual for you to have suddenly gone to Ms Utada and asked her to make a song for your game, too. Usually people would think it was impossible, see.
Nomura: Maybe, yeah.... But, there are many things you shouldn't consider impossible before you've tried. 'Just give it a go and give it your best,' sort of thing.
Iwata: Rather than not doing something because it's impossible, it's better to see it as a steady challenge, isn't it. However, after Kingdom Hearts was first accepted, you came up against other walls during the long development period, didn't you. It's a story with much magnificent foreshadowing, but, how much had you thought of from the beginning?
Nomura: I had a vague general framework from the start. Firstly, I'd basically thought of up until around KH2 (※15). When KH1 was announced, I knew as far as KH2, and when after that three titles were announced around the same time (※16), by then I'd basically planned everything. With the release of the latest title, KH3D (※17), I'm thinking ahead now too, splitting it into stages.
※15 KH2 = Kingdom Hearts II. Action RPG released December 2005. There's a 2 in the title, but it's actually the third work in the KH series. ※16 three titles announced at the same time = KH Coded, distributed June 2009, KH 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS, released May 2009, and KH Birth by Sleep, which went on sale Jan 2010. ※17 KH3D = Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]. Released on the 29th March 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS, it is the latest title in the series.
Iwata: You've built up more and more flows and ties so far, but, do they ever tire you out?
Nomura: Yes, well. But...
Iwata: The truth is, Mr. Nomura, we can't see any of that tiring out at all (laughs).
Nomura: Ah, really (laughs). Hm... There definitely have to be limits when creating something. You 100% can't just do anything.
Iwata: Yes, there are always limits, and if there aren't, there will never be closure, will there.
Nomura: That's very true. It's actually part of the fun, working out how to make the game as interesting as possible within those limits. Even within growing constraints, I'm thinking of better ways to enjoy it.
Iwata: Ah, I understand entirely. If you think about how to have fun with limits, as they increase there will definitely be difficult sides in a practical sense, however, we can't tell you are having difficulty at all. Well, that difficulty is something you naturally don't want your customers to see, isn't it?
Nomura: That's right.
Iwata: It sounds like you think that limitations are a part of the process of craft, and if it absolutely must be put in, then it has to be fun, right?
Nomura: Yes. And that's why it's a lot of fun to make happen. And then, there is the person who was the advertising producer of the first generation Kingdom Hearts, Mr (Tadashi) Nomura (※18). He taught me many things, and in those days, he would always say 'the customer doesn't want to see the difficult places'.
※18 Mr Tadashi Nomura = He was in charge as advertising producer for various games for the former company Square. Presently, he is a board member at the split-off company Monolith Soft.
Iwata: That's just what we've been talking about, isn't it.
Nomura: I was always told 'don't talk about your hardships', and perhaps that had an influence.
Iwata: You agree with it too, don't you.
Nomura: Yes, I do. I think it's more fun to talk about which parts were interesting. There are a lot of things like that that my seniors would say back in the day, that remain with me even now.
Iwata: And included in that is the culture of Square's craftmanship, isn't it?
Nomura: I do think so. When Mr (Kōichi) Ishii (※19) left, he told me, 'take care of Square's craft,' and I knew I wanted to treasure that feeling.
※19 Mr Kōichi Ishii = Worked on Final Fantasy series 1~3 and XI etc. Currently, he is the representative director of the company Grezzo.
4. Flying around, so much you can't help but laugh
Iwata: Changing the topic here, but when you first saw the Nintendo 3DS, what did you think?
Nomura: I'd heard from the beginning that it could do 'stereoscopic effects', but the 3D was way beyond anything I'd expected. I'd imagined a more subtle effect, I was really surprised.
Iwata: Mr Nomura, I saw your output when you made a Kingdom Hearts title for the DS, and at the time I thought that you were definitely someone who wasn't satisfied unless you had made the best and proper use of the special traits of the hardware in your gameplay.
Nomura: Well, that's true, I think (laughs).
Iwata: I felt that when you made 'The World Ends With You' (※20), too. And so, I think that there would be an aspect of, with this new title too, your fans wondering to some extent about what you've cooked up for them on a 3DS.
※20 'The World Ends With You' = Action RPG for the DS that released July 2007. Mr Tetsuya Nomura was the main character designer and the creative producer. It is abbreviated as 'TWEWY'.
Nomura: Let me see... Well, though, with a completely new title like TWEWY you can sharpen things almost recklessly, but with Kingdom Hearts, you have to think about your fans and can't go as far, and instead have to explore which categories you can make the best of. For this title, the aspect I was most pleased with was how the 3DS supports analogue control. Analogue controls are pretty big for action games so I was relieved.
Iwata: The ‘free flow action' in this title looks like the most dynamic action in the series so far. That's because there being an analogue stick gives the impression of fluid control, isn't it.
Nomura: Yes. With the 3DS, you can do things boldly and there is 3D vision, so there will be dynamism and presence. Actually, the first thing I knew I wanted to do with Kingdom Hearts 3D was free flow action.
Iwata: So your first concept was free flow action?
Nomura: Yes, it was born from those two visual points, analogue and 3D vision. Which is why now, when the staff who finished making KH3D play past titles such as BBS (※21) or KH2, they say the movements feel slow. There are even opinions like ‘once you've experienced 3D free flow action you can't go back,' and ‘KH where you can't kick off walls isn't KH' (laughs).
※21 BBS = Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. An RPG that released Jan 2010.
Iwata: So, once you've tasted the great feeling of free flow action, even your staff feel like you can't go back. But, I'm sure something that dynamic was difficult to bring to life as a game, wasn't it?
Nomura: Yes. We couldn't use our ordinary methods. You can leap anywhere by kicking off walls, so we actually made the maps larger than we usually have in Kingdom Hearts. It's also a bit hard to control, but... but sometimes you just have to laugh. ‘Look how far I flew!!' (laughs).
Iwata: So you find yourself laughing, even though it's something you made yourself (laughs).
Nomura: I'm like, ‘But ahh, it's fun, so whatever.' Getting better at controlling it is all part of the fun, see.
Iwata: You also get absorbed, don't you. Seeing the clips make you want to get your own hands on it, I think.
Nomura: Yes, that's right. When I played Mario 64, I liked the part in front of the castle. You have no particular goal there, and I really enjoyed just running and jumping and gliding around. KH3D's free flow action has that sort of atmosphere.
Iwata: Oh yes, back then, Mr (Shigeru) Miyamoto said he wanted to make it fun to handle, and in those days it felt amazing to see such a thing realised. You could see your own intentions properly reflected in the movements, the motions connected properly. There's a clear change in action games from before and after Mario 64, isn't there?
Nomura: Yes. Flying and leaping around freely is the foundation of action games. In this title, you can be even freer. It's hard to control at first, but there's nothing like it when you can do it the way you want to.
Iwata: I hope many people reach that level. For this title, on the way to turning unprecedented concepts of action into an actually playable game, how much of that was your first concept, and how much did you come to figure out as you were making the game?
Nomura: My initial visions don't usually make it to the end unchanged. Many of the staff's wishes are incorporated. If it's fun, I'm happy. See, the other side of that is, if my initial concept never changed then I wouldn't enjoy things as much. I always keep my first image in my head, but it expands as various opinions are added to it. That's why it's become quite a bold title, I think.
Iwata: Having someone like you believing that ‘we will definitely end up with something great if we take this direction' lets it push forward, right?
Nomura: Yes. We definitely can't let our first course of action go off track, so I do have some sort of idea about our destination. ‘We can go this way if it falls in the general direction,' sort of thing. So, even if it's not exactly as I was first thinking, I'll give it the okay if it feels ‘interesting' or ‘fun', I suppose you could say.
Iwata: Now, I wanted you to please tell me about the Dream Eaters.
Nomura: Well, when I was a child, my family kept dogs and cats. Such love is born when you raise a pet from birth, and witness their life. I thought if you were teammates with a Dream Eater from birth, you'd come to love it like a pet, wouldn't you? That was my motive behind trying it.
Iwata: I see.
Nomura: And also, up until now, most games in which your enemies become your teammates have command-selecting type battles, and I wanted to try making an action one where you can run around.
Iwata: It certainly is rare for action battles to have things that appeared as enemies to become your teammates and fight alongside you, isn't it.
Nomura: Getting it to work was incredibly wearing, but I knew that was why we had to be the first. It would be interesting to be able to fight alongside enemies as teammates among all the bold action features in this game, so there was that aspect of really wanting to try and do it first. Sora can wield and throw his teammates, and get on them and ride around.
Iwata: Just now, you slipped in ‘get on them'. Implementing riding would have made your workload explode, wouldn't it (laughs)
Nomura: Yeah. It's easy when it's just words, but... (laughs)
Iwata: So basically, the concept of Dream Eaters was tied together by combining original gameplay and visual concepts and including your own experience owning puppies and kittens a long time ago.
Nomura: Yes. There was also one more thing that had impact on this: Nintendogs (※22). In Nintendogs, you make friends with your pets. But I always end up thinking about battling. ‘Why can't I make my Nintendogs fight...' (laughs)
Both: (roar of laughter)
※22 Nintendogs = Communication game for the Nintendo DS that released April 2005.
Nomura: In Nintendogs, when you go for a walk, you can meet other puppies on bark mode (※23), see. What if you could battle them...!
Iwata: Did you want to battle them? (laughs)
Nomura: I thought, wait, can I battle them?? But then of course I couldn't. (laughs)
※23 bark mode = (This DS feature had various names depending on the game, and was the origin of Street Pass on the 3DS.) A wireless function that lets you exchange data with people you pass when you walk around with a powered-on DS.
Iwata: (laughs) But... When we see something new and creative, it will always inspire something else, and in that sense, we're always passing various balls back and forth, aren't we?
Nomura: Yes, that's true. I've always made RPGs that centre around battle, so it's sadly difficult for me to think outside that. That's why even in Theatrhythm I was like, put battles in for me, and we ended up with the concept of the four lines being represented as four people lined up facing an enemy.
Iwata: Ohh, really. Inevitably, that must have become your axis, Mr Nomura.
Nomura: That's how my own desires influence things. Maybe I'm not satisfied if I can't fight something (laughs).
5. 'Kingdom Hearts'-ness
Iwata: Now, with the titles in this series piling up, I'm sure inside you have an established idea of ‘Kingdom Hearts-ness', don't you?
Nomura: Hmmm... I wonder, now...
Iwata: Or, do you begin with such a striking visual image inside yourself that from the start that sort of discussion is irrelevant?
Nomura: Let me see. The matter of what ‘Kingdom Hearts' is like doesn't really come up, does it. When I say ‘I want to make something like this,' the staff are already aware of what ‘Kingdom Hearts' is.
Iwata: So the image that comes to your mind is just ‘Kingdom Hearts', then?
Nomura: Yes, that's right. Well... There's one thing. I think, if I can feel a ‘depth', then that's it, maybe.
Iwata: What do you mean by ‘depth'?
Nomura: That when you enter that world, you sense a depth to it. When I present something as ‘this is Kingdom Hearts,' I don't want it to look like something superficial, with just a name pasted on.
Iwata: It's not just pasted together characters and worlds, you mean, right?
Nomura: Yes. Really, I haven't thought about it any more than that... But, whether or not this appears on the surface, I think the 'setup' is pretty important.
Iwata: So, you mean you can be unshakable because you have everything consistent inside yourself, right? It doesn't matter whether you say it all out loud, you have a contradiction-free explanation inside yourself, and the background is there, all connected together.
Iwata: Right now your latest title is on sale. What kind of response are you feeling, seeing your customer's reactions?
Nomura: When it was first announced in Los Angeles (※24), I was watching your presentation from my seat on the second level, and when the title came up like 'dunn' on the screen, all the people around me got all excited. I was so glad. Very relieved.
※24 first announced in Los Angeles = E3 2010. E3, short for Electronic Entertainment Expo, is a computer game trade fair held in Los Angeles in the USA once a year.
Iwata: I remember the reverberations from up on the stage. Everyone had this big 'wow' reaction, didn't they?
Nomura: At the time I was thinking, 'we have to get a serious reaction here'... The whole time the customers were reacting right on time to the announcement images, so I knew they were properly paying attention to them. Before that I'd been thinking, 'they won't notice it...'
Iwata: Why was that?
Nomura: The announcement was a line-up of prominent titles, and I didn't think mine was a title that would stand out very much. But, I felt them all paying attention the whole way through, and the reaction to the bundle edition (※25) and things like that were amazing too.
※25 Bundle edition = Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] Nintendo 3DS Bundle Edition. The included Nintendo 3DS console was printed with an original pattern using the 'cosmo black' colour. It had various symbols and icons that appear in the games such as Mickey Mouse and crowns serving as motifs on the front and back.
Iwata: The response to the bundle edition was intense, wasn't it?
Nomura: Yes. Which is why it would be bragging to say I made something fun enough to live up to that. But, the whole time I was getting much more of a response than I expected.
Iwata: One one hand, the longer a series goes on, there will come a time when you worry about the discord between the expectations of old fans of the series and making it possible for new fans to join in. What do you think about that?
Nomura: That does give me trouble... It's like, the whole time you're thinking 'at X time I have to do X'. But every time, I start from situations where even the main characters themselves are saying 'what is this world??' to make the introductory part easy for even first-time players to enter. The player and main characters are in the same position.
Iwata: You definitely always start from unknown situations, then?
Nomura: Yes. There's an amount of exposition in the game to help explain various characters and setup for those who don't know, but from the position of someone who understands the series, it's difficult to figure out exactly what will be hard for those who don't.
Iwata: And so, sometimes you're not sure if you've explained too much, right?
Nomura: Also, with things that are meant to be mysteries for both the experienced and inexperienced, when those who don't know play, the fact of what they don't know becomes a worry in of itself. I worry that they're thinking, 'am I just missing previous information here?'. It's a difficult problem that can't really be solved, but in this title I tried by implementing a feature that gives summaries of the past, so that people can understand everything.
Iwata: This title definitely doesn't feel like something you have to have played all the past titles for, does it.
Nomura: That's right. We made it so that you can understand all the important information so far (laughs). But, well, the concept was 'fun to even just handle', so I think that small part will be plenty of fun even if you don't know anything at all.
Iwata: Because for you, who enjoyed just running and jumping around in front of the castle in Mario 64, this is the first series where you got to make something that was fun to just handle, right?
6. The Great Feeling When Complex Foreshadowing Links Together
Iwata: So, how would you say this title will appeal to existing fans of the series?
Nomura: The whole cast being together, I think.
Iwata: Was it the first time you'd known from the beginning that you wanted to have the whole cast together?
Nomura: Actually, the way the plot is moving, it had to be this way. This title is like the preface to a coming battle, so all the characters in the series so far are gathering. I think it's something that fans of the series will really enjoy.
Iwata: Watching the clips online, you see all the screaming comments every time a character appears, don't you.
Nomura: We had an event at Odaiba the other day, and it was amazing (laughs). When we played the opening movie, the reactions in the audience were so amazing. I really got a sense of what they felt for the characters. Having a series go on for so long means people build real attachments to the characters, and as the one who originally designed those characters, seeing people respond to them makes me extremely happy.
Iwata: Having all the cast together is perfect for pooling all that affection for the characters.
Nomura: Yes. The plot of this title is quite difficult, but I think there are developments that those who love Kingdom Hearts might really like. I think they will enjoy some complicated foreshadowing connecting, and some new mysteries being born.
Iwata: Coming to see the connections between things we thought were unrelated is a refreshing feeling that fans of a series can really savour, isn't it?
Nomura: That's what I think. Like what we were saying before about 'developing within limits', even though I think it's hard, it's a great feeling when things click perfectly within the limits. It's a really great feeling when the mysteries of the story and the foreshadowing connect.
Iwata: I see... Mr. Nomura, you see those as the same thing, don't you? This title has come out just as the 3DS is picking up. The 3DS has come this far because we've been supported by so many people, and because of that we want to energise everyone in the video game community. We're really excited to see how this title is received by our customers.
Nomura: I've already done what I can. All I'm doing now is waiting for the reactions of everyone who was waiting for the release.
Iwata: Hearing you speak today, I really get the feeling that it's all tidy and complete.
Nomura: Yeah, it is. Production time was short for a Kingdom Hearts game, but we didn't leave out a single thing, crammed everything in, so it really feels complete.
Iwata: I see. By the way, I'm sure you knew about the 'Iwata Asks' project, but how did you find actually talking with me?
Nomura: ...It was easy to talk to you, yes. I was pretty nervous in the beginning though (laughs). It's always fun to talk to people who love games. Sensing that is probably why it was easy to talk to you.
Iwata: Actually, it was really easy for me to talk to you too. I was originally a programmer, so I can't visualise images in my head from the start the way someone who was originally a designer, like you, can, but I was really surprised at how much we have in common when it comes to the things we think about when making something. I've made a lot of discoveries.
Nomura: I'm so glad you would say that (laugh). I'm not very good at talking to people I've just met...
Iwata: But Mr Nomura, the things you say are so interesting.
Nomura: Hmm... but you know, the whole time I'm thinking, 'will this even be interesting...' (laughs).
Both: (roar of laughter)
Iwata: Listening to people who create things talk about their thoughts and their sufferings is definitely incredibly interesting. But I think the interesting things they have to say don't always properly make it out into the world. I think there are these really interesting dramas surrounding games, and it would be so great to convey them to the fans more. That's my motive behind continuing 'Iwata Asks'.
Nomura: That's true. I was watching the reactions going around back for the Theatrhythm one too, it looks like the fans really enjoy this project.
Iwata: Talking with you today, I now know how there are visual images moving in your head, Mr Nomura. That is the secret behind you putting Free Flow Action together, too, isn't it? If I may venture to ask, how do you work that sort of all-over-the-place action into a game? Even watching the videos it was a mystery to me.
Nomura: When I said I wanted to do that sort of thing, they said right then and there that it would be pretty tough (laughs). But, it came out very well because my staff are excellent. My staff are the ones who give form to whatever I dream up, and I am so incredibly grateful to them.
Iwata: I'm sure that if you hadn't received some portion of thanks from your own seniors, you wouldn't have turned out the way you did, right? You have respect and heartfelt gratitude for your staff, who do the things you can't.
Nomura: Yes. I feel so much that they are helping me out going along with my unreasonableness. I trust them when they say they will get it done for me.
Iwata: On the other hand, perhaps those people can pull off the unreasonable thanks to their conviction that 'Mr Nomura will see us to the goal', or something?
Nomura: Well, all I can ever say is 'it will be fine'....
Iwata: That's exactly what Mr Hazama told me. Today a lot of things I hadn't considered before connected in my head, it was very interesting.
Nomura: Oh really, I'm glad (laughs).
Iwata: Thank you so much for today.
Nomura: No, thank you.
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