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A Look Back: KH2 Ultimania, Nojima Interview



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Sign

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After a long break, we're finally continuing to work our way through the rest of our interview backlog! We'll pick things back up with the KH2 Ultimania interviews, starting with scenario writer Kazushige Nojima's.

Resolve the mysteries left over from the previous game based on the "Mystery List"

— How did you first become involved in the KH2 project?

Nojima: When work on FFX-2 was finished, Tetsu (Director Tetsuya Nomura) casually invited me to join. Well actually, it was less an invitation and more like him going "Come on, do it" (laughs).

— You worked on the previous game too, didn't you.

Nojima: I didn't have a lead role, I just came on board to help out in the final stages. I mostly wrote the scenario from Hollow Bastion onwards.

— KH1 left us with many mysteries. Was that your doing?

Nojima: Nah, when I do that it tends to come back to bite me, so I try to avoid it (laughs). I think most of the mysteries of KH1 might have been Tetsu's doing. After my work on the scenario was completed, I remember seeing the finished game and thinking, "Oh, there are a lot of things in here I don't know about." I saw the KHFM secret movie and was also like "Okay… where is this going?" (laughs)

— Did you receive the concept for this game's scenario from Nomura?

Nojima: Yes. I received a plot thought up by Tetsu and the cutscene team, and turned that into a scenario. 

For the main story of Sora and Roxas, I was first given a massive plot from Tetsu. I thought, "If this is all it's going to be, it's going to be a piece of cake," even though I hadn't even written the initial scenes in Twilight Town yet (laughs). But Tetsu always has a clear idea of what he wants to do. He relayed his thoughts to me, and then I was free to do the rest.

— What kinds of things did Nomura want to do?

Nojima: He told me he wanted to resolve the mysteries left over from the previous game. Early on, he gave me a "mystery list" consisting of such conundrums. When I asked him, "So, am I supposed to come up with all the answers?" he replied, "It's okay, I've already taken care of a few of them." I thought, "Just a few? You don't even have answers for everything yet?!" (laughs)

There were a lot of keywords that appeared in the secret movie of the last game, so we talked about incorporating them into the scenario as much as possible.

— Was it difficult to incorporate the lines from the secret movie, such as "This time, I'll fight"?

Nojima: Well, I knew from the the beginning that I had to include them, so I tried to weave these lines into situations where someone would say them. Of course, I didn't write the story with the express purpose of making characters say these things. I kept them in the back of my mind, so it wasn't that difficult.

— Sea salt ice cream is an important item in the story. How did this come to be?

Nojima: Sea salt ice cream is something Tetsu wanted to include from the get-go. Originally, I wanted to come up with something to symbolize Hollow Bastion, but since we had the ice cream, I decided to use it as a password for the computer. I decided that Ansem the Wise, who chose the password, is a sea salt ice cream lover, and thought it'd be nice to bring out his human side. Nice adults who like ice cream are kind of endearing, aren't they? That being said, I don't think it's a good idea to use your favorite food as a password (laughs).

— Come to think of it, in the scene where the characters are searching for a password, Leon says, "It's just like grabbing clouds," and Tifa jumps in with, "Grabbing who?" This is because of the overlap between "cloud" (the thing) and "Cloud" (the person), right?

Nojima: I think I wrote that scene when I first came up with that pun (laughs). I generally try to avoid playing around with words like this, because it creates translation problems when working on the overseas version. If it were translated into English, it'd be done straight.

(T/N: In the English version, Leon says, "That means... this is all a wild goose chase." to which Tifa responds, "You're chasing what, now?" The two metaphors share the same meaning, but obviously the English equivalent doesn't involve clouds so we miss out on the pun.)

Two reasons why Port Royal was so difficult

— Were there any differences between creating a scenario based on Disney films and what you normally do?

Nojima: Since there was an original story to work off of, it was probably easier than usual. However, the way I see it, KH is an original IP even though it's owned by Disney. Of course, I have seen the films that the characters in the game originate from. 

— Were there any worlds that gave you a hard time?

Nojima: Halloween Town, and I think Port Royal. The Nightmare Before Christmas, where Halloween Town originates from, has a particularly strong musical color compared to other Disney films, and I had to "compete" with it without those musical elements. I can't help but think of it as a "competition" (laughs), so that was tough. It stands out from the rest of Disney's catalogue thanks to Director Tim Burton's dedication to his weirdness.

And Port Royal?

Nojima: Oh that... My wife loves Pirates of the Caribbean (laughs). So, when I was watching the DVD at home for reference in writing the scenario, she asked, "Why are you watching this?" I like Johnny Depp (who plays Jack Sparrow in the film), so I often watch movies with him in it, but then she asked, "This is for Kingdom Hearts, isn't it?" I feigned ignorance and said, "Who knows?" (laughs) She replied, "I don't care whether it is or isn't, just don't screw it up."

— So the pressure was on.

Nojima: In that sense, yes, it was pretty tough (laughs). Also, I'd heard that Port Royal would have "realistically recreated live-action visuals," but I had no idea what it would actually look like, so I couldn't visualize it the scenes when I was writing the scenario. I had a bit of trouble figuring out whether I should give it a taste akin to FFVII Advent Children (hereafter, FFVIIAC) or FFX, or whether I should go with more of an anime or manga vibe.

— I understand that you also wrote the lyrics to the original songs used in Atlantica's musical.

Nojima: I wrote them while referencing the dubbed version of The Little Mermaid, thinking "maybe something like this...?" (laughs) I wrote the lyrics first this time, but it's easier if you already have the music, because then you'll understand how it flows. Without the music, the rhythm would have to be at 5-7-5, making it difficult to write a song to match. I told them I didn't mind if they changed the lyrics later, but I think it'd be difficult for Shimomura (Music Composer: Yoko Shimomura) to do so.

— But aren't you already familiar with writing lyrics?

Nojima: There's more to it than that. Lyrics can remain in the world on their own, completely independent of the overall scenario, so you can't cut corners. And even with a poor choice of words, a single line still makes up part of a larger story, so it needs to be able to compete with the full might of the package as a whole. However, the lyrics stand alone in the songs, so I have to be careful. That's why, no matter how easy writing lyrics may seem, I'm clawing my way through the dictionaries in my house and putting in a lot of thought.

— How long does it take you to write the lyrics for one song?

Nojima: When I can, I'll write it in a few tens of minutes. However, after writing not just lyrics but scenarios as well, I'll go lay down for a while. I often work late at night, but people tell me "it's not good to write letters at that hour." (laughs) After all, if you don't let yourself rest for even one moment, you won't be able to look at things objectively. This is especially true when it comes to lyrics, as I find that they will often come across as strangely passionate and stick out like a sore thumb, so I review them many times before finalizing. I also read over the scenario at the beginning of each day's work, fixing the parts that catch my attention. Sometimes I don't finish my work for the day because of these corrections (laughs)

The relationship between Cloud and Tifa in KH2

— How did you feel about the FF characters appearing in KH2?

Nojima: They might have been more difficult to deal with than the Disney characters. I didn't know how much I could carry over from their original games. I'd heard vague concepts like "they're the same as the originals, but different," so it was hard for me to grasp the idea.

— Of all the FF characters appearing in this game, who do you have the strongest attachment to?

Nojima: I didn't think I'd be able to use Yuna and her friends again, so I was thrilled to get the opportunity. I thought the FFX incarnations of these characters might appear in other games, but was under the impression that the vibe of their FFX-2 counterparts would prevent those versions from doing the same. What's more is that, since they didn't have important roles, I was free to use them as I pleased (laughs).

— Do you prefer FFX-2 Yuna over FFX Yuna?

Nojima: No, I like them both (laughs). But if she were a real person, I think I'd prefer FFX. FFX-2 Yuna is too forced, so I find her exhausting. I believe that, truthfully, she'd rather stay home and read books (laughs).

— FFVIII's Seifer, Fuu, and Rai also show up. What are your thoughts about them?

Nojima: That's easy; they just want to be cool. However, their brand of coolness isn't the same as Sephiroth's or Cloud's. They're a little more childish, like they're trying really hard to be cool. That makes them sound charming, doesn't it, coming from someone who's looking in from the outside. I thought it'd be nice if I could bring out the same feeling as the Seifer who laughed so heartily at the end of FFVIII. I was happy to be able to adapt Fuu and Rai as well, but there was the issue with Fuu's manner of speaking (laughs).

Setzer is from FFVI, right?

Nojima: The original plan was for FFVII's Rufus to appear [in this role]. However, when I was wrapping up the scenario, Tetsu said, "FFVII characters are showing up a little too much overall, so let's go with Setzer." I wasn't involved with FFVI, so I didn't know much about Setzer, but he said, "No, it's okay, you'll be fine." (laughs)

Tifa from FFVII makes her debut.

Nojima: Actually, Tifa wasn't planned to be in the game at first. Tetsu and I were discussing what Cloud is doing in Hollow Bastion, and we came to the conclusion that while Cloud is chasing Sephiroth, he himself is being chased by something as well. The truth is, Cloud is actually running away from that something, but he purports to be chasing Sephiroth. So we decided that Cloud is running away from "something warm," which what Tifa is after in FFVIIAC.

— Nomura said, "If Cloud's darkness is Sephiroth, then Tifa is light." If that's the case, then what kind of position do you think Aerith has?

Nojima: The way I see it, Aerith doesn't belong to either the light or the darkness. It's sort of like she's in a different realm and can go either way if she so chooses. Rather than being dyed in light or darkness, she is a fully independent existence. To put it in a cool way, she's the most steadfast being to boast both light and darkness.

— What is their "own world" that Sephiroth and Cloud returned to after their battle? 

Nojima: This is just my personal opinion, but Sephiroth, Cloud and Tifa in that world are based on completely different standards than Sora, Organization XIII, and the Heartless. So "their own world" does not refer to Midgar or anything like that, but rather something along the lines of "their rightful place." Fighting as they do in KH2 isn't right for them. The thing is, Cloud should be in the world like Tifa says, or perhaps he should have been there all along. It's kind of abstract and difficult to explain, but it's not about a specific location, but rather the state of mind... It's the feeling of not having to fight.

The themes of the scenario are "friendship" and "fantasy"

— What theme is this scenario based on?

Nojima: As you know, there are themes like "light and darkness" and "heart," but in terms of my scenario writing, it is the "friendship" between Sora and Riku. I think I had one like theirs when I was a kid, but that kind of relationship is not easy to have. I wanted to write about that kind of friendship head-on, one that might be a little embarrassing in real life.

Kingdom Hearts is, in many ways, a story about passionate people. They stand up and save the world, rescue their friends even as they themselves are falling into darkness — everyone expresses it differently, but they've all got a fire deep inside... But I digress. I just wanted to make sure the idea was conveyed properly.

— Which parts of the scenario strongly reflect your intentions?

Nojima: The parts where Roxas's friends are involved, not just at the beginning of the scenario, but also midway through. I also wanted to properly depict the process of revealing that there are two Twilight Towns. I'm glad that I was able to include everything I had in mind, such as the scene where they hold the crystal balls up to the light and gaze through.

I have found that, in the FF series as of late, the number of "things that can't be explained by mere logic" has been steadily decreasing. But in Kingdom Hearts, there are still elements that have a sense of fantasy, such as light and darkness. I wanted to cherish that "innocence," rather than follow the trend of "this is how it works." Conversely, if I had not done that, this game may have gone down the same route as FFVIIAC, which I was also writing at that time (laughs).

— What do you consider to be the characteristic of your scenario?

Nojima: Hmm... the padding? (laughs) Well, I do take care to make sure that if I look back on it 10 years from now, it won't look dated. Ideally, rather than making it fit just right at the time of release, it should be enjoyable to both those in the present and future. I enjoy hard rock, but when I listen to songs that have been around for 30 years, I don't feel they are that old. On the other hand, when I listen to music that were products of their time, for example, songs that were popular in the 1980s, I think, "Wow, that really takes me back." That's not what I want from my writing. Instead, I'd like to create something that will have the same effect at any given time.

That being said, another characteristic of my scenarios is that you can't throw a straight pitch through it (laughs).

What exactly do you mean?

Nojima: Even if it's obvious, I won't be satisfied unless I include a development that says "this is how it really happened." This is because I've been writing game scenarios since the beginning [of my career], rather than working in TV or film.

Games take a long time to play, so I try to include a lot of fun things. I thought, if I do that, then it'd be impossible to throw a fastball right down the middle from beginning to end.

— I see.

Nojima: If I had to name one more characteristic, it'd have to be the last word at the ending. It may not necessarily be said at the very end, but I like to conclude with words that are commonplace and used in everyday life, such as the "I'm back" and "You're home" used in this game, "thank you", and so on. To offset this, if there are lines in the story that make me think, "I would never speak like this," then I'll just leave them be. The director who has me writing the scenario for them has to be prepared for such things (laughs).

— By the way, about this game's secret movie...

Nojima: I haven't seen it yet (laughs). Well, I'm sure there's still room for a sequel. For example, the story of the Keyblade itself. We still haven't talked about the will of the Keyblade, or the history from its creation to when Sora takes it in his hand. Not only that, but there's also a very broad subject called "light and darkness." There's plenty of room for more stories to be written.

— The secret movie is very much expanding on the story of the Keyblade.

Nojima: Oh, really? Well then, no doubt that's what they're doing (laughs).

— Finally, do you have a message for the readers?

Nojima: I think this every time, but the Kingdom Hearts development team really is amazing (laughs). Even if they encounter obvious difficulties, they're able to overcome them. To tell you the truth, when I first completed the scenario, I thought, "If it's this long, they won't be able to develop it in time to meet the deadline, so we'll probably have to make cuts," but everything managed to go through. "It all made it in. That's amazing." I was so impressed.

With a development team like this working on the game, I think KH2 is even intense than its predecessor. I hope that everyone will challenge that intensity head-on as they play the game.


Secret of this title that only he knows

I'd decided that I wouldn't have the characters saying lines that were difficult for me to say. When I was writing the dialogue, I actually mimicked them out loud to make sure everything would work, but doing so for Mickey and Donald proved to be difficult.

 
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Zettaflare

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Interesting read. Especially the bit about Cloud and Sephiroth returning to their "rightful place". Even if it was just an opinion from Nojima. Would be nice if that was followed up on in the Foretellers Saga
 

okhi12

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I had never read this interview, it sure was interesting.
TBH I'm not very fond of Nojima since the FFX eien no daisho novel and the FFX Will audio, but this interview made me realize that many details I love in KH2 were also his doing. That's good, my opinion about him improved a bit.
Nojima and Nomura are similar in that whenever they write something I have a 50% chance of either loving or hating it but overall I like their work.
 

Oracle Spockanort

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I had never read this interview, it sure was interesting.
TBH I'm not very fond of Nojima since the FFX eien no daisho novel and the FFX Will audio, but this interview made me realize that many details I love in KH2 were also his doing. That's good, my opinion about him improved a bit.
Nojima and Nomura are similar in that whenever they write something I have a 50% chance of either loving or hating it but overall I like their work.
They do great yet terrible things xD

At least between the two of them, you’ll never know what you’ll get xD
 

SweetYetSalty

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That was a fun read, thanks for uploading @Sign. I wish I was in the room when they wrote the lyrics to "Swim this Way" and "Ursula's Revenge" lol. Also it's so funny to see Sea Salt ice cream originally meant to represent Hollow Bastion and Ansem the Wise, when now it's a recognizable staple to represent Twilight Town friendships XD
 

2 quid is good

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Super interesting that Rufus was gonna take Setzer's place, and also suddenly Setzer's OOC Ness makes more sense now that I know Nojima was writing for him

:V but I still enjoyed it.

I'd decided that I wouldn't have the characters saying lines that were difficult for me to say. When I was writing the dialogue, I actually mimicked them out loud to make sure everything would work, but doing so for Mickey and Donald proved to be difficult.
This is pretty interesting to me, I have always been a fan of the character screen presence in KH2, and I find a lot of the lines pretty memorable to me.
 

Elysium

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That makes sense out of Tifa’s weird entrance in the middle of Leon’s dialogue (the pun inexplicably not being translated).

I agree with him on Yuna, that X-2 Yuna always felt forced and exhausting. As for Port Royal, his wife told him not to screw it up, but, well, they did… Thankfully, KH3 corrected it.
 

Rydgea

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Interesting, ty ty.

We still haven't talked about the will of the Keyblade, or the history from its creation to when Sora takes it in his hand.

We still haven't, tbh.

That makes sense out of Tifa’s weird entrance in the middle of Leon’s dialogue (the pun inexplicably not being translated).

I'm struggling with this, actually. Why didn't they play off the pun? Because it's not as ubiquitous as what it was changed to?
 

Sorakh212

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Always interesting and fun even going back and reading these Ultimanias. Especially for one of my all time favorite games.
It's kinda funny looking back at given how they wanted to wrap up certain mysteries from the first game only now they've basically opened Pandora's box and the plot threads are much more pervasive and numbered nowadays Lol
Also loved that comment from his wife Hahaha!
 

Sign

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I'm struggling with this, actually. Why didn't they play off the pun? Because it's not as ubiquitous as what it was changed to?
I presume it was deemed more important to get the message across than the pun. Nojima didn't make up the line about grabbing clouds, to clarify. That is what people in Japan use to describe fruitless searches, whereas in English we talk about wild goose chases, so localization was not incorrect in going with that line.
 
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Rydgea

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I presume it was deemed more important to get the message across than the pun. Nojima didn't make up the line about grabbing clouds, to clarify. That is what people in Japan use to describe fruitless searches, whereas in English we talk about wild goose chases, so localization was not incorrect in going with that line.

I get that it's a regional idiom, I'm just surprised the translators thought American audiences wouldn't understand what "grabbing clouds" was implying. No use crying over spilled materia, I guess.
 

Vaddix

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I presume it was deemed more important to get the message across than the pun. Nojima didn't make up the line about grabbing clouds, to clarify. That is what people in Japan use to describe fruitless searches, whereas in English we talk about wild goose chases, so localization was not incorrect in going with that line.

Wait, but...we have that idiom in the west. Chasing clouds. What in the world? It's even the namesake of the music piece used for the gummi routes to Olympus and Pride Lands: "Cloudchasers". This is such a strange thing to shy away from in translation, of all things.
 
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