Robert Peeler (Community Manager, Square Enix): Hey everyone! This is Robert Peeler, Community Manager for Square Enix Members. I’m here with Tai Yasue, one of the key people responsible for the Kigndom Hearts series. We’re going to ask him a few questions.
Thanks for meeting with us.
Tai Yasue (Co-Director, Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]): It’s a pleasure!
Peeler: First of all, congratulations on the seventh entry in the Kingdom Hearts series; big accomplishment. What do you think has been the single greatest thing that has brought so much success to the brand?
Yasue: Well, I think one of the main reasons it’s been so successful is that we’ve been trying to incorporate new things in each Kingdom Hearts title. Kingdom Hearts II had reactions commands, Kingdom Hearts BbS, we’ve added the style system, and forKingdom Hearts 3D, I think one of the main points is the Free-Flow Action, Free-Flow Motion. It really added a lot of spice, and really I think it took Kingdom Hearts to the next level. I think it’s a good view of the future.
Peeler: Very cool. Alright, and we also wanted to talk about some of the new Disney worlds that have been added to Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance]. What are some of the decisions that led to bringing those worlds into this game and what other worlds might have been considered?
Yasue: Okay well, each world has its own reason for being, I think. The Notre Dame world, we had a lot of user input and we sort of decided to put that in. For example, Fantasia, when we were starting the project, there was an idea for Fantasia 2000 and Fantasia. Riku was going to go to Fantasia 2000 and Sora was going to Fantasia. We shelved that because Fantasia, the old one, it had enough rich content that we then decided to just concentrate on that.
Peeler: Someone once told me that what was done with the old Pirates of the Caribbean world in the past games.
Yasue: Yeah, we made this title for the handheld, but in a way, we made it as if it were a console game. So we really wanted to challenge the bar; make it go higher and higher.
Peeler: Well done. Okay, in addition to some of the Disney worlds, have any other main Disney characters been used as cross-world influencers? Kind of like how Maleficent or Pete were used in previous titles?
Yasue: Actually, no. If you discount Maleficent’s raven, I guess not really. We tried to not really change the original Disney worlds’ storyline and themes. It becomes difficult if you have, for example, Sam Flynn from Tron Legacy going to the Three Musketeers world and changes things. So it’s a very delicate issue and we really wanted to not-change the original Disney IP.
Peeler: So pretty well handled in terms of like, having Sora jump into the world and integrate them into the larger story; pretty well done. In terms of this 10-year anniversary that we’re coming up to now, what has been your most favorite, cherished memory of the development process; things that have really stuck with you as you made new games?
Yasue: Well, there’s a lot. One of the things that remains with me is the crunch time for Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep and 3D. Pretty hectic; everyone doesn’t get enough sleep. The programmers look like zombies; you talk to them and they sort of growl at you.
Peeler: We also wanted to talk about the Drop system that was added to this game. What’s the inspiration behind bringing that about, maybe in contrast with some of the previous systems? What has made you decide want to put that into the game?
Yasue: Well, overall we wanted to put the Drop system in because, first of all, in previous titles, the story’s for each character has felt separate. For example, in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep had Aqua, Ventus and Terra, and you had to actually finish each character before you could start another character. But in 3D, we wanted to unite Sora and Riku’s story together, merge it in a way. I think we did that with the Drop system. Also, we wanted a bit of thrill. It’s thrilling when you drop down into a boss battle. It’s like a time limit, in a way.
Peeler: It’s the kind of transition element that goes from one phase to another.
Yasue: Yeah, that’s right. And as for me, what I wanted to do was I wanted to have a cooperative gameplay. For the Drop system, when you play, for example, Sora, you'd get a certain amount of points when you drop, you could buy bonuses for Riku, so there's cooperation between Sora and Riku.
Peeler: That's really cool. So this was developed specifically for the Nintendo 3DS, and obviously it's using a lot of these new features that are involved in the 3DS. Were there any that you guys didn't use or couldn't use for the system, or was that not inspiring for this game?
Yasue: Well, we scrapped the gyro(?) I guess. That was very sensitive because, well, the game is in 3D and if you move it around, it doesn't really appear well, so we didn't use that. We actually wanted to use as much of the 3DS' capabilities as possible. The bottom view, the touchscreen, uses the Reality Shift system for example. We have used the Augmented Reality system. If you use cards, they create a Dream Eater. To play with Dream Eaters, you could touch and pet them, and you could actually give them food. We wanted that attachment with the player, and I think we could do that with the touchscreen.
Peeler: We wanted a lot of connections to a system that people could really enjoy. More variety for levels, so that's really cool, and I like that you guys used a lot of the features of the 3DS. We get a lot of fans often asking, "Why is it released on this system?" or "What are the advantages to having it on this system?" and I think you guys really took it to something that's a cool advantage for the system.
Yasue: Yeah, that's right. So I think we did actually want to use it for everything. The bottom view for example, we really wanted to integrate it to the main game system. We didn't want to just add it and just pass through it exactly, so in a way, I guess we did that.
Peeler: I'm glad you guys dig from the ground up. That's really cool. So let's talk a little bit about the voice acting in the game. A lot of mainstays return ― Haley Joel Osment, Hayden Panettiere ― what are some of the decisions that go into who you choose to be a voice actor in the game and where they're voiced ― maybe some sequences don't have a voiced dialogue and have a text dialogue ― what goes into that process?
Yasue: Well, voice actors are decided by Nomura. In Kingdom Hearts 3D, all our cutscenes were in-voice actually, so it's a fully voiced game. But there's one exception. There's a part where you choose where you want to go, so when you choose somewhere and the menu comes up, we didn't feel like we needed this to be voiced when you choose somewhere; choose a spot to go to, so we cut that. Other than that, it's fully voiced.
Peeler: That's awesome. One last question coming up; we're really excited for Kingdom Hearts 3DS; that's coming out really soon. But we do want to maybe give our Kingdom Hearts fans a little bit of a glimpse into the future. Is it possible that you can give a message to all our fans out there about what they can expect down the road for the development of Kingdom Hearts?
Yasue: Okay, well for Kingdom Hearts, first of all, I'd just like to thank everyone for sharing in their passion for Kingdom Hearts. The future I guess, Kingdom Hearts 3D really definitely gives you a glimpse of the future. Action-wise, story-wise, 3D is definitely connected to Kingdom Hearts III. So story-wise, if you want to learn what might happen in Kingdom Hearts III, Kingdom Hearts 3D would be a good place to start. Then before, Flowmotion, where you interact with the map, for example, kick walls, slide down ramps, that sort of thing; I think you'll see a lot of that in future Kingdom Hearts.