trapped in revamp hell
- Nov 1, 2009
Aiming to condense the KH series into one game
—KINGDOM HEARTS Melody of Memory is the first rhythm action game in the KH series. How did the project come about?
Hazama: Suzui and I have been working on the Theatrhythm music game series for Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. I had been saying for a long time that I wanted to do a KH rhythm action game, and about five years ago I submitted a proposal document to Nomura. Things were on hold for a while, but in the middle of production on KH3 things finally started to come together.
Suzui: We rewrote the proposal document from scratch and arranged to speak with Nomura again. During that talk it was decided that we would make a new rhythm action game - one that both capitalized on the unique nature of the KH universe and made sense as part of the series itself.
—Hazama and Suzui, what exactly about the KH series appeals to you?
Hazama: For me it's the music. I knew that if we were going to make another rhythm action game for Square Enix I wanted to base it on Kingdom Hearts.
Suzui: I agree, Yoko Shimomura's music is at the heart of the firmly constructed KH aesthetic. I just knew that if we used that music for a rhythm game, it had the nostalgia power to re-immerse fans in the universe of KH as they listened. The KH series also includes Disney worlds, so getting to play along to world-famous Disney tunes is another point of appeal for me.
—However, the music of the KH series is inseparable from the scenes from the series. Did you keep that in mind as you worked on the rhythm gameplay?
Suzui: We wanted to create something that would bring back the emotions you had from when you first played the games, and that would look back on that time as a whole. We wanted people to remember how they felt when the songs played during the scenes. So, we have incorporated elements into the backgrounds that match with the music, for example, important symbols from those scenes.
—Nomura, as the creator of the KH series, what do you think is the appeal of the music of KH?
Nomura: The music of KH has a sense of drama to it. Just the music alone has the power to bring back memories of the scene it was from. KH3 marked a punctuation place in the KH series. I thought it would be a good spot to have a title that looked back on the series as a whole. Since music has the power to draw memories into the mind, we produced this title with the intention of making a KH highlights reel that utilized the music of the series.
Creating the KH vibe with heavy involvement from the original staff
—What did you pay particular attention to in bringing out that KH vibe?
Suzui: I endeavoured to use the same sounds and motions as the rest of the KH series. Many members of the original team worked with us to make that happen. I made a prototype to show Nomura, and once the direction of the project had solidified, staff from production on KH series main titles joined in on every important part. That doesn't mean they were just signing off on data I made, either. Any 3D animation particular to a character was created by an original team member, and they polished it until it looked exactly like how Sora or whoever would move.
We put the highest level of care into the KH trademark sound effects. Sound is extremely important to rhythm games, so the sound team helped us fine tune all the BGM data audio volume etc. The sound effects were also handled by members of the original team. We experimented over and over - I'd be like, "In Theatrhythm we did it like this," and they'd be like "No, this time it should be like this" - until the sound effects and attack impact sounds for this title were born. I think working with people who have been working on the KH universe for so long made this a very deep collaboration.
—So the 3D animations were recreated for this game?
Suzui: Yes. Rhythm games have to respond as soon as you hit the button. The hit timing of the existing animations are slightly different, so they needed to be co-ordinated for this title. In a rhythm action game, if even one frame into a button press you're already wanting to hit the next attack. The original team members grasped the point of the game, which allowed us to exchange our opinions like "what if we use this frame?" or "what about this other way to do it?"
—This style of production sounds different to the Theatrhythm series.
Suzui: For Theatrhythm, the original staff would sign off on what we were producing. This time we were getting participation in the creation process itself, and taking feedback during development. As development overlapped with KH3, we had them check all the effects when work on KH3 was starting to settle down, and got advice on how they were making things for KH3. Since this game has "Kingdom Hearts" in the title, I felt I had to create a game that wouldn't tarnish the legacy of the KH series.
—Hazama and Nomura, what kinds of orders did you give?
Hazama: My job was connection building, so I watched over Nomura and Suzui's exchanges. Indieszero had been doing a solid job on the Theatrhythm series ever since game one, so I had an extraordinary level of trust. They understood the weight of being entrusted with the KH series too, and were resolved to work hard on development. I had never seen Nomura do so much back and forth. They gave it their all right to the end, and I am very grateful to them.
Nomura: I was most concerned about whether players would get motion sickness. In the early stages of development people got motion sickness from the intensity of characters' movements. We went over it many times until he was able to fix it for me.
Suzui: We had the characters and the camera move a lot to give it that sense of impact. But we curbed the camera to the current form - also because it's important in a rhythm game to make it very easy to see what you need to do next. We spent about two and a half years on production, including making the prototype, but that first year was dedicated to working out the motion sickness problem.
Nomura: Once we had solved motion sickness, we moved to the issue of the display, including effects. After that we improved the play feel and degree of difficulty little by little… We tackled things in stages.
Suzui: Just as Nomura says, effects are very important to KH. As the degree of difficulty rises, the number of things on the screen increases, so we worked hard to make flashy effects without sacrificing playability.
—The screen on the finished product looks extremely KH-esque. It looks just like a KH battle screen.
Suzui: One of the first things Nomura raised when we spoke to him was that he didn't want a regular music game - he wanted gameplay that involved having fun beating enemies. So, we made the controls the same buttons as KH3. Circle is attack, X is jump, and triangle is special abilities - we made it so playing this game feels just like playing KH3.
KH's most emblematic song, Hikari, is included in full
—Regarding gameplay: in a released screen, we see Sora using Ars Arcanum. How are special abilities incorporated?
Suzui: This game has four parties, and each party has a leader. As you progress through Field Battles ability symbols appear - if you hit that button when defeating an enemy, the leader will unleash a trademark technique. The controls are intuitive, but they also feel fresh and new. You'll be able to enjoy the trademark KH stylish gameplay. We even added the KH series staple special ability Glide.
—Can you switch out your Keyblade?
Suzui: No, but you can collect cards of Keyblades from across the series. There's a collectibles feature in this game.
—How are Disney characters incorporated in the game?
Suzui: They appear as guest members. For example, when you play "Under the Sea," one of the characters other than the leader is switched out for Ariel. When you play a stage for the first time as a World Trip, the guest character always appears, but after that they only appear one time out of every so often. It's also possible to play without guest characters, for example if you want to play with your usual party because you are aiming for a high score. When a guest is in the party, some enemies are replaced by Friend Symbols that produce a unique sound. Also, you can use an item to add King Mickey to the party and have him play with you.
—It seems that there are three difficulty modes: beginner, standard and proud. Is there anything more difficult than that?
Suzui: Upon Nomura's proposal, we added some things we think will be a hit with rhythm game fans. That said, it's not a difficulty mode like the KH staple "critical mode" - we have added "performance styles" or play styles.
These styles use the L2/R2 buttons, touchpad etc, making button input more complex. These performance styles can be added to any of the difficulty modes - beginner, standard and proud - so you can play to your heart's content. The "critical mode" label has special connotations, so this time we decided to go with something different.
—We've heard that there are over 140 tracks. Can you break that down for us?
Suzui: We have taken tracks from every title in the series. That said, there aren't so many tracks from KH3 as development was happening at the same time. We used the original audio, to max out that nostalgic vibe.
—Are there any tracks with vocals?
Suzui: Yes. Hikaru Utada's songs are included of course, and there are some Disney tracks which originally have vocals in them.
—Among all the tracks, which are most memorable to each of you?
Hazama: Under the Sea. One of the best things about this game is that you can enjoy the music of Disney through KH audio. The musical score is fun to play, and I feel like in a way this song is symbolic to this game.
Suzui: Vector to the Heavens is a favourite among the staff of Indieszero, including myself. It's the battle music that plays when you fight Xion in Twilight Town in KINGDOM HEARTS 358/2 Days. I wonder if this might be one of the most popular tracks among KH fans. It's very fun to play the rhythm gameplay along to the piano, and when you are doing well it feels so satisfying, almost like you are hitting the keys yourself. It's great both on a gameplay level and an emotional level, and I really hope you play and experience it.
Nomura: For me it's Hikari. You can't think of KH without that song. It's my favourite song. I knew we couldn't leave it out.
Suzui: That might sound obvious, but it's actually very special to be able to use Hikaru Utada's music in a game.
—Can you describe the stage for Hikari?
Nomura: It's a Memory Dive - a stage that follows memories of the series. Memory scenes play as Sora flies through the air.
Suzui: Plus, the full song is included. Most rhythm game songs are about 2 minutes long, but since this is special, Hikaru Utada's songs are included in full. The clips that play were also edited especially for this title. You can also play the short versions as Field Battles.
New plot involving Kairi's memories
—The trailer released on announcement revealed that the story of this title concerns Kairi. How does this new plot feature in the game?
Nomura: I cannot yet talk about where the story comes in. But, there isn't a lot of story. The plot is a core element of the KH series, and I wanted to create a story around the highlights reel, so I wrote some original new plot. I wanted this rhythm game to have relevance to the plot. If you play it like a regular rhythm game, you'll discover there are plot hooks… That's how I feel it is, anyway.
—So that means, as we follow the highlights reel of episodes from the past, Kairi's as-of-yet unspoken memories will be revealed?
Nomura: It's not structured like all other games in the series so far, where the story comes as you play the game… I hope you play it and understand for yourself.
—It seems as though fans of the series have their hopes up for a plot that ties intimately to the main games, though…?
Nomura: All according to plan (laughs).
—In the trailer, a being in a black coat also appears. It seems many people have made the connection that "Melody of Memory→MoM→Master of Master," and are theorizing that this is the Master of Masters…
Nomura: That is also according to plan (laughs). You know what though, I was very stuck on the title. KINGDOM HEARTS Chain of Memories already uses the word "Memory," you see. But, I didn't think any other title would do, so I went with it. At the very least, it's "Memory" instead of "Memories" (laughs).
Suzui: I feel that this title represents the structure of the game as a whole.
Even if this is your first KH game, you will understand the whole series
—The release date is nearly here - where is development at?
Suzui: It's basically finished. We are in the final checking stages.
—Tell us how you felt upon seeing the completed game.
Hazama: Although our experience with the Theatrhythm series came in handy, this was a completely different game. Up until now, when making rhythm games, we would clip a single element from the vast material of Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, and arrange it into something spectacular to offer to players. But this time, we made a completely unique rhythm game with both the visuals and gameplay feel of KH. We could only have completed such a game because we had both the reliable and detail oriented Indieszero, and the director who has been creating the KH series series from the beginning, Nomura. It felt amazing watching it come closer and closer to completion.
Nomura: I'd been involved a little with production on the Theatrhythm series, but never to this depth. I got a sense of what it's like making a rhythm game from scratch, and many times I stopped to wonder what I would have done by myself. In the latter half of production I took the time to check out various other rhythm games, but there was nothing else like this one. I think there is nothing more we could have done in this short time. It seems impossible how much we packed in in such a short time.
Suzui: It may be a short time to you, Nomura, but for us at Indieszero this was quite a long development period (laughs).
— Tell us about what developments are in store for the KH series.
Nomura: KH3 marked a punctuation place in the series, so now I'm wondering whether we can do something aimed at an even wider range of people. I'd love to expand our range of fans.
—Lastly, a comment to the fans looking forward to release.
Hazama: I hope many people will learn about KH. We increased the number of available languages - this was the first time we had ever put Arabic language in a PS4 game. There isn't just KH original music in this game, but also Disney music. There are modes to ease the difficulty, and I think even little children can play. Even if you've never played a KH game, I would love for you to give this one a try.
Suzui: I have spoken about the catchy and appealing points of this game in this interview. On top of that, there are lots of features that give this game a long life: you can aim for high scores, aim to collect the 800+ collector cards, and more. You can enjoy it as a highlights reel for the series too - I think we have made something you'll always want by your side. We also took into consideration KH series fans who aren't good at or don't like rhythm games, and added a one button play style where it doesn't matter which button you press, but still feels fun to play. I hope as many people play this game as possible.
Nomura: I know there are people who feel that the plot of the KH series has become confusing along the way, people who skipped games along the way, and people who are too intimidated by the length of the series to pick it up now. However, in this title, Kairi will narrate the story so far to you out loud. I think she explains it well enough that even KH series first timers will get it (laughs). Everything is a little piece of Kingdom Hearts, including the collectors cards. The entire KH series is narrated in this one game, so I hope both fans and newcomers alike will play.