Dengeki Online have posted an interview with Tai Yasue, co-director of the Kingdom Hearts series, which discusses Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX and Kingdom Hearts III. Here, Yasue reveals a lot about the development of the two games.
Yasue: It’s practically complete. We are making detailed, final adjustments and setting the trophy conditions now. We are adding in the final cutscenes as well, that’s about all that’s left as far as work goes.
- I heard that work on Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix pretty much started from scratch, how was 2.5 in comparison?
Yasue: It pretty troubling starting KH 1.5 in a stage where we making the game’s composition and system base. But as far as producing went, thankfully we struck a balance between programmers building the foundation for the game on PS3 and replacing graphics, so we were able to progress relatively smoothly.
We had content from the previous titles to use when remastering KH 2.5 which was good, but instead we had trouble figuring out how much we wanted to up the graphic quality, it was a matter of design that was tough. If we did this, then we have to do that and that, kind of problem. (Laughs) Once the schedule was decided, all possible adjustments were made and we’re finishing it up.
- Was the difference in screen ratio difficult to deal with?
Yasue: Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep was originally at a 16:9 ratio so it didn’t really change, but the original Kingdom Hearts 2 was 4:3, so it changed a lot. Having a greater screen width is nice, but things you couldn’t see before became visible, so we had to take a second look and adjust the backgrounds and textures as a whole.
The menu screen in particular was difficult. We had to add in new imagery to the parts of the gummi ship camp menu etc. that were lacking. As for BBS, the character models and imagery look nicer and the 3D presence of the finer details have been improved upon as well.
- Pretty much everything got some sort of treatment.
Yasue: That’s right, to say it lightly. (Laughs) To HD-ify something, you might imagine it’s as easy as putting data into a transformer, pressing a button, and then, ”Ta-da, it’s done!” But it’s not that simple. Our entire staff is involved and they work really hard at a steady pace. Everything you see has been treated in some way, from the backgrounds and character models to the menus.
Besides that, the designers had a lot to work on with BBS. They had to add in a lot more detail, and even though the textures for each character are now about 4 times nicer than before, the designers found themselves being strangled by their work. Especially when it came to Aqua and the other playable characters.
As a result, they’re not done tweaking and they’re really choking themselves now! (Laughs) Having an HD remake is something really great for players, but for the staff it’s kind of a nightmare.
The Mirage Arena has been improved for single player mode.
- In KH 1.5 new abilities like “EXP Zero” and “Combo Master” were added, will there be new ones in KH 2.5 too?
Yasue: There isn’t anything new. However, we fine tuned the degree of difficulty when you equip EXP Zero in BBS. We took a survey regarding BBS’s degree of difficulty, and overall it had reputation of being well balanced. Since we didn’t want to ruin a good thing, we didn’t make any big changes.
Also, the Mirage Arena won’t have multiplayer elements this time, so we adjusted the enemies strength that way the battles are still high tensioned but enjoyable playing alone. There is a tough boss in the final stages, but we made it faster and changed the AI a little, so it’s a more of a challenge than before. It’s not the type of boss you’ll be able to suppress simply with strength, you’ll have to think about how to fight.
- KH2 had a lot of formidable enemies too, have they been adjusted as well?
Yasue: KH2 was already a complete package, so thinking that messing with it too much would break the balance, we decided not to readjust things. Therefore the Organization XIII data reappearances and armored warrior fights are just as strong as before.
- Do you have a favorite battle?
Yasue: My favorite is the data reappearance battle with Roxas. As an opponent he puts up a fairly hard fight, but isn’t that where you snatch Roxas’ Keyblade? I like in that scene when you slide past the attacks and counter attack.
Mere physical strength isn’t enough, you need to use our head and technique, watch the boss’ movements to know when to guard, modify your abilities and Keyblade so you have an advantage. I like fights that have that kind of balance to them.
If you fight this boss the way you do the regular storyline bosses, you’ll lose, so I like that this boss takes some finesse to defeat.
- Did you make changes to the audio portions?
Yasue: About 80% of KH2’s audio work was remixing. adding in stringed instruments to songs has a wonderful result. Same as before, the audio is in Dolby 5.1 surround sound.
Yoko Shimomura’s music is an undeniable trait of the Kingdom Hearts series, I feel like without the atmosphere she creates, it isn’t Kingdom Hearts, so the mix of the final audio was carefully controlled but also provides a new depth to the familiar sound.
As for BBS, we’ve added more atmospheric sounds than the original, for instance you can hear water trickling if you are near a fountain, which improves the presence.
- Did you rerecord any of the voice sequences?
Yasue: We added about 2 hours of new cutscenes for the Re:coded portion, so we had to record for that. We ported data from the overseas editions of KH2 and BBS, so we had to switch back the voices from English to Japanese, but we didn’t change anything else besides that.
Working as one KH team in Osaka and Tokyo.
- What kind of work are you involved in regarding development on the newest title, Kingdom Hearts 3?
Yasue: As the development overseer, I work in the office keeping programmers, designers, and planners in order.
Mostly I work as a planner, figuring out how the game plays as a whole. I discuss the systems and gameplay with Tetsuya Nomura, as well as write the business proposals. I’m in the middle between the office staff and Nomura, so I get nudged from both sides. (Laughs)
- What kind of process does development go through?
Yasue: First Nomura decides the concept, while that’s being drawn up, the development team puts together the proposal and art, and we make a trial version. While research and development progresses, a consensus is reached with Nomura, and bit by bit the game reaches completion. When it gets to the final stage, all the elements including the story and battles are put together, and they are adjusted from there until they mesh together nicely.
- I hear that the Kingdom Hearts series is developed by the Osaka team, is that the case for KH3 as well?
Yasue: Speaking of number of people, about 80% are in Osaka, the other 20% are combined with people in Tokyo. This setup was used with KH 2.5 as well.
Programmers for KH3 and KH 2.5 are separated into two teams, but designers and planners work on both. There’s not really a wall between the Osaka and Tokyo teams, they work together like one KH team.
- Speaking of Osaka, they’re the guys that did Brave Fencer Musashi way back in the day.
Yasue: That’s right. The Brave Fencer Musashi and Parasite Eve series. There are a lot of game development companies and creators in Osaka, the people intermingle and since putting out Kindom Hearts, we’ve assembled a lot of new staff. The atmosphere and organization since the time of Musashi and Parasite Eve has changed greatly.
- Each new entry into the Kingdom Hearts series improves upon the speed and action and amazing effects, how will it be from hereafter?
Yasue: It’s important to continue the path of dynamic action, amazing effects, and gameplay with strategic elements, but adjusting the speed elements is actually quite difficult.
If you’re too fast than the player can’t keep up. A sort of speed inflation occurs if the players are fast, then the enemies have to be sped up and so on. We want it to fundamentally be as enjoyable as possible for as many people as possible, so I think we have to find a perfect balance.
However, there are also situations planned like when you ride the jet coaster where expressing that kind of high speed course is important, so there’s a good variety prepared.
- How will the configuration of the gameplay field etc. evolve hereafter?
Yasue: It’ll vary by world, but I can’t talk about the concrete details yet. But if you compared it to Kingdom Hearts so far, the scale is drastic and open, running through the gameplay fields feels surreally huge. You can get a thrill just by moving around the field.
- It’s common for treasure boxes to be put in clever places in the Kingdom Hearts series. For instance, I spot you can see but can’t immediately reach. Will KH3 inherit that kind of play spirit?
Yasue: I like that technique of teasing at a glance a lot. (Laughs) Where you can see something is nearby, but you don’t know how to get to it. Those kind of play sensations are the kind of points we tend to fuss over.
I also like things where you won’t see them if you progress ahead, but you will if you turn around. But just doing those kind of gimmicks gets old, so I think just a hint of these kind of aspects will be fun.
- Being in charge of a numbering title, do you feel pressured?
Yasue: I’m really not the type to be afflicted by pressure. The reason is, I’m looking forward to what I do while I do it. Various dreams are broadened, and new things and content are rapidly made in a numbering title, plus as expected Nomura will prepare something amazing story wise, so all in all I’d say it’s a fun experience.
There’s also the technology. Compared to previous titles, how games are made is fundamentally different, it’s stimulating to try out the leading edge of technology. Also, until now, you felt the evolution of technology with the making of each game, but now we are crossing the biggest turning point, challenging an entirely new field of research.
- You were born in Canada, about how long did you live there?
Yasue: From the time I was born until I was 16, I lived in Canada. I didn’t really speak Japanese and couldn’t write kanji, so I didn’t have plans on going to Japan but when I was in high school, we moved and I enrolled in a Japanese high school. Not only was my vocab different, but my spirit was different than everyone else and it was rough.
However, thanks to growing up in Canada, I have a more carefree spirit and don’t sweat the details and I’ve been able to come this far.
- Thanks to that characteristic you seem to handle the current hard work quite well.
Yasue: I guess you could say that. It’s important to pay attention to the details when you develop games, but you also won’t make progress if you don’t have a flexible mindset.
Also to borrow from the theme of KH, when times get hard your friends are there to help you out, you really feel connected through your troubles. (Laughs) I like those thing that are true in real life as in the world of gaming.
- The game operation of KH 1.5 was changed to resemble KH2, but this time the game operation hasn’t changed?
Yasue: When we did KH 1.5, KH2’s operation style was considered the standard so we changed it to match, but this time we haven’t made any major changes. BBS was on PSP, so now the right analog stick controls the camera.
- At the ending of KH 1.5 there was a secret movie at the end of the credits that hinted at the next installment, will that be the case for KH 2.5 as well?
Yasue: It’s hard to answer that, so I’ll leave it to your imagination. It’s possible there will be something, but it’s possible there won’t be. (Laughs) Apart from that, I can say that in the Re:Coded theater mode there will be cutscenes added to flesh out the backstories of other Kingdom Hearts titles, so please look forward to that.
- Besides the Kingdom Hearts series, is there something that you’d personally like to try and make? A certain game genre?
Yasue: I want to do a lot of things. Kingdom Hearts is rich in content so it’s fun. There’s Disney content that hasn’t been utilized yet, and there is a lot of room to expand, so with that in mind I find the series very stimulating.
I’m also interested in the Final Fantasy series, but I can’t work on both at the same time. (Laughs) As for genres, I don’t like the dark moods of horror games. But I would like the challenge of trying something on smartphones and tablets. So far I’ve done big projects with big teams, but I’d like to try something with a small group that takes a couple months to make.
In the past I experienced making Tetra Master (card game from Final Fantasy IX) with a small group of people and developing it was a lot of fun. It was a simple card game, but I enjoyed the arguing process while fussing with the game’s aspect in a small group.
Enjoy KH 2.5 while waiting for KH3 to come together!
- KH 2.5 is the compilation of 3 titles, is there a specific highlight about each of them you’d like to point out?
Yasue: KH2 was originally a very beautiful game, but when you compare the PS2 version to the HD version, the grade is clearly different. I think as a whole the graphic quality has elevated and it’s a quality upgrade that you can really feel.
Not complaining about the graphics of BBS, the simple prettiness of it was one of it’s attributes, so we’ve made it more visibly clear.
Re:Coded was a game originally for DS so it’s completely different recollected as a theater compilation now. Battle scenes from the original are now cutscenes, and when you watch the compilation, it’s contents will deepen your understanding of the story even more.
The battle scenes are made with dynamic animation and include additional effects, so I’d like to highlight that point. It’s also about 3 hours worth which is even longer that the compilation of 358/2 Days in KH 1.5, which is quite impressive.
- Lastly, a message for the readers who are looking forward to KH 2.5 please.
Yasue: From designers to planners, each section has taken part and fussed over every little thing to finish up in a good spot. Of course I think when you play it for yourself you’ll be able to see just how much the HD quality has improved upon the original.
Development is continuing alongside KH3, and while you await the release for KH3, I hope that everyone plays KH 2.5 so that you can thoroughly enjoy KH3 when it comes.
- I want to ask a little but about KH3, what was the purpose behind the lines revealed in the most recent trailer?
Yasue: The trailer is obviously different than the final product, but those lines will be in the starting point of KH3. The people who are speaking are secret, but players who understand the story will probably guess who they are immediately.
- Has the story been concretely decided already?
Yasue: I can’t say if it’s concrete, but that part is. It’s always this way when we make KH titles, before the story is completely decided, the gameplay and systems are developed side by side. Since we plan on announcing new information as content is settled, please look forward to future announcements!