On January 30, 2019, Ynnins Editions published a new book called "Hommage à Kingdom Hearts: à la croisée des mondes" (in English: "Tribute to Kingdom Hearts: at the worlds' crossroads") by Romain Dasnoy and Pa Ming Chiu, who analyze certain elements of the series so far. The book also includes a preface written by Risa Uchida (Kairi and Xion's Japanese voice actress) and the exclusive interview with Yoko Shimomura (series composer), Takeshi Arakawa (game designer, and Kazushige Nojima (screenwriter).
You can read the interviews below. Thanks to KH13 Staff @Mio-chan, for translating.
Risa Uchida's Preface
I’m really proud of the chance which has been given to me to express myself to French readers. I have a peculiar fondness for your country since I was lucky to lend my voice to Madeline in the animated movie Madeline à Paris (Madeline in Paris). I never went to France before. I hope to see my dream come true: visiting the Louvre Museum and to pace Provence (a region in south-east, France). This is why I am so moved that my voice and story outdistance me.
If I spent a major part of my professional career in recording studios to voice visual and animated works, I begin now a new era in which I step into stages floor. At first, they offered supporting roles that allowed me to play alongside stars from the field. And recently, I could fill my work registry by personifying various roles, villains and even clowns ones. When I discover my upcoming role, it’s like I’m meeting someone new. I always feel a lot of excitement. That is what attracts me more and more: changing completely my personality and outfit. Those role changes built my demanding nature.
As a comedian, lending my voice to Kairi from Kingdom Hearts stays an exceptional experience. Of course, each role offers something exceptional. But with Kairi, it went beyond that. In many respects, she truly guided my steps. «The Light within the Darkness», «a heart that bonds, regardless of the distance»,...I can relate to Kairi, and her words resonate in a singular way within me. She’s here to bring me back to the light. Without her, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
I feel the same way with Xion. She exerts a great influence on me. At first, when I learned that she was a puppet, I was a bit baffled at how I was supposed to grasp her character. But then, I told myself that we all experience this kind of feelings, those which consist to think that we’re «nobody» or that we don’t know «for whom we live». So Xion is like me, because I feel love and pain in my heart at the same time. When I think about Xion, I honestly want her to be happy.
One day, I had the chance to visit Square Enix’s headquarters where the game has been developed. I realized once again that this work was the fruit of a whole devoted team’s work, that threw themselves body and soul into it. There, the creators deployed such professionalism, such enthusiasm and even love to each step of the game’s conception! Seeing them at their task helped me a lot. And so I did my best with the work that I have been entrusted with and I really look forward to the opus’ completion. I rejoice beyond words to be able to share the results with all of you!
Yoko Shimomura's Interview
Q. According to you, what does make a good video game music composer?
Shimomura: "I guess quality is relative to priorities management. As a composer, it is beneficial to serve said game and offer melodies that would suit it the best."
Q. Do you remember the first time you heard about a Kingdom Hearts project?
Shimomura: "Oh my, yes! (laughs) I remember thinking : «What? Do you want me, like, to compose music for a game that complicated? You’re kidding right? Nice of you to think about me, thanks but no thanks!»"
Q. Once you accepted the project, what was the first step in your creative process?
Shimomura: "I try to make words resonate inside of me, the ones the designer used to define the work’s story. I also use artworks put at my disposition as well as scenario drafts. I close my eyes and try to portray the game universe."
Q. Did you composed the Kingdom Hearts OST by following the same process you used for other works?
Shimomura: "I don’t know if there is a global method, like a pattern to all my compositions. On the other hand, I can tell you for sure that I always adopt the same attitude towards the games I’m entrusted with, whether it’s a Kingdom Hearts one or any other game."
Q. "Did you happen to be influenced by other composers' works?"
Shimomura: "I’m easily influenced when I look at others work. Therefore, I’m careful not to draw to much inspiration from such and such musician. To do so, I make sure to empty my mind and not think about them. But to be honest, one can’t fully ignore their influences when they write."
Kazushige Nojima's Interview
Q: How did you become a video game screenwriter?
Toward the end of the year 1986, I joined an average sized video game studio, where I served as a gaming planner. Most of the tasks orbited around RPGs. My bosses must have thought that I had a real talent for screenwriting for this specific genre. So they gave me more and more work and here I am today, I’m a screenwriter.
Q: Did you worked in the cinematographic or animation industry? If so, did you notice any big differences between it and the video game industry?
Not long ago, I wrote a script for an anime. This was a difficult practice for me since it had to fit in a very limited time length, twenty minutes long. In video games, length isn’t really an issue, as long as it’s not too short of course. The complexity would be more found in programming, graphics, which will play a key role related to the story.
Q: Where do you start when you get on a new project?
First, several essential pieces of information require focus: graphics, main plot, characters bonds, music, etc. When I talk to the producer and conceptor, I try my best to grasp what kind of story they need. If the game system is configured from upstream, then I endeavor to comprehend it. Then, I put information in my imaginary ideas’ sack, which I call «things I want to do », I shake it hard and open it to see what will come out. I manage to find a meaning to my ideas. However, when nothing came out of it, I start all over again, and again, and again until I got something. Maybe what I’m saying is a bit abstract... (laughs) About writing in peculiar, I appreciate worlds that are ruled by different laws from the real world. So I begin to imagine a system and structure, whereafter I address the inhabitants of those fictional universes. And obviously come the main character. Because they’ve got a rebellious mind, one that questions the established order. They struggle to fit in, to conform to it... And thus the story happens.
Q: Do you remember the early days of Kingdom Hearts? What did you feel during its writing?
Originally, I just came to give a hand. And then, I was charmed by the world of Kingdom Hearts. At the moment, I didn’t know anything about Disney characters, and so I had to do massive researches and investigate in a short amount of time.
Q: When the project began, to whom did you turn to in the first place?
Naturally, to the conceptor.
Q: What was your writing process? Did you write the whole script before handing it over to the development team, or were you constantly in touch with them?
During the very first Kingdom Hearts game, I thought that my task was to write the script according to the liking of the conceptor and the other planners. Basically, I listened to them, identified the different events, triggers, feelings, and the main atmosphere that they wished to reveal in the game. Whereafter, I grabbed my pencils and I lay out on paper the most important scene, the one that would magnify everything they desired. This aside, I was also responsible for the story’s consistency. I was making sure that it didn’t go in every direction, and took the wrong turn.
Q: When the game was done, did you always sense those ideas, the ones you personally had of an imaginary world?
Mainly, I see the reflection of my tastes and habits, whichever the manner I used or the people I worked with. I recognize myself through my works a bit, all the time... But to be honest, I never really thought much about it.
Q: When you worked on Kingdom Hearts, did you team up hand in hand with Disney teams, for opuses conception; for example, on characters, or any strict elements?
No, I personally never collaborated with them.
Q: What is your favorite moment in the series? And your favorite characters?
I’ll say Roxas and Olette, from Kingdom Hearts II. And Pence too. Otherwise, I really loved spending summer vacations with Hayner.
Q: The hardcore of the story lays on concepts such as the Keyblade, Heartless and worlds’ key. Where did those ideas come from?
The conceptor is the one who imagined all of these.
Q: In the series, there are many pretenses that remind us of certain Final Fantasy stories. What was the decision process regarding those? For example, how did the ideas of Nobodies and replicas come into place?
Once again it came from the conceptor’s imagination.
Q: The story of Kingdom Hearts is linked in many ways to fairy tales, in the Disney way. However, it’s not exempt from violence or sadness. How did people from Disney react towards this?
Honestly, I can’t tell. I didn’t have the opportunity to work directly with them on the project. So I couldn’t hear their opinion on the matter.
What are you currently working on?
I’m on several projects, starting with Final Fantasy VII’s remake...
Takeshi Arakawa's Interview
Q: How did you get into the video game industry?
I work on video games for more than twenty years. My first job was to work for Human Corporation, a studio specialized in sports games development, like football or wrestling. Later on, I joined Square Enix. For fifteen years, I participated in a few works of the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts series as a designer. Then I’ve been entrusted with the planning and even the production of the game The World Ends with You. On Dissidia: Final Fantasy, I took the role of producer, in addition to being its conceptor. Whereupon I left Square Enix to join a company publishing game for phones and consoles. I am the head of the company and keep producing titles in high definition, with rich contents.
Q: Why did you choose this industry?
When I was ten, I played at Super Mario Bros. on Nintendo’s Famicom. I had a revelation. I told myself: "I want to create a game like that!" and rolled up my sleeves by getting started with programming on my computer. And here where I am today!
Q: According to you, what is the essential quality to be a good game designer?
Well, it’s about measuring one’s implication without restraint on the entire game. This person needs to manage to deploy all their creativity in a wild way, even with the demands that obscure them. If they want to do a good job, they mustn't be afraid to get their hands dirty. They also need to be clear and precise in the view they have, so the team knows where to go and how to do it.
Q: What are the important steps in the creation of a game?
It’s summed up by two key moments: the design of the initial concept and the final adjustments to properly balance everything. Conceiving the first step is similar to the reflexion you have when you want to cook a dish. For example, you’re going to list the ingredients that are required. You also think about the decorum that will go with your dish. Then you clash your ideas to the budget and abilities of your team. It’s these kinds of questions that you ask yourself upstream. One needs to do it conscientiously since the very beginning, as it would be quite difficult to change your mind along the way when the development of the game would have already begun. Going back to the culinary metaphor, I would say it matches tasting your dish before serving it. You’ll notice that it always lack a little something and it’s crucial to take time making those adjustments. The game isn’t complete until all its components are balanced. After all, developing a video game takes so much time...That’s why I think passion requires ignoring some small worries so the project can progress.
Q: When do you think is the right moment to sell the game, when is it good enough to do it?
Once the game is released, it ends up in the players' hands. They are going to play it, and quickly, talk about it on forums and social media... It’s at this moment, I tell myself that we’re done with it. I don’t consider that the notion of perfection comes along the creation and development of a game. It becomes perfect once players play and experience it. That is how I see its process.
Q: When you are thinking about the gameplay, in which mood are you?
I try to apprehend the community’s expectations, who use the platform or console in which the game will run. But before that, hardcore gamers are in my mind. I think about them first when I start creating something. Then, once we get on the development of the game, we take into consideration the audience in its whole and what could please them. We will design the gameplay from the beginning until the end without diverging from this rule.
Q: You’re credited as an Art Director and Textures Manager. Between the creative and technical aspects, which one do you enjoy the most?
I recall that I hand out more bits of advice regarding how to draw or how to design the textures that making some myself. My job was about leading a team so it can produce nice things and some good quality work. This experience taught and helped me a lot and it’s thanks to it that I could become a conceptor and producer. As a designer and graphist, what I told the most was how to properly create illusions! For example: When you draw a monster, making it look cool isn’t enough. You also need to think about the place where they live and their lifestyle. And also: If you design a weapon, think about the place it was made, the materials used to make it and how it was put together. I advise my teams to always see beyond the simple fact of drawing. Everything that is around the object, the creature or the character matter. It is required that you focus on all those elements before starting to draw, then adding textures, forms, and movements. When the player sees those creations, they need to feel like they can touch them, feel their contact. I want them to become immersed in the world we designed. I wish that even when they play, they would be convinced that this world truly exists. In order for it to be possible, it demands to be a good illusionist!
Q: Was your experience within Square Enix the most fulfilling of your professional career?
I designed video games since my graduate studies and I continued to think that the way I was used to doing things was the right one. I was convinced that after finishing my work on Final Fantasy VIII, I would leave Square Enix. It wasn’t the view I had of the job, working like that, with such massive teams. But in truth, it’s where I discovered all the essential things about me and my behavior as a colleague. Thanks to this environment, I realized myself. Without this, I wouldn’t be the producer or same director that I am now. In fact, no matter the number of employees: you can’t manage to do something fun and passionate about real teamwork, a good work ambiance. I learned plenty at Square Enix and I cherish the period I spent there.
Q: According to you, what is the greatest difference between occidental and Japanese games?
If I wear my creator and director cap, I’ll say the difference resides in one’s talent expression. In one hand, you are a gear in a division, and on another hand, you are a jack of all trades entertainer. I believe that the situation is clearly more complex when you are Japanese, because of certain laws relative to works and intellectual properties. Now if I were to share with you my feelings as a gamer, I’ll respond that occidental games try to show and express reality in its every detail. For example, Assassin’s Creed or Red Dead Redemption can be visually confusing. Others, like Hollow Knight, Celeste or Minecraft offer reality as an experience. In the Japanese videoludic industry, we design less and fewer games of this wingspan. However, some titles, like Shadow of the Colossus, the Metal Gear series, Dark Souls or Octopath Traveler suggest wonderful visual realities.
Q: What is your opinion on J-RPGs evolution?
I suppose the players changed. Around 10 years ago, the idea of the J-RPG, as a Japanese genre, wasn’t that easy to identify. I even remember a period where we felt some kind of disparagement regarding it, so it took us to roll up our sleeves to face it. Nowadays, I’ve got the feeling that there are fans of Japanese roleplay games all around the globe. I think that it’s our responsibility to continue creating this sort of games. Well anyway, that’s my intention.
Q: On which projects do you currently working on?
Actually, I worked on an action game in which combats occur online, with players coming from all around the world. The universe of this title is based on Japanese culture, on ninjas to be specific. We are developing this title in Japan but work together with the talents of different nationalities. As for me, I lead the development studio and manage the game production.
Q: What kind of game do you play?
My motto is "Play wide and share!" Actually... I wonder if I would rather play at the games I have made myself! There was a time where I bought around twenty games a month and they weren’t going to stay laminated. I love open worlds. Even if it’s time-consuming, I play often at them. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Spider-Man, God of War and Red Dead Redemption...All those games are marvelous. But if I had to do a Top 3 of my favorite games of all time, Tetris, would be third. For me, it embodies the quintessence of a very simple yet very fun game mechanism. Number 2? Shadow of the Colossus...It’s not a product. It’s a piece of art. And finally, drum roll, my favorite game of all time stays Super Mario Bros. Mister Shigeru Miyamoto and his game mechanism just... Respect. What also fascinated me, is that players never wondered how this little mustached guy could grow that much by eating mushrooms! But more seriously, this game changed my life.