Two weeks ago, Square Enix held a Kingdom Hearts Fan Event at the D23 Expo 2018 Japan. The event was not streamed live, and due to this, the public was not able to view the "Making of Kingdom Hearts" videos that were shown exclusively to the attendees. Nevertheless, many press outlets and attendees were able to recount the events of the experience; KH13 was able to collect these recalls and put together a chronological description of what happened and what was shown in the secret videos.
We have divided the recap into five sections for your reading pleasure.
As the attendees entered the theatre and took their seats, the logo for "Kingdom Hearts Premium Theater 2018" was displayed on the screen, and Dearly Beloved played in the background.
The event began with a screening of some clips from the Kingdom Hearts series with Hikari (PLANITb Remix) playing in the background. The Kingdom Hearts and event logo appeared after the clips ended. Next, Hiroko Kobayashi, the moderator, introduced the event. Series executive producer Shinji Hashimoto was invited on the stage.
Hashimoto said, "Thank you everyone for waiting these past 15 or 16 years. Please enjoy the latest video that surprised even me.”
Series director Tetsuya Nomura was then invited on the stage. Although his clothes were classy, they were all black; he was also wearing earrings. "This time, I'll take advantage of the characteristics of the theater to show a lot of clips," Nomura announced, "First, please listen to the message from Sora and Kairi who couldn't come today."
Kingdom Hearts III: Interview with Voice Actors
A video message was shown featuring Sora's Japanese voice actor Miyu Irino as well as Kairi's and Xion's voice actress, Risa Uchida.
In the video message, Irino said that he's grown alongside Sora, so his inflections and way of talking have naturally changed over time. He commented, "Sora and myself have physically grown, I was not conscious of Sora’s cuteness and also the critical moment in my masculinity. It’s a journey that I’ve done until now."
"I had the chance to go to Square Enix Osaka (who are in the middle of developing Kingdom Hearts III) where I was shown an extremely large amount of information, designs, effort and trial and error they have to make. It inspires me want to make Kingdom Hearts even better."
Currently, his favourite world is Toy Story. "I'm a huge fan like the rest, so when I was told that Sora would go to the Toy Story world, I got excited and felt really happy. I’m also glad this feeling is to be spread to the whole world."
"Sora possesses a curiosity and sense of adventure that I've grown with as well, so I'm really happy to have walked this path for the last 15 years."
Some words he wished to tell Sora were: "I can only say thank you so much."
“I have no clue about Kingdom Hearts III myself, but I think it will be a masterpiece and it will write its name in history,” he concluded.
About her character, Uchida said, "When I was down, I used Kairi's positivity often to help me."
About voicing Kairi in Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage-, she commented, "My voice has changed after 10 years; I wondered how I should act, and so I acted as hard as a could.”
On answering the question: "What other character from the Kingdom Hearts series would you like to interpret?" Uchida said,"Of course, [i already act as] Kairi and Xion... Dare I say it? Aqua, if I wanted to do a strong and cool one. I met the voice actress [for Aqua] Megumi Toyoguchi at the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra and she was a really lovely person that I admire and want to be like."
About Kingdom Hearts III, she said enthusiastically, "It’s really fun for me to hear the rumors since none of my work has been shown yet. I thought I would be doing something like a live-action, a wonderful clip. I want my favourite work to be released. I’m really excited to see Kairi again and I will do my best in the future.”
Some words Uchida said that she'd like to say to Kairi were: “If there is a time when my heart seemed to be tainted by darkness, I’m sure she’ll do something to save me.”
Irino and Uchida also shared memorable stories when they went to Tokyo Disney Sea with Riku voice actor’s, Mamoru Miyano, after the launch of Kingdom Hearts II. Uchida recalled, "When the light was flickering on one of the attractions, Miyano yelled, "Are you staining me with the power of Darkness?!" It was impressive." Irino added, "He was completely in the role!"
Irino recalled, "Back when the first Kingdom Hearts game had come out, I went to a dumpling shop together with Ueno [Riku's voice actor] and Uchida to prepare our roles together and it feels very nostalgic. When I watched them together on stage, it goes to show that such relationships like the one Sora, Riku, and Kairi have are continuing to grow."
Even now, they still see each other, so they have a relationship similar to Sora, Riku and Kairi.
An exchange between Irino, Uchida, and a staff member was also shown, as reported by attendee yuuna_kisaragi:
Irino: “You often go to see plays at the theater, am I right?”
Staff: “Miss Uchida said you wanted to stay out until Kingdom Hearts III.”
Irino: “I properly remember when I said that. I asked “Can I stay out until 3?” I’ve got the feeling she would answer “around 4 or 5" endlessly.”
Staff: “Finally, Kingdom Hearts III will be released but...”
Uchida: “Let’s do some more!”
Irino: “Everyone’s passed the age of their roles. But, I think Sora and Kairi have a higher mental age [laughs].”
Uchida: “I want to become someone like Kairi.”
Irino: “You’re doing things pretty much like Kairi. Risa... are you an angel?”
Uchida: “Of course not! Soon I’m going to forget how I did things.”
Irino: “Soon you’ll forget Sora too. [laughs]”
Uchida: “I want to hear your story about the time you went abroad.”
Irino: “I went abroad to study Linguistics and Theatre. Using one rucksack, I journeyed for a month and a half. Just like Sora.”
"It's not like I became Sora but, I wanted to see and travel to different worlds, meet and talk to different people and have a sense of adventure like Sora". He said that he met people like Donald and Goofy, like Sora did.
After seeing that video message, Nomura commented,"Up until now, I think I streamed images like this many times. But, I think it was important to be able to see those two captured together in this everyday moment."
When the moderator asked if there was a part of the interview that impressed him, Nomura answered, "These two are the same as when I met them; they're sincere, and they don't cause any trouble, so I'm glad they made it to adulthood."
“You sound like a parent," the moderator observed.
Making of Kingdom Hearts Union χ[Cross]
This "Making of" video showed the development environment of Kingdom Hearts Union χ[Cross], and a meeting with four core members of the game's development team, including Tatsuya Shindo and Nomura. In it, it was said the work is being done overseas, but since the browser game, some things were being developed in Tokyo.
Background map designs for the game were shown. Daybreak Town had a color scheme not normally implemented in any other world, and the Clock Tower seemed to have a dungeon, according to event attendee sora_donald. One of the development team members said, “Since Daybreak town is the city of the dawn, we had to give it a bright image. We wanted an object that moved so we made the fountain, but it seems like we ended up creating something that can be found in Disneyland. Because there was no indication for the Clock Tower, we didn’t make it in the beginning. But as the story was developing, it became important and so it was created. On the field map, it's necessary to have a certain distance within battles, and so we made it possible to move in three-dimensions.”
Since walking around is a concept, the team tried to make fine details visible everywhere. Like climbing up on roofs and moving three-dimensionally.
Strelitzia's parts got augmented with more detailed motion than the other characters. A development staff said, “For characters motion we changed the frames one by one to make it move. It is divided into 15 parts. For Strelitzia, as she has fluffy hair, we added special parts to move her hair separately. So, since we cannot move it during a dialogue line, we have to do it between two lines.”
"Does Strelitzia stay as-is?" Shindo asked Nomura in a scene, "Will she be resurrected?" Many KHUχ players and staff share the same interest in knowing what will be of Strelitzia's future in the series, as she is very popular.
"Should I answer that?" Nomura replied ambiguously.
In terms of her character design, it was said: "First, we got an image from Nomura, then had about 10 ideas. This from A, that from B, take those and combine them together... Finally we decided on 4 designs."
"Strelitzia is based on flowers. We took player avatar pieces for each part [of her design] and made about 4 outfits for Nomura to choose from to base the image around. Player avatars have also increased since the release of pets, haven't they?"
"On the PC screen, in order to decide which costume to choose, we’ve lined up side by side 3 Strelitzia outfits!"
Among them there was a very black one. There were also pets lined up vertically and horizontally among unpublished ones. They came up in various colors and types including one looking like a giraffe.
"Ahead of release, we have lots of design plans! About 30, give or take? From designs based on real animals to sharply non-realistic designs, too."
On the computer screen, there was an illustration of a Loudness March, along with a lot of Heartless rough drafts drawn with black lines.
“We planned to make this kind of Heartless when we received the project. This time it’s a lively Heartless for the second anniversary. I consulted with Nomura at the rough draft stage; if the design of this Heartless is decided upon to some extent, we will check it again.”
Continuing into the next scene, Nomura and some development staff assembled in his office. Nomura's office was very small. There was a monitor, in front of a small rectangular table and chairs, and one was able to see the outside from the window on the right side.
“This is the situation room but, it doesn’t look like a room, there are no seats," Nomura said.
An exchange with the team followed.
“Maybe because it feel like a meeting as soon as we gather here."
“As it is, I'm having a sense of 'mine-ness', though."
"Like Mr. Hashimoto.”
Nomura replied, “No, it’s because I want its name to remain anonymous!”
“Do you have something to say about not being able to livestream other titles?”
“We plan to implement a PvP mode in spring’s update.”
“If you don’t know what the abbreviation PvP means, it stands for Player versus Player,” Nomura explained. "It is an asynchronous match!"
To KHUχ players, Nomura said, "We are considering ways to make the interlocking feelings of KHUχ with Kingdom Hearts III a good experience. These interrelated projects are collectively called 'Xtress' [Translators' note: 'Xtress' is as translated from the katakana; this could also be translated to 'Xtrace']. Understand that Kingdom Hearts III and KHUχ are not irrelevant to each other; there's a feeling that they are entwined together."
Next, they showed scenes where the players of KHUχ can fight against Kefka and Gilgamesh. Next, the image switched to a scene showing players fighting while wearing a pixel styled avatar.
On February 23, a collaborative event with Final Fantasy Record Keeper was implemented. It's been arranged for Kefka and Gilgamesh to appear in KHUχ as Heartless. There is be a pixel art avatar as was shown.
Also on the "FF Record Keeper" side, there was pixel art of Sora and Riku, so there's a lot of effort being put into this. A Gummi Ship was also made in pixel art; Nomura joked, 'I wonder if I can get this [in KHUχ]."
In response to the question "Is Ventus really that Ventus, is Lauriam that person?", Nomura replied, "I was asked about it at the Osaka event. Ventus is Ventus. Lauriam is Lauriam. Don’t you think I have already answered that?" He continued, "If you play Kingdom Hearts III, can you enjoy that connection?"
A brand new world will appear in KHUχ. “KHUχ is connected to KH3. Then, there will be a world that didn’t appear in the Kingdom Hearts series, and it will appear now. But it won’t be in Kingdom Hearts III. And from here the story will drastically change. I want to proceed quickly, but I’m kind of dealing with the Abu part! [laughs]”
“No, Abu is already saved.”
“He's happy now!”
After this, the moderator said, “You told us about the story of KHUχ, but we’re also curious about Kingdom Hearts III”.
Nomura replied, “In general this kind of info is released after the event. Please enjoy the latest video of Kingdom Hearts III which will be showed to the public for the first time.”
Thewas then shown.
Kingdom Hearts III: Interview with Developers
At the end of the trailer, the moderator said, "Monsters, Inc. was cute!"
To that, Nomura replied with a bitter laugh, "Monsters, Inc. cute?" He continued, "Since this video is still in a development stage, I think that it will look even better in the end. The production of Kingdom Hearts III is going considerably well."
Next, a "Making of Kingdom Hearts III" video was presented, in which a lot of information and scenes with the developing team were shown, mostly videos taken at the Square Enix offices in Tokyo and Osaka. A lot of PC screens were shown. At a D23 Kingdom Hearts Event Development Team round-table discussion, Nomura said, "Since we can't freely give a progress report, is there something you want to tell this machine [the camera]?" This is because as Disney is involved, live-streaming was not a possibility.
The video contained a lot of discussion about the production process.
For cutscenes, a scenario and storyboard are firstly created from concept art. Based on that, voices and audio are recorded, and from that animation is created; then one can progress by the flow of the layout performance. While adjusting the simple model, the conversions for things like camera angles and scenes are decided.
From this procedure, the storyboard of a scene in Tangled’s world was shown. "This is the scene at the beginning of Tangled," a staff member explains, "It is not displayed properly [the background is monochrome], but it will be improved later.”
The new lighting team established for Kingdom Hearts III focus on complementing the gameplay and cutscenes with real lighting effects. “Depending on the light, what you can see gradually changes,” stated the game's co-director, Tai Yasue. He showed how the light’s presence and place changed in the “Toy Story” world. “Right now my top priority is making sure the characters appear cute, and that their beauty can be appreciated. For example, if the light come from the left, their face will become darker, so we’ll put the light on the front.”
On the screen was shown a scene where the audience saw Sora, Donald and Goofy casted by a CG light. A development team member commented, “For cutscenes, we put facial expressions on the characters beforehand, and then we animate them.”
The animation production team, specializing in facial expressions, were implementing a system that allows Sora's eyebrows and eyes, mouth corners and other parts to operate together and move, resulting in a rich facial expression. Sora's facial animation was shown without his bangs. They moved his eyelids, mouth, etc. to show the animation and lip-syncing.
In past games, each motion was attached manually one by one. But this time, physical control is incorporated, and Rapunzel's hair (alongside other things) is "calculated and done on the hard side, and the program runs on". Rapunzel's hair meets various objects on the map, so it is difficult to move while not interfering with them. It seems the physics calculations for Rapunzel's hair (eg. dragging, following the terrain, blowing in the wind) took a lot of time to develop, so they didn't have a new video for this. If her hair is in a place where the wind is blowing it, will move naturally. Also, Rapunzel can wrap her hair around a tree and rotate. According to Mr. Yasue, "There are a variety of methods for attack and she reacts based on the different terrains."
"So far we only showed the world [of Tangled], but we could hardly publish Rapunzel’s model. Her hair was difficult to handle, it took time. We had to make sure that when the wind blows it creates waves on her hair and clothes.”
Nomura added, “Sora was always stepping on it [Rapunzel's hair].”
On the screen, they showed how the wind made her hair and clothes move lively as Rapunzel’s model was moving or standing put. In addition, Rapunzel held her hair while walking, but there was still a part that hung on the ground. That was how Sora was able to step on it.
Sora was shown to fight a pudding Heartless, with fresh cream and fruits for its eyes and mouth; according to sora_donald, it looked like the Mushroom XIII. This type of Heartless is different depending on the fruit on its head, like an accessory, that the characters can ride on, changing the way one plays. This element of "speed-running" involved allows for "each [Heartless to have] its own mission," as stated by Yasue. He said, "This is a rare heartless, the strategy to defeat it is different depending on the fruit on its head. It looks delicious, right? [laughs] It exists as an additional element in the game.”
Speaking of movement between the worlds, the Gummi Ship was discussed. This time, Gummi Ship missions are divided into a combat phase and a search phase. After defeating the enemies, one can go into the latter mode and search for routes and treasure while moving freely at 360° on the map. On the screen, scenes where the Gummi ship lock on enemy ships and shoot at obstacles were shown. When they were destroyed, prizes dropped. The HP balls, medals, etc. design shown were the same as those in Kingdom Hearts II. "The Gummi Ship has the feel of an open world," said Yasue. "We cannot talk about it yet, but at first glance this is something that is beyond KH’s worldview and out of bounds. [laughs]"
There was then a mysterious man drawn with black lines. They turned the layers on and off, changed the display of the arms and legs. (This was possibly the Giant from Giantland, according to our research and resources.)
A simple LSI game, like Game and Watch, based on the Disney short Giantland, was projected on screen. A small Sora was shown avoiding the attack of a huge enemy, while there was also a display of a screen frame and button, like a game within a game.
"I finally implemented a long-cherished dream," stated Nomura who seemed to be planning something with vigor.
Part of the map of Tangled was also released. There are many people in the castle town, leading to a lively atmosphere. It is pretty new for a town in the series to have many NPCs. sora_donald observed that, similar to Final Fantasy XV, there seemed to be an active effort to avoid collisions and bumping.
"This is the castle town of Rapunzel ... But wow! There are people in a town for the first time! There is also water that comes from the outside and goes into the town.” Sora walked in. It appeared that Sora could dive and swim in the water.
A development team member explained, "The dive animation is not done yet."
In the castle town, Rapunzel sees her childhood in paintings. Sora, Donald, and Goofy appear in the scene. Since Rapunzel's face was still in production, her eyebrows disappeared along the way and her expression looked strange up on the big screen. The hall filled with laughter.
"This cutscene is still in progress. Since it’s not complete sometimes eyebrows disappear... [laughs]”
Sora’s actions, such as him jumping into water and swimming, and a scene of Rapunzel spinning happily, admiring her hair knitted with flowers, appeared in some of Tangled’s cutscenes that were shown.
A hand-drawn picture of Rapunzel by the window was also shown.
On the screen, there was a scene where Rapunzel gazed outside from the tower; the background and model are uncolored. Rapunzel was looking at many square blocks where “?” were written on them.
Nomura asked, "Can you actually ascend the tower? From the inside?"
A development staff replies, "No, from the outside.”
One could also see the work of the Keyblade production staff. A staff member introduced himself with: "I create weapons.”
Nomura jokingly called him a "Weapon Merchant."
"The ideas come in 2D, that’s a flow of suggestions for the project.”
There were many Keyblades drawn in black lines on the screen. The Keyblade of Monsters, Inc. is a structure with various parts gathered together. When doing the design, they analyzed the scenes of the movie in detail, and extracted parts from there and summarized it. Because the expressiveness of game hardware is rising, they seemed to make suggestions that create a luxurious effect.
They show what seemed to be Marluxia’s subordinates Nobodies in a rough picture, and an enemy ship that looks like the Gummi Ship. It seemed there were more than 30 enemies for the Gummi Ship stages. Also, Gummi Ships could have optional decorations attached. For that motif, Nomura's love for cats was displayed too as an example of customization.
Everything in Kingdom Hearts III is in a "whole new league of its own."
Next, Nomura and Yasue gathered three of the other core development staff together in a progress meeting to discuss news regarding the game’s development status. The main part character production work is nearly complete. "The character team still has time on their hands," Nomura said. He made comments such as:“It’s because these guys don’t move. [...] Isn’t it bad that they don’t move, like stick people? Do you understand?” He said this while pressing in closer towards the staff for a response.
The background, among the ten* worlds and other things that were being worked on, are divided into three major areas: the beginning locations, mid-level locations, and the final locations. In the beginning locations, Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story are included, and are about 90% completed. Mid-level locations, including Tangled, are about 60 to 70% finished. The background team is probably the largest in Square Enix, and, in addition to the Osaka and Tokyo teams, there are orders being carried out by outsourced foreign company employees.
One of the development team members tried to talk about a certain development aspect, but the audio was censored.
To that, Nomura said, “You can’t say that right now.”
“The motion is still in progress, we’re working on the one that make a -censored-. I can’t say the name! [laughs]"
“There is one world that is distinct from the others.”
"There are still more unrevealed worlds.”
Despite getting closer to the finishing like, the producers will place additional orders like: "Oh, I want to do this, I want to do something like that, too," so Kingdom Hearts III is still in full development. They are particularly adding things to its second half.
A scene was shown where the team, including Yasue, was heard engaging in a back-and-forth of comments such as :"We said that before!" "Don't listen!"
Yasue said, "This Kingdom Hearts is a bit different. One world is equivalent to one [previous] game, and the things to do for each world are vastly different. My favorite world has not yet been announced so please look forward to it too."
Regarding the final stage worlds of Kingdom Hearts III, Nomura said, "For a long time [from back when I worked on Final Fantasy] I thought, ‘I want to try this.’ Now, because I get to do it, I'm enjoying figuring out where how far it will go and how it will move," in relation to a project that has been in the works for many years. "I experiment a lot."
In the video, because there is mutual trust between the team members, a true exchange could be seen. After the video ended, Nomura stated, “There was no feeling of tension at this place. Even while the staff enjoyed themselves, they engaged in their work with effort. In addition, in Kingdom Hearts III, there are sections not on the list from what I showed in the making-of video, but they are heading towards completion."
At the end of the event, King Mickey appeared as a surprise guest! He went around visiting the audience in their seats, giving them high fives while allowing them to touch and engage with him, greatly boosting the spirits of the people in the venue.
As a guest at the event was also Justin Scarpone, General Manager of North Asian Games and Senior Vice President and representative of Walt Disney Japan. Scarpone shared his gratitude and said, "I also saw everything with the audience [...], and, in a word, it was ‘amazing.’ I thought, ‘as expected, this is Nomura, this is Square Enix. I really appreciated it.”
Finally, Nomura said, “Today was a long run but I'm glad I was able to deliver the latest information. Thank you very much. I would like to finish with one last video.”
The Kingdom Hearts III Theme Song Trailer was shown.
The video ended, the logo “Kingdom Hearts Premium Theater 2018” appeared on the screen, and the music “Always on My Mind” played. The attendees received a gift when they stepped outside - an exclusive Kingdom Hearts tote bag to commemorate the occasion of D23 Expo 2018 Japan.
*Famitsu talked about the video showing ten worlds being worked on; it did not explicitly state the exact number of worlds, whether Disney-original or others, to appear in Kingdom Hearts III.
Thank you for reading out Kingdom Hearts Fan Event recap! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Don't forget to check out our full coverage of Kingdom Hearts at the D23 Expo 2018 Japan!