Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania, the official companion book for Kingdom Hearts III, released in Japan on February 28, 2019. The 736 page long book mainly serves as a guidebook and a detailed data book for everything in Kingdom Hearts III, but also contains concept art, character renders, and special interviews with the people who worked on the game.
The major interview from the book with series director Tetsuya Nomura has now been translated in full, and is available to read below with big thanks to @lunesacree. Here, Nomura discusses many plot points from Kingdom Hearts III, talks about DLC plans for the title, dives deeper into new mysteries from the game, and teases at the future of the Kingdom Hearts series.
Enjoy the full interview below!
Interview with Tetsuya Nomura: Director, Concept Design and Story
Previously worked on: The KH series, FFVI, FFVII, FFVIII, FFX, FFXIII, Dissidia: Duodecim FF, FF Type-0, Theathrythm FF, World of Final Fantasy, The World Ends With You
KH3: The latest installment in the line of the Kingdom Hearts series, and the conclusion of the Dark Seeker arc.
We asked director Tetsuya Nomura about his thoughts on this production.
Interviewer: Akira Yamashita
- The inclusion of two theme songs was pushed by fans
Q: When did you begin work on KH3?
A: I began to conceptualize it immediately following the completion of KH2. However, [true] development actually began much later than that, and at that time I supposed it would be released for the PS4 and Xbox One. There was a rumor that it was initially intended for the PS3, but by the time development began, the PS4 had already been released. Even before we switched the game engine from Luminous Studio to the Unreal Engine, it was already being planned for the PS4 and Xbox One.
Q: Unlike KH1 and KH2, this game's development was done by the Osaka team; what exactly was the reason for that?
A: Up until now, the Osaka team was responsible for things like KH BbS and mobile games, as well as KH Re:CoM and the remastered titles, but from the beginning there was a thought to have them do a numbered console game title someday. They had also gained experience with the KH series through non-numbered titles, and around that time the Tokyo team was working on a different title, so in this way I felt [the Osaka team was] ready to take on the challenge, and I tasked them with KH3.
Q: When development began, what did you request from the development team?
A: The first decided world was Toy Story's Toy Box, so I asked them to make battles where you could transfer between robots. Other than that, I told them that the main plan was to make a command menu where attacks with time limits would stack up. Later, when KH 0.2's production was decided, we included that arrangement (of timed attacks) experimentally.
Q: Utada Hikaru, who had done the theme songs up until now, took a very long hiatus, and there were worries about what would happen for KH3, but it appears that she safety returned to activity and was placed in charge of the theme songs this time as well.
A: Utada-san was asked to do new songs for non-numbered titles as well, but there was never an opportunity for that to be realized. This time around, though, when we humbly asked her to do a new song for the numbered title, there was a suggestion on her part to not do just an arrangement of the opening song, but to prepare another song, which made us very happy. I think the power of the KH fans from all around the world was what moved Utada-san to do so much. I thought that [the cause] couldn't be anything other than the huge amount of messages she received from the world over.
Q: Nomura-san, you are also an illustrator, so what kind of illustration were you thinking of doing this time?
A: At the very least, I knew I had to do the cover art, but the amount of characters is huge, so I was a bit depressed over how tough it would be [bitter laugh]. I've always used A4 size copy paper, so I try to fit in as much as possible. This time around I started drawing it on A4 paper as well, but once I had drawn Sora, Riku, and Kairi, I realized that there was no way everyone would be able to fit, so I put together two pieces of paper and started again. All the while I was thinking, "digitally I could just copy the first three I drew..." [laughs]. Right up until the deadline there were times I dragged [my feet] on it, and including coloring, I did it all in one week. For some reason the deadline for the international version was sooner compared to the Japanese version, so I thought "at this rate, the cover for the international version is just going to be black!" while I was racing to finish.
- Without Pixar, I thought I couldn't make KH3
Q: After the release of KH2, the Disney Group acquired Pixar, so the list of worlds that appeared this time really grew, didn't it?
A: Actually, around the time KH2 was in development, we made some character test models from Monsters Inc. and Toy Story, and negotiations were done in order for the game to be released. In the end it was shelved, but for KH3, I thought that without Pixar, I couldn't release the game, so negotiations began [with this thought in mind]; the situation with Disney and Pixar had changed, so talks progressed in order to make this a reality. This time, even after the worlds [that appear in KH3] had been chosen, Disney and Pixar continued making really appealing movies, so there were a lot of times where I thought "I wanted to include that too..."
Q: Including Monsters Inc. and Toy Story was a priority in KH3, wasn't it?
A: Even so, the hurdles we had to clear before that was decided were unimaginably high. Initially, I went to America personally two times for negotiations, and without a plot no progress could be made, so without even a main plot yet, I wrote the plot for Toy Box. After an extended period of back-and-forth, a conclusion was reached and we finally received permission. Since this was the first time Pixar came along with us [in terms of development], we built a relationship using Toy Story and made that the base, adding the other works [as worlds] later.
Q: In terms of the story in the Pixar worlds, it was a continuation of the stories in the movies, which surprised me.
A: Well, originally, the KH series has always seen Sora and his friends experiencing the [same] plot of the original movies as its basis, and [the worlds of] Tangled and Frozen are like this, too. However, in the cases of Toy Story and Monsters Inc, we were requested to show the "authorized history" of what happened after the events of the movies. Whichever [story] pattern the worlds have was largely influenced by the ideas of the creators and producers.
Q: The base stories of the [Disney/Pixar] worlds, as well as the stories of Sora and his friends were cleverly introduced.
A: Those are the achivements of Oka (Masaru Oka, the scenario and cutscene director) and the level design team. Recently in the KH series, I consulted with the level design team and Oka about locations and flow [of battle and events], and using Oka as a springboard [for discussion] I created the scenarios. In the end, although I had a hand in it as well, the flow of the dialogue and the stories of each world were largely handled by the level design team.
Q: The Disney Group has also added Marvel and Lucasfilm to its lineup, so the possibility of future worlds [to choose from] has increased even further, hasn't it?
A: That's right. However, in order to change those [properties] into a game, contracts must be made with each company separately, and there are cases where other game companies already have contracts, so although the Disney Group has indeed added those [properties], incorporating them into KH isn't so simple. That's also the reason Mickey is in only one scene in KH1. At the same time, another company was releasing a game that had to do with Mickey, so though we were denied his usage, we persisted and eventually got "as long as you only have one scene, from far away, as a silhouette, with him waving his hand or something". Since we had to make the best of the biggest [and only] chance we had, that's why that scene appears that way.
- With the source movies as a reference, we recreated the graphics
Q: Included in the worlds that appear this time is Olympus, which is a fairly "regular customer" at this point; do you have some emotional attachment to it?
A: Honestly, there isn't really a special reason, it's just by chance. It appears in KH3 since Sora has lost all of his powers and needs to get them back, and there was once a hero who regained his own powers in the same way, so it was a perfect fit for the start of the journey. If there's anything I have an emotional attachment to, it's that I wanted to include Hades. Hades is a fun character, so you kind of want to watch him [do things].
Q: Speaking of "regular customers", 100 Acre Woods is, too.
A: It's because Pooh is a character that makes you feel relaxed just by being there [laughs]. From the beginning I thought to have 100 Acre Woods appear [in KH3] as a place you could take a breather from the main adventure and play some light minigames, since it would take time away from the development of the other worlds [otherwise].
Q: In the 100 Acre Woods, there's a unique outline around the characters, right?
A: That wasn't added until the later stages of development, actually. In KH3, although we used something called the "Kingdom Shader" to change the feel of the material in each world, Pooh's world was left alone to make the graphics feel more like the original picture book, not an anime. Personally, in order to make the atmosphere feel more like a real picture book, I was particularly stubborn about the color of the sky.
Q: On the other hand, The Caribbean [in terms of graphics] looks incredibly like real life.
A: In a sense, the high image quality of that world was already decided. Around the time development started, in the video that was prepared for the in-house presentation meeting, scenes were created showing Sora diving in the ocean and riding enemies while flying in the air in The Caribbean. Additionally, the experimental reproduction of certain scenes from the movie [that were included] were so well made that they might as well have been the highlight of the meeting. From that point on, around the beginning of development, it was felt that that world would be quite high-level. By the way, the coat Sora wears in The Caribbean is actually based on one of my own personal coats that I gave to the staff with instructions to include it, but I feel like they don't want to give it back yet [laughs].
Q: Talking about Sora's appearance in the various worlds, the way he looks in Monstropolis is pretty daring.
A: At first, I was thinking about something similar to the monster costume Boo wears in the movie, but Pixar gave the idea to actually change [Sora] into a monster. In Monsters Inc., there are a lot of detailed rules concerning character design, like the colors that can be used or the shape of the eyes, so after the design that was made to obey those rules was checked, I went and did the fine-tuning myself. Particularly, at the beginning, I couldn't give Sora's body a smooth feeling, so I covered him with fur, but Pixar pointed out that I shouldn't make him look too much like a cat, so trying to find middle ground was a struggle. That's why, although it looks like Sora has cat ears, those are actually horns [laughs].
Q: In the worlds based off of CG movies, the quality of the reproduction [of the same graphics] is very high, so were you supplied with the graphic data from the movies?
A: We received some for reference, but because the number of polygons and the makeup of the data wasn't able to be re-used, we made everything from scratch to resemble the source material. For the camera work in the cutscenes and the number of cuts, the staff responsible watched the movies over and over while they were adjusting everything. The reason you can say "the reproduction quality is high" is all thanks to the efforts of the staff.
Q: Conversely, "Classic Kingdom", which is based on old LC (liquid crystal) games, was nostalgic to the generation [of players] who know that era.
A: My idea was, because each mini-game is modeled after a short film, just like the other Disney works, one mini-game would be treated as its own world. I say "world", but there's no map, and each mini-game has only one screen [laughs]. Personally, although LC games were extremely popular when I was a child, my parents never bought any for me, so when I grew up I bought them myself, and now I own dozens of them. I wanted to make a smartphone RPG using LC game-style graphics, so a proposal was made [to use them] for something not KH-related [in the past]. That deep desire changed form and was able to take shape. If it's possible, I'd really like to make a real "Classic Kingdom"-style LC game console.
-The evolution of the Dark Seeker arc, conceptualized since the KH2 days
Q: The Dark Seeker arc has concluded, but since when have you been thinking about the conclusion?
A: The Dark Seeker arc has been a concept ever since KH2. In those days, I just kind of threw together and decided an outline. I was often told by the manga artist that they felt "the characters come alive however they want", and some parts did change from their original conceptualization, but in the grand scheme of things not much changed.
Q: For example, it was shown in KH2 that the Ansem that appears in KH1 wasn't the real one, but was this decided ever since the beginning?
A: When I wrote the scenario in KH1, even I was thinking "Ansem calls himself wise, but doesn't he seem like a bad guy?" [laughs]. With that feeling as the catalyst, the scenes after KH2 reflected that.
Q: Xigbar, too; when he appeared in KH2, we had no idea he would be such an important person.
A: A lot of people say this, but at the time I wanted to show that "Xigbar is a character with a very special role" by giving him a suspicious way of acting. When we were doing dubbing for KH2, I listened to Houchu Otsuka (the JP VA of Xigbar)'s voice and thought, "This guy isn't just some organization grunt, there's definitely some hidden side to him", so the creation of the current situation evolved from there. It does sometimes happen that I get inspired to change the circumstances because of the voice actors' voices.
Q: The end part of the story, where all of the characters from both the allies' side and enemies' side were gathered in the Keyblade Graveyard, was incredible.
A: Fans all have different favorite characters, so I thought I should give each of them their own time to shine, but because the amount of things needed to be explained was too large, I had to find a way to have Sora move forward, at the very least. Actually, when the scenarios were being written, the Keyblade Graveyard part was the most difficult. If I focused on each character at a time, the progression of events would be quite slow, and the battles involving Sora were necessary to be shown, so making allowances for everything was difficult. The way I imagined it, all of the characters tied to each other should fight in order and put an end to everything [themselves], but if I did that, the explanations would end up being too long. On the other hand, if I made the enemies you can battle only a few people, and showed the rest via cutscene, that wouldn't have been very satisfying. After worrying about it quite a lot, with a certain intention in mind, I placed the emphasis on the pacing, and the way the plot unfolded was able to be brought to life.
Q: The Final World, a place very important to the story, appeared in the game, but what kind of world is it?
A: It is a place where those just a step from death arrive, connected to the Station of Waking. Up until now, the Station of Waking was always a dark place where the floor was made of stained glass, where the condition of the inside of one's heart could be shown, but in this case I made The Final World a place where I could show [that] more concretely, a place similar to a portal to [people's] respective hearts. Within the game, it's said that sleep and death are intimately linked, so if one's heart were in a state of sleep and they found themselves in the Station of Waking, the idea is that if they moved on from there, they would find themselves in The Final World.
Q: No characters from the Final Fantasy series appear in KH3, can you tell us the reason for that?
A: Put simply, they just couldn't be accommodated. There are too many characters that appear in the main story, so as a result the appearance of FF characters wasn't able to be prepared. Technically, polygon models were created for Leon (and some others). Apart from Leon, some other characters, like the Fairy Godmother from Cinderella, were made, but in the end they just weren't able to be used, which made some of the production staff angry.
-The world Sora and Riku are in during the secret movie...?
Q: The contents of both the epilogue and the secret movie were quite shocking. In the case of the epilogue, characters from KHUx return, right?
A: Yes. Long ago, there existed Keyblade Masters called the "Foretellers", who traveled through time to be brought together again. Xigbar, as well, is actually another Foreteller named Luxu, who continually changed form through the ages.
Q: Xigbar says "With this, my role is finished". What exactly was his role?
A: He was tasked by his leader, the Master of Masters, to pass down the Keyblade he gave to him into the future, as well as another mission. This "other mission" is to be revealed.
Q: I'm intrigued as to what's inside the Black Box...
A: Everyone is asking about it, but it's the key to what comes next. As the Master of Masters says in Back Cover, "it's a surpri---se!" [laughs]
Q: Halfway through the epilogue, we see that there are seven black pieces being used in the new game [of chess]. Are six of these supposed to represent the Master of Masters' six apprentices?
Q: Who is the last piece?
A: Well...you can guess, but it's a secret.
Q: Then, does the white piece indicate Sora?
A: Well, probably...in any case, the contents of the epilogue are meant to hint at the developments that took place before the Dark Seeker arc.
Q: I see. Then, continuing on, I'd like to ask about the secret movie; is the location connected to the ending?
A: Yes. After disappearing in the ending, Sora arrives in the world shown in the secret movie.
Q: Is the place Sora is in the same world as the one in The World Ends With You?
A: It looks that way. However, rather than saying Sora has gone to the TWEWY world, the meaning is that it's not exactly Shibuya, but ~Shibuya~ (note: this is hard to explain in English, but instead of it being written in kanji, the name for "Shibuya" is written in katakana here. This basically means it's not the same Shibuya as in TWEWY or in the real world.) Also, although Sora promised Neku and his friends that they would meet again in Shibuya, this video is not connected to that.
Q: The world Riku is in also calls up past memories with its thrilling background scenery. The man looking down from the roof looks like Yozora, who we saw in the popular game "Verum Rex" in Toy Box...
A: Yes, it is Yozora.
Q: So, is this the world of "Verum Rex?"
A: It will end up being. Visually speaking, I'm sure there are people who will think it's the same as a previous title I was once planning, but it's not. Since it's a plan that was never released out into the world, there are parts I was saving that will end up overlapping, but "Verum Rex" is a completely different creation. The plan that was never released is still unknown to everyone, and "Verum Rex" doesn't exist yet, either, so I'm sure everyone is wondering what it means, but what I want to make clear is that it's not the same thing. (note: obviously, he means FF Versus XIII)
Q: In the last scene, who is the person in the black robe making a heart shape towards the moon?
A: That's the Master of Masters. He's the only one who would do such a silly thing looking like that [laughs].
- Before a "KH4", there's something else that must be written
Q: How is the development of the planned DLC going?
A: Currently, I gave a list of things I'd like to have done concerning battles to the staff, who are in the process of going through it. As for additional scenarios, I told you just before that the final battle in the Keyblade Graveyard came to be [the way it is] because of a certain intention I had, so I think that's going to be the main focus. I'm hoping that it will be completed as soon as possible, but because development is happening alongside the preparations for the next project, I can't say with certainty when it will be released. For the time being, it's planned that instead of splitting up all the parts separately, everything will be released all in one pack together.
Q: Are you not planning to release a "Final Mix", as has been customary for the KH series until now?
A: There aren't any plans for a "Final Mix"-type package (sold separately). If I do make one, it would be in the form of DLC that included an English mode you could switch to. Additionally, we took recent player trends into account when we created the battles [for KH3], so we held back on the difficulty level, but there have been many requests to fight strong enemies, so I'm thinking that the priority would be on releasing a critical mode in the form of free DLC, and making the addition of strong enemies, the sort that would appear in a "Final Mix", paid DLC.
Q: Now that the Dark Seeker arc has concluded, there's a pause in the KH series, so now what is your attitude mentally?
A: I thought I'd feel relieved once it was over, but I don't feel that way at all. Now we're right in the midst of developing DLC, and it's coinciding with [the development of] a few other titles. I want to hurry up and start on the next project, so I don't feel like there's a pause.
Q: Fans are curious about what's to come for the KH series...
A: Nothing has been officially decided yet, so at this point in time, I can't say anything. Right now, the top priority is on making DLC for KH3, and a huge update that's coming to KHUx. As far as the developments to come, I currently have two ideas, and something that requires me to think about it separately, so the next project will actually have to be two, I think. Even if we're talking about a hypothetical "KH4", there's something that must be written before it, so I'm looking into the possibility of sandwiching it between works. To all the fans: to realize the first step beyond the Dark Seeker arc, I thank you for your continued support.
BONUS! "A secret about the game only you know"
On the cover art next to Ventus there's a cat that was partially modeled after Chirithy, but it's actually my own cat. Also, on the four corners on the top of the clock tower, the protruding objects there are actually people wearing black robes.
Here are the other news stories that have previously come out of the Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania:
– Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania will be 736 pages long
– At least one other Kingdom Hearts title will release before a "KH4", according to Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania
– *Spoilers* Nomura has commented on a number of mysteries from Kingdom Hearts III
– Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania interview with Kingdom Hearts III programmer, Tamotsu Goto
– Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania interview with Kingdom Hearts III programmer Masashi Nakamichi
– Concept art and renders have been found in the Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania
– Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania interview with Kingdom Hearts III programmer Kengo Naka
– Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania interview with Kingdom Hearts III technical director Takashi Isowaki
– Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania interview with Kingdom Hearts III battle director Tomokazu Shibata
– Kingdom Hearts III Ultimania interview with Kingdom Hearts III Scenario + Cutscene Director Masaru Oka
Edited by DChiuch