Six journalists, three translators, one developer, and a 30-minute countdown clock do not make for a very effective roundtable interview, but that's exactly what we got during our Square Enix session with Kingdom Hearts designer Tetsuya Nomura at this year's E3 2010.
The sixth title in the series, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is set 10 years before the events of the original Kingdom Hearts game. Unfortunately for fans of the series, this means Sora will not be the game's main character. Instead, the story will follow three keyblade apprentices--Terra, Ventus, and Aqua--on their journey to search for their missing master, with each character taking a separate path through the game. The title was released in Japan earlier this year and is set for a September release worldwide on the PSP.
In our Square Enix roundtable, Nomura talked about the game's overhauled battle system, developing for handhelds, and the future of the Kingdom Hears franchise. GameSpot was only allowed to ask two questions, which have been marked below. We've also kept in the other questions and have included Nomura's answers.
GameSpot: How was KH: Birth by Sleep received in Japan?
Tetsuya Nomura: After its release, Birth by Sleep was praised as the best KH title on the PSP. I think the reason for this is because it was developed in an environment similar to the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, and thus, the gameplay reminded players of the feel and sensation of those games. Of course, some players regretted that Sora was not featured as the main character, but that's the way we wanted to do the game.
Question 2: What are the differences between console development and handheld development?
TN: The touch and feel of the PSP is similar to that of the PS2, so in that sense, developing for the PSP wasn't all that different. In fact, that's what we intended. The focus with this title is good, solid gameplay.
Question 3: How did the stories for the Kingdom Hearts games evolve? Were they planned from the beginning or did they evolve alongside Sora as a character?
TN: My typical approach is not to develop a unique story right from the beginning. When I wrote the story for Kingdom Hearts, I was already planning a story for the sequel, and so on. I try and think ahead and then elaborate on my ideas when writing the story for the next game in the series.
Question 4: Handhelds are evolving rapidly. Do you find that you are no longer constrained by what a handheld can do? Do some things simply work better on handhelds than consoles?
TN: The difference between consoles and handhelds is data capacity. Kingdom Hearts is the kind of title that requires a lot of data since all the games feature big environments and lots of CG movies. So in that sense, we are constrained on handhelds.
Question 5: One of the biggest complaints of previous Kingdom Hearts games was that they controlled poorly and had a bad camera, which restricted gameplay. What have you done to improve this?
TN: I don't have complaints in mind when I design games. Can you give me an example where you thought the controls and camera were bad? We're always working on improving the game, but this depends on the limitations of the platforms.
GameSpot: Can you give us an overview of the re-hauled battle system in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep?
TN: Yes. Players will find two major differences. The first is the addition of a shooting lock-on system, which we found was the only element in previous KH titles that hadn't yet been upgraded. The new lock-on system will be used when characters perform special attacks, and I find it's a lot better to play. The second change is something called command style, which will see characters leveling up and receiving new sets of attack moves each time they fulfill certain gameplay requirements.
Question 7: It's been a while since we've seen a new generation of Kingdom Hearts titles. There have been a lot of handheld and mobile version, but no console versions since the PlayStation 2. Are you thinking about making a next-generation Kingdom Hearts? Or do you prefer working on handhelds?
TN: All I can say is that if there were to be a Kingdom Hearts III, then it would be on consoles. I have a desire to create this game, but it's just not the right time. I'm under pressure from KH fans, Disney, and Square Enix, and they all want Kingdom Hearts III. I know this, and I don't hide my desire to make this game. The biggest problem we're facing is our main developer on the franchise is busy with Final Fantasy, and the Birth by Sleep team is busy making Kingdom Hearts for the Nintendo 3DS. But we'll do it when the right time comes.