This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.
It’s been seven-plus years since the last core “Kingdom Hearts” game was released in the U.S. Although there’s been no shortage of spinoffs in the Disney-meets-“Final Fantasy”- role-playing-game series, a 10-year-in-the-making story will finally reach its conclusion when Square Enix publishes “Kingdom Hearts 3″ on next-gen consoles.
So how did series architect Tetsuya Nomura know he was ready to start bringing many of the branching plot points outlined in the numerous “Kingdom Hearts” to an end? He just did.
“First and most important,” said Nomura, speaking through a translator, “is the determination in my mind. That will launch the project. It’s difficult to explain what kind of determination I am talking about. As you can imagine, expectations by the fans for franchise with sequels go up each time.
“Fan expectation for ‘Kingdom Hearts 3′ is extremely high,” he continued. “To respond to those expectations, I have to provide something really good. Technology is really important, as is the [Disney] world.”
Unlike other franchises that Nomura helps shape, such as the “Final Fantasy” series, “Kingdom Hearts” has a more complicating element: Nomura must work closely with Disney. Throughout the games, heroes have traversed numerous Disney-inspired worlds, encountering universes built around properties as diverse as “The Little Mermaid” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Disney looks different today than it did in 2006, when “Kingdom Hearts 2″ was released in the U.S. Disney, for instance, has long since completed an acquisition of Pixar. Characters from Disney and Pixar films will collide in August’s “Disney Infinity” platform.
Could Pixar-inspired lands make their way into “Kingdom Hearts 3″? Nomura wouldn’t budge on what’s confirmed for the game but said the biggest challenge in designing the “Kingdom Hearts” titles is working with Disney to see which brands Square Enix will have at its disposal.
“What world is available for the title is an important question,” he said. “The story — it has to be great enough to meet the expectation of the fans. When that’s ready, and I feel like I am ready, then the game can start. The counterpart that I’ve been working with at Disney the past 10 years is the same person. We have very heated discussions about this franchise, and we’ve done that for the past 10 years, but we have a steady relationship.”
And though there was never any doubt that “Kingdom Hearts 3″ would eventually be released, Nomura bristles when the word “trilogy” is used. He intends the primary games in the series to tell a story, but the franchise will continue long after “Kingdom Hearts 3″ is released. To get fans up to speed for the next-gen edition of “Kingdom Hearts,” Square Enix will release “Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix” for the PS3 in September.
“There was never a plan,” he said. “As a core game, this is finally the third, and 10 years have passed. I couldn’t call this a trilogy. There have been so many spinoffs. In ‘Kingdom Hearts 3,’ the battles that the characters have been fighting for the past 10 years will come to a conclusion. That is the plan. But the series will continue. Only the particular enemy they have been fighting the past 10 years will come to an end.”
From a design standpoint, Nomura suggested fans get their hands on “Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance” if they’re looking for clues as to where he’s heading from a game-play perspective. The 3DS game was released last year and Nomura said he is using the hand-held title’s combat functionality as an early guide for “Kingdom Hearts 3.”
“We tried many experiments in that game that will be applied to ‘Kingdom Hearts 3,’ ” he said. “If you play ‘3D,’ you will get some hint of ‘Kingdom Heart 3.'”
Nomura notes that all of this, of course, is open to change. “Final Fantasy Versus XIII,” for instance, was announced years ago and after prolonged silence on the project was officially rebranded as “Final Fantasy XV” this spring.
“Square Enix changes its philosophies pretty often,” Nomura said. “That’s something I can’t do anything with. I’m just one of the employees, so if the company decides to change, I have to follow. I’m a so-called ‘salary man.’ Of course, the creative policy I have stays the same. ”
[For the record, 9:26 p.m. July 26: An earlier version of this post said that “Kingdom Hearts 3″ would be out in 2014. A release date has not yet been set.]
– Todd Martens | @toddmartens
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