-- How did the Osaka development team get the chance to make 'Birth by Sleep'?
Yoichi Yoshimoto: It started around the end of June 2005, when Nomura (Tetsuya, creator of 'Kingdom Hearts') said "Let's get the Osaka team to make a new 'Kingdom Hearts' game."
Tai Yasue: At that time we hadn't decided what kind of 'Kingdom Hearts' title to make, so we were feeling our way while playing 'KHII'.
Yoshimoto: At first there was a period when we planned to develop it for the Playstation 2.
Yasue: We were making something very different to 'Birth by Sleep', with Sora as the prototype for the lead role. Then Nomura started writing the "Birth by Sleep" plans, so we worked on making our plans fit with his.
-- After that, you were asked to manage 'Re: Chain of Memories', right?
Yoshimoto: Yes. About half a year into making 'Birth by Sleep', Nomura asked us, "Could you make 'Re: Chain of Memories'?" There was less than a year until the development deadline.
Yasue: That's right (laughs). But it was a really good experience. We learned that the development process was very different in the Osaka and Tokyo teams, and came to understand the high level of quality required for making a Disney title.
-- Was the exchange of ideas between Osaka and Tokyo difficult?
Yasue: We had regular teleconferences, and each section's leader participated, so it wasn't too bad. More than anything we tried to follow Nomura's plans to the letter, and said, "Let's aim for a title that has the exhiliration of the 'Kingdom Hearts' series." Our course of action was always clear. During crunch times we'd shut ourselves up in the office for days, and it was our first experience of such a difficult development process, but everyone worked proactively and the team felt like a single whole.
-- This game has a lot of volume, did you plan to have this much from the start?
Yasue: Yes, we did. It's better to set high goals, so we prepared a plan with a pretty impossible amount of content, and even from the start said, "Let's put in a connectivity feature too." To be honest, I only thought we'd be able to fit about half of it in (laughs), but when you look at the finished product, we fit everything in and didn't have to remove anything. It's kind of unbelievable, if I say so myself (laughs).
Yoshimoto: I thought there were too many Commands, and we wouldn't fit them all in (laughs).
Yasue: At first Nomura told us he wanted to put in more than 512 Commands, and we thought that would be impossible. But we started adding this and that, and various actions, and sorting out the balance between the three characters, and consequently ended up with almost 1000 actions. I was really surprised (laughs).
Fields of Obsession
-- Is making the 'Kingdom Hearts' series different to making other games?
Yoshimoto: I think it's quite different. Careful attention is paid not only to the graphics, but to all the individual parts. Every detail is made perfect, to a level that goes further than anything else. There are some extraordinarily high hurdles, but that naturally makes for a good final product.
Yasue: I think it was a particularly good experience for the designers. The Tokyo team helped by supervising, and lent us their know-how. There was a lot of enthusiasm for further developing the ideas we hadn't been able to fit into 'Re: Chain of Memories' and including them in 'Birth by Sleep'.
-- What kind of elements were they?
Yasue: There were a variety, but one was the level design comprising fields. To fit with the card-based 'Re: Chain of Memories', rooms are generated to make a path to fit the user's movements. But in the fields of 'Birth by Sleep' we created various games. This time there are complicated three-dimensional maps, and there's a fair bit of freedom in choosing which path to follow, so I think we managed to include some of the fun of exploration.
-- Pete's Funhouse in Disney Town is a particularly trying map.
Yasue: Since it isn't necessary to complete that place to clear the game, we made it somewhat difficult. The desire for more complicated maps in 'Birth by Sleep' actually came from Nomura, so there are some places where we were particularly conscious of it.
-- Pete's Funhouse is definitely one of those places, but the arrangement of treasure chests is also impressive.
Yasue: They seem kind of nasty don't they (laughs). We wanted each of the three protagonists to have a different experience, so we even changed the locations and contents of the treasure chests.
Yoshimoto: It's a struggle to reach treasure chests in difficult places, so we made the contents worth the effort.
-- Finding the Prize Pots that drop the raw materials for ice-cream is also difficult (laughs).
Yasue: Yoshimoto arranged that one. He snuck it in right at the end (laughs).
Yoshimoto: I thought it would be fun to find them unexpectedly. Then later I thought that if Prize Pots were put in high places, it would be annoying to attack them and fall off cliffs, so I decided to do that (laughs).
-- Speaking of which, are there some conditions for making Prize Pots appear?
Yoshimoto: If you haven't cleared the storyline, the first time you go to the right place they will definitely appear. After clearing the game, it's luck as to whether or not they'll appear. Whether or not they appear is decided the moment you enter the map. Furthermore, in some places there are conditions like defeating all the enemies in the area, or waiting a little while.
Commands with Unique Effects
-- Were the Prize Pot and ice-cream elements related from the start?
Yoshimoto: No, at first we planned to have gourmet enemies that would drop all kinds of cooking ingredients that you could collect to make something. Along the way we decided, "Let's make ice-cream," and ended up using the Prize Pots for collecting ice-cream ingredients.
Yasue: In 'KHII' there was sea salt ice-cream, so maybe in the past there were various kinds of ice-cream (laughs).
-- There's an unusual abundance of ice-cream varieties. That's some devotion to design.
Yasue: A female planner was in charge of that. Recently there's been a new shop where they sing while making your ice-cream, so we referred to that and looked at various ice-cream menus to make them.
-- Was the idea to change Command Style by eating ice-cream there from the start?
Yasue: No, at first ice-cream was ice-cream, and Styles were Styles - they weren't connected at all. But when the idea to use ice-cream as equipment for Commands came out, I really liked it and adopted it (laughs). In the early days of development Nomura had indicated that he wanted lots of different Commands. I thought about adding elements of communication for connectivity, and put in Commands for use outside battle like 'Confetti' and 'Joy'.
-- Commands like 'Joy' say in their explanation that, "Something special might happen." What's that about?
Yasue: If you use Joy after defeating enemies, your experience points will increase. Confetti can make your attacks critical. And 'Fireworks' changes your attacks' damage to 7.
-- Why 7!?
Yasue: It's Lucky Seven, so it's a bit mysterious (laughs). Also 'Taunt' will draw the enemies' attention towards you, so you can protect the friends you're fighting with. If you want to get the bonus medals in Mirage Arena, you should use it at a particular time.
-- 'Break Time' is a strange Command too.
Yasue: That one was born because we wanted to put in something that would be interesting to watch. There were staff in charge of the motions of each protagonist, but for Break Time I gave them the freedom to make any kind of interesting movements. If you get the inputs right you can recover HP and Focus, so it has some pretty good effects (laughs). The staff in charge of the characters made interesting things that reflect the protagonists' usual movements. Ven is always moving around a lot, so the staff gave him a breakdancing Break Time move to match that.
-- So was the person in charge of Aqua's motion a woman?
Yasue: No, it was actually a man. We had a lot of trouble wondering how to show her femininity and her severe strength. It was a process of trial and error, and there were times when Aqua would do something like walk a bit bow-legged, and we'd say, "That's too masculine!" (laughs).
A System Made of All the Best Bits!?
-- What sort of concept was the Deck Command system born from?
Yasue: Deck Commands incorporate elements of both 'Kingdom Hearts II' and 'Chain of Memories'. Changing styles with Style Change, and the dynamic movements, are from 'II', and deck construction is from the card system of 'Chain of Memories'. I think it's a well-balanced system, mixing the strategy of rearranging your deck with the exhiliration of easy management.
-- Powering up and synthesising Commands with Command Charge is pretty addictive.
Yoshimoto: To be honest, we didn't realise that Command synthesis was going to be as fun as it is. We thought it would be kind of a bonus, rather than the main element (laughs). But it matched the Command growth system, and we fit it in really well.
-- Powering up Commands with the Command Board is a great idea.
Yasue: At the start Nomura had said, "I want to be able to power up using some kind of dice game," and we had no idea what he meant (laughs).
Yoshimoto: In the early days of the development of 'Birth by Sleep', Nomura said in an interview, "There's a growth element that will be very surprising," and we were surprised too (laughs).
Yasue: The Command Board affects the difficulty; we made it so that even first time players can enjoy playing. But it didn't end up like a simple dice game, and we put in a gimmick where you move while rolling along on top of a cube.
-- Why are the conditions for powering up Finish Commands different to those for regular Commands?
Yasue: That was because I thought some elements of play should be woven in. There are techniques with all kinds of abilities, so I want people to enjoy playing around with them.
-- We were surprised to hear that there's a technique for which one condition for powering up is the number of times your HP has dropped to zero (laughs).
Yasue: I don't know anything about that (laughs). If you equip "Last Live", its conditions are fulfilled when you receive damage that should take your health down to zero, so please put it to good use!
Exhiliration is a Fundamental Part of the System
-- Was the Style Change set up to make it easier to change into a particular style?
Yasue: There's no preference. Internally, each Command you use adds points towards each style. Then when your Command gauge is full, you transform into the Style with the most points. This isn't explained in the game, but there are Commands that make it easy to switch into each style - using Tornado makes it easy to change into Cyclone.
-- So what kind of concept did the D-Link system come from?
Yasue: Nomura had said he wanted to be able to use Commands from distant people, and that it would be nice to be able to use the Commands of other people you'd connected to and played with.
Yoshimoto: Thinking back, when we were expanding on the concept for the new system, as well as being able to use other people's Commands, we wanted people to be able to take them home and power them up.
Yasue: The D-Link has a gauge design for each character, preserving the look of their Disney worlds, which we made in our spare time. I really want people to try out various characters with the D-Link. I'm a bit forgetful (laughs).
Yoshimoto: If you don't experience D-Link for yourself during the game, the last part of Ven's chapter might be hard to understand. It's a bit of a special event, so please make sure to try out the D-Link.
-- During boss battles, the powerful, exhilirating Shoot Lock system is vital.
Yasue: That's true of other moves too, but the Shoot Lock system is a particularly exhilirating concept. It was in the plan from the very beginning, way back in the first stage of Nomura's ideas. Many systems underwent various changes along the way, but Shoot Lock has been this way since the start, the same as in Nomura's plans.
Yoshimoto: Speaking of shooting elements that appear during battles in the 'Kingdom Hearts' series, there was only really the Wisdom Form in 'II', and we explained that we wanted to power that up. We thought it would be exhilirating, but there were a lot of systems like that, and the protagonists kept getting stronger and stronger. So keeping the enemies strong enough became a problem (bitter smile).
Changing the Names of Techniques was Difficult?
-- 'Birth by Sleep' has a fair amount of volume. How many staff was it made with?
Yoshimoto: The Osaka team had just under 50 people. We split the work with the Tokyo team, so a fair bit of the content of 'Birth by Sleep' was done in Tokyo. The Osaka team was primarily concerned with managing the battle parts.
Yasue: Looking at the hopes of the whole staff, we were concerned about the number of people who could make games only for HD systems. That's how we ended up with so much volume.
-- I assume organising material was problematic?
Yasue: Sometime in 2008 we took the three protagonists' Commands, Shoot Locks, D-Links, etc and organised them into lists, and thanks to that we could clearly see how to sort out the material, and make sure the characters' techniques were balanced. But of course, with all that material, I think we made it pretty tough on the programmers (bitter smile).
Yoshimoto: As well as resources, in the scenario parts you'd have Terra in a certain place at a certain time, so Aqua was unable to visit a certain place at that time. Writing out which places could be visited when on a big map and timeline in order to coordinate everything was hard work.
Yasue: Later, in the final stages of development, Nomura gave official names to all the things with temporary names. Since the real names of Commands were only decided in the final stages, and we'd become used to the temporary names, we no longer knew which Commands were which (laughs).
Yoshimoto: We kept saying things like, "Which technique is Snipe Burning!?" (laughs)
-- Were there any difficulties in adjusting the game?
Yoshimoto: We'd assumed there would be various things to adjust, but there was such a huge number of Command combinations that gave rise to things we hadn't predicted. When you try a Command you don't use often, you'd often find something unexpected happening, and that was problematic.
Yasue: There's an incredible battle testing unit in the quality control department responsible for debugging and checking game balance. No matter what kind of enemies we threw out, that unit soon had them analysed, and would tell us, "You can use this easy way to beat them." I felt like I was being bullied (laughs). But if you listened carefully, they were actually defeated about 10 times, so that isn't all that weak (laughs). We thought hard about how strong to make the enemies so that people who like action could enjoy the game, but beginners could still finish it.
The Magic of Kingdom Hearts
-- Can you tell us about a strong memory from during the development process?
Yasue: I'd say towards the end, when everyone was working hard to fix bugs. When a bug appeared nobody blamed each other, instead they got together to try to fix it, and I was quite moved by that. I have a lot of pride in the team for doing that without complaining.
Yoshimoto: I think we've seen extraordinary growth in the team, this time. They would spontaneously check things and helped me out many times. The word 'bond' is a theme of the game, and I think it also applies to the development team.
Yasue: In the beginning Nomura told us, "During the development of 'Kingdom Hearts', the magic always happens in the end." At the time I didn't understand, but in the final stages of development when I was saying, "It's too much, it's too much!" that feeling of one single team helped me get through - I think that's the real magic. Then I realised, "Oh, so that's what he meant."
-- Nomura-san has said, "We've created a new team that can work on the next numbered 'Kingdom Hearts' title." Is your next work going to be in the 'Kingdom Hearts' series too?
Yasue: That's right. I think that would be nice. I think that next time we can make something even better. In particular we have all sorts of ideas that Nomura put in, and I want to make use of them to make a game-like game for people to play.
-- By the way, have you got any recognition from players?
[b]Yasue:[/ｂ] They've more or less responded in the way I'd hoped, and given us a fair bit of popularity. The whole team is really happy that they're playing and enjoying our game.
Yoshimoto: I feel like the fans of 'Kingdom Hearts' are really friendly. We've 'bonded' with the players (laughs).
-- At the moment, fans across the world are waiting for the foreign edition - are there going to be any additional elements?
Yasue: We're planning various things, and will decide soon.
Yoshimoto: But the capacity is very close to full, so we'll have to think about how to cut it back (laughs).
-- Finally, do you have a message for the readers?
Yasue: I was happy to see just how many 'Kingdom Hearts' fans there are, from everyone's reactions. Everyone's different play styles have left an impression, and taught me all kinds of things, so based on that I think I can work hard on the next title.
Yoshimoto: I really want everyone to play the Last Episode and see the Secret Event.
Yasue: I want everyone to keep battling in the Mirage Arena.
Yoshimoto: But don't overuse Mega Flare and Atmos Break! They're too flashy, you won't be able to see my enemies! (laughs)