Working on the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 remixes has been good training for Kingdom Hearts 3, said Tai Yasue (co-director and game designer on Kingdom Hearts 3 and the Kingdom Hearts 1.5/2.5 HD remasters) in an interview in London.
“We have been working on 3 and 2.5 at the same time,” he explains, “so a lot of people are crossing over and doing both. There are also a lot of new people working on both. In a way, we’ve learned what was good about our previous Kingdom Hearts [games] by making 2.5.”
“For 3, we want to evolve it in a new direction, but at the same time we don’t want to change what is fundamental about Kingdom Hearts. We’re hiring new people continuously, so they are learning about Kingdom Hearts through making 2.5. It’s a good learning experience.”
Kingdom Hearts is a unique thing to be working on, says Yasue, due to the necessity of finding a balance between respecting the Disney properties and incorporating original, creative ideas - so the training has been necessary.
“There’s a lot to get used to working with the Disney content,” he says. “You have to have a lot of dedication and respect for their visual IPs for example, and when you play Kingdom Hearts 2 you see that: when you summon a character or use a spell there’s a lot of love and care that goes into the presentation. When you see Stitch coming out of the screen, for example, it’s very true to the original movie. That dedication is something you learn through the process or remaking 2.”
It must surely be restrictive working within those constraints, but Yasue enjoys the challenge that they introduce. “As Square-Enix, if someone else was making a Final Fantasy or a Dragon Quest, we’d be very protective of that too,” he ventures. “So we really understand the importance of not changing the brand and respecting the fans. We want to make it true to Disney - we don’t want to change it fundamentally. We always strive to make original content, but with Kingdom Hearts you have to really respect the source material, and that’s something people really like about the series.”
“As someone who creates games I think the constraints make you really think. They are what make you strive to come up with new ideas - ideas that are acceptable to Disney, and also fun. That balancing act leads to a lot of surprises. It’s very challenging, but we work on it daily. We continuously talk with Disney and see what they think is acceptable… but we constantly want to surprise our players, too, so we need flexibility. It is challenging and makes you think.”
The Kingdom Hearts team also benefits from sharing expertise with the other Square-Enix development units, including the Final Fantasy XV team, Yasue says - even though Kingdom Hearts development is based in Osaka. “We trade ideas - especially for PS4, Xbox One, new gen stuff,” says Yasue. “We’re trying to move in leaps obviously, so there is a lot to learn and a lot to explain to other people. That exchange of ideas and technology is very important and we’re doing that inside Square Enix, with other teams.”
Kingdom Hearts 3 is supposedly coming out sometime next year. Yasue has previously said that nothing is off-limits for the new game in terms of Disney properties - so, yes, there’s a possibility of Marvel and Star Wars involvement.