Q. Any particular favorite characters that the team particularly enjoys?
Akiyama: My favorite world is Halloween Town from Nightmare Before Christmas. I was already a fan of the original story, and I was extremely excited when I realized I was able to walk around that world! But the most difficult character was Genie from Aladdin. He’s a very chatty and fast-talking character, so I wanted to provide tons of dialogue. However, when we actually had to create the events, I already saw myself having a hard time because of it. That was quite a dilemma.
Kando: Goofy was fun to work with. Maybe that’s because the character’s personality is much like mine. Tarzan and the Beast were difficult – with Tarzan, it was matching up his hair movement with that of his body, and with Beast, it was the movement of his cape. I assigned one animator just to be in charge of the Beast’s cape and its movement.
Kanemori: In terms of boss battle, I tend to like forceful bosses such as Cerberus. Cloud and Sephiroth, both from Final Fantasy VII, are making cameo appearances, so I have very special feelings for them as well.
Nomura: In this game and in the films, it’s different. Outside of Kingdom Hearts, my favorite is [sic] Simba from The Lion King and the Nightmare Before Christmas world and characters. In this game specifically, is Donald and the Beast.
Q. The gameplay looks Zelda-inspired. What keeps it fresh and prevents it from turning into a hack-‘n’-slash?
Kanemori: The biggest feature is that the battle system merges the real-time game progression of an action game with the command/select style that’s representative of RPGs. I think that this system successfully combines both aspects – a well-paced game progression in real time and a multitude of action elements from the command selection. This takes on a very important part of the game structure, not just for the battles but also for the entire game.
Nomura: Finding the right Japanese voice was a very extensive process, especially for Sora, Riku, and Kairi, the main three characters. We had many, many auditions to find the perfect people to fit those three characters’ images. Even with some of the other characters, we looked for the perfect matches, and we would call back actors several times to read the lines again. For the U.S. version, even before the Japanese Sora was cast, I already had Haley Joel Osment in mind. I hoped he would play the role, and I’m very happy he has done it. For the other characters, it was more of matching up their voices to the Japanese voices – to be as similar and to be as close as they can in English to the Japanese voices. When foreign movies, especially Hollywood films are shown in Japan, Japanese people can’t really judge the skills of actors and actresses from U.S. But his [Haley Joel Osment’s] skills are very apparent; it’s very clear that he’s a very good actor. I’m a big fan of his work.
Q. What part wound up on the cutting-room floor that you most wanted to see make the game [character, level, gameplay idea, etc.]?
Nomura: A lot! In the very beginning, we were thinking about 30 worlds. In my mind, it’s natural that you have a larger piece to work with, then go through the elimination process. So 30 might sound like a lot, but if you think about it, in the end, you really have to cut out a lot of things. If there was a small number from the very beginning, you never know how many worlds you’d end up with.
One world we cut was Atlantis. It would have been a great opportunity to actually promote Atlantis itself. But the movie has a lot of vehicles, and we just have the Gummi Ship. So it wasn’t really a good fit in this game, because it would only be to place those vehicles or robots and fight with them. There was no good connection to the other worlds, and the story just didn’t fit that well.
Q. What was the thought behind bringing back Aerith?
Nomura: Yes, she died in Final Fantasy VII, but there’s no real relation to where she was at or what role she played in FFVII. There’s no relationship from FFVII to the Kingdom Hearts stories. But if you play Kingdom Hearts, toward the end, some of the questions about the relationship between Cloud and Aerith in FFVII might be answered. It’s sort of like a side story, and this was an extra bonus that I wanted to give to players.
Q. Were there any Final Fantasy characters that were going to be in the game but were scratched off?
Nomura: The Final Fantasy characters weren’t in place from the very beginning stages of the game’s development. Rather we had open roles and we picked whoever fit that role in that particular environment. Even toward the end of development, certain characters were replaced because we didn’t think they fit the roles. Specifically, Wakka replaced Irvine and Yuffie replaced Rikku.
Q. Were there any ideas from Disney or Square that the other group didn’t agree with?
Akiyama: We had quite a bit of freedom crafting the storyline by combining various worlds through a theme, but one rule we had to go by was that characters from independent stories do not cross over with each other – meaning Aladdin would not meet Tarzan. Within the game, each world is depicted like a planet floating in space and Aladdin would not travel with Tarzan [Goofy, Donald, and the Princesses of Heart were the exceptions]. However, there were a few ideas in the early scripts that got rejected – they all had to do with the “bathroom”. I don’t think there were any other strict guidelines other than that.
Nomura: I wanted to include Walt Disney in the game, but that got rejected!