Back when you started out as a director, Nomura-san, how did you establish your own style in terms of what a director should be?
The first directors I worked for were Sakaguchi-san and Kitase-san10. I think those two had a big influence on me. When it comes to battle planning, I think I’ve been influenced by (Hiroyuki) Ito-san11, who was the director of FFIX12. My other influences include Monolith’s13 (Tetsuya) Takahashi-san14. He was in charge of graphics at Square, and looked after me in the early stages of my career. I imagine that those four would be my “seniors”, as it were. 10 Yoshinori Kitase is a producer in Square Enix’s 1st production department. He has worked on a large number of projects dating back to the Square era, including Final Fantasy VII. 11 Hiroyuki Ito is a game creator who works for Square Enix. He has worked on a large number of titles, and directed FFIX and FFXII. 12 FFIX refers to Final Fantasy IX, the ninth game in the series, released in July 2000 (in Japan). 13 Monolith refers to Monolith Soft, Inc., a game developer based in Meguro, Tokyo. 14 Tetsuya Takahashi is a game creator who worked for Square. He left the company in 1999 and established Monolith.
So you absorbed everything you could from these four “seniors” before becoming a director yourself?
Not really. I think the only thing I really absorbed was how to think about creative projects. When I became a director, I thought “I’m never going to be able to be like those guys.” I’d really had fun working with them though, so I just vaguely hoped I’d be able to create the circumstances where everyone could enjoy the work.
I personally believe that a leader’s main role is to tell his team what their goal is, and to ensure that they believe good things will happen if they reach that goal. When I listen to you speak, Nomura-san, it sounds like you are a leader who can make your team understand and believe in what they have to do.
I hope so... I’m a designer as well, so I start out with a visual image in my mind. Maybe that’s easier to communicate than something written.
But even a “visual type” like you doesn’t just visualise a series of still images. You also have to think about how things like combat would work, don’t you?
Yes, that’s right.
How do you communicate things like that to your team?
Well... At first I talk about my ideas and quickly draw some images in order to try and explain them. I suppose it’s a bit like if you were describing a film you’d just seen to someone. That’s what it feels like.
I see. So because you have the complete picture in your mind, you can say “this bit’s different” or “this bit’s fine” and gradually make your vision a reality. You have a complete model image to work with from the beginning and to base your work on.
I think that’s why the staff say it really helps when I make a promotional video.
So your promotional videos are not just for customers. You also use them to make presentations to staff? I suppose they act as moving spec sheets, in a way.
Yes, I think so. They get the idea of what kind of action we want to make, when they watch those videos.
Ah yes, I understand. Now, one more thing that surprised people about Kingdom Hearts was the collaboration with Hikaru Utada. I must say, I was quite shocked myself. How did that come about?
Well, I’m a fan of Utada-san, and I thought that since we were using world-famous Disney characters, we’d need a song by the very best artist. For me, that could only be Utada-san. Lots of people said it would be impossible to get her, but we made her an offer anyway, in the spirit of “you never know until you ask”. Surprisingly, she seemed keen on the idea, and so the matter was settled.
She was probably impressed with your straight-talking nature. There aren’t many people who would go to Disney’s offices and tell them “I don’t want to make a game where your characters are the stars. I want to make my own characters!” (laughs)
Utada-san probably doesn’t have someone coming to her and saying “please make a song for our game” every day, either. Most people would think it’s impossible and not even try.
I suppose so... I’m not really the type to think that something is impossible before giving it a go. I generally believe in giving things a try.
It’s certainly better to keep trying than to think that something is impossible and just give up. Now, it’s been a long time since the first Kingdom Hearts game was released, and I’m sure that there are always new obstacles for you to overcome as the series progresses. I know that such an epic series has a lot of subplots and so on, but how much of it did you have in mind at the beginning, Nomura-san?
At first I only had a vague general framework. I’d sort of thought up to about KH II15. Yes, when No. I was announced, I had thought up to KH II, and by the time of the three titles being announced simultaneously16, I felt like I’d got everything fitting together quite well. When this game, Kingdom Hearts 3D17, was announced, it felt like just one more stage of the grand plan. 15 KH II refers to Kingdom Hearts II, an action RPG released in December 2005 (in Japan). Though it was called KH II, it was actually the third game in the Kingdom Hearts series. 16 was released in June 2009 (in Japan), was released for the Nintendo DS in May 2009 (in Japan), and was released in January 2010 (in Japan). 17 refers to , a new software title for the Nintendo 3DS, released on March 29th 2012 (in Japan) and to be released in Europe
So you’ve gradually managed to construct a plot and work out how everything ties together. Was that a painful process?
It was, but...
You don’t look pained at all, Nomura-san! (laughs)
Don’t I!? (laughs) Well, let’s see... There are always limits when you are creating something. There is never a situation where you’re just allowed to do whatever you want.
That’s right. Limits and restrictions must always be in place. If you had been completely free and unrestricted, the development work would never have been finished, would it?
I think you’re right. In fact, part of the enjoyment of making games is trying to make them as fun as possible within the limits we’re given. I sometimes even think that having more restrictions actually makes the creative process more enjoyable.
Yes, I totally understand what you mean. Sometimes thinking that you’re fond of restrictions means you end up with more of them, and though this usually causes some problems as well, you have to choose not to see them as such. After all, you want players to enjoy playing the game, not experience the same difficulties you had during the creative process.
Yes, that’s right.
So you see, limits and restrictions are an unavoidable part of the creative process, and have you decided to enjoy the challenge of dealing with them?
Yes. That’s precisely why I enjoy finding ways to deal with restrictions. (Tadashi) Nomura-san18, who produced the advertisements for Kingdom Hearts and who taught me a great deal, always said that “players don’t want to see the difficulties you’ve had”. 18 Tadashi Nomura worked as the advertisement producer on many Square Enix titles. He is currently a director of Monolith Soft Inc.
Just as we were discussing!
He always said “don’t talk about difficulties”. I think he influenced me quite a lot.
You agreed with him, then?
I did. I think it’s more interesting to hear about enjoyable things than about difficulties. I still live by a lot of things like that, things my seniors told me.
That was part of the culture of creativity they had at Square, wasn’t it?
I think so, yes. When (Koichi) Ishii-san19 left the company, he told me “I trust you to keep up Square’s creative culture.” I think I do try and value that kind of mentality. 19 Koichi Ishii was involved in the creation of Final Fantasy I-III, IX, and other games. He is currently representative director of Grezzo.