Thank you very much for joining me today.
Thank you for having me.
This is the first time we’ve met like this, isn’t it, Nomura-san?
That’s right, yes.
Well, though we’ve never had a reason to meet previously, I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time.
Now, I’d like to get things started by talking about THEATRHYTHM FINAL FANTASY1. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Hazama-san2, the producer of the game, and I really felt like you were his mentor, Nomura-san. 1 is a rhythm-action game, which will be released in Europe in summer 2012. 2 Ichiro Hazama works for Square Enix. He is the producer of .
Oh yes, we’re good friends.
I got the impression that, for Hazama-san, you are someone who provides guidance during the creative process. How did you feel when he told you about the idea for THEATRHYTHM?
Well... I thought it wasn’t the kind of idea that could come from a developer.
Ah, I see. You mean that the people who usually make games couldn’t have come up with an idea like that?
Yes, because most people approach games from a different perspective. Hazama-san, on the other hand, started out with the idea of “I want to use existing visuals to make a game”. I thought that was a really interesting concept, and I encouraged him to go ahead with it.
I felt that Hazama-san found your words very supportive. I also remember him saying something to the effect of “creators are amazing people. They walk their own path, and though it is sometimes dark and difficult, they always believe that they will reach their goal. I have a long way to go before I’m able to do the same, but I really respect and admire those people.” I found that very interesting.
I think it’s always interesting to talk to someone who has some characteristic or quality that you don’t. When I spoke to Hazama-san, I really felt that he had something I lacked.
Now, I believe that THEATRHYTHM’s good reputation was established largely on the back of its demo version3. It was actually you who proposed the idea of this demo, wasn’t it, Nomura-san? I was wondering if you’d be able to tell us a little about it. 3 “Demo version” refers to the demo of that can be downloaded via Nintendo eShop in Japan.
Well, there are various game events held every year, and I make a habit of watching players’ reactions to the titles that are presented there. The queue to play the first trial version of THEATRHYTHM was unbelievable. Lots of people wrote things like “It was such fun”, and “I kept queuing over and over” on blogs and Twitter, so I felt there was a really good response from day one. I realised that actually playing the game really improved the impression people had of it.
So you believed it was better for people to have a hands-on experience of the game, did you?
I did. That’s why I proposed the idea of creating a demo version.
Do you often watch how players react to games, Nomura-san?
I do, yes. Obviously, I watch them play the games themselves, but I like to watch their responses to promotional videos as well. Watching such reactions is a way of understanding which parts of a game resonate with the audience, so I’ve started doing it at every possible opportunity.
There are always going to be discrepancies between the reactions you want players to experience and the ones they actually have, and correcting such discrepancies is something that must be done on an almost daily basis. Is that conventional practice for you and your team, Nomura-san?
Yes, I always pay attention to how the audience reacts, whenever the games we’ve created are displayed to the public. This is something I’ve been doing for a while. I’ve also told key staff members to observe customers’ reactions in the same way.
It seems that this is something you just figured out yourself, not something that anyone taught you to do. Artists don’t always believe in just giving their audience what they want. Instead, they sometimes deliberately do things that go against people’s expectations, that aren’t part of the mainstream. At the same time, however, they carefully observe how people react to their proposals, and try to reconcile their vision with customers’ reactions as they work on a project.
This conversation is showing me a side of you that I didn’t know existed, Nomura-san. I actually think I have a similar mentality myself, so your approach really resonates with me.
Oh, I see! (laughs)
Now, let’s talk about Kingdom Hearts4. It’s become really big story over the last 10 years, but it was actually the first title you ever directed, wasn’t it? 4 is an action RPG series, created by Tetsuya Nomura. The first game in the series was released in March 2002 (in Japan). It is notable for using themes and subject matter from the world of Disney.
Yes, it was.
Now, characters in the Kingdom Hearts series inhabit the same worlds as characters created by Disney - one of the strictest companies around when it comes to how their characters are used. I remember having a similar experience back when we were making Smash Brothers5, and thinking how difficult it was. I’m therefore really interested in how such a collaboration got started, and how you got over such difficulties. 5 Smash Brothers refers to Super Smash Bros., an action fighting game series. The first title in the series was released for the Nintendo 64 system in January 1999 (in Japan).
It’s often said that it started after we happened to meet while in the same building... But the story of making a game with Disney actually goes back further than that. So, one day I was, for some reason, in the same room as Hashimoto-san6 and Sakaguchi-san7... 6 Shinji Hashimoto is a corporate executive who works for Square Enix Holdings. He has worked as a producer on many titles, including Final Fantasy VII, dating back to the Square era. 7 Hironobu Sakaguchi is the father of the Final Fantasy series. In 2001, he set up his own development company, Mistwalker Studios.
All three of you just happened to be there at the same time?
That’s right. I had been called there for some completely different reason, but when I arrived, Hashimoto-san and Sakaguchi-san were talking about a discussion they’d had with Disney, having an exchange along the lines of “Mickey Mouse would have been great, but we can’t use him”. At that moment I basically put my hand up and said “I want to be a part of this”. That’s how it all began. But at that point, I wasn't really thinking of making a game that featured Mickey Mouse...
Anyway, in the end they both came to the conclusion that they would “let Tetsu give it a try”.
But why did you put your hand up in the first place? What interested you?
Well, just as I was working on FFVII8, Mario 649 was released. The fully three-dimensional spaces and the freedom you had to run around them had a big impact on me. When I told my colleagues I wanted to make a game like that, they said “but Mario’s already a world-famous character. It would be impossible to start from scratch with an all-new character.” 8 FFVII refers to Final Fantasy VII, released in January 1997 (in Japan). It was the seventh original title in the series. 9 Mario 64 refers to Super Mario 64, an action game for the Nintendo 64 system, released in June 1996 (in Japan).
They didn’t think you could compete with Mario?
Exactly. Somebody even said “The only way you could do it is with characters that are as well known as Disney’s”. That really stuck in my head, so when I heard we could be working with Disney characters, I naturally jumped at the chance.
So, you put your hand up for this project because of the impact Mario 64 had on you, and because your colleague had mentioned that it would be impossible to create a game like that unless you used Disney characters. You remembered those words, and the rest is history!
That’s right, yes! (laughs)
Well, well... Destiny is a curious thing, isn’t it?
Editor’s note: This interview was originally published on 3rd April, 2012 on the Japanese Nintendo website. It features videos captured from the Japanese version of the game. In the UK & Ireland this game will be available in English.
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