Did you then go to Disney’s offices for a meeting?
Yes. At first, we decided to just have a discussion. I had no idea what we were going to talk about; I just went to listen to what they had to say. I already had a vague idea of the game I wanted to make, though.
Are you the type of person who visualises what you want to make before starting work on it, then?
Yes, I am. In fact, I’d already visualised the game within a 3D space, and this was taking shape in my mind when I went to see Disney. Of course, they had their own ideas and asked us if we’d be interested in making a variety of their ideas into a game.
Their ideas were different from yours, naturally...
Yes. They appeared to believe that we would make whatever they wanted us to make and came up with rather specific requests such as, “We’d like the game to feature this character.” They were really excited, explaining their ideas... To be honest, though, I wasn’t really interested in any of them. (laughs)
You wanted to borrow Disney’s characters in order to make a new game that could compete with Mario 64, and you already had a vision of what this game would look like. I suppose their ideas didn’t fit in with this vision.
They didn’t, no. In the end, I actually stopped a presentation halfway through. We didn’t have that much time, and it looked like it was all going to get taken up by various Disney presentations. So, I interrupted them and told them the conclusion by saying, “I won’t make such games.”
Oh my! (laughs) I imagine they were quite surprised to hear that?
Yes, they were certainly surprised. (laughs) However, since I did not understand what they were saying in English, I decided not to care too much about that, and told them about my primitive idea for Kingdom Hearts: all-new characters going on a journey through the worlds inhabited by Disney characters. I visited their place several times afterward. In the first meeting, I showed them a design document with a picture of Sora, the main character from the game. I’d drawn him carrying a weapon that looked like an enormous chainsaw. “What on earth is this!?” they said.
They were probably wondering how that would look in the Disney world!
When I told them it was a chainsaw, they looked really shocked - absolutely speechless. (laughs) They were looking at the design document, probably saying “this is terrible!” and so on. It was all in English, though, so I didn’t understand a word.
I suppose sometimes ignorance is bliss! (laughs)
Yes. (laughs) Sora went through a lot of fine-tuning before becoming the character he is now.
But Disney did eventually accept the character? The one that had originally rendered them speechless?
They did. They were very generous.
Perhaps the people on the Disney side were looking for new ideas and changes. After all, quite a few people have become fans of Disney as a result of Kingdom Hearts. The fact that you’ve been able to make Kingdom Hearts for a decade must attest to the fact that Disney is recognising its importance.
They always say that Kingdom Hearts is very important to them, and I’m very happy about that.
Now, as you told me this background story, I found myself wondering, “Could such a thing really happen?”
Oh, really? (laughs)
Well, you had to overcome a lot of difficult situations to create the game – Disney’s presentations about the games they wanted to make, their becoming speechless while looking at your design document, and so on... “They shouldn’t have been able to do this...” I thought, “How have they managed it!?”
People say that a lot, but at the time I didn’t think it would be impossible.
Everything is impossible if we think it is. Often all it takes is for one person to believe strongly that something can be achieved and to continue pursuing that goal to the end.
I agree. I kept saying, “If we can do this, it’s going to be really great” and, “If we don’t do it, it’s our loss!” (laughs)
It sounds like you’ve learned something from working with Americans! (laughs) But if you’ve already got an image of what you want to do, and are bumping ideas off each other, there will come a moment in that process when the other party accepts your idea.
I think so... We had several opportunities to speak directly to Disney’s president at the time. He was very generous towards us. Even when the people around him were opposed to something, he’d say it was OK, and we’d be able to move on.
When you’re dealing with another company, having someone there with authority who understands you is an important factor in building a relationship with them, isn’t it?
Yes, we were very lucky.
Now, at this point Square had been making RPGs for a long time. Were there many people in your organisation who had experience of making a game as action-oriented as this?
No, there was hardly anyone.
I get the feeling that the process of taking your original vision and turning it into a satisfactory finished article was far from straightforward. Am I right?
From the very start of the project, when I assembled the team, we realised that there were lots of staff who’d never worked on an action game. So naturally, yes, there were some dark moments.
Well, you were a first time director, assembling your staff, trying to persuade Disney to accept your ideas, working in an unfamiliar genre... Those extra hurdles probably made this project three or four times harder than usual.
I think you’re right. (laughs) There were several moments during development when the staff would panic and become anxious, not knowing whether the game we were making was going to be fun or not.
If you’ve been involved with a game from its very inception, it often becomes hard to tell whether it’s actually fun or not, doesn’t it?
That’s right. I did keep telling them not to worry, that it would definitely be fun...
So you always believed firmly that the game would definitely be an enjoyable game, and that you would reach your goal in the end?
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