‘Kingdom Hearts’ Director Tetsuya Nomura Worked Hard to Bring You Those Pixar Levels

It’s been five years since Square Enix and game director Tetsuya Nomura announced “Kingdom Hearts 3.” While the man behind the blend of Square Enix and Disney magic says his perspective on the game hasn’t wavered, he’s also been one step ahead of players since the beginning.

While Nomura didn’t have the entire series planned out, he was always looking ahead to the next chapter in what has become a sprawling saga. So while he didn’t necessarily know where the path would lead Sora, Riku, and friends at the start, he’s always planning.

“When I was developing ‘Kingdom Hearts 1’, I already had in mind what I wanted to do with the next titles, ‘Chain of Memories’ and ‘Kingdom Hearts 2′” Nomura says. “While we were in development of ‘Chain of Memories’ and ‘Kingdom Hearts 2,’ I was already thinking of story lines for ‘Coded,’ ‘358/2 Days,’ and ‘Birth by Sleep.’ I’ve always been thinking of the next title when in development.”

Nomura’s relationship with Disney has been an evolution, as “Kingdom Hearts” games have started taking advantage of more contemporary films. Instead of working with a license covering legacy properties, he’s now working alongside film creators to incorporate new movie characters and settings.

“It’s gotten more difficult now to get approvals,” Nomura explains. “In ‘Kingdom Hearts 3,’ we have so many recent titles compared to previous ‘Kingdom Hearts’ games. Because we are working with more recent titles, the staff who were on the original project are the ones we go to for approvals. For instance, ‘Frozen.’ The staff is still there and they work with us on ‘Frozen.’ Because we go directly to the creators, they have the most passion for their titles. So it’s just a little bit harder to have freedom. On the older titles, it used be a bit easier.”

Persistence pays off, though. Fans have delighted in the new “Toy Story” and “Monsters, Inc.” worlds. It wasn’t an easy task to convince the powers that be to let Woody, Buzz, Mike, and Sully join the “Kingdom Hearts” universe.

“When we first started talks with Disney about ‘Kingdom Hearts 3,’ it started with the ‘Toy Story’ world. From the time I conceived the plot to when we received approval from Disney, it was more than a year. It was a long journey for me. I really wanted to show it to everyone as soon as possible. When I did, I saw that everyone was happy with what we have, so I was really relieved.”

Despite the long approval process, licensing doesn’t hold Nomura back from getting the story in order. The story is adapted to the worlds after the initial plot is crafted.

“For the main storyline that involves our ‘Kingdom Hearts’ original characters, I already have a good idea of what kind of story I want to have,” Nomura explains. “Then, the locations come in later as we get approvals. All of the approvals come in around the same time, and I try to fit in what matches my ideas.”

There are also more worlds left to unveil, though not many. A “Big Hero 6” world has been confirmed, but it hasn’t yet been shown. Nomura suggests that players still haven’t seen an original world built from the ground up for “Kingdom Hearts 3.”

One thing you won’t see quite as much of in “Kingdom Hearts 3” are “Final Fantasy” characters. The first two numbered games in the series feature heroes (and villains) from throughout the “Final Fantasy” library, including fan-favorites Cloud and Sephiroth. We haven’t seen much from that side of the equation in trailers so far, and we might not get reacquainted with those characters at all (though Nomura hints that there is more to unveil).

“Compared to when ‘Kingdom Hearts 1’ was released, there are so many other titles that include ‘Final Fantasy’ characters,” he says. “I don’t feel that it’s as much as a necessity to bring these characters together like I did before.”

If you want to revisit those “Final Fantasy” cameos, you can always go back and replay the older games in the franchise. If you do, Nomura has a suggestion for how to tackle them. Fans have debated whether players should go through the games in release order or chronological order.

“I would recommend to play in order of release date, especially because the story hints at what happens in future releases,” Nomura advises. “I feel that it’s more interesting that way. Of course it’s not to say you can’t play in chronological order. That’s fine. I just think it’s more interesting to play according to release date.”

As you’re playing through, there’s one thing you’re likely to notice. Many of the “Kingdom Hearts” games came out before downloadable content was a reality. While there are no announcements yet, don’t be surprised is “Kingdom Hearts 3” gets post-launch support.

“I am looking into potentially having DLC, because I want people to continue to enjoy playing ‘Kingdom Hearts 3’ even after release,” Nomura says. “I have no idea what kind of DLC it might be. Nothing has been decided. For season passes, usually the format people use is to announce a year of content in advance. I’m not fond of that style.”