The Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep Ultimania guide book has officially released and more details about the future of the series have been revealed in the exclusive interview with director Tetsuya Nomura. The book contains tons of interesting content and we’ll be updating with more soon. In the meantime, here’s the conclusion of the interview. Please do not repost translations without crediting to HEARTSTATION.ORG.
!! Warning: Contains Birth by Sleep Spoilers !!
“I wish for all the fans to hope to see Sora reappear in the future.”
~Secret of the title that only I know~
Nomura: The frames change quickly so it’s probably difficult to notice, but in the opening movie, we accidentally put Roxas’ ring on a finger on Ventus’ left hand.
BBS Ultimania Interview with Director Tetsuya Nomura
- How did you begin the title KH BbS?
Nomura: Usually I go from considering many things about the game system, but for KH BbS, I did something rare and began by writing the plot of the scenario. The scene in which Terra meets Riku on Destiny Islands and the scene in which Aqua talks to Sora and Riku were written in the plot from the very beginning, and I put together a plan from wanting to have this realised. By the way, this plot came together a long time before KHIIFM+, and I began writing straight after finishing work on KHII.
- So, were you planning for the secret movie of KHIIFM+ to be the climax of KH BbS from the beginning?
Nomura: That’s right. But, it wasn’t decided where in KH BbS that scene would come. When the secret movie of KHIIFM+ was being produced, we couldn’t judge how large the game volume could be on the PSP, and so we hadn’t decided how long the scenario would be. And so, until we actually tried to make it, we didn’t know if we could put that scene at the end of the game, or if we’d have to write it before that because the volume would be too much of a problem, or if perhaps there was room we could even show the developments after it.
- You used that secret movie in the opening, too, didn’t you.
Nomura: I consulted Nomatsu (Takeshi Nomatsu: Cinematic Movie Director) about the opening movie, and we decided that ‘let’s go with showing things that happen in the story’. We made the opening movies of KHII and the like based on the concept of showing what had happened in the story so far, but there is no story before this one, and so we went with putting in omens for this title.
- How did you decide on the subtitle for this game, ‘Birth by Sleep’?
Nomura: Honestly, I simply wanted to try using the word ‘by’ (laughs). I thought, game subtitles always have ‘of’ or ‘is’, but you hardly ever see ‘by’. I asked the localisation staff and they said ‘you don’t usually use it in titles’, but according to a producer fluent in English there wasn’t a problem, so I thought it wouldn’t be too odd to use it. Also, I thought it would be good to continue the flow of KHCoM and KH Coded using internet words, and keeping ‘bonds between people’ in mind, I wanted it to be contracted to BBS (Bulletin Board System, software that allows users to connect). Then, I wanted to use the word ‘sleep’, and the result of all that was ‘Birth by Sleep’.
- How was it first decided that the Osaka development team would be in charge of the title?
Nomura: When we were writing up the plan, it had already been decided that the usual KH team would make FF Verses XIII, and so I thought I’d ask another team to develop it. Then, the Osaka team sent an offer saying ‘we could do it better than any other development team, so please let us do it’. After that they made a demo for me with Sora, Donald and Goofy running around smoothly on the PSP, and, thinking I could definitely leave it to them, I made the request. At that time, development of FFVII Crisis Core had just begun, and that development team was battling with how things appeared on the PSP. Hearing this, I showed them Osaka team’s demo, and told them ‘this is how far you can go with the PSP’.
- The game system specialises in commands. Was that your idea, Mr. Nomura?
Nomura: That’s right. The deck command element was implemented in the first stages of planning. It began when we wondered whether it would be more invigorating if we took card-using deck system adopted in KHCoM and made it simpler. Then, we put that with the idea of waiting to charge after using commands adopted in The World Ends with You (released 2007 on the Nintendo DS), and aimed to evolve it further. There’s a degree of freedom in the manual charging as it is in KH CoM, but we thought the tension created by automatic charging when you’re in a pinch would be more fun, having you escaping from the enemy thinking ‘hurry up and fill, hurry up and fill…’ with the cursor on Curaga.
- The ‘command board’ was also born from a suggestion of yours, right, Mr. Nomura?
Nomura: I’ve loved board games for ages. When I was little, my father would make sugoroku (Japanese board game like backgammon or snakes and ladders) for me, and I’d copy him and make them myself. With that sort of thing having happened, I wanted to use a board game element as a system in a game someday. For example, like the board game-like sphere grid growth system in the FF series? I’ve always thought about using something that took that further, and could be played independently like sugoroku, and that’s what became the ‘command board’.
As for new elements, the dimension link was also impressive.
Nomura: In KHI and KHII for the PS2, your partners Donald and Goofy fight alongside you, however, this is a PSP title, and it’s hard to make many characters appear at once when keeping in mind the performance of the machine. At that, instead of having partners walk alongside you, we thought of dimension link as a device that allows you to use the power of characters in other places.
- If you use wireless, it’s fun to be able to link to other players, isn’t it.
Nomura: The idea of linking to others through wireless came from the Osaka team, and that became the final factor that made us adopt the dimension link system. One of the themes of the story is ‘bonds’, and so we felt we should definitely implement the dimension link, which means forming bonds with other players. By the way, Ventus dimension linking with Vanitas at the end of his story was also suggested by the Osaka team. I myself liked the idea of using systems as foreshadowing in the development of the story, and so I was impressed, thinking they made clever use of it.
The concept of the scenario is ‘there is no such thing as chance in the destiny of all’
- Had you thought of constructing separate scenarios for each of the three main characters from the early stages of development?
Nomura: That’s right. When I first wrote the plot, I decided that three main characters would be controlled, and each of their stories would be played. When I wrote the scenario I wrote Terra, then Ventus, and last Aqua, in that order, and the actual story also ended up unfolding like that; Terra leaves on his journey first, then Ventus follows him, and Aqua departs last. As a whole, the concept is about ‘there is no such thing as chance in the destiny of all’, which is actually what became the catch phrase of the game. Things such as ‘Riku can use the Keyblade because he was chosen to be a successor’, and ‘there was a reason that Kairi met Sora and Riku’ are revealed. Up until now these things could have looked like chance occurrences, when in reality everything was inevitable.
- Was the last episode, playable after finishing all three stories, planned from the very beginning?
Nomura: No, the last episode wasn’t part of the first completed scenario. To be precise, up until Aqua walking in the realm of darkness in the current last episode was actually in the ending of Aqua’s story, and then, the scene with the conversation between Riku and Sora on the beach wasn’t there at all. But, that way, all three endings ended with a dark feeling, so we prepared the last episode, and added the scene with Sora and Riku.
- How did you decide on the names for Terra, Ventus, and Aqua?
Nomura: At the time of Kingdom Hearts, I wanted Sora, Riku, and Kairi’s names to have meanings that related to the three elements of world, this time too I wanted the 3 main characters names to be the same. So names associated with earth, wind, and water were chosen. But that doesn’t mean I consciously made Aqua correspond with Kairi, for example.
- What were you thinking of considering the name of Vanitas?
Nomura: I wanted a name that really gave off the image of “empty” and when I was searching for a suitable word, I found the Latin word “vanitas” which has the same meaning as the Japanese word “kokuu” meaning hollow. The sound of Vanitas resembles Ventus, plus when the word for hollow is written in kanji, the compound has the same character for “sora” written in it. I liked that, so we used it. Although, in Vanitas’ case the kanji’s meaning isn’t “sora” as in “sky” but “kara” as in “empty/blank”.
- Master Eraqus’ name is an anagram for “square” written in English, isn’t it?
Nomura: Yeah, but that’s not the only reason that name with such strong implications was used. Really I wrote out Eraqus’ name when I was writing the original plot but when I reread it afterward I forgot myself what meaning was attached to it. I consulted everyone on staff and couldn’t figure it out until finally the producer noticed it was an anagram for “square” in English. I remembered, “Oh, that’s right.” (Laughs)
Whose face does Vanitas’ resemble? After worrying the answer is revealed
- Did deciding on the three main character’s design go smoothly?
Nomura: No, I had a relatively hard time with that. Especially with those three armored suits they transform into, when I was first designing them I had decided that it’d be “armor that becomes a round device.” However thinking of how to incorporate that sort of device into clothing was difficult. But once “X” became a keyword for this story, the shape of that symbol became inspiration for the main three’s outfits.
- As for their faces, what manner of design went into that?
Nomura: For Terra, since his appearance after this had already been decided, he was designed to have a younger feeling of that. Ventus would inevitably resemble either Sora or Roxas, though I worried over which, I thought that Vanitas resembling Sora would have a greater impact, so Ventus ended up resembling Roxas. By the way, there’s a reason Vanitas has Sora’s face. Sora supplements the damaged parts of Ventus’ heart, and as a result of Sora’s influence on those damaged parts, Vanitas’ face changed into the same as Sora’s. Therefore if Riku was supplementing the missing parts of Ventus’ heart, Vanitas’ face would likely look like Riku.
- How about the lone lady Aqua?
Nomura: Since there was no base for her to begin with like with Terra and Ventus, I drew up an entirely new character. Since Terra’s outfit was slightly Japanese inspired, I carried those elements to her design, with the ties ending in her lower back and the sleeves with wide openings at the ends.
- Aqua seems to be popular.
Nomura: I really wasn’t thinking of what sort of popularity she’d garnish, oppositely I worried while I drew her, “Her connections with pre-existing characters is slim, she might not be all that popular…” When writing the scenarios for 358/2 Days, I drew Xion as a “transient and brave girl”, but I wanted Aqua to be a strong girl too. She was drawn not as a “mannishly strong girl” but my own idea of a “femininely strong girl.” I didn’t really know how she’d be received, but thanks to the voice work by Megumi Toyoguchi, she has this popularity. With Paine in Final Fantasy X-2, she used a voice lower than her normal pitch, but this time played Aqua with a tone close to her natural voice. I personally think it successfully represented Aqua’s strength.
- What were your intentions having Ryotaro Okiayu voice Terra?
Nomura: Chikao Otsuka’s Master Xehanort voice is very dry, and Akio Otsuka’s Terra/Xehanort voice is deep and resonating, and looking for a voice that lay between the two resulted in Mr. Okiayu. Of course, Chikao Otsuka was cast as Xehanort because he is the father of Akio Otsuka in real life.
- Vanitas’ voice actor being the same Miyu Irino as Sora was of course because they have the same face, right?
Nomura: Yes. But, he’s nothing like Sora, is he? Mr. Irino had said before that he wanted to do a villain, so he performed with bells on. (Laughs)
The reason Zack was the only FF character to appear
- How did you decide which worlds could be visited in this story?
Nomura: First of all, it was decided from the very beginning that you would be able to visit the first three worlds with princesses. Though the princesses appeared in KH, their worlds didn’t make it into the game, so I wanted to write that someday. Story wise too, we were able to tell of how Maleficent first began to target the princesses, and so that was perfect. As for the other worlds, we chose places that looked interesting to write, or looked fun when we made the maps.
–There were also a few worlds that had appeared before, weren’t there.
Nomura: Olympus coliseum has appeared every time, but because this was a chance to tell the events of the past in particular, I wanted to include it no matter what. In the original movie there were scenes of young Hercules growing up, and so, using that, we made it possible to visit Olympus Coliseum this time, too.
- Zack appears at the Olympus coliseum, but was there a reason Final Fantasy characters other than him don’t appear in this title?
Nomura: I could have made Cid and the others appear in Radiant Garden, but if I had done that, the story would have gone off track. The main story for Birth by Sleep is very complicated, so we tried to just follow the main story and not branch out too much. The result was that with FF characters, only Zack appears. We chose him because this scenario is in KH’s past, and we wanted to use something similar if we were going to use anything at all. Zack was a character in the past in FFVII, and so he was perfect. The truth is, there were other FF characters I thought about putting in, but I decided not to use them this time so that they can appear in other titles. That title hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t say who (laughs).
– This time a new enemy called the Unversed appeared. What are your thoughts on them?
Nomura: It was necessary to prepare an enemy based on something that didn’t appear in KH, which is a later story and would already have disappeared by the time of KH. At that, I decided to make them attached to Vanitas, so that all of them would disappear when he did. Their design concept became the theme of ‘emotion’, and we went with various motifs, such as a laughing face, angry face and crying face. The Unversed mark was also modeled on the heart from emotions.
- Speaking of enemies, this time’s hidden boss, Vanitas Sentiment, was very strong, wasn’t it?
Nomura: Because the hidden boss in KHIIFM, Lingering Sentiment, was fairly well received, I decided to make this one an equal match in strength. The fans were asking for a hidden boss with “demon-like strength”, you see. And so, once the debugger (person who checks the conditions of programs) found a way to capture it we adjusted it so that it wouldn’t get boring, and the result was that strength. During work I also went to Osaka and fought it as practice, but I couldn’t beat it. (Laughs) I knew that if I had been able to defeat it right away it would mean it wasn’t very strong, so it was ideal that I couldn’t defeat it.
Riddles hidden in the secret ending, hinting at the future of the series
– Secret movies are an established tradition for the series, and in this title, a secret scene titled “Blank Points” was included. Does that name refer to the blank points in the story?
Nomura: There is that meaning, but every secret title aims to be reminiscent of the contents of the next game. For example, the secret movie in Kingdom Hearts was titled “Another side, Another story”, which was hinting at Roxas. Then the secret movie in KHIIFM was “Birth by Sleep”, wasn’t it? Well, the title of the next game isn’t restricted to “Blank Points”, but it will fit that meaning.
- In the secret ending, who is the “other person’s heart Terra is harbouring in his own” that Xehanort refers to?
Nomura: I can’t answer that yet, but I intended to make the correct answer obvious. If you listen carefully to Xehanort’s line, and read the Xehanort reports, I think there’s someone who will come to mind.
- Ansem the Wise said to Aqua, “everything is born from sleep”, but what does this mean?
Nomura: Those calling “Sora” in that scene are all people who have already left this world. But there is no concept of death in the world of KH, and so the image is of sleeping in Sora’s heart for example. If they could be woken up, they should be able to be brought back into this world, and so that’s what “born from sleep” means. Ansem the Wise was speaking of this possibility. Aqua isn’t in the world of light either, so perhaps she too will come born from sleep.
- And so, is there a possibility that the characters that appeared in that scene will be brought back in the future?
Nomura: Yeah. The data that Ansem hid inside Sora is a secret related to their resurrection. When Ansem became DiZ and worked from the shadows, he did research on the heart and emotion, but he hid the conclusion of his particular findings inside Sora. There were many who thought that what was hidden was Kingdom Hearts Coded, but that’s not right. In the ending of Coded, Naminé’s words that DiZ did something to Sora are pointing to the data that Ansem hid. We are planning to make clear the nature of that data in a future title.
Designs for two games other than KHIII are in progress
- The three handheld console titles Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, Kingdom Hearts Coded and Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep have sold quite well, however what are your thoughts?
Nomura: It was very difficult, but it was also fun. I was able to challenge myself in various ways, and from that I found elements I can use from now on. In particular, thinking about the hardware in different consoles was a huge gain. For example, on the PSP, we could use the same controls as the original series, and so we were able to pursue an invigorating make. Then, because the Nintendo DS hasn’t got an analogue stick, rather than invigoration, we thought we’d better go with a system based around customizable play. On top of that, we also had a title not on a gaming console but on the mobile phone, which provided the challenge of making a simple title still feel completely like Kingdom Hearts. From those experiences, I think I’ve gained much I can use from now on.
“The characters who were calling to Sora have the possibility of being born through sleep”
- The overseas version of Birth by Sleep is currently being developed, are there parts in that will change from the original release?
Nomura: The scenarios won’t change particularly, except for various adjustments. Apart from Proud mode, there is the more difficult Critical mode. I had a hand in some of the event scenes that according to the circumstances weren’t able to be produced with my own intentions. More songs for the Rhythmic Ice Cream mini game were added and the number of Keyblades also increased. Furthermore the battle balance and play feeling of it were regulated.
- Like with Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, can we expect a Final Mix version of Birth by Sleep so Japanese fans can enjoy the perks of the overseas version?
Nomura: Well, if I answered “there aren’t plans right now”, it might be perceived as “not releasing one”, and so I can’t say anything. Though the voice work in the overseas version is fantastic, releasing a Final Mix version wouldn’t be bad… But when we released Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix we attached Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories with it, so I get the feeling everyone would expect something big with the Final Mix version of this. So even though I’d like to say that was the case, I don’t think that such a big accomplishment could be achieved twice! (Laughs)
– Now that Birth by Sleep is complete, we’re interested in the future titles to come in the Kingdom Hearts series…
Nomura: Kingdom Hearts III can’t be started if the goals for Final Fantasy Versus XIII are not concluded, however development of the next title(s) in the series has already begun. There’s one I plan to release within the year. After that, there’s another one I’m thinking I want to release from next year onwards, and I think there will be more than one main character again. By the way, the scene “Blank Points” in Birth by Sleep in which Sora ends up setting off on his journey is planned to connect to Kingdom Hearts III.
– It means that Kingdom Hearts III will wrap up the story so far, right?
Nomura: That’s right. I’ve heard that some fans suppose that the series will probably end with KHIII, but the developing Kingdom Hearts series is being made with the intent that everything up until KHIII, which is to come, is the first part of an even bigger series. Sora is the hero of Kingdom Hearts, but the first part of the series, unfolding now, is the Xehanort saga. Hasn’t Xehanort always been the enemy since KHI?
– I see. So then, KHIII will be the end of the Xehanort saga?
Nomura: If I had to, I’d say that’s the way to look at it. That’s why even if the Xehanort saga ends, there’s the possibility that a new adventure for Sora will begin.
– So, it’s not that “once Sora’s story is over the story of a new hero will begin”, but that the series will always have Sora as the hero, isn’t it?
Nomura: Yeah. One of the concepts of the series is that the hero Sora isn’t some special being, but a normal boy. Sure, his heart is connected to Ventus and the others, but other than that, he’s a normal kid that could have come from anywhere, that hasn’t inherited anything from anyone. I want to make Sora a character that will give the player the feeling that “even if I’m not some special being, I have the possibility buried inside of connecting with many others to accomplish things”. In Birth by Sleep, I wish for all the fans to hope to see that Sora reappears. The secret cutscene is what symbolizes this, so please work your way there, and wait for Sora’s role in the future.