A rhythm game might not necessarily be something fans expected out of Kingdom Hearts, but considering how prolific Utada Hikaru’s and Yoko Shimomura’s work has been, perhaps Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory should be considered more of an inevitability. If you haven’t heard of Melody of Memory yet, it’s a rhythm action game spun off the franchise, featuring many characters from the series playable, with guest Disney character appearances. There will be about 20 playable characters and 140 playable tracks and an online versus mode, with tracks from both the games and Disney.
On the record today is game producer Ichiro Hazama of Square Enix, and co-director Masanobu Suzui of Indieszero to answer some of our questions regarding the title.
Why did the team decide to make KHMM as a rhythm action game?
ICHIRO HAZAMA: Originally, Suzui-san and myself worked on the “Theatrhythm series” which is a rhythm action game. So next, we thought we would like to make a KH series “Theatrhythm” kind of rhythm game. This was about 5 years ago. Only until very recently, Tetsuya Nomura brought that up with Disney and it was Disney that was quite enthusiastic about taking KH into the rhythm game genre. So our next concern is to make it the most fun and enjoyable rhythm game that we could.
When we started on working on KH as a rhythm game, Nomura as the director wanted to focus on the visuals as well story to make it a “KH kind of game”, without following the established “Theatrhythm” style. The result becomes “KH as a rhythm game” than a “rhythm game with KH elements”.
There are so many playable characters in the game, including guest Disney characters. Will Final Fantasy playable characters also be included in the game?
ICHIRO HAZAMA: To put it very frankly, there won’t be any FF playable characters in the game. The party you played as are made up of the main characters from past installment of the game. But for FF characters, they are guests in the KH world, so they didn’t manage to make their way into this game.
MASANOBU SUZUI: It’s not like we did not consider putting in FF characters, but we really wanted to focus on the collaboration with Disney for this game. And to be honest, because of the “Theatrhythm” rhythm game, we already had the opportunity for a lot of people to play FF song in that rhythm game, so if we want to include those FF songs within this one, and then it would end up be the same in some cases. So instead of doing that, we really should just focus on the Disney aspect of the collaboration.
Can a player that has never played any KH game before choose KHMM game as their first entry to the KH series? Will KHMM be related to other KH titles?
MASANOBU SUZUI: First of all, it is a great entry way to the series, I think even if you haven’t play it before. On the development team, most of them are actually big KH fans, that we all have our favourite song we want to put in, favourite scene or favourite characters. But that doesn’t mean everyone in the team had necessarily played KH. For some of them it is completely new to them, but as we develop the game, as they were playing this game, they fell in love with the series, and actually went back to play all the past KH games as well.
So I hope that would happened to players as well. It is really a fast paced game with good tempo throughout the story, you get to play all the key songs throughout the plot, revisit all the cool scenes and important plot points, and what’s more, it is all told from Kairi’s point of view. It really is a great place to build up your knowledge of KH series, like a review that take you through the whole story,and even if you are a fan that play it before and you already have lot of knowledge, it really is a good chance to go back and revisit some of the earlier moments that you might be not clear on and realize: Oh that’s how they were connected, Oh this character and that character worked together like that, this is how it is.
So actually for new fans as well, I really hope it will be the kind of game where they can play KHMM and become interested in the series, and go back and play the whole series again. And when they come back and play KHMM again, and they will think Oh I didn’t see this, this is the connection I never saw before. So yeah, I really think its good for both old and new fans.
What differentiates KHMM from the “Theatrhythm” games from the 3DS? Anything new that we can look out for when the game comes out?
MASANOBU SUZUI: It is really quite different from the basics, because we started from the point of making a KH game. In term of obviously, when you press the button in time for the music, that’s the same with any other rhythm game but in term of how you go about that its really different; you have a party of 3, enemies come out, you use the motion from the original KH like attacking, jumping, gliding. The playstyle is completely different.
It’s really quite difficult to explain, so I would just like to let you play it really. If you played KH3, we try to make the playstyle and the button to feel similar to KH3. On top of that, we added more rhythm game elements, for example using the L1 and R1 button to deal the team attacks, that sort of thing.
Can you elaborate more about the songs in KHMM?
MASANOBU SUZUI: This is the first rhythm game for KH. We got over 140 songs all from KH series and it does include the originals, including the Disney songs, Utada Hikaru songs so for people that never played KH series before, they will be able to step into the game and play songs they already know. We think that is really important for good rhythm game.
Can you elaborate more on how multiplayer gameplay works in KHMM? Can the story mode be played multiplayer?
MASANOBU SUZUI: First of all, the main mode for KHMM is the “World Tour Mode” which is the story mode; you play through that sort of play different track, clear missions and move on to the next world while looking back to the past memory of the KH series, etc. As you clear songs in this mode, they will become available to play in other modes.
There are also versus mode and coop mode. For the versus mode, it can be done either online against the computer enemy or through local communication on the Switch version. The Coop mode is called “Double Play”; in this mode 1 player plays as Sora, another plays as Riku, and you work together to get a high score. For these different modes, you can use tracks and play the tracks from the “World Tour Mode”.
The way the online versus mode works is: first, 2 players will select songs and the track played will be picked randomly from the selection. Then you play on the track and both aim for the highest score to win. You can also use the Trick System to obstruct other players and try to hold them back until you reach the end. The winner will get 2 cards for their collection while the loser still gets 1 card. It will still be fun and rewarding to keep playing and keep building that collection as well as improve your rating and move up the ranks.
In KHMM, Sora attire is still using the KH1 attire, is there any reason for that? And in the future, can we change the costume, appearance and keyblade?
MASANOBU SUZUI: There is no function that can change the costume, as we mentioned before, KHMM is set in the world of memory, looking back the stories Kairi had heard from Sora and the others as she goes back in memory. The Sora you see inside KHMM is the representation of Sora and how he was in the past at that time. Also, this means that there is no ability to change or equip different keyblade. But on the other hand there are over 800 collection cards. These cards include the original art from Tetsuya Nomura, past keyblade design, and different costume designs. You will be able to see them included in the game in that form. As you collect these cards, it will make Sora and others stronger, so I think it really worth going through and collecting them as many as possible.
Rhythm games are often associated with touch screen gameplay. Regarding the Switch version, will it support the touch screen and not just analog controls?
MASANOBU SUZUI: There won’t be any touch screen control for KHMM. Because we were developing a multiplatform game, we really want to give everyone the same experience but also as good experience as possible on that platform. We really worked on making the button controls as fun as possible to come across in this game.
Will there be any additional content planned to be released after the game is out?
ICHIRO HAZAMA: At the moment, we have no plan for any kind of additional content after released in that way. I think it really is exciting to have game that continuously to grow and expand after release, there also sometime kinda have a sense of will worth the end where it actually end. For KHMM, we really wanted to create complete experience that you can play through in 1 complete game. For example, there is a story mode that has an end, that you played through that story, and after you completed that, you can use different song you unlocked there to play through more detail, challenge more difficulty, play with your friend in versus mode etc. There really plenty to play and plenty to explore within the game as it will be on release. We hope you can get a lot of knowledge of playing it.
MASANOBU SUZUI: KHMM is kind of an overview, kind of a summary of KH games up till now being as past memories. So it would seem strange to add extras to something that already supposed to be complete.
Since KHMM is the first KH title on Switch, will the past titles plans to be released on Switch too?
ICHIRO HAZAMA: I can’t really talk about any plans. But the director Tetsuya Nomura does very like the Switch; he thinks it is a wonderful console, a great console. Whether or not there will be more titles or interesting things to be on the Switch in whatever form, we can’t say anything about that at the moment.
KHMM is going through all of Kairi’s and Sora’s memory throughout the entire KH series. Does that include the spinoffs, the entire saga/ story of the game? If so, how did the team choose what to include in and what to leave out?
MASANOBU SUZUI: It’s all in there, everything, all the game, all the way up until the Re:Mind DLC. So that’s what we mean when we say it is all distilled, all in overview. So you might be able to guess the playable characters, the unlockable members who are not announced yet.
In terms of the timeline, it progress from the start of the whole KH series in chronological order, all the way through. As you go through the “World Tour Mode”, you will be able to see how all of the different worlds, different stories connected and get a broad understanding of how KH series universe, and eventually will reach the conclusion point which is KH3.
Is there any competitive elements like leaderboard in the multiplayer mode?
MASANOBU SUZUI: There is a rating system but not exactly a ranking system like leaderboard. With a rhythm game, even if you get a highscore, in the end you only can get the highest possible score, for example 999999 or whatever that might be. So rather than focusing on that extreme limit, we prefer to focus on enjoying each and every different versus mode and versus match as you play it.
Anything else you want to say about the game and to KH fans?
MASANOBU SUZUI: To sum up what is so great about this game and what we are actually aiming at is that it really is accessible to a lot of people. It is great for new fans because all the stories and all the songs are gathered together and you can look at that in one convenient place. And for old fans, there will be new discoveries in that. And for people that might don’t know much about KH, but they are fans of rhythm games, we included lot of different styles, including performance styles, where you can use lot of buttons to make complicated combos. On the other hand, if you’re not good in rhythm games, we also have One Button Style. So you can still get through story in that mode. There is something for everyone in that. I really hope you can enjoy this game.
ICHIRO HAZAMA: A message to all the fans in SEA, I would really like to emphasize that in lot of different ways, this is something we would like different people to play. As there a lot of different difficulty levels, and different ways to control the characters, whether that is the One Button style or difficult combination of buttons. In term of languages, this game will have most available languages as any KH game today. For old KH fans who have been around for a long time, they will be able to look back on the past memories and re-experience the series, and for new fans, it will be easy for them to start and step into the series. I hope through this game, it can create new memories moving forward.
We’re a few months off till the release of Melody of Memory still, so rhythm game enthusiasts and Kingdom Hearts fans alike will still need to wait. From watching from the fringes of fandom, with the idea of connecting new things also within Melody of Memory, the lore keepers of Kingdom Hearts will have yet another thing to chew over, wouldn’t they?
Melody of Memory will be launching 13 November 2020.