“It wasn’t something that we had anything to do with, it was decided higher up,” says director Tetsuya Nomura.
Kingdom Hearts 3’s long development cycle has been the bane of many people, but there’s a very specific reason for it- having to switch from Square Enix’s in-house Luminous Engine (which also powered Final Fanasy 15) to Unreal Engine 4 (which now powers the vast majority of Square Enix games) was something that, for obvious reasons, proved to be a major roadblock, and added a significant chunk of time to the game’s development.
As per game director Tetsuya Nomura though, the decision to switch engines midway through the title’s development wasn’t a decision that the development team itself made, but rather something that came as a mandate from the higher-ups at Square Enix.
“We had our own company reasons, essentially,” Nomura said while speaking about the engine switch in EDGE’s February 2019 issue (Issue 328). “It wasn’t something that we had anything to do with, it was decided higher up.”
“It was a whole year that we had to kind of rewind and restart,” he further explained, then going to talk about how the versatility of Unreal Engine 4 is something that proved to be hugely beneficial to development. “As a dev tool, Unreal Engine 4 is kind of an all-in-one – it’s got all of the stuff that is needed in it, it’s used around the world, and we also got really great support from Epic Games. They were very helpful through the entire process.”
Nomura also said that the fact that members of the Kingdom Hearts 3 development team hadn’t been involved in the development of the Luminous engine was also an important factor in the engine switch. “It would have been a different story if the team making Luminous had been members of the Kingdom Hearts team,” he said. “But they were a different team, so that did make things a bit more difficult.”
The game’s co-director Tai Yasue also spoke about the matter, briefly discussing how the team had to familiarize itself with the new tools they had at their disposal. “We had to learn a lot,” he said. “When we started using Unreal Engine 4, we had these study groups – well, not study groups, but we all sort of… There’s a tutorial. I made my own robot, a robot that changed shape. We never used it in the game, we were just testing it out. We had contests too, I remember. Each game designer made something, and we sort of compared it. And this had nothing to do with the game.”
“We had to learn about the engine,” he continued. “That was part of the development timeline and was something that contributed to and affected the schedule.”
Yasue too, however, spoke positively about the impact of Unreal Engine 4 on the game’s development, mentioning that it is an engine that makes experimentation during development quite easy. “The thing with Unreal Engine 4 is it’s really easy to experiment, gameplay-wise,” he said. “We didn’t need any assets to start off, so the game designers that aren’t artists at all could actually start to test the game.”
Kingdom Hearts 3 launches on January 29 for the PS4 and Xbox One. If you’re hoping that the game will hold secret Disney worlds that Square Enix hasn’t already revealed yet, don’t get your hopes up- they recently made it abundantly clear that all Disney worlds in the game have already been revealed. Read more on that through here.