Two of my most anticipated games for the near future are Cyberpunk 2077 and Kingdom Hearts III. These games could not be more different than one another – and that’s part of why I love this genre. We have such a variety of experiences always at our disposal with unique worlds to get lost in, and it’s always interesting to see the genre evolve in different ways through Western and Japanese design. To say the last month has been busy is an understatement, but it’s a good kind of busy. I finally played Kingdom Hearts III for the first time (it’s real!) and then CD Projekt Red unveiled of Cyberpunk 2077 in grand fashion with a 50-minute live demonstration.
I’ve been waiting for Kingdom Hearts III for so long, playing every side entry possible and then replaying the series with the HD collections. My wait for Cyberpunk 2077 hasn’t been as long, but knowing CD Projekt had that in its pocket after The Witcher 3 and its expansions had me waiting for any drop of info with enthusiasm. Talking about these games together seems weird, right? On the one hand, I have this series that involves Disney characters and worlds that makes me giddy like a little kid whenever I play it. While on the other hand, my RPG of this generation is hands down The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, which is gritty, mature, and packed with difficult decisions that haunt you. I have no doubt that these areas of expertise for CD Projekt Red will play into Cyberpunk 2077, but with a different feel.
The Witcher and Kingdom Hearts are the two series I’ve packed the most time into, so this E3 was particularly exciting. I got to interview director Tetsuya Nomura after all the Kingdom Hearts III reveals, and then I saw Cyberpunk 2077 in action and interviewed quest designer Patrick Mills. This is the part of my job I feel most fortunate for, and getting to write about the games I can’t wait to play is a great privilege. In the E3 rush, you’re up against time, so you have to choose wisely the most important or interesting information to post first. After the show, I usually look back at my interviews and reevaluate what didn’t go live. Often there are still plenty of intriguing details to post, they just aren’t as time sensitive. For this column, I’ve decided to do something different and post some of the answers that I didn’t get a chance to for these two highly anticipated RPGs.
Kingdom Hearts III And Nomura
I’ve interviewed Tetsuya Nomura two times now, and he loves to make teases and talk directly about the game. My feeling is he enjoys getting fans excited and sharing as much as he can without spoiling the big beats. Discussing a game still in development can be tricky as some of the elements are not finalized. Still, he tends to be as honest as possible when giving details. I appreciate how he always acknowledges when he’s still figuring out a feature, but provides some small info to give you at least an idea of where it’s going. I had a blast chatting with him at E3, as I got to ask him about the Aqua reveal, DLC, and what we still haven’t seen from Kingdom Hearts III. I also got to ask him things I’ve always wondered as a longtime fan of the series.
The Feedback From The Hands-On Event…
I was curious about the reaction to the first hands-on demo, and if the team is planning on tweaking anything based on feedback. “The event wasn’t really to get feedback from anyone,” Nomura says. “It was to show it to everyone and hope everyone there would spread the word and the details about the game. That being said, I didn’t really go around asking for feedback, but the dev team, myself included, does look at all the comments that are online. It’s not that we will change things just because one person says this or that, but we’ve been constantly testing the game. We’ve been in QA for a while now, so we’re constantly adjusting the game based on that feedback and some of the comments online have been taken into consideration.”
On Sora’s Positivity…
As fans know, Sora always thinks he can find a way to make things better, and a good portion of Kingdom Hearts is about the importance of friendships. Can Sora keep his positive spirit through Kingdom Hearts III? “He is a very bright character in general, but there will be many serious themes with Sora that involve [him] in Kingdom Hearts III,” Nomura says. “There will be a few times where Sora will be on the edge of despair, but because he’s so bright and he has that personality, he quickly brings it back to a neutral state. I think that’s a strength he has, and another strength he has is this trust and believe in others. I think that’s always been what helped him through the storyline and I think that will be another driving factor for him in Kingdom Hearts III.”
Preferred Order For You To Play The Series In…
One question newcomers often ask is which order they should play the series in now that all the games are out. Birth by Sleep is a prequel, which causes people to wonder if they should start there. Many also ask if they can just skip around and still understand the story. Nomura has his own preference for how he thinks you should play the series. “I would recommend going in order of release date, especially because the story hints at things that will happen in future releases,” he says. “I feel it’s more interesting that way. Of course, that’s not to say you can’t play in chronological order.”
What Goes Into Designing A Keyblade…
We all have our favorite keyblades. Mine are The Seeker, Decisive Pumpkin, and The Kingdom Key. There’s always a sense of accomplishment when you unlock a new one. We’ve seen tons of different keyblades through the years and the designs continue to be unique, so I asked Nomura what the process is on creating one of these iconic weapons from the series. “There has always been a designer of the keyblade in the development team and he has been designing keyblades for most of our Kingdom Hearts titles,” Nomura says. “I never told him to do this, but at some point he started bringing me three concept arts for one keyblade and I would select from there what I like. So sometimes I’d be like, ‘I like the tip of this keyblade. Can you keep this? Or I like this grip, can you bring this design to here?’ There are some keyblades I just like at first glance and I’m like this is the one. It seems what he does is takes a lot of different images of the base world. He kind of has a mosaic on his screen and he just selects and chooses what theme or motif he wants to use. That’s the creative process he goes through and I just select from there.”
On What He’s Most Excited For In III…
It was time to reflect on the fact that Kingdom Hearts III should finally be in fans’ hands on January 29. With development winding down for the long-awaited entry, I was curious what Nomura was most proud of and excited for fans to experience in the game. “There are so many great things to see that it’s really difficult to say [just one thing],” Nomura explains. “I think what we’ve done as an action game with the combat mechanics is just really great, and the story is a culmination of past decade and more. Of course, there are a lot of surprises that are even greater than the Aqua’s surprise [in the Frozen trailer]. But I think I just want to say that the last battle in the game is something I want everyone to see as well as this new original location that I’ve really wanted to create for a long time now. If I had to say just one though, it’d be the last battle.”
CD Projekt Red And Cyberpunk 2077
Cyberpunk 2077 is still in a very early phase of development. From my interview with quest designer Patrick Mills, it’s clear the team is still working hard building out the world and the stories within it. We know CD Projekt Red is ambitious and takes time to consider feedback, and E3 was the first time to see people’s reactions. The E3 demo showed lots of promise for CD Projekt Red’s next triple-A project. If you were on our site during E3, you know we got information about romance options, the focus on current-gen consoles, and that a non-violent playthrough is impossible. Here’s some more insight into the direction of the game.
How It’s Adapting The Tabletop RPG…
While there will be plenty of nods to Mike Pondsmith’s tabletop RPG, CD Projekt Red wants to put its own spin on it, creating something fresh for a modern generation. “We’re doing a lot of world-building with this,” Mills says. “What we’re trying to do is create the feel of Cyberpunk 2020 for a modern audience, so there is a lot of adaptation that’s gone into it.”
That doesn’t mean Pondsmith isn’t involved though. “Mike’s sort of the guru of Cyberpunk and we use him all the time,” Mills says. Mills used the example of how he wanted to use a character from 2020 and consulted with him. “I asked, ‘Who is he? He’s based on a real person so tell me about him.’ We use him for that all the time. We’re not afraid to make changes to the world, but really the core of this, the heart of this, is Mike Pondsmith’s 2020.” To explain the relationship and his involvement a little further for the game. Mills put it like this: “Back in the day when you’d play Cyberpunk 2020 or any pen-and-paper game, you’ve got the game master who sets the rules, and everybody participates in modifying it. And we’ve sort of done the same thing with Cyberpunk 2020. Pondsmith has set the framework for us, and we’ve moved and we’ve worked with him to sort of develop it into something new.”
Developing something new doesn’t mean forgetting its essence and what was important about it. Pondsmith’s tabletop games touched on politics, painting a bleak future for our world, and CD Projekt Red isn’t shying away from that. “Cyberpunk 2020 was created as a response to the Reagan and Thatcher era,” Mills explains. “Then we all kind of got distracted and decided that that whole image of the future is kitsch, but I don’t know if you’ve turned on the news lately, it wound up coming true. I think it’s more relevant than ever and it’s an interesting task bringing it into the modern era.”
On Quest Types
The Witcher 3 earned plenty of praise for its amazing number of high-quality, in-depth side quests. Whether it was a cool character moment or just a more comical task, they frequently left you satisfied, making them well-crafted content that could compete with the main story. Mills wouldn’t get into particulars for Cyberpunk 2077 but did give an indication that those standards are still in place. “It’s too early to talk about the actual structure of the game or anything like that, but if you look to Witcher 3, I think you have an idea of what we want to do – a very strong main story, but really excellent, well-developed side content as well,” Mills says. “Additionally, those little stories that you see…the little interactions, we consider that one of our greatest strengths. And also the expectation, of course, is we have to deliver that. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
Size Of The World…
The Witcher 3 was CD Projekt Red’s first open-world game and the team went above and beyond for it. Cyberpunk 2077 is also open world, so will we see something similar to The Witcher 3 in terms of size or even bigger? That’s still to be determined. “It’s incredibly hard to answer that question,” Mills says. “We’re still building the world. It’s still a work in progress. We know we have six districts. We roughly know the size of those districts, but even inside the footprint of those districts, we don’t know how many rooms or buildings are going to be explorable, or how many we need to build out. We don’t do any procedural stuff, so it’s all handmade. It will be very, very large, but it will be a distinctly Cyberpunk experience. It won’t feel like the flatness of The Witcher. It’s much more vertical.”
The Decision To Go First-Person
The Witcher was a third-person game, but Cyberpunk 2077 changes things up by being first-person and bringing in shooting mechanics. Mills says he wasn’t surprised by the mixed reaction, but he said there’s a good reason for the swap. “People are expecting us to deliver something very close to The Witcher 3, and we want to give them something as good as The Witcher 3,” Mills explains. “This particular choice was made for a lot of reasons. For one, this is your story; we want you to inhabit V more fully than when you [controlled] Geralt. For instance, you’re controlling Geralt; it’s Geralt’s story and you’re watching his story and guiding him through the story. In this case, it’s your story as you control and inhabit V. That first-person perspective gives you that.”
Mills went on to discuss atmosphere and the verticality of the world. Noting as Geralt if you looked up, nothing was really there. The camera has trouble with that in most third-person games. “When you’re in a big city like [this], in first-person you look up and see those towers above you and feel them bearing down on you. That’s something very difficult to get in third-person. It’s really about immersion.”
That’s a wrap for now. Now that the chaos has died down, this column should be back on its regular schedule. Hopefully, this longer one made up for the break!
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Diving Deeper Into Kingdom Hearts III And Cyberpunk 2077