The Kingdom Hearts series is no stranger to a spin-off; meet the latest to join its ranks, Melody Of Memory, a game all about rhythm. This feels like a natural fit, given the breadth of music tied to the franchise that has soundtracked the story of Sora and his friends.
Ahead of Melody Of Memory’s release on November 13, Final Fantasy character designer and Kingdom Hearts franchise director Tetsuya Nomura, producer and Theatrhythm Final Fantasy alum Ichiro Hazama and Indieszero founder and Melody Of Memory co-director Masanobu Suzui speak to NME about how the game is shaping up and the future of the franchise.
From iconic bangers to devastating ballads, the Kingdom Hearts discography has serious range. Suzui starts by telling us how hard it was to whittle down the “600 or 700 tracks” across the whole series into a clean 140 for Melody Of Memory.
The team started with songs that they thought would resonate with fans the most, using the setlist from the Kingdom Hearts live concerts as a baseline. In line with the game’s title, Suzui notes that the tracks in the game were chosen due to the fact that fans may “have particularly strong memories’” attached to them.
One of Melody Of Memory’s main features is World Tour mode, where the player will progress through the entire Kingdom Hearts narrative via rhythm action gameplay. Suzui notes that there was an emphasis on adapting the individuality of the music that has come to define the most powerful story beats in Kingdom Hearts. “We’ve worked really hard at choosing the right points in each song, the parts where you want to get on with the melody, with the refrain – putting an enemy there so you can really enjoy the feeling of the track.”
The game was developed alongside Kingdom Hearts III, and as a result, a lot of its innovations in fluidity and timing have been adapted into the rhythm-based combat in order to create a gameplay experience that Suzui tells me is “reassuring to fans of the old games”. The Memory Dive mode also speaks to that passion, letting players soar through playable music videos made up of cutscenes from the franchise, set to iconic tracks like ‘Simple And Clean’.
Once you clear tracks in World Tour mode you can play them again solo or co-op, or even compete online or with friends via local communication on the Nintendo Switch. Hazama tells NME that Melody Of Memory will feature lots of different difficulty levels and that the game’s story is “following on from the events after ReMind”, the most recent DLC expansion for Kingdom Hearts III.
The game will also feature new music from beloved Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts composer Yoko Shimomura, who also wrote Melody Of Memory’s title theme and ending credits.
Given that this is the first Kingdom Hearts game on the Nintendo Switch, series creator Tetsuya Nomura says that the team wanted to make it a good starting point for fans who may be new to the world and its deep well of lore. “Kingdom Hearts already has a complicated enough story, so I thought if we were going to add too many more elements in there it would basically just become too difficult to follow,” Nomura explains.
“But since the Kingdom Hearts current story arc has kind of reached a good conclusion with the end of Kingdom Hearts III: ReMind, this is a really good opportunity to revisit that and cover the whole series in an easy to understand way.”
Yet this doesn’t mean that Nomura won’t be teasing the future of Kingdom Hearts in Melody Of Memory. “To be honest, there is a little bit of new story there that we hope the fans will be able to enjoy,” Nomura adds.
*Spoilers follow for Kingdom Hearts III and its DLC, ReMind.
Given that the game’s story elements pick up right after the end of Kingdom Heart III’s ReMind DLC, I brought up the fact that the game’s acronym M.O.M lines up with the Master Of Masters, the mysterious Keyblade maestro who appears in ReMind’s secret ending. “I do see many of these fan observations myself and I think the level of thought is very impressive,” says Nomura.
“I love media that lets people contemplate what they just watched or played as they wait for the next instalment, and I’ve always wanted for my games to be like that – it’s great to hear that fans are doing this. There are many times I’ve been surprised by just how deep these ideas are, and on occasion are even deeper than what I would come up with myself,” adds Nomura. “This is why I look forward to fan theories.”
“I’m not sure if this title will be able to provide all of the answers, but there are hints sprinkled throughout, and the paths our main characters will take moving forward will be made clear.”
Another character featured in the secret ending of Kingdom Hearts III’s ReMind DLC is Yozora, played by Dylan Sprouse. Yozora is a mysterious figure from the in-universe video game Verum Rex, and he appears to be based on some of Nomura’s ideas for Final Fantasy Versus XIII (which was eventually reworked into Final Fantasy XV). Nomura was similarly cryptic when asked about Yozora, noting that he won’t appear in Melody Of Memory but teased his involvement in the future of Kingdom Hearts. “He definitely will be involved, definitely will come into play, but I can’t really touch on how yet. I think it will be quite unexpected and a bit of a surprise.”
One exciting facet of Melody Of Memory is that the game’s trailers and key art focus on fan favourite character Kairi, a key figure in the Kingdom Hearts saga who has yet to receive the full spotlight. Nomura was hesitant to say that Melody Of Memory was “Kairi’s Game” given that the playable characters include Sora, Riku and others, but did note that the game is being told from her perspective.
“For people who’ve played up to the end of ReMind, I think that they’ll probably already know that Sora is missing,” Nomura notes. “So it is Kairi’s perspective and Kairi who’s taking that narrative lead there. And as for how that all comes together at the end of the game, I hope you can all look forward to playing it to find out where it goes…”
Nomura tells us he’s really excited about the new story elements that he’s put into the game, and is “looking forward to the next steps for the Kingdom Hearts series”.
Well, there you have it fellow Kingdom Hearts lore nerds – more clues to the future of the series are held within Melody Of Memory. Now we’ve just got to wait until the end of the year to uncover it, when the game finally launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.