Feature: Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory devs lift the curtain on the series’s Switch debut

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory Square Enix Ichiro Hazama Masanobu Suzui Tetsuya Nomura interview feature exclusive rhythm action game Nintendo Switch Theatrhythm indieszero

First announced back in June, the rhythm action game Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory from Square Enix swiftly became one of the most anticipated Nintendo Switch titles of the year, especially because it’s the first game in the franchise on Switch. And ahead of the game’s release on Nov. 13, we had the opportunity to speak with Producer Ichiro Hazama, Co-Director Masanobu Suzui, and Franchise Director and Character Designer Tetsuya Nomura about everything we can expect from the title.

For starters, all of the similarities between this title and Square Enix’s Theatrhythm series are not coincidental — Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is being made largely by the same people that created that series. Masanobu Suzui’s indieszero studio is developing the title alongside Square Enix as was the case with Theatrhythm. However, to really capture an authentic Kingdom Hearts experience for Melody of Memory, Kingdom Hearts III staff supervised the animation and visual effects and were directly involved in creating parts of the game. When you also factor in the supervision of Disney, this is quite a large production for a rhythm game.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory Square Enix Ichiro Hazama Masanobu Suzui Tetsuya Nomura interview feature exclusive rhythm action game Nintendo Switch Theatrhythm indieszero

Discussion of a potential Kingdom Hearts rhythm game at Square Enix actually began five years ago, when Hazama and Suzui casually talked about how it would be cool to do a Theatrhythm Kingdom Hearts. The idea just floated around for a few years, but then during a discussion between Nomura and Disney, it was actually Disney who asked if Square Enix could move forward with the project. Thus, production began.

At the beginning of development, the developers did approach it as a Theatrhythm game, but then they reflected on the fact that Kingdom Hearts has a distinct brand of exhilarating action and that the franchise is typically depicted in 3D. Nomura thus suggested they try to incorporate those action elements into a rhythm game, and he provided the game its fitting Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory title.

An unlikely point of visual inspiration for Melody of Memory also came during the series’s 15th anniversary commemoration, when a jukebox website was set up that had Sora physically traveling over music sheets while game music played. That resonated with the sort of game the team wanted to build.

Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory Square Enix Ichiro Hazama Masanobu Suzui Tetsuya Nomura interview feature exclusive rhythm action game Nintendo Switch Theatrhythm indieszero

Fast-forward to today, and Square Enix and indieszero have worked hard to deliver an experience with Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory that will cater to hardcore series fans and more casual Disney lovers alike. For starters, the game has Beginner, Standard, and Proud difficulty settings akin to in the main series, and individual songs have different difficulty levels that you can see before playing them.

For players who are complete novices to rhythm games (or perhaps young children), there is a “One-Button Play” mode that removes all the complexity of having to manage a lot of buttons. Conversely, expert players can try “Performance Target,” which both adds more enemies and more complicated button maneuvers to the action rhythm experience. It incorporates pressing directional buttons in order to make it feel like you’re putting on a real performance.

KHMOM Elsa Frozen

Each individual stage in Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory was thoughtfully crafted to agree with the original music and the places being recalled from the original games. Accuracy is important, because the story is all about recounting the adventures we’ve had so far in the series.

Melody of Memory occurs at the latest point in the Kingdom Hearts series timeline so far, and the narrative sees Kairi playing the role of a storyteller. She will walk players through the events of the various games in the Kingdom Hearts series, explaining the story for those who have never played the franchise before — which is something Square Enix is actively anticipating, since it’s the first title in the series for Nintendo Switch. In turn, players will also relive these narratives and their music via each action rhythm stage. How and why Kairi is playing the role of storyteller is still under wraps, but regardless, it’s an effective premise for inviting new players into the series.

Gummy Ship World Map World Tour

As you play through the story in World Tour, you’ll use the Gummy Ship to travel between stages, and the world map will display the different Kingdom Hearts titles throughout the series in order. Completing stages in each installment accumulates stars that unlock the next area, and as you do so, you’ll unlock accompanying movie clips from those stories. Square Enix is particularly proud of what it’s achieved in enabling players to relive the whole overarching narrative and its music in this manner, with Kairi’s narration bringing it all together.

If you want to play Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory with friends though, you’ll have plenty of options for that both online and locally, especially on Nintendo Switch. In addition to the expected online versus modes, the Switch version uniquely will have Free-for-All, an ad-hoc mode for 2-8 players that is kind of like a battle royale mode, and making too many mistakes means you lose. Although, there is a spectator mode too to keep watching the fun. Square Enix hopes Kingdom Hearts fans can unite at events like a concert or a fan meeting to play together in this mode.

KHMOM Double Play Mode

Additionally, Melody of Memory has a couch co-op mode called Double Play. You share the screen with multiple controllers and you’re playing a singular stage together, your scores combining together trying to get the highest collective score possible. With all of these multiplayer modes, the story mode, and also simple free play, there should be plenty of replayability, especially for high score chasers.

Now that Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is coming to Switch, it naturally begs the question of if more of the series is on the way. However, Nomura unfortunately confirmed that there are no specific plans for more Kingdom Hearts games on Switch at this time. There is a silver lining though, as Nomura said there is a possibility that other Square Enix games he’s involved in could come to Switch. (We have more details available about that.) We’ll just have to keep our ears open.

Regardless, we already have plenty to look forward to on Nintendo Switch with the release of Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory on Nov. 13.

John Friscia
Head Copy Editor for Enthusiast Gaming, Managing Editor at The Escapist. I'm a writer who loves Super Nintendo and Japanese role-playing games to an impractical degree. I really miss living in South Korea. And I'm developing the game Boss Saga!