Would it surprise you to hear that one of the main guys behind the past four Kingdom Hearts games comes from the land of beavers, Timbits and all-dressed potato chips?
It's true: As an interview in this week's issue of Famitsu magazine reveals, series co-director Tai Yasue was born and raised in Canada, on a farm that his dad still owns. "I remember that I first took an interest in Japan because of Dragon Quest 3," he recalled. "I didn't understand Japanese very much at the time, so I finished the game pretty much with a dictionary in one hand, although I didn't get what the significance of 'puff puff' was back then."
Despite his Japanese heritage, Yasue never lived in Asia until he went off to college, although he was a keen fan of Japanese role-playing games. "The game that impacted me the most was Final Fantasy 7," he said. "The sheer amount of volume to the thing was amazing, especially with all of the minigames and so on that had nothing to do with the main story. I remember thinking that I wanted to make something like that, or at least I wanted to work with the people that did. That's why it makes me so happy to work now with people like Tetsuya Nomura and Yoshinori Kitase, people that were on the staff for that game."
Yasue began working part-time at Square in 1999 after being introduced to Ogre Battle creator Yasumi Matsuno via a mutual friend. After some work on Vagrant Story, his first major credit in games was directing the standalone Tetra Master card game that Square released on their PlayOnline service.
"While I was leading Tetra Master," he told Famitsu, "I basically got word within the company that I could either work on FF or I could move over to our Osaka office. The Osaka branch had this mood to it like 'Okay, we're starting up, we're going to make some serious games.' It was really a chaotic environment and one that I thought would be fun, so I made the move pretty much like that."
That Osaka studio eventually went on to pick up the Kingdom Hearts series under Nomura's supervision. Yasue has figured in most of the series' recent history, co-directing Re: Chain of Memories on the PS2, Birth by Sleep on the PSP, and Dream Drop Distance on the 3DS. Which game is he proudest of? "That would be Birth by Sleep," he replied. "I was completely absorbed by that game. We threw pretty much every idea we had into the final project, so the crunch time at the end was absolute hell! Still, the experience of working on Re: Chain of Memories before that gave all of us in the studio an idea of what working on a franchise is like, so to some extent we had the groundwork already laid out."
Yasue's current project is Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix, an HD re-release of KH Final Mix and Re: Chain of Memories due out next year in Japan. What keeps him in the games business? "It all comes down to wanting to make something fun," he said. "I want to keep making games that are a bit off the beaten path, that really have love put into them. I think the sort of 'force' I felt when playing FF7 is something really important. When I'm grabbed by a fun new idea, I get so absorbed in it that I forget to eat and sleep. I really hope that I can continue to taste that kind of real emotional inspiration, myself and the rest of the team."