Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Nomura

For this blog post, I will be discussing Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep and who the artist of this game is. The Kingdom Hearts franchise dates back to the very first game Kingdom Hearts released back in early 2002. KH BBS is the sixth installment of the KH franchise, developed and published by Square Enix, and directed by Tetsuya Nomura, and co-directed by Tai Yasue. It was originally released in 2005 for the PlayStation Portable (PSP), and later released on the PlayStation 3 (PS3), which is the console I played the game on.

The interesting thing about Kingdom Hearts is that it’s a collaboration of Square Enix and Disney Interactive Studios to create a different type of game.

The question is, who in this collaboration is the artist? That is a difficult question to answer as many people were involved in the making of this game. Square and Disney Interactive Studios were both involved in the creation of the game, however, there is one consistent name that follows each game within the franchise: Tetsuya Nomura, the overall director of Kingdom Hearts can be seen as the artist for the game.

Nomura was involved in every aspect of the game, from character design to how each world within the game should look. The aesthetics of the game follow Nomura’s overall direction. The game is an interactive experience. The controls are similar to the first KH games, but different in that there is more player-based interaction and reactive commands during certain elements of combat. With this, Niedenthal’s idea of aesthetics follows this player interaction, “Where hands, senses, bodies and the tangible qualities of games meet, the aesthetic meaning of games emerges” (Niedenthal, p. 7). The player interacting with the game is what creates the aesthetics of it. The game is an experience for the player. The story, the levels of the game, even the character design are all part of the aesthetics. This creates a special interaction of aesthetics for each player. Each player is going to have a different experience of the game, and through that experience of playing, the aesthetics come from that.

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Left to right: Terra, Ventus, and Aqua

This game follows three main protagonists: Terra, Ventus, and Aqua. They are unique characters specifically designed for the Kingdom Hearts games, whereas some other characters, such as multiple Disney characters (Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy), as well as Final Fantasy characters (Cloud, Sephiroth, Leon) are all in the game. Each character has a unique backstory or important part in the game that connects with the main story in some way, creating a new game universe. The game itself consists of multiple worlds in which the player can visit and interact with the characters on that world. Each world consists of a different Disney universe, such as a world exclusive to Snow White or Sleeping Beauty.

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The Different Worlds Within The Game

Becker focuses on Art Worlds and the collective activity surrounding each piece of art, “The forms of cooperation may be ephemeral, but often become more or less routine, producing patterns of collective activity we can call an art world” (Becker, p. 1). Becker believes that this focus on the collective activity is what makes art. Each KH game has its own worlds within the game itself that the player can travel to and interact with. This distinct gameplay is what makes the game. In this way, the game itself has elements of different game worlds. This is an interesting way of making a game, as most video games only have one exclusive game world in which the player can be.

More than this, Nomura was not the only person to work on the game. He is the main game designer and director of the game, but the collective activity that went into making the game created the individuality that the game consists of. Each world within the game was created by someone else, and the characters and story were all developed by different people. The game world that the people from Square Enix created is an interesting world, unlike any other, except for the other games within the Kingdom Hearts world.

Overall, Nomura is the artist for this game. This is an important aspect of understanding the game because he was the one who created the worlds in which players can play. The game has a distinct play style that is different from other games. It is important to understand that Nomura is the artist because he brought in the elements of the game that really made the game. He designed and oversaw the Final Fantasy characters, and those core elements from the FF characters went into the creation of the main characters in the game. The main characters could have easily resembled Disney characters, but with the FF characters, there was a mix between the two that created the characters specific to Kingdom Hearts.


Sources:

Howard Becker. (1982). “Art Worlds and Collective Activity” in Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press: pp. 1-39.

Simon Niedenthal. (2009). “What We Talk About When We Talk About Game Aesthetics.” In DiGRA 2009: Breaking New Ground: Innovation in Games, Play, Practice and Theory.

 

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7 thoughts on “Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Nomura

  1. YYEESSSSSSS. Kingdom Hearttssss! I played all of them until Birth by Sleep came out. I didn’t have a PSP so I couldn’t play it. After that, all the other games started coming out and I felt that I shouldn’t play it until I played Birth by Sleep. So I’m pretty behind on the storyline. However, I’m really excited for Kingdom Hearts 3… Even though I don’t have a PS4. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years since the first Kingdom Hearts came out. I was… 10. That’s just crazy. I’m getting all kinds of nostalgia just thinking about it. To be honest, when I first played it, the boss fight with the giant heartless at the end of destiny island got me pretty spooked so I didn’t touch it for over a month. It wasn’t until my friends came over and forced me to play until I really got into it. Everyone has been waiting forever for Kingdom Hearts 3. Hopefully they can deliver it soon.

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    • I was super into Kingdom Hearts too! It’s my childhood. Honestly, I think your best bet in terms of storyline is playing Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 and 2.5 on PS3 or PS4. They’re basically the best all-encompassing here’s what you missed before 2.8 and 3. It’s funny that you say that the first boss spooked you. I actually watched my older sister play the game first so I kind of knew what to expect. I still had to figure it all out on my own, but I especially remember her trying to defeat Riku (I think the first time) and my dad and I telling her over and over to serpentine! It was pretty great.

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  2. KH is an interesting text and you touch on the crux of the problem with authorship, but skip on past it. Why Nomura when he is using Disney characters, Disney worlds, and Square Enix characters? What does Nomura actually do and why does he get the credit? Yes, he has envisioned the convoluted story and a few of the characters, but that story has been made legible to you through Brian Gray and other translators. An interesting way to tweak this is to think of KH as an appropriation work: he takes from elsewhere and makes it new.

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  3. I see how you have incorporated Nedenthial’s quote; however, would you agree of disagree that the aesthetics of a game goes beyond just interaction?

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    • I would say that the aesthetics is what really makes up the game. It’s the interaction between the player and the game that creates the aesthetics and the aesthetics are what the game is: the design, the characters, the colors, the type of game, everything. Or at least, everything that involves a player’s senses.

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  4. Kingdom Hearts!! I’ve actually just started playing through this game series since all the games have come out for the PS4 recently. Your post was interesting, but I wish it would have included more on Disney and Nomura’s collaborations. Especially with the fact that Nomura is using the Disney universe for his story. You also mention that separate artists did separate worlds, but then later mention Nomura helped with all of them. That gives an explanation why you named Nomura the artist but isn’t very clear on what he did other than combining these two different fantasy worlds.

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    • It was difficult to actually say who the artist was in this collaboration. I said Nomura because he was really at the heart of everything. In this case, it probably would have been better for me to say that it was kind of an all-encompassing collaboration between Square and Disney since Nomura works for Square. I realize I should’ve been more direct with my explanation as to why I chose Nomura as the “artist”, but it probably would’ve been better to not REALLY name someone specifically.

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