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Square Enix announced Kingdom Hearts III three years ago, but fans still don’t know much about the anticipated action role-playing game sequel.

The Kingdom Hearts series mixes elements of Disney and Final Fantasy to create a world filled with magic, key-shaped weapons, and familiar characters. While Square Enix hasn’t given Kingdom Hearts III a shipping date, the publisher is releasing Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 for PlayStation 4 this December. It will include an HD version of Dream Drop Distance, the series’ 3DS entry that comes with a new chapter, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep — A Fragmentary Passage.

GamesBeat interviewed Tai Yasue, who is co-director for both Kingdom Hearts 2.8 and Kingdom Hearts III. We discussed the series evolution, console exclusivity, and the reason why Kingdom Hearts III didn’t have big showing at last month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

Concept art for the Big Hero 6 world in Kingdom Hearts 3.

Above: Concept art for the Big Hero 6 world in Kingdom Hearts 3.

Image Credit: Disney Interactive

GamesBeat: One of the things I find interesting about Kingdom Hearts is the combat system. It’s gotten a bit flashier and more complex as the series goes along. Is that a challenge when designing the Final Chapter Prologue and Kingdom Hearts III? Is it something that you felt the need to rein in, or did you want to make more complex?

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Tai Yasue: With our handheld games, we did a lot of experimentation with new systems. With 0.2 and 2.8 we’re coming back to the basics, I guess, but at the same time, Kingdom Hearts 0.2 is sort of a continuation of Birth By Sleep. So we wanted to incorporate a lot of the moves from Birth By Sleep. Aqua’s magical spells, for example, and her style changes. We wanted to change toward an enhanced version of that.

The moves look a lot flashier, but at the same time not too difficult. We have the same sort of command menu as the numbered titles, II and III. That’s very similar in 0.2. It’s sort of a mixture between Birth By Sleep and Kingdom Hearts III, both aspects of that coming together.

GamesBeat: Kingdom Hearts II came out in America in 2006. Since then, the series has seen a number of games on handhelds, and they’re still important to overarching story. Do these compilations make it easier for players to catch up?

Yasue: Definitely. The story is very complex. There’s a lot of threads. Right now we’re sort of depicted the Dark Seeker side, and all the portables as well. We wanted — when we were planning for Kingdom Hearts III, we wanted all of our previous Kingdom Hearts titles in HD so everyone could play them again, and new players could be introduced to the Kingdom Hearts series story.

GamesBeat: Kingdom Hearts II.8 was at E3, but Kingdom Hearts III hasn’t made much of an appearance at the show. Is a reason to hold it back from E3?

Yasue: It was a difficult decision for us. We want to share as much as possible. We’re excited about Kingdom Hearts III. But II.8 we’re releasing globally at the beginning of December. We wanted to concentrate on that first. We want what’s best for the moment. We’re currently making III and 2.8 at the same time, but we wanted to concentrate on 2.8 right now.

Aqua in 0.2.

Above: Aqua in 0.2.

Image Credit: Disney

GamesBeat: You talked about experiments with the battle system. It’s seen a lot of variety. It had a mana system, like in the first game, and cooldowns in some of the recent games. What works best for Kingdom Hearts?

Yasue: Each has its own fun aspects, but I think the magical points system, using MP, is very accessible. That’s worked well. But we don’t want to do the same thing over and over again. In Kingdom Hearts III and 0.2 we wanted to enhance this system for the next generation. Using magical spells, we wanted the environments and enemies to react in a meaningful way. It doesn’t just explode. It lingers on afterward. If you shoot a Blizzard, for example, it creates a place where you can skate on the ground. We wanted the magic to dynamically interact with the environments.

GamesBeat: When the series started, the Final Fantasy element was very important — not just in story, but in gameplay. The magic came directly from Final Fantasy, as did the summons. A lot of those aspects seem less prominent now that Kingdom Hearts has developed more of its own identity. Is it fair to say you’re doing more things that are unique to Kingdom Hearts?

Yasue: As a whole, the story and the worlds and the gameplay — everything we incorporate, we want aspects of the Disney world throughout. For the combat systems as well, we don’t have that much for 0.2, but having Disney aspects combined with Sora’s aspects is important. Obviously the worlds, for example, we don’t want them all to be Kingdom Hearts original worlds. We want the rich Disney worlds as well as the original worlds.