The interview, seven pages long, is with the series' director, Tetsuya Nomura. He discusses his thoughts concerning the development and release of 358/2 Days, and then goes on to discuss the production of Kingdom Hearts coded and Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. He also talks about the future of the series, beyond those two games. You can read Kingdom Hearts Insider's translation below.
The KH world shows new breadth in the spin-off titles [color= #808080;]358/2 Days[/color], [color= #808080;]coded[/color], and [color= #808080;]Birth by Sleep[/color]. We were able to talk to Director Tetsuya Nomura about his thoughts on the new [color= #808080;]358/2 Days[/color] as well as the development of the future of the series. (Interviewer: Akira Yamashita)
The time period for the scenario was decided after the multiplayer idea was solidified
-- So, the new Days is one of the three titles announced in the Autumn of 2007 as new projects in the KH series.
Nomura: Those three titles were all announced at the same time, but in reality the opportunities for the projects were raised in a disjointed way. [color= #808080;]Birth by Sleep[/color] is a project that was raised within our company, but Days is from Nintendo, and [color= #808080;]coded[/color] is from Disney, so we started by talking to each of them.
-- So out of those, was Days the first project put into motion?
Nomura: That's right. Actually, from just before the DS was released, there were voices saying it should definitely have KH. When we first heard of the DS' specifications, we thought it was a kind of hardware completely unheard of in previous ways of thinking. There had been no other game machines with two screens, and we were pretty worried about how they should be put to practical use. So we didn't get started straight away, rather we continued searching for the form of a KH that it would be meaningful to release on DS. Separately, we wanted to make a completely new game making full use of the DS' functionality, and began [color= #808080;]The World Ends with You[/color]. So we were able to work on the concept for KH while actually working with the DS.
-- When you decided to make KH for the DS, what was the first concept you thought of?
Nomura: It was the multiplayer. With [color= #808080;]The World Ends with You[/color], there hadn't previously been a game concept like it, and we couldn't fit in the concept of playing with multiple people at the same time. So this time, we thought we wanted to expand on that. Then, looking at the hardware specs, we considered whether to go with 2D presentation like [color= #808080;]Chain of Memories[/color] or [color= #808080;]The World Ends with You[/color], or whether to use a specialised system for the DS' capabilities. When the market changed to more serious games (for example, educational games), I felt as a game creator that I wanted to give people a more straight-forward “game”-like game. Also, from our experience with [color= #808080;]Chain of Memories[/color] we felt that what fans wanted from KH was this kind of straight-out game, so first of all we had h.a.n.d. draw up a test version of a traditional, fundamental KH, and when we saw how good it was, our resolve to go with a straight KH game even on DS was solidified.
-- Where did the idea to use the Organization members for the multiplayer come from?
Nomura: We made a game where characters from various FF games got together to battle, [color= #808080;]Dissidia[/color], but that was a project we were originally thinking of using for KH. However, deciding it would be a bad idea to make Disney characters fight each other, it never materialized for KH and ended up shifting to FF. Even this time we thought that it would be difficult to bring out Disney characters and have them fight each other in multiplayer, and wondering what to do, we arrived at the idea of using Organization XIII. These guys were still connected to Disney, but we thought it would be okay because they were original KH characters. Also, with all their attributes and weapons being different, it would be easy to show their individuality, so made a scenario where you could play as Organization XIII in multiplayer. After deciding that, when we were thinking about which time period we should place the scenario in, we thought if we cut out the one year that Roxas was in the Organization it would link well with the multiplayer idea.
-- I see, so from the multiplayer you expanded on the concept of the storyline and time period.
Nomura: That's right. Only, in the end Donald and Goofy, who are original Disney characters, ended up in multiplayer too (laughs). When we went to confirm with Disney that it was alright to include those guys, we were unexpectedly told it was OK. I guess it's okay so long as it's not a one-on-one battle.
Xion's strong similarity to Kairi was due to a desire to mislead
-- How did you come up with Xion, who became such a key person in the storyline?
Nomura: We showed how Roxas left Organization XIII in KH2. At the same time as we were polishing off the KH2 project, we had assumed to a certain extent what Roxas' movements were during the time period when Days happens, and thought that "Roxas definitely left the Organization because of the influence of someone close to him." And, we thought that "someone" should be a girl his own age. Flowing from that, we began to construct the storyline, beginning with Xion's existence.
-- Who was it that gave Xion her name?
Nomura: That was Kanemaki-san (Tomoko Kanemaki, scenario writer). I admired the many meanings included in it, and decided on it straight away. KH scenarios are always written by many scenario writers, but I was troubled about who to ask this time. Since this would be a continuation of the series so far, I couldn't ask someone without an understanding of the subject matter of KH. Kanemaki-san had previously written novels for the KH series, and I thought it would be good to work with her on the actual games, so this time I asked her.
-- The creation of a "14th Member" caused quite a stir.
Nomura: When we first made the announcement, we had thought it would cause a stir. We were often told that "It's strange to have a 14th member in Organization XIII," and Saix talks about that in the game itself.
-- How did you go about designing Xion's outward appearance?
Nomura: It was decided from the start that she would have a deep connection to Kairi, so she was based on Kairi with her hair changed a little. We were actually thinking of changing nothing but the colour of her hair, but when designs were drawn up her hairstyle was made quite a bit different too. Even the 3D polygon model's face is the same as Kairi's, apart from the hair. So, if you look at the 3D models of Xion, Namine and Kairi, they have the same face and differ only in their hair, but unexpectedly have individual personalities.
-- Also, Xion's voice actor is Risa Uchida, the same as Kairi, and bits of Kairi's theme tune are included in Xion's theme tune; elements that showed there was a connection between the two.
Nomura: Truthfully she's not unconnected to Kairi, but if if I had to explain, we were thinking of trying to mislead people with things like, "Is Xion Kairi's Nobody?" This probably wouldn't work for people who'd played KH2, but on the other hand we also aimed to confuse them; "If she isn't a Nobody, what is Xion?" That was why we made her similarity to Kairi so strong.
-- Was her true nature decided from the start?
Nomura: Yeah. At the start of development, I worked on the scenario with Kanemaki-san, Watanabe (Daisuke Watanabe, scenario supervisor) and Ishida (Yukari Ishida, planning director), and it was decided then. This is related to the misdirection from before - people who know the KH series would think that the Organization members are all Nobodies. But it would be boring if she was really a Nobody, so we thought about what we could do for her true nature.
-- Xion's hood appears or disappears depending on who's looking at her. That was new.
Nomura: That was something we definitely wanted to do. We wanted people to go, "Huh?" when Xion's hood appears and disappears in each cut. After finishing the scenario writing, I thought about it and asked Ishida to somehow prepare people for it happening in the event scenes. I tend to think the program failed to make the reason clear, though. There were a lot of misunderstandings like that in the production of Days. The noise that was put over the reflections of Sora that appear on the bottom screen was something we'd been thinking about since the early stages of writing, but during debugging we were often asked, "Is this a bug?" (laughs).
The last scene was planned right from the start to connect to KH2
-- In this game, did you write much of the scenario yourself?
Nomura: I arranged the main parts of the scenario, and referencing the plot that Kanemaki-san had put together, I wrote everything from start to finish. For two weeks I didn't see anyone, lived on canned food, and wrote the whole time. After I finished writing I had Kanemaki-san go over the dialogue, had Ishida adjust and correct the fine details, then made the final revisions myself.
-- Is it unusual for you to write even the dialogue yourself?
Nomura: This was the first time I'd done it. In previous titles, I'd write the foundations of the plot, but apart from points where I wanted characters to say particular things along the way, I didn't put in the dialogue. So rather than what we call the scenario, it was really just the plot, but this time I thought, "Why don't I try to write this myself." And as you might expect, it was tiresome. When I finished writing, I said "I never want to do this again." (laughs)
-- What, to you, were the most significant lines in Days?
Nomura: Roxas' very last words, I guess. All the other dialogue was written to arrive at that point. We were thinking of that last scene, with Roxas running, right from the start. KH2 begins from the scene just before this game's last scene where Roxas runs off, so we thought we wanted to connect to that really well. Days has a feeling of being well connected to this important point.
-- Several lines from previous titles appear in the dialogue of Days.
Nomura: Yeah. I like using that kind of device, so we'd think "Ah, this is from that time," and put things into the game. For example, if you compare bits of the start of KH2 to Days, there's the same dialogue, and talk of the friends' promise to go to the beach. This was done for the imaginations of people who know that the beginning of KH2 is a world made from Roxas' memories. While making this game we were conscious of having people who haven't tried the rest of the series play, but we put in elements to expand the imaginations of people who have been playing the series the whole way through.
-- Was that also why sea-salt ice-cream was given such a featured role?
Nomura: It's unusual in an RPG, but this time we were depicting daily life, and not every day is all that dramatic. This is a story about how those days pass by and pile up. Therefore, we weren't trying to depict adventures with lots of changes like we have in the series so far, rather the repetition of days,
Even when plot inspiration strikes, it's reconsidered and made unpredictable
-- Why does the story mode begin with the conversation scene from day 255?
Nomura: There are two reasons for that, and the first is that we wanted to start the story with a conversation. Roxas doesn't talk much at the beginning of the story, so we brought in this scene referring to another day at the beginning of the game. The other reason was, in showing a scene with a fun conversation but where someone waited for doesn't show up, we wanted to put the players in suspense, wondering what this was about. For people who know the series, they'd know before playing that Days is a game keeping all sorts of secrets, but people playing for the first time with this game would have no knowledge at all. We wanted those people to start the game with questions, too.
-- In the games you've worked on, Nomura-san, there are a lot of riddles like that, implanted throughout the scenarios.
Nomura: I'm aware of that. When I’m writing the plot, as soon as I get an idea for the next scene, I try and make it go in a completely different direction. Even if I think, "It'd be great to have that person's true nature be this," it's boring if it's what people expect, so I start thinking carefully about who else they could be. I want to create some sort of surprise, I want there to always be something left to wonder about, that's what I think about when writing the plot.
-- In the KH series, there are a lot of “mysteries” that continue from other games in the series that keep the players interested.
Nomura: Yes, but it’s a double-edged sword. The games probably seem difficult for people who haven’t played other games in the series to get into, so we’re trying to make them so that they won’t be that way. For example, in this game we had the main character Roxas start out with having no memories, so people for whom this the first KH game they have played, they can learn about the world along with Roxas. We always worry about how to “reset” from the previous game. For example, even though you got Sora to level 100 in KH, why is it that he starts at level 1 in KH2? Of course it’s a game, it has to start out like that. So, we used [color= #808080;]Chain of Memories[/color]’ story to have them lose all of their abilities and then start anew.
-- Did you have anything to do with the individual World stories?
Nomura: I told Kanemaki and Ishida that I didn’t want Roxas to just go, finish his mission, and leave. I wanted him to learn something, to leave with something to think about. But after that I left it up to them. Though I didn’t do any of the writing on this part myself, I did check the story, and when they were writing it for the Scenario I told them what revisions they should make. In the game the Organization tries to not do anything to bring attention to themselves. So our story became them hiding while other characters talk, and occasionally talking to a few other characters, and what they took from those conversations.
-- There are quite a few things in the game that have a connection to KHII, like what happened at Beast’s Castle. Was this your decision?
Nomura: No, that had already been decided from the beginning that there would be a lot of connections to KH2. Actually, having Pete was quite helpful. We were in a bit of a fix since this time we didn’t have Donald and Goofy, there weren’t really any Disney characters that we could see on multiple worlds. Fortunately we had used Pete in KH2, so we could just use him. (laugh)
We want you to imagine all the various meanings of "358/2 Days"
-- Where did you come up with the idea of having one mission per day in the Story Mode?
Nomura: Because this is on a handheld system we wanted to have something you could play quickly. So we made it so that you could play it in short spurts over a long period of time. If we had made each play session too long your eyes and hands would start to get tired.
-- Single missions are fairly short, but there is quite a number of them.
Nomura: At first we were going to have a mission for each of the 358 days. But we thought that would be too much, so we were going to make it around 150, but when writing the scenario we realized even that would be too much, so I gradually got rid of more and more missions. Then the guys on Planning got rid of even more, and then even after that when we sat down to play the finished product we still felt it was too much. I wonder what would have happened if we had made it as originally planned. (laughs)
-- I heard the Panel System was your idea. I thought it was a ground-breaking new way of using the ablities you’ve gained on your characters in multi-player.
Nomura: We didn’t want you to have to train each character from the ground up. Also, since you can’t allow two of the same Disney character or Organization member to exist at the same time, two people can’t use the same character during multi-player. So if two people had only trained the same character, multi-player would lose a lot of it’s fun. So instead of training individual characters we made a system where you could take all the abilities that you’ve learned and move them to any other character.
-- By the way, I heard that it was your decision to name Luxord’s weapon, “Kyuukyoku Mousou 13”...?
Nomura: Well, the Planning staff always send us many different ideas for names, and this time they sent us something like “Kyuukyoku Mousou” or “XIII Mousou”, so we just put those together. Since the weapon was just for fun, we figured why not? But then the localize team said, “If we do a literal translation it will become “Final Fantasy XIII”. Is that okay?” I seem to remember saying that might be a bad idea. (laugh)
-- Just one more thing that I think everyone is wondering, just what does the title “358/2 Days” mean?
Nomura: That’s the question that everyone has to ask in interviews. (laughs) There is an answer, but I think it’s best not to answer it. Well okay, I’ll give a little hint. “/2” is read in English as “over two”, but this isn’t the kind of over that means to “pass over” something. The 358 days are shared between two people, so “/2”, but I’d rather you imagine which two we are talking about. After you’ve finished playing it you might change your mind about who the two people are.
-- 358 Days is one week short of a complete year, of course...
Nomura: Yes, of course for people who played KH2 they know that the game is like a countdown to the final day. And of course they know the realize why it’s missing that one week. So they already know the reason for the title is that it is “a week short of a year, split between two people.” But is that really the true answer? I named this game hoping that people would think on it even after they’ve finished playing it.
The outlook for coded, BbS and afterwards KH3
-- I’d also like to talk the other two games that were announced at the same time as Days. First I want to ask you about coded, which just started serialization on mobile phones.
Nomura: Yes. In [color= #808080;]coded[/color], the structure of the game is a bit different than usual. Mickey and everyone are looking at the data worlds on the computer screen, and the player is controlling Sora in that world. So the story unfolds in both the real world and the data world. But, each episode always starts with Mickey, unfolds in the data world, and then ends with Mickey. Since you get it in episodes, I think it’s very similar to the enjoyment you get from watching TV serial dramas.
-- It sounds like quite a lot...
Nomura: Well the first episode is mostly a tutorial, but world in the second episode will have something more concrete. We plan on having it start June 2009, then every month add a new world, and continue it throughout this year.
-- And how about BbS?
Nomura: [color= #808080;]Birth by Sleep[/color] will be a very important game that collects everything about the series into one story. With the three main characters, the story is as big as one of the numbered Final Fantasies. We put in a lot of connections to it in Days, and I think that a lot of questions and unknowns from the previous game will be answered in [color= #808080;]Birth by Sleep[/color]. Also, there will be quite a few original characters from previous making an appearance.
-- So the mysteries from previous games will be answered in BbS?
Nomura: Well quite a few will be, but there will also be enough to leave you wondering what will happen next. This game is set the farthest in the past of any other, so it connect to KHI, but the main characters are three that haven’t appeared in the other games. So how their story will end, which will of course be shown in the game, will leave you wondering even more after the game has finished.
-- So is it possible that there will be another game connecting BbS and KH1? And might that be KH3...?
Nomura: Who knows? I already have ideas for the next installment. But since [color= #808080;]Birth by Sleep[/color] isn’t even out yet, I don’t have to think about it until awhile from now. Recently everyone kepts asking me when I’m planning on coming out with [color= #808080;]KH3[/color]. Even though I’m currently busy with [color= #808080;]Final Fantasy versus XIII[/color], I’m also thinking that it’s almost time to start thinking about it seriously. Though it’s entirely possible that the next game in the series won’t be [color= #808080;]KH3[/color].
-- So what will it be?
Nomura: I can’t say that quite yet, but it will be more “offical” than a side story. I actually told the producer this recently, and he said “...what?” It’s the mystery KH. (laugh) Of course, I am also thinking about [color= #808080;]KH3[/color].
-- Well, I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen next in the series, of course we have to wait until these three games are released.
Nomura: Yes. With these three games we decided to show a new KH, with one of the answers to this being Days. That’s why it has a different feeling from the previous games, and we’re a little anxious to hear about how the fans reaction is going to be. This is the first time we’ve had a multiplayer mode, so I hope everyone will try it out and tell us what they think. Also, there will be a lot of people for whom this will be their first KH game, friends who invite them to play on multiplayer, or they became interested because it came out on the DS. So for those people I would like to say, please try out some of the other games in the series. And of course, for those people who have been with us since the previous games, I hope you will continue to support us. It’s because of you we’ve managed to bring the KH series this far. I hope we can continue to live up to your expectations.