Update 4: silver3drago from KH13 has done us the massive favour of typing up the whole interview, for everyone to read. Enjoy! Edit: The interview has now been listed in our interviews archive.
Nomura: We were impressed with the passion Nintendo put into the design of the N3DS hardware. And personally, I was excited by the idea of a Kingdom Hearts game that could be played in 3D in the palm of one’s hands. That was certainly a big part of it.
-- Can you explain what the title-Dream Drop Distance-Means?
The story for this installment takes place in a world submerged in sleep, and from that “Sleep” we derived “Dream”. “Drop”, from the phrase “Drop off to sleep”, is our name for the system in which players alternate between control of Sora and Riku during gameplay. And since Sora and Riku are progressing through the story on different storylines, we chose “Distance” to express the gulf between them. And of course, since all three words start with the letter D, it can be shortened to 3D to add to the meaning of 3D functionality.
-- What can you tell us about the overarching story of the game and how it ties into the future of Kingdom Hearts?
The story for this installment picks up where Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded on the Nintendo DS left off, making it the most recent chapter in the timeline. It’s the story that takes place right before the final chapter of the “Xehanort arc”, which began with the very frist Kingdom Hearts.
To give a brief summary of the game’s premise, Yen Sid assigns Sora and Riku with visiting the Sleeping Worlds and open the seven Sleeping Doors as their Mark of Mastery exam, which they must complete in order to become Keyblade Masters. However, a mysterious boy in a black cloak appears everywhere they go, and nothing ends up going exactly as planned. That’s the gist of it.
In terms of future Kingdom Hearts, I know fans are eager for the arc’s final battle, and I hope to begin writing it soon.
-- In a previous interview, you mentioned that the Mark of Mastery exam won’t span the entirety of the game. Could you elaborate on that a little bit?
As I just mentioned, the mysterious boy in the black cloak causes the story to take an unexpected turn. Whenever he appears, Xehanort and other characters that have been linked to him, like Ansem, seem to follow, even though they’ve already been defeated in the past. Their story isn’t about the Mark of Mastery exam, so that plotline proceeds in a different direction.
-- How did you decide which new Disney worlds to include in the game?
Tai Yasue, the game’s codirector, suggested that since the film Fantasia contained many worlds, we could use that in the game to separate the worlds that Sora and Riku traveled through. I’ve always wanted to visit Fantasia in a Kingdom Hearts game, so I jumped at the chance. It’s a similar story with the other worlds. We considered how their worldview and settings could be used in interesting effect with the particular mechanics and scenario we had written for this installment, and selected them on that basis.
-- Why did you choose to make both Sora and Riku playable characters this time around?
Sora and Riku represent the theme of the Kingdom Hearts series, which is “the light and dark sides of the heart.” This story takes place right before the final battle, and so we wanted to go back to the origin of the series and depict the polarity of light and darkness through their respective stories.
-- As big fans of The World Ends with You, we’re excited to see its characters appear in Dream Drop Distance. What role do they play in this game?
In previous games in the Kingdom Hearts series, Final Fantasy characters made appearances and gave Sora guidance to help with his adventure. This time, it’s characters from The World Ends with You who perform that role. The basic story is that the characters wandered into this world while playing the Reapers’ Game, and became separated from their partners. Their stories begin with the teammates searching for each other.
-- Aside from yourself, did anyone on the Kingdom Hearts team work on the World Ends with You?
The illustrator who worked on TWEWY, Gen Kobayashi, is now serving as the art director for Dream Drop Distance. That games composer, Takeharu Ishimoto, has also created some music for DDD. Finally, the director of TWEWY, Tatsuya Kando, is working as this game’s animation supervisor.
-- What are the origins of the Dream Eaters? And can you explain the difference between the two types: Spirits and Nightmares?
Actually, as you may have seen in the debut trailer, I was originally planning to go with Heartless and Nobodies. But when I started thinking about setting the game in a dream world with enemies who could grow and fight alongside the player, I felt that it wouldn’t really make sense to be raising Heartless and Nobodies. So I came up with the Dream Eaters as a new kind of enemy that appears in Sleeping Worlds and that feeds on dreams instead of being focused on hearts the way Heartless and Nobodies are.
Nightmares are the Dream Eaters who eat dreams born in these worlds and sow nightmares instead; they appear as the main enemy for this installment. Spirits are good monsters who eat nightmares, and they fight alongside Sora and Riku as allies.
-- Will Sora and Riku fight alongside Disney characters at any point? Or do they strictly fight alongside their Spirit allies?
In this installment, they will be fighting almost exclusively alongside their Spirit allies. To be clear, this game isn’t a spinoff, since it’s a continuation of the series’s main story. But when I’m working on a game in the series that isn’t a numbered title, I like taking the opportunity to incorporate ambitious new systems like this.
-- The action in Dream Drop Distance is a lot faster and more frenetic than in the previous Kingdom Hearts games. What was the motivation behind that?
I have a clear direction for how I want the Kingdom Hearts series evolve, and this change is part of moving in that direction. The games in the series are known as RPGs with a high level of action, in which anyone can perform flashy moves. In order to make the gameplay even more dynamic, we’ve implemented a new system called Flowmotion. With that, I think we’ve taken another step towards our ultimate goal for the series.
-- In a recent trailer, we spotted various Nobodies like Xemnas, Xion, and Axel. How is it that they’re around for the events of this game?
I can’t discuss details just yet, but the mysterious boy in the black cloak has something to do with this. They will confuse Sora and Riku wherever they go.
Who would you say is the main villain in Dream Drop Distance?
I can’t make a definitive statement because that would be giving away a secret, but I will tell you once again, the mysterious boy in the black cloak is the key to the answer.
-- Will this game take advantage of StreetPass or SpotPass?
The game does take advantage of StreetPass capabilities, and uses them in the Spirit-breeding system.
-- Who’s composing the soundtrack for the game? Will it include a new theme song?
With this installment, Yoko Simomura will continue her role as the series’s main composer. Takeharu Ishimoto and Tsuyoshi Sekito-who have worked on previus installments like Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep-will also be contributing music to this game. Ishimoto will not only be handling songs from The World Ends with You, but from other games as well. As with our previous titles, the theme music is going to be a song by Utada Hikaru.
-- Will all of the US voice actors from previous Kingdom Hearts be reprising their roles in Dream Drop Distance?
That’s certainly a plan. In fact, the voice recording for the North American version is already underway.
-- This year marks the 10th anniversary of the series. Do you have anything special in store for 2012 to celebrate this occasion?
In Japan, we’re planning to release a 10-year commemorative box set. We don’t have any other solid plans, but the series has a lot of support from fans in North America, so I hope we can do something special for them as well.
-- Finally, if we ask nicely, would you share something about Dream Drop distance that you haven’t mentioned anywhere else?
This is the first time we’re doing this, but there’s a surprise during the end credits. So even when the credits start to roll, don’t put down your N3DS, and don’t let your guard down!
Update 3: Oishii from KH13 has scanned and uploaded all pages of the Nintendo Power article, all in amazing quality. You can see these below, in our gallery.
Update 2: Nintendo Power have updated their official website with a preview of the issue. This preview gives us a high quality version of the front page, as well as the first page of the Kingdom Hearts 3D article. You can see this below, thanks to J. Severe from KH13 for the tip.
[removed due to higher quality scans above]
The March 2012 issue of Nintendo Power magazine has included an article on Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The article (which is completely in English) confirms a lot of the information we have been getting over the last few months from Japanese sources, and also contains an interview with Tetsuya Nomura. We will be getting scans of this issue soon, but in the meantime, please check out a summary of it from silver3drago from KH13 (who has a copy of the issue).
[removed due to complete interview above]