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With Kingdom Hearts 3 only a few weeks away, now would be a good time to take a look back at the history behind the franchise. This series of articles will have a look at the previous games in the franchise and review them. But this first part of my Kingdom Hearts: A History, won’t focus on this. Instead, in this post we’ll be taking a look at how Kingdom Hearts first came about and what you can expect from future posts.
The creation of Kingdom Hearts stemmed from a conversation in an elevator between Disney and Square Soft employees. At the time of Kingdom Hearts development Disney and Final Fantasy were the biggest names in animation and gaming respectively, and as their Tokyo offices were in the same building they discussed the possibility of collaborating. Kingdom Hearts‘ director: Tetsuya Nomura, overheard the conversation and decided to pitch in and said that he had a few ideas for a possible game. After some discussion about a Mickey Mouse RPG or something similar, they decided on the story for Kingdom Hearts.
They wanted to create a world which would house multiple Disney worlds and combine elements from their own Final Fantasy games. The Kingdom Hearts series focuses on three friends: Sora, Riku and Kairi who want to go on an adventure on a small raft. However, when a mystical storm hits their island, the three friends are separated and Sora finds himself teamed up with Donald Duck and Goofy. Donald and Goofy are looking for King Mickey, and so Sora teams up with them so the three of them can find their lost friends across 10 different Disney worlds.
At the time of Kingdom Hearts‘ creation, no one could have expected the popularity of the series. In fact, Nomura was surprised by the popularity of Kingdom Hearts outside of Japan. There is a story where Naia Kelly, the voice actor of Jane Porter in Kingdom Hearts was a guest at a local elementary school and was swarmed by fans of the series on a lunch break asking for autographs and photographs. It surprised her, as she knew she was working on a big project, but it shows how much of a surprise it was to all parties that Kingdom Hearts was as much of a success as it was.
Working on this kind of project was a big deal for all parties even without the knowledge of Kingdom Hearts‘ future popularity. Nomura told Disney that he wouldn’t alter his characters so that they would fit in Disney worlds, but this wasn’t as big of an issue. They received guidelines where Square wouldn’t alter the Disney characters in a way they wouldn’t appear in their cartoons. This wasn’t too difficult for some characters, such as Tarzan, who already carried a weapon – but they did allow Donald to have a staff and Goofy to have a shield. This wasn’t the case for other characters who wouldn’t be allowed weapons if they didn’t have them originally.
Generally, the characters all meshed well together in the different worlds – however, they did debate whether they should change the main character designs for certain worlds like Nightmare Before Christmas. Overall, no major changes were made to the characters in the worlds of Kingdom Hearts aside from some creative choices. For example, in Atlantis, Sora has a design which allows him to swim faster by replacing his lower half with that of a fish’s lower half.
Along with the designs, the music of Kingdom Hearts was a major feature of the story. Their main composer: Yoko Shimomura wanted to ensure that there was still a Disney feel even with her own original elements. They have retained the same singer for their opening and closing songs: Hikaru Utada. The music of Kingdom Hearts has remained a popular feature, with an orchestral world tour taking place from 2017.
The Birth of a Series
As previously mentioned, Kingdom Hearts wasn’t expected to grow into the phenomenon that it became. Tetsuya Nomura fully expected it to be a one-off game, but with Kingdom Hearts‘ popularity came the opportunity for more games. After Kingdom Hearts’ 2002 release on the PlayStation 2, it was followed by a Japanese re-release of the game: Final Mix, which would eventually be released on the PlayStation 3 worldwide some years later. There were talks of Kingdom Hearts 2 around the same time as Final Mix was released in Japan, but before Kingdom Hearts 2 was released in 2005 it was preceded by the Gameboy Advance’s Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories which was released in 2004. This would tie together the storyline between the first and second games on the Playstation 2, and was made due to the hopes that there would be a handheld release of a Kingdom Hearts game. In recent years, it has been titled Kingdom Hearts RE: Chain of Memories as it was re-released on the Playstation 2 as an add-on to Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix.
Of course, it’s been just over thirteen years since the release of Kingdom Hearts 2, but it has been preceded by numerous spin-offs on consoles from the Nintendo DS, 3DS and the Playstation Portable. After Kingdom Hearts 2 was released, it was followed by a mobile only game in Japan – Kingdom Hearts: Coded. This would eventually be remade to be released worldwide on the Nintendo DS in 2008, and is set sometime after Kingdom Hearts 2. It was designed to be a sort of playground for the fans to explore. Another DS spin-off of Kingdom Hearts would be released in 2009 – Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days – and would follow the backstory of Roxas during his time in Organisation XIII. This ran parallel to Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and expaned more on Roxas’s friendship with Axel which was a strong plot point in Kingdom Hearts 2.
In 2010 Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep was released on the Playstation Portable. Birth by Sleep is a prequel to the previous Kingdom Hearts games and follows a different set of characters: Ventus, Terra and Aqua. These three characters play a major role in Kingdom Hearts 3, as all three of them have links to Sora, Riku and Kairi respectively. This expands on the major antagonist of the saga: Xehanort, and explains the similarities between Ventus and Roxas – particularly their appearances. Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep was teased in Kingdom Hearts 2, with many fans originally believing that Birth by Sleep would be the first installment of the franchise as the protagonists’ appearances had not been revealed.
After Birth by Sleep, Square Enix chose to return to another game for the Nintendo on the 3DS: Dream Drop Distance, released in 2012. It takes place after Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded and focuses on Sora’s and Riku’s Mark of Mastery exams – an exam that is explored in the beginning of Birth by Sleep. This game focuses heavily on preparing for Xehanort’s return, and ensuring that Riku and Sora are ready. Thus allowing a look into the plot and gameplay that was to be expected in Kingdom Hearts 3. In 2016, the Kingdom Hearts series would receive an addition: Kingdom Hearts: Unchained, a mobile game which explores the worlds around 100 years prior to the series and the Keyblade War. This would tie-in to the Back Cover movie which was released in addition to the Kingdom Hearts 2.8 game which came out in 2017.
Now that we’re awaiting the release of the third numbered installment on the 29th of January, we’ll be taking a look at the games and the lore of the series. So next time, we’ll be taking a look at Final Mix and reviewing the game and discussing the lore within the game.