Picture the scene: A teenage anime character, fighting with a Keyblade (a “key-sword”) alongside Goofy and Donald Duck, aided by Cloud Strife and Squall Leonheart from Final Fantasy VII and VIII, respectively. Too crazy? Yes. Lucrative?.
More than a dozen major games on multiple platforms, adaptations in manga, more than 36 million units sold, the unusual mix that became Kingdom Hearts (キングダムハーツ) is only going to grow.
More than 20 years ago, without as many crossovers as we would see today in Fortnite, for example, where would an idea like that come from?
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ONCE UPON A ELEVATOR...
Squaresoft (today Square Enix) had overwhelming successes in role-playing games like Chrono Trigger (SNES) and especially Final Fantasy VII (PSX). But they wanted something as striking and charming as the combination of the charm of the Mario Bros series and the 3D movement of Mario 64. And what could be as captivating as Mario Bros?
The meeting of a Disney executive with a Square producer inside an elevator in Japan resulted in the first game in the franchise. The idea of putting “Kingdom” in the title came from attractions within Disney parks, such as the “Animal Kingdom”, and “Hearts” came from talking so much about “hearts”.
Tetsuya Nomura, character designer for Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and X, was brought in to lead the project. Disney itself recommended that the series have its own characters and mythology. By the way:
THE FIRST GAME
The story of the first game (2002) begins with Sora (ソラ), Riku (リク) and Kairi (カイリ) riding a raft to discover other worlds.
After an incident, the protagonist Sora bumps (literally) with Donald and Goofy, and together they will look for their lost friends in worlds inspired by animations: Alice in Wonderland, Hercules, Aladdin, Peter Pan, The Nightmare World of Jack, The Little Mermaid, Tarzan, Pinocchio, and Winnie the Pooh. In addition to the worlds created specifically for the game, where we can find guests from the Final Fantasy series. In addition to the threat of Disney villains, led by Maleficent, an even more sinister enemy arises.
What until that moment was exclusive to turn-based role-playing games is now used in real time. It is possible to access a menu for your attack, items and magic, while jumping, attacking or moving the camera. While maintaining the tradition of equipping the protagonist and his party with equipment, leveling up, etc. It's undeniable how Kingdom Hearts' combat system has influenced the combat of the Final Fantasy series itself and JRPGs in general.
The first game introduces the Heartless, dark enemies that arise when a person loses their heart to the darkness. The sequences present different classes of enemies, in particular the Nobodies, related to the part that remains when the heart is reaped by darkness. The strongest nobodies have a human appearance and form Organization XIII, introduced in “Chain of Memories” (GBA, 2004) and being the focus of Kingdom Hearts II (2005.
KINGDOM HEARTS 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 2.8…
There were 13 years of waiting for the blessed game with number III, and fans could continue to support the series. Let's see how:
Final Mix: Japanese special editions of Kingdom Hearts I, II, and Birth by Sleep. Features color variations of enemies, scenes and additional bosses. They are included in collections 1.5 and 2.5.
Re: Chain of Memories: remake of the GBA game, with gameplay that is real-time action, but based on card decks. It has a campaign focused on Sora and a secret one focused on Riku, and it bridges the gap between the first and second games.
358/2 Days: accompanies the trio Roxas, Axel and Xion (mysterious character presented in this game), behind the scenes of Organization XIII events between “Chain of Memories” and “Kingdom Hearts II”. Originally released on the Nintendo DS, its cutscenes were remastered in the 1.5 collection.
Birth by Sleep: A prequel set 10 years before the first Kingdom Hearts. There are three campaigns, based on the game's trio: Aqua, Terra and Ventus. Introduces the Unversed enemy race, and the all-important Xehanort. Released on the PSP, its remaster is included in the 2.5 collection.
Re: Coded: game released in chapters for Japanese cell phones, and on the Nintendo DS around the world. Data Sora is created to visit the worlds of the first adventures in a virtual environment and discover the meaning of a mysterious phrase in the group's Diary. His scenes were remastered in Collection 2.5.
Dream Drop Distance: introduces a timer mechanic to switch between Sora and Riku in the Mark of Mastery challenge, and introduces the Dream Eaters creatures, divided into: Spirits (your party), and the game's enemies, Nightmares. It features characters from the RPG “The World Ends With You”. It was remastered in Collection 2.8.
Kingdom Hearts χ – Back Cover: One hour of cutscenes detailing events from the mobile game Kingdom Hearts χ.
Birth by Sleep 0.2 – A Fragmentary Passage: basically a luxury demo, it presented how Kingdom Hears III would look and play in the new engine, as well as customization. We follow Aqua's period through the Realm of Darkness.
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THE END OF THE SAGA?
Kingdom Hearts III (2018) was released, and it killed the longing that fans were in meeting Sora accompanied by his faithful friends, Donald and Goofy. With new worlds, based on Operation Big Hero and Frozen, in addition to the Pixar studio represented for the first time, bringing Toy Story, Monsters SA, and the participation of Remi (Ratatoille).
In combat, we have a mix of mechanics from other games, in addition to special attacks based on Disney parks attractions.
In history, the game had an unfair task of introducing the saga to new players and pleasing the old ones in a grand finale.
Re: Mind: the first DLC of the saga, which brought new game modes, the possibility of controlling new characters in the final battles, and higher difficulty (as the Final Mix did).
Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory is a rhythm game that unites the soundtracks of the games and recalls the beautiful tracks by Yoko Shimomura, theme songs by Utada Hikaru, moments and worlds from the series, and a taste of what is to come.
KINGDOM HEARTS IV…AND BEYOND!
It started as a risky gamble, and resulted in 20 very successful years. For the series not to stop, the investment of the fourth numbered episode comes in greater visual realism, in addition to concepts from the canceled Final Fantasy XIII Versus, and a more refined gameplay. Is the wait going to be long? It's wait and see. But sure enough, we're dying to see what the future holds for Sora and his friends.