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Editorial: The Kingdom Hearts series' 15th anniversary!
The ConceptThe very first idea that lead to the creation of Kingdom Hearts was a conversation between Shinji Hashimoto (now the series executive producer) and Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of Final Fantasy). The two wanted to create a game that rivalled Super Mario 64 in terms of the way players could move around in the game. The only characters as popular as Mario at the time were in fact Disney characters. Tetsuya Nomura, the lead character designer for Final Fantasy at the time, happened to hear the conversation and asked if he could direct such a project, which the two agreed to. Through pure chance, Disney and Square were working in the same building at the time and eventually Hashimoto encountered a Disney executive in an elevator. The pitch from Square Soft to Disney was somehow a success and hence, development for the first Kingdom Hearts began in February 2000.
The DevelopmentTetsuya Nomura strived for his own original concepts for a protagonist rather than using famous Disney characters. There was a time when Sora was envisioned as a hybrid of a lion and a young boy, who wielded a chainsaw blade. Disney even considered the idea of Donald Duck being the protagonist. There were even restrictions in what Square could do with the Disney properties at the time. Kingdom Hearts was extremely ambitious and in the eyes of many, a huge risk for the company due to its peculiar nature. Square did not want to create a product that would disrespect Disney and Tetsuya Nomura did not consider the idea of a sequel to Kingdom Hearts because of his doubt in the project.
Sora as a lion boy wielding his chainsaw blade.
Hironobu Sakaguchi (working as the executive producer) told Nomura that if Kingdom Hearts did not aim for the same level of quality as the Final Fantasy series, it would fail. Hence, the original Kingdom Hearts went through many drastic changes in its development cycle. Thanks to Sakaguchi’s advice, the story of Kingdom Hearts matured into something similar that you’d find in a Final Fantasy game. The main villain-Ansem Seeker Of Darkness did not appear until towards the end of the game which is similar to how villains appeared in retro Final Fantasy games. His personality is also similar to Sephiroth (FFVII). As a consequence of many of these drastic changes, there was a significant amount of cut content in the first Kingdom Hearts. Some of these include Final Fantasy VII’s Tifa Lockhart as an optional boss battle, Final Fantasy’s Bahamut as a summon and The Lion King as a playable world. However, due to time constraints and hardware limitations, these were not included in the first Kingdom Hearts game. One of the earliest trailers for Kingdom Hearts heavily implied the ability to control Donald and Goofy. Nomura eventually featured this mechanic of controlling party members in another game he would go on to direct-Final Fantasy Versus XIII.
Ansem, Seeker Of Darkness, drawn by Tetsuya Nomura.
The ReceptionFor many Kingdom Hearts fans, their first game in the franchise was the original Kingdom Hearts. With its first title released on March 28th 2002 for Japan, September 17th 2002 for North America and November 15th 2002 for Europe, the Kingdom Hearts series has now sold over 20 million copies worldwide as of October 2013. The first Kingdom Hearts was met with critical acclaim and high praise, receiving a 9.5 from GameInformer, a 36/40 from Famitsu and a 9/10 from IGN! Many critics praised the graphics of the CG opening and ending. Kingdom Hearts was released during a time when voice acting in video games was fairly new, and when compared to Square’s Final Fantasy X (released in 2001), the voice acting was a huge step forward. Yoko Shimomura’s musical score was also highly praised at the time, and the Kingdom Hearts series is now widely respected for its amazing soundtrack. Not all reception was positive of course, with complaints against the tediousness of the Gummi Ship missions, the poor platforming sections and bad camera angles. In spite of all of this, critical reception was still very positive, and this is reflected in the popularity of the series today.
The GamesKingdom Hearts drew heavy inspiration from its older “brother”, Final Fantasy. The lighter themes of Final Fantasy games are drawn from things such as friendship, destiny and good versus evil. Tetsuya Nomura is also a huge fan of Star Wars, hence the themes of light and darkness may be considered as inspired by those films. To his delight, Mark Hamil was eventually cast to voice Master Eraqus in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep!
The story of the Kingdom Hearts series has evolved in a dramatic way that no one would have ever imagined. The original game was extremely straightforward and a tale of good versus evil; a young boy must find his friends and restore peace to the worlds. However, even the first game left a staggering number of questions at the end. Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II helped answer these questions, but also introduced the Organization XIII and the concepts of Nobodies, which to some were confusing. Since KH1, themes of time travel (Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance) and alternate dimensions (χ [Chi/Cross] series) have been introduced. Every Kingdom Hearts game has left fans wondering if their questions will be answered in the next instalment. As a result, Kingdom Hearts III is now one of the most anticipated video games of the decade.
A screenshot taken from the footage shown at Jump Festa 2016
Kingdom Hearts II was released in 2006, and since then, many handheld games and side projects have been released to fill in the story gaps as well as introduce new lore. In a sense, they have created and built up the story for Kingdom Hearts III.
Although there may be a lack of concrete plot details, and many things have been retconned, there are many emotional and character-driven moments that have caused fans to fall in love with the series. A small few include - Xion’s death (358/2 Days), the endings of Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II and Birth by Sleep, Riku’s redemption and the battle between Sora and Roxas (KHII). The confusing nature of the plot led to Square Enix slowly bringing every Kingdom Hearts game to home consoles, beginning with the HD ReMIXes on PS3 and ending with both collections being available on PS4 this week.
Kingdom Hearts as a series has managed to reach a very wide audience; for example, KH13’s own staff and forum members come from a variety of age groups, cultures and countries! The Kingdom Hearts Orchestra - World Tour - in London had fans travelling from Germany, Italy, Greece and even Canada! This is because the story deals with a wide range of different emotions that any person can feel, such as empathy, hatred, sorrow and happiness, regardless of their personal backgrounds. Many different people can relate to having these feelings. We feel this diversity makes the fanbase one of the most interesting in the community of video gamers. The fact that such a incredible story can appeal to so many different people is very peculiar!
A photo taken from the KH13MeetUp at the London concert.
The GameplayIn terms of its hack and slash combat, the series has seen many changes due to the switch in development teams after Kingdom Hearts II was released. Both KH and KHII focused on using the command menu, with more of a priority given to combo attacks. Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, Dream Drop Distance and Re:coded made use of a command deck, where players could stack a deck of abilities and would each recharge after being executed. Kingdom Hearts fans refer to the handhelds production team as the Osaka team, and the original team as the Tokyo team; with the Osaka team directing Kingdom Hearts III, many fans are anticipating how the game will feel after experiencing Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep -A fragmentary passage-. Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix is highly respected by many speed runners due to its in depth game mechanics, and to many fans, it is the best Kingdom Hearts game.
The box art for the western version of Kingdom Hearts II, drawn by Tetsuya Nomura.
Many people have become fans of the series due to the Disney elements such as the various characters and worlds. Exploring worlds based on famous Disney films has always been a delight for players, with continuous discussions about which Disney worlds, characters and cameos should be featured in the next games! The games have always featured some form of treasure hunting: sticker collecting, collecting Ansem reports, finding the 101 Dalmatians and completing Jiminy Cricket’s journal. The platforming mechanics have improved over the last 15 years, with Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance allowing the player to use flowmotion and launch themselves off of walls. Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage- has a refined version of flowmotion that enables players to better interact with surroundings, something that has many times been addressed as one of the main developments in the gameplay of the upcoming Kingdom Hearts III. Many players have criticised the series for not including enough NPCs in the Disney worlds, which can make the worlds feel like hallways and rooms rather than actual worlds. Kingdom Hearts III is believed to be changing this aspect for the better! Throughout Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage-, this feeling of emptiness is not present despite the player being alone in the Realm of Darkness, primarily because of the high level of detail in world design, enhanced by lighting and textures that the Unreal Engine 4 is using.
A screenshot from the Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep -A fragmentary passage- opening.
Allies in each Kingdom Hearts game can be interacted with in a very unique fashion and teamwork attacks. Kingdom Hearts did this through summons; Kingdom Hearts II through Drive Forms, Limit Breaks and summons; Re:COM allowed the player to call for Donald and Goofy’s help; Dream Drop Distance included Spirit Links; and D Links were a main feature in Birth by Sleep!
The gameplay in the Kingdom Hearts series has always varied from one instalment to another, and Kingdom Hearts III seems to be taking the best mechanics from each and implementing them in its own unique way. The game will feature Shotlocks, Drive Forms, Summons, the evolution of Magic, Flowmotion, Attraction Flow, Keyblade transformations and possibly other methods of defeating enemies that we are not yet aware of! Gameplay has always been something that fans of the series have loved because each instalment introduces a new feature.
The KH13.com ExperienceDuring the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra - World Tour - opening night show in London, KH13.com had the pleasure to meet Miss Yoko Shimomura, the composer who has been making unforgettable and heart-wrenching music that reduced us to tears during the concert; music that made everyone in the concert hall rise up simultaneously for a loud standing ovation after the final performance!
The 15 years we individually spent adoring this series, the 8 years KH13.com dedicated to bring out the best in its fandom and the weeks we spent planning our #KH13MeetUp were rewarded in a single moment on Friday the 24th of March. Our “Thank You” booklet containing messages from fans, a KH13 exclusive journal and KH13 stickers were only a small token of our gratitude to her and those who made the World Tour a reality. Her delight when receiving our gift and briefly hearing about our meet-up was more than worth the wait! At that time it was past 1AM, but we persevered!
KH13 social media team leader Andrew Hankinson with Kingdom Hearts series composer Yoko Shimomura.
The video of our KH13MeetUp for the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra - World Tour - in London.
During the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra - World Tour - Paris and London concerts, we put out constant live coverage of the two events, and are planning on doing the same for the future concerts to come. Check out our live coverage on the Paris concert here, and check out our live coverage on the London concert here.
KH13.com is now looking forward to meeting with the passionate fans of the Kingdom Hearts series at other events this year, such as E3 and the other Kingdom Hearts Orchestra - World Tour - concerts!
If it weren’t for the amount of care, work, and trust Square Enix and Disney put into this series for the past 15 years, we would not be where we are now. The series has inspired countless people like KH13.com who dedicate their time to cover Kingdom Hearts news, discuss lore, make video skits, and produce amazing fan art, music covers, crafts, cosplay and more. The wait for Kingdom Hearts III has united Kingdom Hearts fans of all shapes and sizes. There is a light deep down that will never go out, and we would like to thank Tetsuya Nomura and everyone who has been involved in the process of making, distributing and promoting these games for bringing us all together under the same sky.
The crew from the first Kingdom Hearts, drawn by Tetsuya Nomura.
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