Kingdom Hearts was a departure from Square's standard role-playing games by introducing a substantial action-adventure element. In addition, it had an all-star voice cast which included many of the Disney characters' original voice actors.Kingdom Hearts was also longtime Square character designer Tetsuya Nomura's first time in a directorial position.
Kingdom Hearts garnered praise for its unusual combination of action and role-playing, as well as its unexpectedly harmonious mix of Square and Disney. It received numerous year-end "Best" video game awards and was a dominating presence in the 2002 holiday season and went on to achieve Sony "Greatest Hits" status. Since its release, Kingdom Hearts has sold over 5.6 million copies worldwide.
Kingdom Hearts is influenced by its parent franchise, Final Fantasy, and carries gameplay elements over into its own action-based, hack-and-slash system. The main battle party consists of three characters: Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy. Sora, the main character, is directly controlled by the player from a third person camera angle. All other party members are computer-controlled, though the player can "program" the other characters to act in a certain way automatically. Donald and Goofy are the computer-controlled characters that are usable in most areas; nearly every world in the game features its own party member who can be chosen to replace Goofy or Donald in the party while the party is in that world. For instance, Jack Skellington can join the player's party in Halloween Town, but can not accompany the player elsewhere.
Like many traditional role-playing games, Kingdom Hearts features an experience point system which determines character development. As enemies are defeated, the player gains experience which can lead up to a "level up", where the characters grow stronger and gain access to new abilities. Unlike other games of its type, Kingdom Hearts allows a certain degree of character development customization through a short tutorial found at the beginning of the game. The tutorial allows the player to select from one of three main attributes ― strength, defense, and magic ― for Sora to excel in and one to lack in. By choosing certain options, the player is able to manipulate how Sora learns abilities, grows statistically, and even gains levels. Donald, Goofy, and any other additional party members are assigned specific areas of strength from the outset. Donald excels in magic and Goofy excels in defense and special attacks.
The game is driven in a primarily linear progression to the next story event, usually told in the form of a cut scene, though there are numerous side quests available that provide bonus benefits to the characters. Most of the gameplay occurs on interconnected field maps where battles take place. Combat in Kingdom Hearts is in real time and involves pressing buttons to initiate attacks by the on-screen character. A role-playing game menu, similar to those found in Final Fantasy games, found at the bottom left of the screen provides other combat options such as using magic and items. There is also a context-sensitive option at the bottom of the menu, usually used for interaction with the environment or for performing special attacks. This menu is manipulated by using the right analog stick or digital pad, while movement is controlled by the left analog stick, allowing the player to navigate the menu while avoiding or approaching enemies.
The world of Kingdom Hearts is a collection of various levels that the player progresses through. Each level in Kingdom Hearts is referred to as a "world". Thirteen can be accessed throughout the game and one, the Disney Castle, is shown in cutscenes. Additional worlds are mentioned by various characters, but are not accessible because they have been destroyed by the Heartless. Ten of the worlds are based on Disney fiction, primarily from the Disney animated features canon, and the other four were created by Square specifically for the game.
Each world varies differently in appearance and setting, depending on the Disney world upon which it is based. The graphics of the world and characters were meant to resemble the artwork style of the environments and characters from their respective Disney film. Each Disney world is inhabited by characters from their respective Disney film; Hercules and Philoctetes inhabit Olympus Coliseum, and Aladdin, Princess Jasmine, and Jafar inhabit Agrabah. Each world is disconnected from the others and exists separately. Most characters in the worlds are unaware of the existence of the other worlds, but some notable ones are aware. Players travel from one world to another via Gummi Ship.
The worlds created specifically for the game mirror the overall appearance of the other worlds and feature either new characters or characters from several Final Fantasy games. The new worlds include: Destiny Islands, which is where the story initially begins; Traverse Town, which serves as a launching point for most of the game; Hollow Bastion, which many of the Final Fantasy characters call home; and End of the World, a large, dark world created from the remnants of various worlds consumed by the darkness. The main characters travel from world to world to seal each "Keyhole"; this protects the world from the Heartless and ultimately from destruction. They also try to minimize their interaction with characters of other worlds in order to maintain a balance of separation. To blend in with the inhabitants of a world, Sora, Donald, and Goofy sometimes change their physical appearance.
Because Kingdom Hearts was a collaboration between Disney and Square, it features a mixture of familiar Disney and Square characters, as well as several new characters designed and created by Tetsuya Nomura. The primary protagonist of the game is Sora, who is chosen to wield the Keyblade, a weapon for battling darkness. The game also features two of his friends, Kairi and Riku. For most of the game, Sora is joined by Donald Duck and Goofy. Donald, the court wizard, and Goofy, captain of the royal guards, were sent from Disney Castle to find the Keyblade. The three join forces to search for King Mickey Mouse, Kairi, and Riku. The primary antagonist is Ansem, who is seeking to find power and knowledge by using dark beings called the Heartless. The Heartless, hearts corrupted by darkness, serve as most of the enemies encountered in the game and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
As a game meant to explore the fictional universes of various Disney films, there are over 100 Disney characters. While many serve as major characters in the story, others appear in cameo roles, such as the One Hundred and One Dalmatians puppies playing part in a side-quest to collect all ninety-nine. Most worlds also feature a Disney villain that the player must defeat. The player can summon various Disney characters, such as Simba from The Lion King, to fight alongside Sora in battle, causing Donald and Goofy to withdraw from the battlefield for the duration of the summon.
Square also incorporated several of its famous characters from the Final Fantasy series into the game, though the characters have been tweaked slightly for novelty and to fit the game's back-story. On Destiny Islands, the player meets younger versions of Tidus, Wakka (both from Final Fantasy X), and Selphie (from Final Fantasy VIII). In Traverse Town, the player encounters Squall Leonhart (known in this game as "Leon") from Final Fantasy VIII as well as Aerith, Cid, and Yuffie from Final Fantasy VII.Rikku from Final Fantasy X and Irvine Kinneas from Final Fantasy VIII were both originally set to make cameo appearances, but were replaced by Yuffie and Wakka respectively.Cloud and Sephiroth (both from Final Fantasy VII) make appearances in Olympus Coliseum, where the player can fight them in the tournaments. The emphasis on characters from later Final Fantasy installments stems from Tetsuya Nomura's hesitation to use characters he did not design.
The game also uses other Final Fantasy icons. Moogles make an appearance and provide item synthesis. Several weapons, such as "Lionheart" and "Save the Queen", share names with other weapons from previous entries in the Final Fantasy series. The name of the raft Riku had suggested was Highwind, a reference to the airship of Final Fantasy VII. The magic-naming system in Kingdom Hearts (i.e. Fire, Fira, Firaga, etc.) is identical to Final Fantasy magic. The names of various spells are also the names of Gummi blocks, and various summons, weapons, bosses, and monsters are the names of Gummi ships blueprints.
Kingdom Hearts begins on Destiny Islands, where Sora, Riku and Kairi live. The three friends seek to leave the islands to explore new worlds and have prepared a raft for this purpose. One night, the islands are attacked by darkness and shadow creatures. Sora seeks out his friends, finding Riku. Riku disappears into darkness, and Sora somehow obtains a key-shaped weapon, known as the Keyblade. Despite Sora's efforts at battling the shadow creatures, the islands are destroyed, and Sora is left adrift. Meanwhile, King Mickey has left his world to deal with the increasing power of darkness and left instructions for mage Donald Duck and knight Goofy to find the "key".
Donald and Goofy use a Gummi Ship to travel to a different world, Traverse Town, to where Sora has drifted. Sora encounters the shadow creatures again, and meets Leon, who explains the shadow creatures are Heartless, creatures that consume hearts, and that the Keyblade is the only weapon capable of defeating them. A man named Ansem, the leader of Leon's home world, is said to have studied the Heartless. Sora meets Donald and Goofy and the three decide to travel together: Donald and Goofy to find Mickey, and Sora to find Kairi and Riku. The three travel to various worlds based on Disney films, finding that the Keyblade also locks "Keyholes", passages that the Heartless use to take the heart of the world.
A group of Disney villains, led by Maleficent, seek out the seven Princesses of Heart to unlock the Keyhole that leads to Kingdom Hearts, a repository of knowledge and power and the source of all hearts. This group includes Riku, who Maleficent promises will help find Kairi. Maleficent sows distrust in Riku, telling him that Sora has abandoned him and Kairi for new friends and the Keyblade. An increasingly antagonistic Riku finds Kairi's body, but cannot find her heart.
Sora and his friends eventually arrive at Hollow Bastion, the home world of Ansem, and the headquarters of Maleficent. Riku takes the Keyblade from Sora, claiming that he was simply the "delivery boy". Donald and Goofy, taking their order to follow the "key" seriously, leave with Riku. Sora then challenges Riku again, stating that his heart derives strength from his friends; his friends return to him, as does the Keyblade. Shamed, Riku meets a cloaked man who goads him to give into the darkness. The three engage and defeat Maleficent but then meet a strangely-behaved Riku with a Keyblade that unlocks hearts. Sora finds Kairi's body and Riku, who reveals himself to be Ansem, possessing Riku's body. Ansem explains that Kairi is a Princess of Heart and that her heart was trapped within Sora's body since Destiny Islands was destroyed. After defeating Ansem, Sora uses Ansem's Keyblade to unlock his heart, releasing both his and Kairi's heart. Kairi's heart returns to her body, in turn completing the final Keyhole, while Sora's heart becomes a Heartless. Sora is then returned to human form by Kairi's heart and resolves to follow Ansem.
Ansem is found in End of the World, the combined remnants of worlds taken by the Heartless. Ansem explains his belief that darkness is the heart's true essence, and he seeks Kingdom Hearts, as that would be the ultimate darkness. However, upon opening the door to Kingdom Hearts, it reveals its light, destroying Ansem. Beyond the door are Mickey and Riku, and they help Sora and the others close the door, as there are many Heartless beyond it. Mickey and Sora use their Keyblades to lock the door. The worlds reconstruct themselves, separating Sora and Kairi. The game ends with Sora, Donald, and Goofy resolving to find Riku and the King.
The music is composed by Yoko Shimomura. While there are some melodies derived from prior Disney films, most of the soundtrack consists of original themes written specifically for the game by Shimomura. The opening orchestration and ending credits theme were arranged and orchestrated by Kaoru Wada and performed by the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. The main vocal theme for the original Japanese release was titled "Hikari" (光,"Hikari"?). The English version of "Hikari", "Simple and Clean", was used in the Western releases and the Japanese re-release, Final Mix. Both versions of the song were composed and performed by Utada Hikaru. Her involvement, along with the Japanese song title, was announced in January 2002. Utada was the only singer Nomura had in mind for the Kingdom Hearts theme song. This marked the first time Utada had produced a song for a video game. The single, Hikari, was released in Japan on March 20, 2002 and proved to be very popular; by August 2002, it had sold over 860,000 copies in Japan. The Kingdom Hearts soundtrack was released on a two CD set on March 27, 2002 in Japan and a year later in the United States. The soundtrack also was later included in the Kingdom Hearts Original Soundtrack Complete, which was released in Japan on the March 28, 2007.
The idea for Kingdom Hearts came about when producer Shinji Hashimoto met with a Disney executive in an elevator; Square and Disney had previously worked in the same building in Japan. The game began development in February 2000 and was announced at E3 in May of 2001. Initial details were that it would be a collaboration between Square and Disney Interactive and would feature worlds developed by both companies and Disney characters. New characters were designed by Tetsuya Nomura and include Sora, Riku, Kairi, and the Heartless. The production team was comprised of over 100 members from both Square and Disney. A playable demo featuring Riku was made available at the Tokyo Game Show in the autumn of 2001. The gameplay of the demo showcased many action role-playing game elements that would be included in the final product. When choosing the Disney worlds to include in the game, Nomura and his team tried to pick worlds that had distinctively different looks. Though they had few restrictions on which worlds they could use from the Disney franchises, they tried to remain within each character's boundaries set by their respective Disney films. Some content that did not make it into Kingdom Hearts was later added into Kingdom Hearts II. The "Pride Land" from The Lion King, for instance, was infeasible because a different program was required for Sora to turn into a lion and walk on four legs.Tifa Lockheart was considered to be included along with Sephiroth, but was left out due to time constraints.
To help market the English release of the game, Square launched the official website in April 2002, which featured trailers, a "Name-In-Game" sweepstakes, and other Internet content. On May 14, 2002, a press release announced a list of the English voice actors. The listed included Haley Joel Osment, David Gallagher, and Hayden Panettiere as the three new characters introduced in the game. It was also announced that many of the Disney characters would be voiced by their original voice actors from their respective Disney films. Additional content was added to the North American release that was not included in the initial Japanese release. The new content included new optional bosses, one of which was named after the winner of the official website's "Name-In-Game" sweepstakes, an additional difficulty level, and an unlockable teaser of Kingdom Hearts II. The new content was later added to the Japanese re-release titled Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. Final Mix also included additional content such as new items, cut scenes, and enemies. The new content served as a canonical update to the original release and further hinted at plotlines that would be explained in sequels.
Kingdom Hearts received overall positive reviews and met with positive sales figures. During the first two months of its North American release it was one of the top 3 selling video games and was one of the top selling titles during the 2002 holiday season. At the end of April 2003, Square announced that Kingdom Hearts had sold its millionth copy in the United States, which made it eligible for PlayStation's "Greatest Hits" status, and over 3 million worldwide. Sales reached 1.2 million in Japan in the first quarter of 2004, and broke 4 million worldwide. In December 2005, the NPD Group listed it as "one of the top ten best-selling PlayStation 2 titles of all time in North America". As of December 2006, Kingdom Hearts had shipped over 5.6 million copies worldwide with 1.1 million in PAL regions, 1.5 million in Japan, and 3 million in North America.
The game received high ratings among reviews. In 2007, IGN listed Kingdom Hearts as the 22nd best PlayStation 2 game of all time. Critics commended the visuals, orchestral score, voice acting, and action-adventure role-playing game feel to the game. IGN named it "Best Art Style/Direction", runner-up for "Best CG Graphics", and honorable mention for "Best Animation" in IGN's 2003 list of "Best Looking Games on PS2".GamePro stated the graphics were "gorgeous" and rated them a 4.5 out of 5. The audio was also praised, particularly the quality of the voice-overs and a well received musical score. GamePro had positive comments on the overall audio and rated it a 5 out of 5.
Criticism about the gameplay was mixed. Many reviews complained that the camera was at times frustrating and the Gummi Ship portions were out of place. GameSpot cited "tedious" gameplay and Gummi Ship sections as "pale imitations of the Star Fox series", but stated that the combat was fun, particularly the boss fights. They also commented that the concept of mixing the serious elements of Final Fantasy with the lighter elements of Disney seemed impossible, but was pulled off quite well. Because of that they awarded Kingdom Hearts "Best Crossover Since Capcom vs. SNK" in their 2002 Best and Worst of the Year awards.Dengeki Online commented on the camera controls, saying that the camera would often run into objects while being rotated by the player. GameSpy cited that the periodic departure from the main plot into the Disney side stories was disappointing, and when the original plot builds to a climax, "...the story fails to gel thanks to a confusing mish-mash of vague terms and symbolism that probably made more sense in the director's head than in this final product." Aside from the plot, they stated the overall package was worth playing through to the end. Fan response was also positive; Kingdom Hearts was voted as the 19th best game of all-time by readers of the Japanese magazine Famitsu, 16th by the users of website GameFAQs, and 92nd by IGN users.
Versions and merchandise
There were a multiple versions of Kingdom Hearts released. The first was the original Japanese release which was followed by the North American and PAL releases, which included additional content. The game was later re-released in Japan as Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, which featured the content of the North American/PAL release, as well as new content. Both Square and Disney also released numerous types of merchandise before and after the release of the game. Merchandise ranged from toys and figurines to clothing items and books. Like the Final Fantasy games, Square released an Ultimania book on Kingdom Hearts in Japan following the release of the game and a revised edition following the release of Final Mix. In North America, a strategy guide was released by Brady Games. It featured a comprehensive walkthrough and a sticker activity journal. A manga series based on the game was also released in both Japan and the United States. A novel series also based on the game was released in Japan. It was authored by Tomoco Kanemaki and illustrated by Shiro Amano. The novel series consists of two volumes and is scheduled to be released in the United States in August 2007.
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix has several events and a number of gameplay tweaks that are not in previous releases. Spoken dialogue is in English, with Japanese subtitles. New scenes, clarifying certain plot points, such as Riku's journey and foreshadowing of Kingdom Hearts II, were included. A gameplay tweak allows the player to skip cut scenes after seeing them once. The optional bosses first included in the English version were introduced to Japanese players for the first time, along with "Unknown", in an attempt to raise interest for the sequel. In another attempt at foreshadowing, a video titled "Another Side, Another Story [deep dive]" plays at the ending if the player accomplishes certain tasks. New music tracks incorporated were "Disappeared" and "Another Side". The "Night on Bald Mountain" and "One-Winged Angel" tracks from the English version were included as well. Other changes include new abilities, new weapons, new items, additional and recolored enemies, and gameplay tweaks to make the game easier for the player, along with two new difficulty levels.
On the first day of the re-release, the game also included either a deck of Kingdom Hearts cards or a special music CD. A limited "Platinum Edition" version of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix was also released. The platinum version included an action figure of Sora, a sticker set, sketches of some of the main characters, and the game itself.
The game was adapted into a manga by Shiro Amano. The story follows the events that took place in the game with a few minor differences to account for the loss of interactivity a video game provides. Some events that took place in the Final Mix version were also included. The manga was originally serialized in Japan by Square's Monthly Shōnen Gangan, but has since been released worldwide. All four volumes have been published in English in the United States by Tokyopop. The first volume was released on October 11, 2005 and was ranked 95th in USA Today's "Top 150 best sellers" during the week of its release. The fourth volume was released on July 10, 2006 and was followed by a boxed set containing all four volumes on October 10, 2006. The series was followed by a second manga series, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories. A noteworthy feature of the manga is that even in its original, Japanese language edition, the Kingdom Hearts comic adaptation was designed to be read from left to right, contrary to the Japanese norm, although the later Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II comic adaptations are read from right to left.
↑ 22.022.1King Mickey's Note: Donald, Sorry to rush off without sayin’ goodbye, but there’s big trouble brewin’. Not sure why, but the stars have been blinkin’ out, one by one. And that means disaster can’t be far behind. I hate to leave you all but I’ve gotta go check into it. There’s someone with a “key”—the key to our survival. So I need you and Goofy to find him, and stick with him. Got it? We need that key or we’re doomed! So go to Traverse Town and find Leon. He’ll point you in the right direction. P.S. Would ya apologize to Minnie for me? Thanks, pal. Template:Cite video game
↑Sora: The Heartless? / Yuffie: The ones who attacked you, you remember? / Leon: Those without hearts. The darkness in people’s hearts—that’s what attracts them. And there is darkness within every heart. / ... / Leon: The Heartless have great fear of the Keyblade. That’s why they’ll keep coming after you no matter what. Template:Cite video game
↑Maleficent: You see? It’s just as I told you. While you toiled away trying to find your dear friend, he quite simply replaced you with some new companions. Evidently, now he values them for more than he does you. You’re better off without that wretched boy. Now, think no more of him, and come with me. I’ll help you find what you’re searching for... Template:Cite video game
↑Sora: But that’s impossible. How did this happen? I’m the one who fought my way here with the Keyblade! / Riku: You were just the delivery boy. Sorry, your part’s over now. Here, go play hero with this. Template:Cite video game
↑Sora: What? You... You're not Riku. / ... / Sora: Tell me. Who are you? / Ansem: It is I, Ansem, the seeker of darkness. Template:Cite video game