On This Day in Gaming: Kingdom Hearts
The early 2000s was notorious for genre crossovers in the entertainment industry. With the help of visionaries like Dr. Dre, the music industry was at the forefront of this revolution. Eve and No Doubt were the first major artists to collaborate between the pop and rap genres, thereby paving the way for future hits. During this era of expansion and crossovers, the video game industry also produced one of the most important video game titles of all time. On this day in gaming, Square Enix and Disney released the critically acclaimed title Kingdom Hearts.
On This Day in Gaming is a series that honors the anniversary of the most iconic video games in history. We analyze director and studio development decisions while also reminiscing on the enduring legacy that continues to influence the industry.
The early 2000s was a challenging time for Square Enix. Still recovering from the fallout with Nintendo, the JRPG giant struggled to build upon its success from the Super Nintendo era. No longer able to publish titles on Nintendo platforms, Square Enix partnered with Sony for exclusive publishing. While the Final Fantasy series remained a fan favorite, sequels to the Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, and Xenogears struggled to gain momentum on the PlayStation 2. After witnessing the success of Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64, Final Fantasy creator Hironobu Sakaguchi recognized that the company needed a new approach.
After a lengthy discussion with Final Fantasy promotor Shinji Hashimoto, Sakaguchi determined that Square Enix needed to create a 3D video game in a similar vein as Super Mario 64. While Sakaguchi knew that Square Enix could not replicate the popularity of the Mario franchise, the company did share a building with Disney Japan. The idea that transpired was to utilize Disney characters in a video game. But the only issue was pitching the idea to the executives at Disney.
Thanks to a chance encounter in Disney and Square Enix’s shared building, Hashimoto got his chance. While riding the elevator to his Square Enix office space, Hashimoto held the door for a high-level Disney executive. Upon recognizing the executive, Hashimoto immediately pitched the idea for a Disney and Square Enix crossover video game.
Current Disney CEO, Bob Iger, loved the the idea and gave Square Enix access to the company’s vault of intellectual property. While development proved to be a challenge, the rest is history. Square Enix and Disney collaborated to create one of the most iconic role-playing crossovers of all time: Kingdom Hearts.
While Kingdom Hearts did not progress the role-playing genre in terms of gameplay, the game did pave the way for new ideas and experiences.
- Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) Animation. Perhaps the greatest legacy of the Kingdom Hearts series is its immersion of CGI into video game development. Before Kingdom Hearts, video game graphic designers had never collaborated with movie animation artists. Forced to work together for the first time, these two industries learned from each other. Over time, the distinction between the two has nearly disappeared, as noted by the most recent game in the series, Kingdom Hearts 3.
- IP Crossover. Until Kingdom Hearts, video game companies were hesitant to collaborate with each other. The only notable crossover series prior to KH was Capcom vs SNK; however, more developers began to collaborate after witnessing the success of Kingdom Hearts. From Super Smash Bros to Monster Hunter to Soulcalibur, many series have Square Enix to thank for paving the way for crossover titles.
No “on this day in gaming” would be complete without mentioning the gameplay. While the combat system is Kingdom Hearts is simple, other gameplay elements are more progressive and memorable.
- Disney Worlds Reimagined. Instead of traversing a original, fictitious world, Kingdom Hearts protagonist Sora explores multiple Disney kingdoms with fan favorites Goofy and Donald Duck. Thanks to superb and detailed artwork, each world will feel familiar to fans of Disney series. Some of our favorites include Agrabah from Aladdin, Olympus Coliseum from Hercules, and Alice in Wonderland.
- Action RPG. At its core, Kingdom Hearts is an action role-playing game. The main protagonist, Sora, can attack enemies in real time with the key blade, as well as cast elemental spells. Sora earns experience points with each battle, which can be used to learn new abilities and spells. In addition, enemies drop different color orbs, which can replenish Sora’s hit points and magic points.
- Gummi Ship Shoot ’em Up. Whoever said that traveling between worlds was easy? While some video games use a map and loading screen to accomplish this feet, Kingdom Hearts takes a different path. To move between worlds, Sora and company must pilot the customizable “Gummi Ship” through a series of obstacles and enemies. While this mini game can be a nuisance, it offers a welcome reprieve from the overworld combat.
Kingdom Hearts forged new paths for multiple series, and below is a list of our favorites.
- After realizing the success of Kingdom Hearts, Disney had plans to develop a television series using with the same name. While the rough draft was promising, Disney decided to forego a television adaptation in favor of video game sequels.
- Post-battle victory poses are staples of the Final Fantasy series. Whenever Sora defeats an enemy in Hercules’ Colesseum, his pose is reminiscent of Cloud and Squall from FFVII and FFVII, respectively.
Thanks to a chance encounter in a shared corporate elevator, Shinji Hashimoto orchestrated one of the most important video game crossovers of all time. And not just any crossover, but one that has defined the video game industry for nearly two decades: Kingdom Hearts.
And there you have it. The “on this day in gaming” story behind one of the most important crossover games of all time. But we want to know what you think. Did you play Kingdom Hearts during the PS2 era? Let us know in the comments below or the social media links on the right. Also, be sure to check out our other news items on Pokemon, Modern Warfare, Capcom, Blizzard and more.
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