Back in 2002, Square Enix (developers for the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest franchises) and Disney collaborated on a video game project which resulted in the first Kingdom Hearts game on the PlayStation 2. Since then the franchise has gone on to grow in many different directions as the story has become more complex with 14 titles released over the past 17 years having shipped over 25 million copies worldwide.
Where and How Did It All Begin?
At TGS 2004, the Kingdom Hearts Director Tetsuya Nomura revealed that the series started when a Square game producer, Shinji Hashimoto, was guided by fate to meet a top Disney executive whilst in an elevator. How did this coincidental meeting happen? Well, Square and Disney used to work in the same building. Hashimoto delivered his elevator pitch to the executive and in February 2000, development began for Kingdom Hearts.
The story, which originally was going to be aimed at Disney’s target audience was reimagined to become as great and as epic as the stories told in the Final Fantasy series. With Nomura developing the story to be about the theme of character’s hearts (and trust me on this, “hearts” alongside other key phrases, “Darkness”, “Sora, Donald, Goofy” are repeated endlessly in this franchise), and by thinking of Disney theme parks, like Animal Kingdom, Square’s new IP would soon bare the title Kingdom Hearts - the name Kingdom wouldn’t have been enough for Square.
To test the waters of the future of the series, Nomura put a secret movie at the end of the first game as sequel bait. This form of sequel baiting has now become a tradition for the franchise to tease us fans about the upcoming releases.
Disney and Final Fantasy?
No one could have predicted that merging Final Fantasy characters with Disney characters and worlds would have led to the amazing action RPG that was Kingdom Hearts. Though with the House of Mouse involved, it was surprising that Square were not given any restrictions into using Disney’s assets. For Nomura, he believed there was no reason to change the worlds, but instead that it was Square’s prerogative to bring out the best of what Disney has already done with their characters.
Speaking of characters, various adaptions of the Final Fantasy characters have appeared throughout the series, from cartoonish versions of beloved characters to darker, mysterious adaptations of others. This feeds into the excitement surrounding each new title in the series, with fans wondering which Disney worlds and what Final Fantasy characters will be featured in the latest release.
So in the past 17 years, the following games have been released: Kingdom Hearts, Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II, Re: Chain of Memories, coded, 358⁄2 Days, Birth by Sleep, Re: coded, Dream Drop Distance, 1.5 Remix, χ, 2.5 Remix, Unchained χ and 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. Some may call it marketing genius, some may call it insanity with how spread out the Kingdom Hearts series is with its releases on a multitude of different consoles and handhelds: PlayStation 2, Gameboy Advance, mobile phones, Nintendo DS, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and soon the Xbox One with the release of Kingdom Hearts 3. Some fans will have purchased some of these consoles just for the sake of playing a Kingdom Hearts game, while others may have missed games out in the franchise because they were unaware that the game held plot relevance due to not being released on a home console – an issue fixed with the HD Remixes.
The Story of the Franchise
If you asked me to tell what the Kingdom Hearts series is about, then I’d probably come up with something like “it’s about the adventures of a young boy called Sora who traverses many different Disney Worlds and meets many different Disney and Final Fantasy characters and his weapon of choice is an oversized key called the Keyblade.” This sentence both sums up the series whilst simultaneously tells you nothing. Ask any fan to explain you the intricate details of the story and they’ll be at a lost for words.
With Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing today (Friday 25th January) in Japan and next week. Tuesday 29th January, internationally, here’s a succinct overview of what is a deeply convoluted story (wish me luck and SPOILER WARNING).
χ/ Unchained χ/ Union χ/ Back Cover
First of all, yes, the mobile game is partly canon to the series. Essentially, this game depicts the events which led up to the Keyblade War. There were five different unions of Keyblade wielders led by the Foretellers and the purpose of these unions were to gather Lux (a form of light). A legendary weapon called the χ-blade was splintered into twenty pieces (thirteen shards of darkness and seven fragments of pure light) as a result of this war.
Birth By Sleep
BBS is set 10 years prior to the events of the original game and details the origins of the current villain of the series, Xehanort.
Xehanort was a young man who lived on the Destiny Islands and as he grew up he became increasingly obsessed with the legends of old, the legends of the Keyblade War. He believed that the universe was too far aligned with the light and believes that the world should be perfectly balanced (as all things should be) – equal light and equal darkness. To this end he alters the destinies of three young Keyblade warriors – Ventus, Aqua and Terra. His actions result in Ventus being left comatose after Ventus defeats Vanitas, the being of pure darkness extracted from Ven’s heart; Terra loses possession of his body as Xehanort transfers his own heart into Terra’s body; Aqua becomes trapped in the realm of darkness after trying to save Terra from the darkness.
Xehanort gets split in two in between the events of BBS and KH1 and this results in two new entities being made called the Heartless and the Nobody. A Heartless, ironically enough, is the manifested heart of a person who has succumbed to darkness, while a Nobody is the body and soul of a person who has lost their heart. These names must have been given ironically. Xehanort’s Heartless calls himself Ansem and his Nobody calls himself Xemnas. Xemnas goes on to lead an organisation of nobodies called Organisation XIII.
At the start of the first game, Sora’s home world is attacked by Heartless and he loses both of his friends, Kairi and Riku. Sora ends up on a quest alongside Donald Duck and Goofy to save the other Dinsey worlds from the darkness – a mission given to them by King Mickey.
Sadly though, Riku gets lured into darkness by Maleficent as he tries to find Kairi through his own means. The puppet master behind the two of them is the Heartless called Ansem, who possesses Riku during the events of the first game. What was Ansem’s goal in all of this? Well, using Maleficent, he manipulated several Disney villains to capture Seven Princesses of Heart. Seven? Haven’t we already heard this number before? Well, yes we have. The seven fragments of pure light became the hearts of the princesses. Turns out that Kairi was one of these princesses, however hear heart latched onto Sora’s during the invasion of their home world. To give Kairi her heart back, Sora uses Riku/Ansem’s keyblade to carve out his heart. Remember what happened to Xehanort? Well, something slightly different happens here. Nobodies of both Kairi and Sora are created, Namine and Roxas respectively.
COM and Days
Naminé has the power to manipulate Sora’s memories, so some rebels within the organisation use her in attempt to control our keyblade wielding protagonist. Sora defeats various members of the organisation in Castle Oblivion. However, to restore Sora’s memories, Naminé puts Sora into a yearlong stasis.
During this time, Riku also finds himself in the Castle as he struggles with the darkness inside of him and also encounters and defeats members of the organisation. Riku will now spend the next year trying to help recover Sora’s memories.
Now onto Sora’s Nobody, Roxas. Xemnas recruits Roxas into the organisation as the thirteenth member. With a keyblade wielder in the organisation, Xemnas’ plans to create his own Kingdom Hearts become more of a reality. Roxas was originally born without any memories, but during the course of 358⁄2 Days, he slowly starts to gain the memories of Sora through dreams. Eventually, Roxas’ rebels against the organisation after being kept in the dark for far too long. Before he can set Kingdom Hearts free, he is defeated and captured by Riku. Am I forgetting anything or anyone in this game? Well, if I am, it’s because no-one can actually remember.
The events of Kingdom Hearts 2, begin with Roxas being put into a simulation, by a mysterious man named Diz, to keep him away from the organisation until he can re-join with Sora. Upon, an emotional ending for Roxas, Sora awakens and is re-joined by Donald and Goofy as they head out to search for Riku and King Mickey as well as to stop Organization XIII. Traversing through more Disney worlds, Sora and pals eventually arrive at The World That Never Was to finish off the organisation once and for all – until the sequel baiting starts again anyway.
As our heroes prepare to take down Xemnas, DiZ reveals himself to be Ansem the Wise, Xehanort’s master, not the Heartless that came from our main villain. DiZ attempts to store the Kingdom Hearts that the organisation has created in data He manages to do some damage to Kingdom Hearts but is caught in a blast which sends him to the Realm of Darkness (where he ends up meeting Aqua, 12 years after she was originally trapped). So our heroes defeat Xemnas, and wash up back in their respective homes for our happy ending with the series, done, finished and completed. Of course not, this series is too popular to end.
Coded and DDD
Sora, Kairi and Riku receive a message in a bottle from Mickey telling them about other characters who still need help and that Sora is the key to unlock their suffering. As well, it’s revealed that the defeat of Ansem, Seeker of Darkness and Xemnas has led to the revival of Master Xehanort.
To prepare for the coming battle and to unlock the power to save those who are suffering, Riku and Sora do the Mark of Mastery exam to become Keyblade Masters. During the events of Dream Drop Distance, Sora’s exam is sabotaged by members from the True Organisation (in case you have not noticed, this series is majorly convoluted) and due to interference from a time-travelling Young Xehanort, Sora almost succumbs to darkness and nearly becomes a vessel for Xehanort’s heart. It is here that the true purpose of Organisation XII is revealed – to create 13 vessels who would bear Xehanort’s heart and be the 13 Seekers of Darkness who will clash with 7 lights to create the χ-blade. Riku saves Sora from this fate and passes the Mark of Mastery.
The Road to KH3
With Xehanort’s true intentions known, the only thing that the protagonists can do is to recruit Seven Guardians of Light who will wield Keyblades to oppose Xehanort in Kingdom Hearts 3. So, hopefully you know understand 10% of the story as opposed to 1% of it. If you want to experience the franchise for yourself, then all the games are playable and viewable with the 1.5 + 2.5 Remix and 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue games. Kingdom Hearts 3 is available now in Japan and will be released on Tuesday internationally.