Kingdom Hearts
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Details
Kingdom Hearts is an action role-playing game developed and published by Square Co. (now Square Enix) in 2002 for the PlayStation 2 video game console. The first game in the Kingdom Hearts series, it is the result of a collaboration between Square and The Walt Disney Company. The game combines characters and settings from Disney's animated features with those from Square's Final Fantasy series. The story follows a young boy, Sora, as he is thrown into an epic battle against the forces of darkness. He is joined by Donald Duck and Goofy, classic Disney characters who help him on his quest.
Kingdom Hearts was a departure from Square's standard role-playing games, introducing a substantial action-adventure element to the gameplay. In addition, it has an all-star voice cast which includes many of the Disney characters' official voice actors. Kingdom Hearts was longtime Square character designer Tetsuya Nomura's first time in a directorial position.

The game was praised for its unusual combination of action and role-playing, as well as its unexpectedly harmonious mix of Square and Disney motifs. It received numerous year-end "Best" video game awards, 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 and has prompted two sequels. Two more titles are currently being developed, which have a connection to a future, unannounced game: Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Moreover, Square Enix is developing Kingdom Hearts Coded, currently a Japan-only title, for international release.

<big><b>Gameplay</b></big>
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 is directly controlled by the player from a third person camera angle. All other party members are computer-controlled, though the player can customize their behavior to an extent through the pause menu. Donald and Goofy are the computer-controlled characters that are usable in most areas. However, 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. On some worlds, the party changes its appearance, has abilities unique to that world, or both. For example, the party can fly in Never Land and has aquatic forms in Atlantica, which enable them to survive underwater.

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 from one story event to the next, 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 interacting with the environment or 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.

<big><b>Gummi Ship</big></b>
The Gummi Ship is the mode of travel between the various locations in Kingdom Hearts. The gameplay for piloting the vessel is very different from the rest of the game as it switches to a rail shooter format. The player controls the Gummi Ship from a rear, third person perspective as it travels in an outer space setting. While traveling, the player must defend against enemy ships which attempt to destroy the player's vessel by firing missiles or ramming it. Surviving the route allows access to the next world. At the beginning of the game, there are few options available to customize the vessel, but as the game progresses, new weapons, engines, and armor become available. In addition, many different pre-designed blueprints can be found throughout the game which can be used to quickly construct Gummi Ships.

<big><b>Setting</big></b>
The universe of Kingdom Hearts is a collection of various levels, referred to as "worlds", through which the player must progress. 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, beings of darkness. 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 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, with few exceptions. 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, where the story opens; 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 to maintain a balance of separation. This sometimes requires Sora, Donald, and Goofy to blend in with the world inhabitants by changing their physical appearance.

<big><b>Characters</big></b>
The main protagonists, from left, Riku, Kairi, Sora (holding the Keyblade), Donald, and Goofy

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 created and designed by Tetsuya Nomura. The primary protagonist of the game is Sora, a 14-year old boy who is chosen to wield the Keyblade, a sword-like weapon for battling darkness. The game also features two of his friends, Riku and Kairi. For most of the game, Sora is joined by Donald Duck and Goofy. Donald, the court wizard, and Goofy, captain of the royal guard, 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, over one hundred Disney characters are featured in various capacities. While many serve as major characters in the story, others appear in cameo roles, such as the One Hundred and One Dalmatians playing a part in a side-quest. Most worlds also feature a Disney villain whom the player must defeat. The player can summon various Disney characters to fight alongside Sora in battle, causing Donald and Goofy to withdraw from the battlefield for the duration of the summon. Available summoned characters include the Genie from Aladdin, Tinkerbell from Peter Pan, and Simba from The Lion King, among others.

Square also incorporated several characters from the Final Fantasy series into the game, though the characters were slightly altered to fit the game's back-story. On Destiny Islands, the player meets younger versions of Tidus and Wakka from Final Fantasy X and Selphie from Final Fantasy VIII. In Traverse Town, the player encounters Squall Leonhart (known in the 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 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 tournaments. The emphasis on characters from later Final Fantasy installments stems from Nomura's hesitation to use characters he did not design.

The game also uses other Final Fantasy icons. Moogles appear to provide item synthesis. Several weapons, such as "Lionheart" and "Save the Queen", share names with other weapons from throughout the Final Fantasy series. Early in the game, Riku suggests the name "Highwind" for the raft that he, Sora, and Kairi build, 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 Ship blueprints.


<big><b>Story</big></b>
Kingdom Hearts begins on Destiny Islands, where Sora, Riku, and Kairi live. The three friends want to leave the islands to explore new worlds and have prepared a raft for this purpose. One night, the islands are attacked by shadow creatures—the Heartless. Sora seeks out his friends, finding Riku, who disappears into a dark portal. At the same time, Sora obtains the Keyblade, a weapon effective against the Heartless. However, the islands are destroyed and Sora drifts into space. Meanwhile, King Mickey has left his world to deal with the increasing numbers of Heartless and left instructions for mage Donald and knight Goofy to find the "key" that will protect the worlds from the encroaching darkness.

Donald and Goofy use the Gummi Ship to reach Traverse Town, where Sora has drifted. Sora encounters the Heartless again, and meets Leon, who explains the Heartless are beings that consume hearts, and that the Keyblade is the only weapon capable of defeating them. A man named Ansem 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 go to various worlds based on Disney films, finding that the Keyblade also locks "Keyholes", passages to the "heart" of a world which, when sealed, prevent it from being consumed by the Heartless. A group of Disney villains, led by Maleficent, seek out the seven Princesses of Heart to unlock the final Keyhole that leads to "Kingdom Hearts", a repository of knowledge and power and the source of all hearts. This group includes Riku; Maleficent promises that she will help him find Kairi in exchange for his support. Maleficent sows distrust in Riku, telling him 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 homeworld of Ansem and the headquarters of Maleficent. Riku takes the Keyblade from Sora, claiming to be the true Keyblade master and that Sora only received it in his absence. Donald and Goofy, having been explicitly ordered to follow the "key", reluctantly leave Sora for Riku. Sora challenges Riku, stating 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. Meanwhile, the three engage and kill Maleficent, but then meet a strangely-behaved Riku with a Keyblade that unlocks hearts. Sora finds Kairi's body and confronts Riku, who reveals that he is possessed by Ansem. Ansem explains that Kairi is a Princess of Heart, and that her heart has been hiding within Sora's body since the Destiny Islands were destroyed. After defeating Ansem, Sora impales himself with Ansem's Keyblade, releasing both his and Kairi's heart. Kairi's heart returns to her body, in turn completing the final Keyhole, while Sora becomes a Heartless. Kairi recognizes Sora's Heartless and the light in her heart restores him to human form. He resolves to confront 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, hypothesizing it to be the ultimate darkness. However, upon opening the door to Kingdom Hearts, it reveals its light, overwhelming and destroying Ansem. Beyond the door are King 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 lost to the Heartless reconstruct themselves; as the Destiny Islands reform, Kairi returns there while Sora is forced to part with her. The game concludes as Sora, Donald, and Goofy resolve to find Riku and Mickey.


<big><b>Development</big></b>
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 production team was composed of over one hundred members from both Square and Disney. The game began development in February 2000 and originally focused more on the gameplay with a simple story to appeal to Disney's target age range. After executive producer Hironobu Sakaguchi told director Tetsuya Nomura the game would be a failure if it did not aim for the same level as the Final Fantasy series, Nomura began to develop the story further. When choosing the Disney worlds to include in the game, Nomura and his team tried to pick worlds that had distinctively different looks. They also tried to take into account worlds with Disney characters that would be interesting. 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.

Additional content was added to the North American release that was not included in the initial Japanese release: new optional bosses, one of which was named after the winner of the official website's "Name-In-Game" sweepstakes, an extra difficulty level, and a teaser of Kingdom Hearts II accessible by meeting certain criteria. Nomura included the teaser in order to gauge fan reaction to the possibility of a sequel; he felt that if the idea was not popular, then it would be best to leave certain events in the game unexplained. The new content was later added to the Japanese rerelease titled Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. Final Mix also included additional content such as new items, cut scenes, and enemies. The new content further hinted at plotlines that would be explained in sequels. 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 an additional program was required to process movement on four legs—a necessity since Sora would become a lion in that world. Due to time constraints, the developers left out an optional boss battle, similar to the Sephiroth battle, against Tifa Lockhart. She was later included in Kingdom Hearts II as a more developed character.


<big><b>Promotion</big></b>
Kingdom Hearts was announced at E3 in May 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 Nomura and included Sora, Riku, Kairi, and the Heartless. A playable demo was 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. 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 list 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 the official voice actors from their respective Disney films. Other marketing efforts included auctions of the game and related items before the North American release and a Consumer Demo Day in San Francisco, California.