Kingdom Hearts is an action role-playing game developed by Square for the PlayStation 2 and is centered around the use of Disney franchises. The game is the first installment in a long running series created by Square Enix in collaboration with The Walt Disney Company.
The game combines characters and environments from Disney animated movies with Square’s Final Fantasy series, in addition to original characters and settings. The game is centered around a 14-year-old boy named Sora that is chosen to wield the Keyblade, a weapon for battling darkness. As Sora begins his adventure, he meets Donald Duck and Goofy who join him in his quest against the Heartless.
The concept for Kingdom Hearts began when video game producer Shinji Hashimoto and game designer Hironobu Sakaguchi were looking to make a game which utilized Disney characters. Game director Tetsuya Nomura inadvertently overheard their discussion and instantly volunteered to lead the project.
While Nomura was working on Final Fantasy VII, Super Mario 64 was released for the Nintendo 64. Nomura was very impressed with Super Mario 64 and wanted to make a game that would be comparable. He wanted to make a 3D game with the freedom of exploration of Super Mario 64 and while discussing his vision for the game his colleagues mentioned that only characters as popular as Disney’s could rival a Mario game. This comment stuck with Nomura and when he overheard Shinji Hashimoto and Hironobu Sakaguchi discussing the possibility of using Disney characters in a game he wanted to be involved.
At the time of concept Square and Disney worked in the game office building in Japan which allowed for multiple opportunities for them to pitch their idea of a Final Fantasy inspired action RPG featuring Disney characters and settings. Shinji Hashimoto ran into a Disney executive in an elevator and took the opportunity to pitch their video game idea. The Kingdom Hearts series literally came to fruition from an elevator pitch. While the decision to move forward and allow Square to utilize Disney assets in a video game was not made right there and then, Hashimoto was convincing enough to intrigue the Disney executive and for a more formal meeting to be setup between the two companies to discuss further.
Square Electronic Arts (NA)
Sony Computer Entertainment (EU)
Disney Characters & Settings
|License Owner||Square Enix|
The Walt Disney Company
|Successor||Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories|
|Media Type||Optical Disc|
|Release||JP: March 28, 2002|
NA: September 17, 2002
EU: November 15, 2002
|Development Time||2 Years|
|Rereleased Platform(s)||Ports & Remakes|
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix – 2002
Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix – 2013
During the meeting between Disney and Square, Disney representatives had their own ideas for a game. Many of the Disney executives were under the impression that Square was there to make a game based on what they wanted, their staff even presented various ideas to Square. Nomura had his heart set on making the game he had already visualized using Disney characters and interrupted the presentations to discuss his vision for a Disney themed game.
He explained that they wanted to use new original characters that would go on a journey through the worlds inhabited by Disney characters. Nomura showed them a draft design document with a picture of the game’s protagonist, Sora. In the draft design Sora had a more beast-like appearance sporting a tail, claws, and animal ears. The character was drawn holding a large chainsaw-like weapon which Disney obviously felt was not something that would fit well with their image.
The meeting did not exactly go as planned but additional meetings were setup to discuss Square’s proposal for a Disney themed video game. Over the course of the proposal and character licensing negotiations the design of Sora changed where the animal characteristics were removed, and the weapon selection softened from a chainsaw blade sword to a keyblade.
The two companies came to an agreement and the game’s development began in February 2000. The production team consisted of over one hundred members from both Square and Disney Interactive. Thanks to the support of Disney’s then president, Bob Iger, Square had few restrictions on which characters and worlds they could use from the Disney catalog.
The game’s name was inspired by the Disney Theme Park, Animal Kingdom which had recently opened when development of the game began. While the game’s storyline started to incorporate “hearts” as a core part of the story, it was decided to combine the two to form the name “Kingdom Hearts”.
The game was announced in May 2001 at the E3, where initial details were revealed that the project would be a collaboration between Square and Disney Interactive. The title would feature worlds developed by both companies and include popular Disney animated characters. A playable demo was made available later that year at the Tokyo Game Show.
The game first released in Japan on March 28, 2002, while it was being localized for North America and Europe. The North American version released in September 2002 while the European release required a few more months to complete and launched in November 2002. The game was praised by critics upon its release and became an instant commercial success for both Square and Disney. The title was among the top selling titles during the 2002 holiday season and remained popular well into the new year. The longevity of the title resulted in approximately 6.3 million units sold worldwide and is one of the top 10 selling games for the PlayStation 2.
An expanded re-release of the game featuring new and additional content, Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, was released exclusively in Japan in December 2002. The Final Mix version of the game was later remastered in high definition and released globally as a part of the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix collection for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Nintendo Switch. The game’s success spawned a franchise and numerous sequels, with the Kingdom Hearts series going on to ship over 35 million copies worldwide and becoming one of Square’s most popular franchises.
Reveal Trailer & Commercial