In the Making: Kingdom Hearts
With all the commotion over Kingdom Hearts III that’s been happening this year, at Arcade Sushi we had to take a few steps back to where it all started. It’s easy to see that the series has become a huge success from its many sequels (and prequels) to the merchandise, to the cosplay community, to everything in-between. Every game that makes a name for itself has its share of history. Without further ado, let’s take a look at where it all started with In the Making: Kingdom Hearts!
It all started out with a single idea between two producers, Shinji Hashimoto and Hironobu Sakaguchi. They were in the midst of discussing Super Mario 64, and they wanted to design a game that encompassed freedom of movement in three dimensions. As fantastic as it sounded, they both knew no character could ever compete against Mario. Unless, that is, they were as popular as him. This is where they came up with the idea of Disney characters instead.
Tetsuya Nomura, a character designer for Square, overheard the conversation. He immediately volunteered to lead the project in which both producers agreed on. While Nomura would be the director (and ultimately the character designer as well), Hashimoto and Sakaguchi took on the roles of producers. It was by chance that Hashimoto was able to pitch the idea to a Disney executive soon after, and it happened in an elevator. This was due to the fact that both companies had been working in the same building in Japan during this time.
Disney immediately took a liking to the idea. The company proposed their own ideas such as Donald Duck being the protagonist. Square, on the other hand, wanted to use Mickey Mouse. Nomura decided against both of these suggestions. He wanted to design original characters while still keeping Disney in mind. The protagonist that Nomura designed became Sora.
Sora’s design was very different during the early stages from what it is today. Initially, his weapon was not a Keyblade. Instead, it bore a close resemblance to a chainsaw. His outfit was designed with Mickey in mind with white gloves, red shorts, and enlarged yellow shoes. He also had a tail at one point, but it was removed due to its similarity with protagonist Zidane from Final Fantasy IX.
Development for the actual game began in February 2000. Over 100 members were on the production team with employees from both Disney and Square. The original focus was on its gameplay more so than a story line meant to adhere to Disney’s target age range. Sakaguchi warned Nomura that this would ultimately lead to failure if the game did not strive for the same level as the Final Fantasy series did. After this confrontation, Nomura decided the focus should shift to a more complex story line.
Scenarios for the title were created by Kazushige Nojima who also helped out with scenes for Final Fantasy VII. The worlds where these scenes would take place in had a few ground rules. Nomura wanted to have only a handful of them since managing all of them would have just been troublesome. So in order to pick out the best of the best, he had the team look for distinctively qualities in each one and take into account the characters that make those worlds interesting. This would help make it have a different feel for each world instead of looking like the same area repeatedly.
With so many elements in the actual game itself, it still needed a name. Nomura was pondering over the different theme parks at Disney, notably the Animal Kingdom. He tried to get exclusive rights to “Kingdom” at first, but that was denied. The development team started to discuss the idea of having “heart” as the core of the story. This gave the director the idea of joining the two words, ultimately creating “Kingdom Hearts”.
The release of Kingdom Hearts brought in major sales and positive reviews. It became one of the top three highest-selling video games in North America during its first two months. It was awarded the status of being one of PlayStation’s “Greatest Hits” in April 2003 after selling its millionth copy. As of this month on this year (October 2013 for those reading this from the future), it has sold over 20 million copies around the globe. Now where’s Kingdom Hearts III…