Kingdom Hearts – Past, Present, Future…
When I think of the games I enjoyed most as a child, one name jumps up, and that name is Kingdom Hearts. It seems that those two words resonate on a level unparalleled by any other game franchise, the series itself is one which doesn’t appeal to a vast audience, but the few that love it just happen to love it for its character defining tale of love and friendship told in a spectacular way.
In the article I will discuss the progression of Kingdom hearts across multiple platforms, and what the future holds for our three protagonists, I will be leaving out Japan-only titles as I was unable to play them and therefore cannot comment.
The Idea of Kingdom Hearts was originally conceived in the mid to late 90’s, and development began in early 2000, The concept was very simple, a mix of Final Fantasy storytelling and design, crossed with the recognisable faces of Disney characters- the games could take advantage of the large amount of source material Disney possessed. The end result was the creation of a modest title that would change the way I looked at video games forever.
The first Kingdom Hearts game was released on March 28th, 2002, and for me was the catalyst in the way I now look at games in general; to me, the original Kingdom Hearts has yet to be beaten in terms of storytelling, depth and playability. The game possessed lush graphics and set pieces that were taken straight from the mind of Walt Disney, the combat system was vastly different from the turned based combat fans of Final Fantasy were used to and really managed to captivate the player with the aggressive front foot battle scenarios. The musical score of the game was one that would be forever instilled in my mind, it is not often you hear an orchestral score and can recall what movie or game it was from, bar the obvious Star Wars and Indiana Jones themes. The boss battles, the hack and slash gameplay and the storytelling were all fundamental components used to make the game so successful and appealing.
“Well, I see big adventures coming their way! Looks like it’s up to me to keep track of it all in my journal.”
Jiminy Cricket – Kingdom Hearts (2002)
The second title in the franchise was the humble Chain of Memories, which utilised the Handheld market and made the game more accessible to those of younger ages, It was set directly after the events of the first game and featured a card battling system set in a 2D environment. The game was unique in the way that it delivered the kingdom Hearts experience. The story was set in Castle Oblivion and included the new antagonist Marluxia, who’s primary goal was to manipulate Sora’s memories via Naminé and use Sora to help him defeat Organization XIII. The story was very interesting and acted as a direct link between the two main games.
Kingdom Hearts II was released in March 2006, and finally got the recognition it deserved by winning numerous awards and shipping a total of 4 million copies worldwide. The game featured many amendments in terms of the combat, leveling and navigation, although there were many changes the game kept the same formula and played amazingly. The game was set a year after the events experienced in Chain of Memories and featured many new characters such as Roxas and the majority of Organization XIII. The musical score for the game defeated the original Kingdom Hearts in my opinion and rivaled its predecessor in terms of story and plot elements. KHII also featured a much darker story than the original, and me being 14 at the time enjoyed this thoroughly, the fact that I could empathise with the characters and come of age with them was a truly immense feeling that will never be forgotten. The only negative criticism of mine would be the level of difficulty of the installment; I do not know if this was down to me being older or the game in general, but after spending weeks trying to beat Cerberus in Kingdom Hearts 1, and blazing through the entire KHII story in the same amount of time I felt a little cheated in terms of longevity, in spite of this fact I went on to complete the game countless times and truly cherished every second of it.
“And Sora…about that friend of yours, the one you’re looking for…You’ll find him. Trust me.”
Aladdin – Kingdom Hearts II (2006)
358/2 Days was released in 2009 for the Nintendo DS, again utilising the handheld market and was entirely based around the character Roxas, this was the first game in the franchise not to feature Sora as the main protagonist, the game was set between Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II and featured the same action-RPG style gameplay as the console versions. The game features mission based plots and showcases the friendship built between the two main characters Roxas and Axel. The game also featured a previously absent multiplayer mode in which the player could team up with three other people to complete missions. In terms of the game overall it was good, but was no where near the quality of the console titles.
In 2010, Birth By Sleep was released for the Playstation Portable and acted as a precursor for the events in the original game. The game’s basis was that of the keyblade wars only mentioned in other titles, this acted as a great way to build on the Kingdom Hearts universe and mythos. The gameplay was vastly improved and offered a new customisable command screen, and the visuals were also well put together in the game along with the soundtrack. The game also offered a new type of multiplayer in which the player could fight in an arena against other players. This improved the game’s replayability, and it gives me great confidence for future installments. Birth By Sleep Shipped a total of 1.7 million copies worldwide and was universally praised by critics.
The latest title to be released in the western part of the world was Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance in 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS. Again, the game featured the action-RPG elements from previous games and included both Sora and Riku from previous titles. Personally, I did not play this game as I was not willing to purchase a 3DS for the privilege, as the whole game seemed like a gimmick and frankly I was at bursting point with all the game’s spin offs across multiple platforms. The game was generally well received by critics and sold over half a million copies.
After 7 years or rumours and speculation, Kingdom Hearts III was announced at E3 during Sony’s opening press conference. The title is currently in development and will be released on both PS4 and Xbox One. This is extremely good news for fans of the original games, since it’s no longer confined to the Playstation platform. The title will include the main characters from previous games and will continue from 2012’s Dream Drop Distance. This paticular game has skipped a whole console generation and has been a long time coming in my opinion. Hopefully the game will not face any development issues and will release worldwide on the same date. Kingdom Hearts III is slated for a 2014 release date and not much else has been confirmed, my fingers are crossed for a Q1 release date given the fact that it’s been in development for three years already- but this is Square Enix, so who knows?
You can watch the Kingdom Hearts III trailer right here: