Eric Warner Staff Writer
Over the last few decades, the entertainment industry has changed and developed rapidly with introductions of new storytelling platforms such as video game consoles, new styles of animation, and thousands of new franchises that entice onlookers to this very day. Those franchises have either continued through sequels, prequels, or have ended to only live on within their audiences’ memories but within those developments true innovation can occur. Such innovation appeared in 2002 with the merging of Square Enix and Disney Interactive which resulted in the release of “Kingdom Hearts” for the PlayStation 2 in 2002. On Jan. 29 of this year, the official third installment and conclusion to the original storyline of the “Kingdom Hearts” series will finally be released for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles after being developed for over 10 years.
“Kingdom Hearts” is a video game crossover of beloved Disney films with the themes and characters of the long running Final Fantasy series. An unconventional pairing, but this series actually came from the idea of making an open world game that can compare to the likes of “Super Mario 64.” However, Shinji Hashimoto, a producer at Square Enix, lamented to coworkers that such a game would not be able to compete with Mario without characters on par in popularity to the Italian plumber. Those characters, Hashimoto thought, would be the stars seen in the beloved Disney animated films. In a rare chance of fate, Hashimoto ran into a Disney executive in an elevator while the two companies were sharing a building in Japan and pitched the crossover of the two companies’ franchises resulting in one of the most cherished games of the 21st century.
“Kingdom Hearts’” story focuses around three children: Sora, Riku, and Kairi as they strive to go out and discover new worlds while they play on their island home. Their childish paradise is halted however when strange creatures called the Heartless invaded their world, engulfing it into darkness and sending the trio to different worlds. As this happens, a mysterious key shaped blade appears in Sora’s hand allowing him to fight off the Heartless for a time before he’s transported to a different world. Meanwhile in another world, court wizard Donald Duck and captain of the royal guard Goofy discover that King Mickey is missing and set off to look for him. Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s paths intertwine as they set off to look for their friends together, encountering worlds and characters that are representative of classic Disney films, such as “Hercules,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” while they uncover the mystery of the Keyblade and the Heartless. In “Kingdom Hearts 3,” players will be able to visit worlds from more recent Disney films such as “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Frozen” as well as worlds from Pixar films for the first time such as “Toy Story” and “Monster’s Inc.”
Fans of the series have been waiting for this third installment ever since “Kingdom Hearts 2” came out in 2005 and Tetsuya Nomura left to work on other Final Fantasy games. Thankfully, Square Enix and Disney Interactive eventually came back to the series to finish what they started, which is a feat that surprisingly not many game developers can say they did (i.e. Valve, Telltale, Visceral Games, and Etc.).
Ultimately, “Kingdom Hearts” is a video games series that touches on themes of good vs. evil, light vs. darkness, memories, destiny, and, although it may sound cliché, the power of friendship (it is a Disney produced video game after all). It’s a series that reminds audiences why they enjoy not just the classic Disney films or Final Fantasy games but why they enjoy stories as a whole and hopefully this new installment can warm the hearts of the current generation much like its predecessors did so many years ago.