In early 2002, a role-playing game known as Kingdom Hearts was released for the PlayStation 2, earning the curious gaze of many gamers due to just how unexpected it was. It was a game created by Square Enix with the help of Disney, as it featured an original story of a boy named Sora who traversed worlds inhabited by both Final Fantasy characters and familiar Disney faces; from Mickey Mouse, to Jack Skellington of Nightmare Before Christmas. Despite how unorthodox the title was, it proved to be rather successful.
It's been 20 years since the first title was put in the hands of fans worldwide, and the Kingdom Hearts franchise has continued to reach new heights almost constantly. The game has released 13 titles across numerous consoles, and Sora has consistently beaten the odds, resulting in things like his surprise inclusion in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. The series has also become a rather infamous Disney product, with Donald and Goofy even making surprise appearances in their Kingdom Hearts costumes at Disney parks worldwide. It makes one question just what led to Kingdom Hearts' massive popularity.
Final Fantasy Meets Disney
Out of the many crossovers the video game world has witnessed, hardly anyone expected Final Fantasy and Mickey Mouse to unite into one grand RPG epic. Those that worked on the series often stated that Kingdom Hearts only come about due to the fact that the two companies shared a building in Japan, more than 20 years ago. It's due to the close proximity that the idea was pitched, and then greenlit shortly after. Considering how the companies treated the project compared to how it is treated now, the experimental nature of it may have been its saving grace for how it began.
If one looks back at the development of gaming and entertainment history, Square Enix couldn't have chosen a better time to release Kingdom Hearts in the long run. The game was released at a key point in the anime subculture's history, as it was just starting to build itself in overseas markets, which made what would be affectionately dubbed the "anime Disney game" something of interest to the budding anime fans back then. It ended up being the perfect gateway to introduce these fans to the RPG genre, assuming players hadn't tried other games like Kingdom Hearts beforehand.
The Length of Kingdom Hearts' Lore
When it comes to many of the most well-known role-playing video game series, a good number of them make it a point to leave their stories as self-contained adventures. Even Square Enix's other RPGs try to keep their titles in separate universes apart from special events and crossover titles. That's where Kingdom Hearts does something rather different. Each game plays a role in what happens next in the series, and Kingdom Hearts 3 even serves as the ending to an "arc."
Due to this, every Kingdom Hearts release leads to new avenues that keep its lore evolving, leading it to adopt concepts such as time travel and unreality as it expands its story. Fans have been able to tell that Kingdom Hearts 2 was the start of the franchise adopting a spawling and overarching storyline. However, while things growing to this scale where in service to keeping the magical nature of its world rather vague, hardly any fans expected something like what Kingdom Hearts became over time. Fans are either intrigued or utterly confused by the scope of its story, and that in itself has grown to be part of its charm.
Kingdom Hearts is Accessible In Every Way It Needs to Be
One thing that tells fans that Kingdom Hearts was an experimental project is that at some stage of the series' history, the developers lost the entire source code for the first Kingdom Hearts. Tetsuya Nomura has stated that as a result, when it came time to make the HD ReMix version of Kingdom Hearts, they needed to remake almost all the graphics for the HD version of the game from scratch. However, the effort has paid off tenfold, as now the HD Remix titles are available on numerous console generations. If any new players decide to pick up the series, there's no need to worry about missing out on titles, as they're all readily available.
While even the oldest games are accessible to newer fans across their platform of choice, the Kingdom Hearts series has also been known for many years to have different difficulty settings. While Kingdom Hearts is most known for its tough Critical Mode, there is also a Beginner Mode for those who want an easier experience while playing. While playing on the easier difficulties used to lock players out of the secret endings, more recent entries such as Kingdom Hearts 3 have changed that. This makes Kingdom Hearts one of the most accessible RPGs out there in many ways.
Like many relevant franchises in video games, Kingdom Hearts has done its part to keep its gameplay evolving, but the core formula has always stayed the same. Players can look forward to picking up the latest installment and still have a general idea of what they're doing, with Sora still playing relatively the same as he did in the first game. The only times the titles ever change things up with how the gameplay works are with the spin-offs, which by nature have a right to do things like changing the battle style to focus on cards or commands, rather than Keyblades.
Due to the series' length, be it the number of games or the scale of the franchise's lore, Kingdom Hearts may seem intimidating at first glance. However, it's because of its charm and accessibility that fans are welcomed in with ease, and many who try it learn to appreciate the series for what it is soon after. As more and more years pass, the number of fans questioning just where Sora's next adventure will take him seems to only grow over time. Luckily for fans, that question may have some answers soon, as Kingdom Hearts is holding a 20th anniversary livestream on April 10 that may shed some light as to what's coming up soon.