It’s crazy to think that Kingdom Hearts, a game that’s still as fresh and popular in our minds as it was when it first launched, turned 15 years old on March 28th. I can remember watching the teaser trailer for the first time, it came on a demo disc packed with the Official U.S Playstation Magazine. When the Hikari Kingdom Orchestra swells and then they start showing off all the different Disney worlds, I was immediately hooked. What was this game I had heard literally nothing about? A game that combined Disney & Final Fantasy, it was a match made in heaven. It seemed a bit crazy and something you wouldn’t think Disney would have a part in (well now Disney owns Star Wars and Marvel but who saw that coming). Kingdom Hearts was a combination of your favourite Disney movies and Final Fantasy characters and gameplay. I knew it was going to be big, but I never thought for a second how big it was actually going to be. Since its release, the Kingdom Hearts series has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. It’s also the tenth best-selling Playstation 2 game of all time, which is no small feat considering how many quality games were released for the system.
Once pre-orders were available my brother and I immediately ran out to the closest EB and made our purchase. The wait for the game was excruciating. Every morsel of information that came out we would eat up, mostly from magazines we frequently read. We would watch that demo disc trailer over and over and over. The hype was building. When it finally released on March 28th, 2002, it blew our minds. I skipped guitar practice so I would be able to just focus on the game (and just dropped guitar lessons all together. Who knows, maybe I could be playing in front of millions of people right now). I let my brother play first, being the nice brother that I am. He played up until the end of Destiny Islands, and then I started a new save and began my journey. What starts out as a tale of kids just wanting to go out and explore new worlds, evolves into something much greater (as per the norm in one of these stories). Visiting Halloween Town or swimming under the sea with Ariel was a blast. The gameplay was great, filled with action and RPG elements. There were numerous side quests you could take, including acquiring the items needed for the ultimate keyblade, or helping Pooh restore the 1000 acre woods. At first glance it would seem like a game built just for kids, but my 16 year old self would tell you otherwise.
Exploring each of the Disney worlds was consistently surprising. There were key moments that had taken place in the films, but there were different twists and turns that kept things fresh. Discovering Cloud at the Coliseum with Hercules, or finding Yuffie and Squall in Traverse Town, was great. The graphics fit the animation of the movies and blended seamlessly with the Final Fantasy characters. Everything worked. Fighting alongside Goofy & Donald just felt right, even when you were battling Sephiroth in an epic battle. Once you finally made it to the end of the game, you’re treated to one of the biggest cliffhangers I’ve experienced (not as big as Half-Life 2’s mind you, but it’s big). It was emotional and moving and had me eagerly awaiting the next entry in the series.
Tetsuya Nomura, the director of Kingdom Hearts (and numerous other projects and characters with Square-Enix including the highly anticipated Final Fantasy 7 remake) shared a special image on the official Kingdom Hearts Twitter account this past Tuesday (which you can see above), to commemorate the anniversary and thank fans for their dedication to the series.
So it really has been 15 years. We’ve seen countless sequels, remasters and side games released for the franchise. What everyone is waiting for though is the release of the proper sequel, Kingdom Hearts 3. We don’t really have a clue as to when it’s coming out, but hopefully this years E3 will shed some light on it. Until then, we’ve got the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 & 2.5 Remix (I wish I knew who came up with these titles) on the PS4 to tide us over. Here’s to the next 15 years of Kingdom Hearts. – NVJ