Kingdom Hearts is a video game series born as a collaboration between Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft) and Disney. The series consists primarily of 3D action RPGs that include appearances of characters from the Final Fantasy series, the Disney universe, and other Square Enix properties, as well as some characters original to the series.
The first titular game was released in 2002 to massive approval and widespread acclaim. Kingdom Hearts was followed by a sequel, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, released in 2004, which connected to Kingdom Hearts II, released a year later. Since the release of Kingdom Hearts II, six more games in the series have been released: Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the Nintendo DS, a prequel to Kingdom Hearts II; Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep for the PlayStation Portable, a prequel for the entire series; Kingdom Hearts coded for mobile phones (later on Nintendo DS), a "bridge game" to Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance on the Nintendo 3DS system; and Kingdom Hearts III, released on multiple platforms.
A spin-off prequel for mobile devices, Kingdom Hearts Union χ[Cross], was released in Japan in 2015, then worldwide in 2016, adopting its present title in 2017. The game was free-to-play before closing in 2021, and was set during a conflict that took place during the founding of the world.
The series contains elements of both action and role-playing games. The games are driven by a linear progression to the next story event, usually told in the form of a cut scene. The player is primarily in control of the principal protagonist of the series, Sora, who is usually accompanied by Donald Duck and Goofy as NPC supports. The games feature real-time combat that incorporate physical attacks, magic, and summons.
Gummi Ships are another common theme in the series. Cid, from Final Fantasy VII, appears in the series, helping Sora and the gang by installing new hardware on their Gummi Ship. The Gummi Ships serve as the main mode of transportation between worlds in the games. The gameplay for the Gummi Ships sections is more akin to a rail shooter, where players shoot enemies as they fly along a preset course, completing it to unlock the next worlds.
The games are influenced by their parent franchise, Final Fantasy, and carry its gameplay elements over into their own action-based, hack-and-slash system. Like many traditional role-playing games, Kingdom Hearts features an experience point system which determines character development. As enemies are defeated, the player gains experience which culminate in a "level-up", where the characters grow stronger and gain access to new abilities. The amount of experience is shared with all party members and each character grows stronger as experience is gained.
- Sora - The main protagonist of the series, Sora is a young boy who dreams of seeing other worlds. He gets his wish after the Heartless destroy his home and he awakens as a Keyblade warrior to travel worlds fighting the Heartless.
- Riku - Sora's friend and rival who lives with him and Kairi on Destiny Islands. Initially manipulated to darkness by Maleficent, he comes to redeem himself and wield the powers of darkness to fight for the light, also gaining his own Keyblade in the process.
- Kairi - A young girl who arrived on Destiny Islands during a meteor shower several years prior to the beginning of the first game. She acquires her own Keyblade from Riku and is training fight alongside him and Sora.
- Roxas - Sora's "Nobody", created when Sora took his own heart in the first game. Roxas became a member of Organization XIII, but left the Organization when he realized he was being manipulated by them. He was captured by Riku to return to Sora and restore his memories.
- Naminé - Kairi's Nobody, born when Sora took his own heart and released Kairi's heart inside him. Due to her unique birth she is able to manipulate Sora's memories and the memories of those close to him. After being freed from the Organization's control and restoring Sora's memories, she merges with Kairi, but her influence in Sora's adventures has continued to be explored in other games.
- King Mickey - The ruler of Disney Castle, Mickey is a Keyblade Master trained by Yen Sid who assists Sora at various intervals with information and power-ups. He also took part in the fight against Master Xehanort in the past, and helped Riku learn to conquer his darkness and reform.
- Donald Duck - The court magician of Disney Castle and a friend of Sora's. Tasked to assist Sora by Mickey, he is skilled with magic and uses a variety of abilities to enhance his spells.
- Goofy - Captain of the royal guard at Disney Castle and a friend of Sora's. Traveling with Donald to help Sora, he is very defense-oriented and learns a variety of support abilities to help his allies.
- Terra, Ventus and Aqua - The protagonists of Birth by Sleep, they are three Keyblade warriors training under Master Eraqus. During the events of the game, Terra loses his body to Master Xehanort, but his spirit now resides in his empty Keyblade Armor. Ventus's heart is damaged and he is placed in Castle Oblivion to rest, and Aqua is trapped in the Realm of Darkness.
Final Fantasy characters
The majority of the Final Fantasy characters in the series act as "neutral" characters and appear in the worlds that are not based on Disney worlds, specifically Destiny Islands, Traverse Town, Twilight Town and Hollow Bastion/Radiant Garden. The exception is Olympus Coliseum, where a handful of Final Fantasy characters pass through. So far, twenty-four characters from the Final Fantasy series have appeared in the Kingdom Hearts games.
The series implies that Radiant Garden is the "Final Fantasy world" within the series, as Leon, Aerith, and Yuffie claim it was their home until it was taken over, and in Kingdom Hearts II, Cid, Cloud, Tifa, and Sephiroth also appear there. In Kingdom Hearts, the cast of Final Fantasy characters was much smaller, with only nine of them playing a major role.
This count was increased dramatically in Kingdom Hearts II to over a dozen, and their importance to the storyline also increased. In both games, several of the characters appear in Olympus Coliseum as opponents.
- Setzer from Final Fantasy VI - A top "Struggle" fighter and a flashy ladies man.
- Yuffie from Final Fantasy VII - One of Leon's allies and a skilled ninja, she helps him fight off the Heartless.
- Aerith from Final Fantasy VII - One of Leon's allies and a healer, she assisted in the restoration of Hollow Bastion.
- Cloud from Final Fantasy VII - A swordsman with a dark past, he has been hunting Sephiroth across several worlds, seeking to end a mysterious grudge between them. Although he is focused on Sephiroth, he also helps Leon defend Hollow Bastion.
- Cid from Final Fantasy VII - A merchant and Gummi ship engineer, he helped Sora build Gummi ships in the first game and oversaw the security systems for the defense of Hollow Bastion in Kingdom Hearts II.
- Tifa from Final Fantasy VII - An ally of Leon who is searching for Cloud, she has followed his trail across several worlds and wishes to help him in his battle with Sephiroth. She also assists Leon in the restoration and defense of Hollow Bastion.
- Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII - An evil swordsman wielding strong dark powers, Sephiroth is the embodiment of the darkness in Cloud's heart. Their rivalry has led them to search for and battle each other across several worlds, with neither so far being the victor. Although Sora has fought and defeated Sephiroth twice, Sephiroth survived as apparently only Cloud can truly kill him.
- Zack Fair from Crisis Core -Final Fantasy VII- - A young boy training at Olympus Coliseum in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, he hopes Phil will take him as a pupil and train him to be a hero.
- Squall from Final Fantasy VIII - Going by the name "Leon", he is the leader of a resistance group against the Heartless. He assisted Sora against them with advice when possible, also taking up arms to defend his group's home from the Heartless when needed.
- Seifer, Raijin, and Fujin from Final Fantasy VIII - The disciplinary committee for Twilight Town, they abuse their authority and take a quick dislike to Sora. Seifer is a top street brawler and "Struggle" competitor. In the game, Raijin and Fujin are known as Rai and Fuu respectively.
- Selphie from Final Fantasy VIII - One of Sora's friends on their home island, she was left behind when Sora, Riku, and Kairi vanished. She plays a minor role in determining the difficulty of the first game during the introductory sequence.
- Vivi from Final Fantasy IX - One of Seifer's fans, he is another "Struggle" fighter and admires Seifer's strength.
- Tidus and Wakka from Final Fantasy X - Two more of Sora's friends, they were left behind at their home when Sora, Riku, and Kairi were lost. They played a minor role in determining the difficulty of the first game during the introductory sequence.
- Auron from Final Fantasy X - A dead spirit revived by Hades to defeat Hercules, Auron initially betrayed him and worked with Sora, but was forced to fight Hercules after having his free will stolen. Sora later restored him and the three worked together to defeat Hades, after which Auron departed back to the afterlife.
- Yuna, Rikku, and Paine from Final Fantasy X-2 - A trio of treasure-hunting pixies called the Gullwings, they were initially allied with Maleficent but switched sides on the promise of treasure from Leon and helped him defend Hollow Bastion.
- Moogles from various Final Fantasy games - They run the various shops around the worlds, usually selling commands, accessories, and items, all of which can be bought with munny, the games' currency. Most shops are run by holograms, as moogles don't enjoy having their pom-poms ruffled. Organization XIII had its own resident moogle, until it followed Roxas to Twilight Town when he left. This is the only moogle to wear an article of clothing (being an Organization member, it wears the black coat).
- Wantz from Final Fantasy X and Wallace, Jessie, Biggs and Wedge from Final Fantasy VII (members of AVALANCHE) appear as shop owners.
- Master Xehanort - An elderly Keyblade master, Xehanort wishes to claim the power of Kingdom Hearts, the heart of all worlds, to sate his curiosity about the mysteries of the universe and its creation.
- Organization XIII - A group of thirteen Nobodies led by Xemnas, they collect the hearts of destroyed Heartless to make an artificial Kingdom Hearts.
- Vanitas - Master Xehanort's apprentice, formed by splitting Ventus's heart into pure light and pure darkness.
- Maleficent - Leader of the Disney villains, she has been manipulated by Xehanort, who use her to further their own plans.
- Pete - Maleficent's assistant. He acts as her messenger to other worlds and other Disney villains and sows Heartless to cause trouble wherever he goes.
Connections to the Final Fantasy series
Besides the numerous characters from the Final Fantasy series that appear, several other aspects of the series directly influence the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts.
- The series uses the same naming patterns as Final Fantasy for its spells and items, items and spells such as Hi-Potions, Tents, Fire and Stop appearing, among many others. The series also universally uses the same spell suffix systems as Final Fantasy, "-ra" denoting tier two spells and "-ga" denoting tier three.
- There are Summon spells that can call allies into battle, using mechanics similar to the summon sequences of Final Fantasy X. Although the summons are all Disney characters (except for a Cloud summon in Chain of Memories), a Bahamut summon was meant to be in the original game, but was later removed as the development team decided that all the summons in the game were to be of iconic Disney characters instead.
- Several weapons are named after Final Fantasy weapons, including the Ultima Weapon, Fenrir, and Save the Queen.
- The various Gummi ships used to travel between worlds are named after Final Fantasy ships and concepts, and include Highwind, Falcon, and Invincible. Ability Points are used to assign various special attacks and support powers to party members.
- In Kingdom Hearts II, Limit Breaks appear as techniques that allow Sora and an ally to unleash a series of powerful attacks at the cost of all Sora's MP. Some of these Limit Breaks, like Bushido and Comet, again take their name from Final Fantasy games. In Birth by Sleep the player is able to fuse commands together to create stronger ones and can infuse items in the fusion to attach abilities to the new command, identical to Materia Fusion in Crisis Core.
- The Nobody enemy types are based on recurring Final Fantasy jobs and show some similar behavior—Dragoon Nobodies fight with lances and use Jump attacks, and Gamblers battle using dice and cards. The Organization members themselves also roughly fit such profiles—for example, Zexion can mimic the attacks of enemies similar to a Blue Mage. Each member also controls one element, such as Water, Light, and Earth.
- Besides Nobodies, several Heartless are named for Final Fantasy enemies, such as the Behemoth and Darkside. Several enemies also masquerade as pots or jars until attacked, or hide in treasure chests and attack when they are opened, a reference to mimics and Monster-in-a-box.
- When fighting in Olympus Coliseum, Sora uses victory poses based on Squall and Cloud's, while Roxas uses Squall's victory pose in 358/2 Days.
- Riku's growth through the series parallels Kain Highwind, and to a lesser degree Cecil Harvey. Similar to the two, Riku began the series as an antagonist using the powers of darkness and was manipulated by Xehanort, but reformed and become a heroic character that joined Sora on his adventures, now using the powers of darkness to fight for light. Riku's signature weapon, Soul Eater, is named after Cecil's ability as a Dark Knight, and similar to Kain and Cecil's love triangle with Rosa, it is strongly hinted Sora and Riku have romantic feelings for their mutual friend Kairi, with Sora being the victor in the competition.
- Major supporting characters, Master Eraqus and Master Yen Sid, are inspired by the two companies that made the series possible. The design for Eraqus is based off the physical appearance of Final Fantasy series creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi. Also, Eraqus's name is an anagram of Square as Yen Sid is Disney spelled backwards.
Influences on Final Fantasy
The Kingdom Hearts series in turn has retroactively influenced the Final Fantasy series:
- Kingdom Hearts was the first game to feature Sephiroth with a single black wing behind his right shoulder, an element of his appearance that was later included in the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII.
- The Dissidia Final Fantasy series has many connections to Kingdom Hearts, as the first Dissidia was originally planned to be a Kingdom Hearts game:
- Tifa's EX Mode weapon in Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy, the Premium Heart gloves, has the Kingdom Hearts logo on them.
- Cloud, Sephiroth, and Squall's Kingdom Hearts attire are downloadable content for Dissidia 012 Final Fantasy.
- Although most musical tracks in Dissidia Final Fantasy NT are remixes of themes from Final Fantasy titles, the music which plays at the Treasure screen is a remix of "Dream Matchup" from Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. The tracks are titled respectively "Luck's Chime" and "Fulfillment."
- Gameplay elements of the first Dissidia are influenced by Kingdom Hearts, such as chaining attacks in different ways based on the timing of button presses. Quickmove and Chase Sequences are similar to Reaction Commands in Kingdom Hearts II, and EX Mode is similar to Sora's Drive Forms in the same game, granting an enhanced set of abilities and an altered appearance for a short time while Sora's Drive Gauge depletes over time, reverting form when it empties.
- The main antagonist of Final Fantasy XV, Ardyn Izunia's hair color was inspired in part by Keiji Fujiwara's role as Axel from the Kingdom Hearts series.
- Sora made his first appearance in a Final Fantasy game with a guest appearance in World of Final Fantasy. He was a free DLC character as a Summonable Champion during battle.
- In February 2018, a collaboration was launched between the mobile arms of both Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy, which sparked a month-long series of events. This collab opened with a website featuring a shooter minigame and developed into playable events for both franchise games. The collaboration was reworked in 2019 after the release of Kingdom Hearts III to include major characters from all three main games as playable units in Record Keeper.