“Kingdom Hearts”, one of the most beloved franchises in video games, would not have happened if it wasn’t for one very special elevator ride.
A collaboration between Disney and Square Enix (formerly Squaresoft), the series consists of nine games (excluding collections and mobile iterations) available for multiple platforms, which have sold over 24 million copies worldwide.
While crossing over various Disney characters in one fictional universe sounds like a no-brainer for instant success today, pulling something like this off in the early 2000s was highly unlikely. Luckily, for fans of the franchise, the world has been blessed with the popular series, but it wouldn’t have happened without a chance encounter in an elevator.
The story begins with a plan between Square Enix game producer, Shinji Hashimoto, and Final Fantasy’s creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, to create a new open world game in the same vein as Super Mario 64. When the lead character designer from Final Fantasy VII, Tetsuya Nomura, overheard the two talking about having characters as popular as Disney’s being able to rival a Mario game, he volunteered to lead the project. At that time, Square and Disney held offices in the same building in Japan.
In an interview with IGN, Nomura revealed that Hashimoto had a chance meeting with a Disney executive in an elevator which allowed him to pitch the idea directly to Disney. The elevator pitch turned into board rooms meetings, NDAs, and contracts, and in February 2000, development for the game finally began with Hashimoto serving as producer and Tetsuya Nomura as director.
What initially began as a simple story aimed at children — Disney’s target audience — evolved into a story similar to Square’s Final Fantasy titles during its development process. According to Nomura, the name of the game was originally inspired by Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park but they could not get the intellectual property with just “Kingdom.” Thinking about “heart” being a core part of the story, the team decided to combine the two to form “Kingdom Hearts.”
The rest, as they say, is video game history.
Fans of the franchise will be pleased to know that Square Enix will be launching Kingdom Hearts 3 this year, providing the final piece to a ridiculously convoluted puzzle.
A playable version of the upcoming game will reportedly be available at the Square Enix booth during the E3 expo in June.