WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Kingdom Hearts
For as much as I get frustrated with Kingdom Hearts, it’s a series that’s near and dear to me. I may grumble about some aspects of it constantly, but I’ll always keep coming back for its tight, action-RPG gameplay, enjoyable characters and its general oddball charm. And if I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t be interested in finding out curious tid-bits and random trivia all about it. So how about we take a look at the game that started it all and learn something new today?
1. The Star of the Show
It’s impossible to think of Kingdom Hearts without it’s bright-eyed, cheery, spiky-haired protagonist Sora. Even when he wasn’t playable, he was always a key part in almost every game in the series. But, in one alternate timeline, Sora never came to be.
See, when the game was first being conceptualised, there were disagreements on who should be the main character. Some wanted Mickey (obviously) whereas others wanted Donald (I’d have been down with that). In the end, Sora, being an original character, was created as a compromise. In fact, Sora’s white gloves and big yellow shoes were inspired by Mickey’s design, literally acting as a merge of Disney and Squaresoft’s art-styles (oh yeah, this was before Square merged with Enix to become Square Enix).
2. I Ain’t Lion
That being said, what we see now wasn’t the original look for Sora. In fact, some concept art shows that, at one point, Sora was more lion-like, with big claws and a tail, as well as some sort of chainsaw-sword weapon. It still had what would become a key-chain, though, and Sora’s even wearing a crown, which is something of a recurring motif in some official artwork that’s been made over the years.
Speaking of lions, a world based on The Lion King was planned for the game. Sora would’ve turned into a lion in this world but it got scrapped due to technical limitations. Trying to make playable combat with a quadruped’s apparently harder than it sounds. It would later be implemented exactly like they hoped in Kingdom Hearts II.
3. Night on Final Boss Mountain
Remember during the last stretch of the game when Chernabog AKA the literal Devil from Fantasia randomly appears and you fight him to the tune of Night on Bald Mountain? While a pretty awesome cameo for the Disney fanatics, it’s still incredibly out of nowhere. Well, that’s because Chernabog is something of a leftover.
Originally, Chernabog was going to be the final boss and the true antagonist of the game; an embodiment of pure darkness and the source of the Heartless. Giving that some of the pureblood Heartless resemble Chernabog slightly, this makes a lot of sense and would’ve been a fantastic reveal. The final battle would have had players actually scaling the mountain itself too, which sounds awesome. Unfortunately, due to limitations and other unknown reasons, it got scrapped.
In the end, Ansem became the new final boss, and while we’re all still pleased with the end result, I can’t help but think how differently the series would’ve gone had they stuck with the Chernabog idea.
4. Is This the Real Life?
While myself and many others were drawn to Kingdom Hearts because of the massive Disney presence, others instead got involved for the Square cameos. The company has its own library of beloved heroes and villains so the chance of teaming up with them or even fighting them with Donald Duck at your side is understandably appealing.
The first game played things safe by bringing in a few fan-favourite Final Fantasy characters, but did you know that a couple of them replaced others? Final Fantasy VII‘s great ninja Yuffie’s role was supposed to be filled by Rikku from Final Fantasy X. We don’t know why this was changed but my guess is that it had something to do with one of the main characters being called Riku. Might have got a tad confusing. Yuffie’s outfit was also what was planned for Rikku, who would have to wait till Kingdom Hearts II to make a cameo.
Conversely, Final Fantasy X‘s Wakka, who appears as one of the other kids on Destiny Island, was originally meant to be Irvine from Final Fantasy VIII. According to director Testsuya Nomura himself, he really struggled coming up with a new design for Irvine to fit the island aesthetic. Personally, I think Wakka was the better choice anyway.
The craziest change, in my opinion, regards Aerith from Final Fantasy VII. Her role originally belonged to Aya, the protagonist of the survival horror series Parasite Eve. Staff members who had worked on FFVII, however, requested that Aerith be included instead, which was probably the better decision, especially since they could later touch on her relationship with Cloud. Though I kind of feel bad for Parasite Eve fans. Maybe give Aya a cameo in Kingdom Hearts IV?
5. Is This Just Fantasy?
The Final Fantasy references don’t just stop at the characters. There are quite a few nods and winks to the beloved JRPG franchise. For instance, several of the blueprints used to make new Gummi Ships are named after characters from the series, like Shiva and Cid. Some of them even make ships that resemble said characters, like the Cactaur one taking the shape of the cactus-like enemy.
A more obscure one comes from a random music box that can be found in Ariel’s grotto in the Atlantica world. If you interact with it, it will play a short song which some fans might recognise as a track from Final Fantasy VII. Specifically, it’s the track Who Am I, which usually played during certain dramatic scenes in that game.
An obvious one can be found at the very beginning of the game, when Sora and Riku argue over what to call their makeshift raft. Riku suggests they name it Highwind, a recurring term from the series. It’s Cid’s surname in FFVII, as well as the name of his airship, and is also the surname of Kain from Final Fantasy IV, another best friend that became an antagonist and later redeemed themselves. How’s that for foreshadowing?
6. The Boss is Called Kurt?
One thing Kingdom Hearts is well known for is its optional boss battles – extra, tough fights that require players to be the best they can be if they want to take them down. And the first game has quite a few, including the Unknown (which was essentially a sneak peek at Kingdom Hearts II) and good old Sephiroth himself from FFVII. For this trivia, I’m focusing on the multi-limbed, snake-headed beastie that can be found in Agrabah – Kurt Zisa.
Why is it called that? Is the name derived from some sort of mythological creature? Does it have some hidden meaning? Well, no. Actually, the answer’s pretty simple – it’s someone’s name. One Kurt Zisa was fortunate enough to win a contest that was held two months before the game’s international release, which meant that his name would be included in the game somewhere. I’m sure he’s pretty pleased to share his name with such a tough boss.
7. Song’s Cursed
Destati is, without a doubt, one of the best damn music tracks in the whole series. I’d even argue it’s one of the best pieces of videogame music ever. There’s a reason it keeps popping up in pretty much every game so far in some form or another. But while fans across the world may love it, it’s got a bit of a bad reputation amongst the first game’s staff.
Apparently, according to composer Yoko Shimomura, whenever they loaded the chorus data into a piece of music, something bad would happen – the worst instance being when the electricity in the whole building was cut off. It ended up being considered “cursed.” Hopefully, stuff like this hasn’t happened since then.
And whilst I’m on the subject, while Destati is sung in Italian, Shimomura also considered using German or Latin as well, since she felt the song had an “old, classical feeling” to it, and she didn’t want to use a language that most people would be able to understand and decipher instantly.
8. I Ain’t Too Old For This
Now we get to the part where I babble on about voice actor trivia that only I care about. With Disney obviously playing such a big part in the series, the staff had to work extra hard to replicate everything about the Disney aesthetic, with one major aspect being the voices. The series has always managed to do an amazing job at bringing back the original actors to reprise their roles, and Kathryn Beaumont is probably a perfect example of this.
If you don’t know, she was the original actress for Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Wendy from Peter Pan. Yeah, the ORIGINAL. Those films came out in 1951 and and 1953 respectively, so she was in her 60’s when she reprised the roles for Kingdom Hearts, yet she still pulled it off and managed to sound like a young British girl. You’ve got to respect that level of talent.
9. You Don’t Sound Like You
Not every original actor was able to come back for their roles, however. The likes of Maleficent, Captain Hook and the Queen of Hearts all had to be replaced due to their actors sadly being deceased. But they were usually able to get impressive sound-a-likes that could replicate the original voices almost perfectly. Unfortunately, there’s always an exception to the rule, and in this instance it’s Hercules.
Now, it wasn’t because his actor had passed away. Tate Donovan was still around and doing plenty of work, even outside of other Disney productions like the Hercules cartoon. But I guess he just wasn’t available and they had to get someone else to fill in for him. In my opinion, it’s not a great sound-a-like – not terrible, by any means, but it’s obvious it wasn’t the original actor. What’s really weird, though, is who they got to provide the voice – Sean Astin. Yes, the same Sean Astin from The Goonies and Lord of the Rings. How much money did they spend to get him just to voice a handful of lines?
If you’re wondering, no, Astin never came back to voice Hercules again throughout the series. Instead, Donovan has returned to reprise his role in every appearance since Kingdom Hearts II.
10. What’s NSYNC Got to Do with Kingdom Hearts?
That last one’s not even the weirdest voice actor trivia. When it came to getting actors for the Square characters, they got some pretty big names. Obviously, child stars Haley Joel Osment, David Gallagher and Hayden Panettiere were brought in for Sora, Riku and Kairi and freaking Billy Zane got to play the major antagonist Ansem (a role that would be passed to Richard Epcar after the first game). But what about the Final Fantasy cameos?
I imagine Square must have taken extra care when it came to these characters since Kingdom Hearts would be the first time fans would actually hear them speak. And while I don’t know how they were received originally, I’m surprised they went with movie and TV actors as opposed to professional voice actors (there is a slight difference between the two but that’s a discussion for another time). Leon got to be voiced by David Boroneaz (Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Yuffie was played by Christy Carlson Romano, further repping the Disney side of things (she voiced Kim Possible and was in the Disney sitcom Even Stevens).
But the one that I absolutely do not understand is who they got to voice Sephiroth. Granted, most people probably never knew since he only had a few lines but it’s one of the oddest celebrity cameos I’ve ever seen. Because it’s Lance Bass from NSYNC. Yep, it may have been incredibly brief but a member of one of the most well-known boy bands was also one of the most famous and popular videogame villains ever made. This still stands as Bass’ only videogame credit, though. I wonder if he even remembers doing it.