Pretty much every gamer knows about Kingdom Hearts by this point, that weird crossover between Disney canon and Final Fantasy with just enough original stuff in between to be able to make a compelling (if very confusing) story out of it. But here’s how Square Enix showed Disney Kingdom Hearts to begin with.
At the time, Kingdom Hearts was a big leap of faith for Disney, and was even thought of by many as an abomination. Rather than a licensed game of one movie, it was a huge crossover featuring an enormous variety of characters and locations. But, considering that the education game market was flagging, Disney, and specifically Buena Vista Games (which then turned into the now defunct Disney Interactive Studios), had to think of something new.
Buena Vista decided to outsource itself to other publishers to make licensed Disney games, but found most publishers were only willing to work with them to make low-quality games for a quick buck. Square Enix and Tetsuya Nomura approaching to show Disney Kingdom Hearts, however, provided a way out.
Nomura apparently first made an impression on Disney when he walked into a meeting and produced a drawing of Sora holding a chainsaw. Previously, the two sides had met before where Disney designers showed Nomura their own ideas for a licensed game. However, Nomura rejected all of these ideas, instead putting his own idea that was inspired by Super Mario 64, where the main character journeyed through multiple different worlds.
Eventually, Nomura was able to gain permission to use all of Disney’s assets that he wanted in Kingdom Hearts, with the promise of building a series with lasting success. However, the first game came with a very big stipulation: Mickey Mouse couldn’t be used. In order to protect their mascot from negative press, Disney only caved to a single appearance, and even then shown from a distance.
This led to Mickey’s appearance at the end of the first game, after being missing for the whole plot, being seen from the back as he helped Sora to seal the doorway and keep the Heartless from overrunning Kingdom Hearts.
Since then, with the series’s great success, Disney has relaxed, allowing a wider variety of worlds and characters to be seen and even allowing Mickey to become a major character. Kingdom Hearts 3 promises to be one of the biggest games of 2019, with a wide variety of worlds, characters, and the promise of wrapping up a plot that has spanned decades.
Disney has even kept in touch with a wide variety of voice actors, which explains why so many of the Disney characters in the games have been voiced by either their original voice actors or very good sound-alikes. Various films like Big Hero 6 and Tangled have even now had their voice actors reprise their roles in the games, and characters like Alice and Genie (who when Disney can’t get Robin Williams is voiced by Dan Castellaneta, aka Homer Simpson) can also get their original voice-actors to work, even 40 years later in Alice’s case.
When it comes to the Disney Kingdom Hearts process now, Disney still owns the IPs in order to protect its brands, though they’ve been very hands-off with Nomura (a good decision especially since he’s lived up to his word), but with everything that’s gone into Kingdom Hearts, hopefully the third game will be an experience we’ll never forget.