Kingdom Hearts 2 is considered by many to the best entry in the Disney-cross-Final Fantasy game series. There are plenty of reasons why, not the least of which is the game’s memorable midway sequence, the Battle of 1000 Heartless. This ambitious level pushed not only Kingdom Hearts to new heights in terms of action and dramatic set pieces, but also the ability of the PlayStation 2 and its developers’ to to new limits.
For the uninitiated, The Battle of the 1000 Heartless is a level that serves as the direct mid-point in the story of Kingdom Hearts 2. Without getting too deep into the story (because lord knows Kingdom Hearts lore goes deep), it’s here that the true villains of the game, Organization XIII, reveal their intentions of destroying The Heartless in order to harvest their energy for their own ends. Protagonist Sora has no intention of helping them reach their goal, but is hard pressed to do anything but assist them in destroying Heartless when the Organization releases an army worth of Heartless onto the unsuspecting citizens of Hollow Bastion.
This invasion of Heartless into the world of Hollow Bastion leads to a gameplay sequence that sees Sora and co. team up with a cavalcade of Final Fantasy characters who inhabit Hollow Bastion to take down the threat. The level wraps with a final sequence where after being separated from his team, Sora single-handedly takes down 1000 Heartless.
This battle, while unforgettable for gamers, proved to be such a difficult challenge for creator Tetsuya Nomura and his team that it was considered being dropped entirely. Rendering the intense amount of enemies on screen was of great difficulty given the limited power the PlayStation 2 compared to hardware of today. When asked about the 1000 Heartless sequence in an interview conducted soon after the game’s initial release, Nomura confessed, “I always estimated that ‘if we have to drop something, it’ll have to be this part.'”
Nomura was caught off guard by his staff’s dedication to making the battle work, stating, “I didn’t think that huge battle would actually materialize to that point in the end,” adding, “I’d been nervous all the time but in the end they accomplished it and I was moved. ‘Wow, you all really did it.'”
Though the team succeeded in keeping the battle in the game, some sacrifices had to be made. A screenshot that surfaced before the game’s release and also appeared in the opening recap cinematic to Kingdom Hearts Re: Coded adds two pieces of insight into how the original battle was supposed to play out.
First, two enemy types not present in the released version of Kingdom Hearts 2 can be spotted. It’s thought that the Behemoth and Wyvern breeds of Heartless had to be removed from the fight to cut back the number enemy types needed to be programmed into one battle. The screenshot also differs from the final product in that Goofy and Donald stand behind Sora in the battle’s introductory cutscene. This suggest it was initially planned for the player to have party members in the level, but this too was likely cut to stabilize development. This cut may have been for the best, however, since having Sora wage war as a one man army is largely what made this scene so dramatic and memorable to players.
While the Kingdom Hearts games serve as a crossover of sorts between Disney and Final Fantasy, no worlds or areas from the Final Fantasy series are ever visited in the same way Disney levels are explored. The Battle of the 1000 Heartless serves as the closest players get to a full blown Final Fantasy level, thanks to the inclusion of nearly ten iconic Final Fantasy characters that aid Sora throughout the battle. Nomura gifted players with a few ‘fan service’ scenes, such as Squall “Leon” Leonhart and Cloud – two protagonists who have never interacted with one another in the FF series – fighting a wave of enemies back to back.
The level also gave Rikku, Yuna, and Paine from Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 their overdue entry to the Kingdom Hearts series. But unlike the other crossover characters who remain faithful to their original designs, the Gullwings take on different forms than those from their original games, appearing in Kingdom Hearts 2 as small fairies or pixies. This was a decision made by game director Tetsuya Nomura, who wanted to see his Final Fantasy characters take on more cartoonish styles, and figured Kingdom Hearts was the best setting for this to happen. Interestingly, Rikku was actually set to appear in Kingdom Hearts I with Leon’s gang in Traverse Town, but was instead swapped out with Yuffie, as the developers worried players would be confused by the similarity of her name with another main character’s, Riku.
The soundtrack present throughout the battle is also worth noting. “Showdown at Hollow Bastion” provides an epic buildup during the cutscene in which Sora runs towards the army of Heartless, and “Sinister Shadows” accompanies players through the battle sequence itself. Composed by Yoko Shimomura, the Kingdom Hearts 2 soundtrack was the first score she composed as a freelancer after leaving a formal position at Square for maternity leave. Along with KH1, KH2, and a handful of other games in the series, Shimomura is responsible for other iconic soundtracks such as Street Fighter II and Super Mario RPG, and is currently working on both Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy XV. Despite her extensive resume, Shimomura has cited Kingdom Hearts as “the most special” soundtrack she’s ever worked on.
With Kingdom Hearts 3 slowly on its way and fans counting the days in anticipation, it’s important to look back and remember why the series is so special to many in the first place. Placing such a monumental scene in the mid-section of Kingdom Hearts 2 told gamers playing for the first time that there was so much more in store for them. The dedication that Nomura and his team possessed in making sure that The Battle of the 1000 Heartless made it into the game reveals how passionate Square was about making the best game they possibly could. One can only hope that the same dedication Nomura’s development team had when working on this game holds true during their time crafting Kingdom Hearts 3.
Now let’s just get a release date on KH3!
By: Corey van den Hoogenband
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