It’s finally happening. The last DLC character for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has been revealed: Sora from Kingdom Hearts is finally in the game, and most importantly, he’s shaken hands with Mario. Yes, a big crossover game is finally meeting the biggest crossover game, but it turns out, Sora and Mario already have a little history together, or at least their respective franchises do.
Starting from Square One
The year is 1996, and Nintendo has freshly dropped its new console, the Nintendo 64. Alongside it, two games were released: Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64. Unlike the flight simulator that was more of a tech demo of sorts, Super Mario 64 became a phenomenon.
As a Mario game with 3D visuals, it was a first for the franchise. Praises were ringing for the reinvention of Mario’s traditional 2D platforming to more of an exploration-focused experience. Not to mention, in that day and age, the graphics were something else. GamePro magazine even labelled it as “the most visually impressive game of all time.” Super Mario 64 went on to be Game of the Year for a number of media outlets, and to this day remains on many ‘The Greatest Games of All Time’ lists.
Needless to say, it was a huge hit and brought about a revelation in not just platformers, but also 3D games as a whole. Super Mario 64’s camera controls went on to define 3D movement in games going forward with the use of the Nintendo 64 controller’s analog sticks. It laid the groundwork for Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Banjo-Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64.
Of course, Square (they were just Square back then) were joining in on the action as well. Like many others, folks at Square were smitten by Super Mario 64. Shinji Hashimoto, producer of Final Fantasy VII, and Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of the Final Fantasy series, were having a conversation about creating a game with Disney characters, particularly MIckey Mouse himself.
The task would have been impossible. It was well known that Disney was a stickler for licensing their characters, especially their beloved mouse. It was at that time Tetsuya Nomura, character designer for multiple Final Fantasy games, had walked in and couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. A game with Disney characters that’s similar to Super Mario 64? That had piqued his interest, and he was definitely up for the challenge.
Nomura had already danced with the idea of creating a Super Mario 64-like game, as he was inspired by the game’s freedom and 3D movement, but co-workers had told him it would be impossible to rival someone as iconic as Mario. But, the Mouse himself? They stood a good chance.
Getting the Mouse In House
Hashimoto and Sakaguchi had agreed to let Nomura take over the project. They now just had to figure out how to approach Disney. As luck would have it, Hashimoto had a chance encounter with a Disney executive in none other than an elevator. He quite literally made an elevator pitch for what they had in mind, and then got the opportunity to bring forth the idea directly to Disney. Disney already got their feet wet with video games. They had the then Buena Vista Interactive (now the defunct Disney Interactive Studios) making games for them, but they were mostly shovelware titles based off of Disney's movies or TV shows rather than an IP of its own.
They were pretty excited and had a list of ideas already prepared for Nomura during their meeting with him, but he was pretty disinterested towards them to say the least. He ended up interrupting their presentation midway and said, “I won’t make such games.” Instead, he gave his idea for Kingdom Hearts, a game with all-new characters going on a journey through a Disney character-inhabited world.
They were shocked, especially upon seeing Sora’s initial character design featuring him wielding a chainsaw - not exactly material cut out of the usual Disney cloth. Eventually, Disney gave Nomura the greenlight for his vision. There was one condition however: Mickey Mouse would only be allowed to make an appearance once in the game, and that too from a distance. Nomura agreed and made it work in his favor, having Mickey appear towards the end of the game in a thrilling finale.
The first Kingdom Hearts featured fun and floaty movement and combat, an aspect that Nomura liked very much in Super Mario 64. In an interview with the late Satoru Iwata of Nintendo he said, “My favorite part of Mario 64 was in front of the castle. You didn't have any particular goals there; you could just run around, jump and slide. Whoosh!”
It goes without saying that the game became a hit. Disney were impressed by the first game’s success and even allowed Mickey to become a main character. Kingdom Hearts now has 13 games in the series with more to come (eventually). The original characters in Kingdom Hearts are just as adored as the Disney ones.
Sora’s inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a welcome and long awaited one, and in a way is a return to Kingdom Hearts’ roots. Now that he and Mario have exchanged greetings, they’ll soon be back to being rivals and will be throwing hands when Sora arrives on Oct. 18 as the final DLC fighter for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.