Welcome to week nine of Re-Play! A ten-week series where we go look back in time to visit some of the greatest games of the past, give them an honest review, and see how well they still hold up today! For this week we are going to visit a universe created from two beloved franchises in Kingdom Hearts!
In the early 2000’s, game developers were all looking for the new big thing to create for the PlayStation 2. Squaresoft (formerly known as Square) decided to make a gamble with a new franchise, but not an entirely new one. By partnering with Disney, Squaresoft sought to make a brand new universe out of two existing ones. They wanted to take the best of their Final Fantasy franchise and the wonderful characters/stories from Disney movies and combine them together to create some new, wonderful and confusing (in a good way). Thus, in 2002 Kingdom Hearts was released for the PlayStation 2, starting a beloved franchise that has continued to this very day.
The Kingdom Hearts franchise is now known for having one of the most convoluted stories in all of gaming. However, it didn’t start that way. In this 1st game in the series, the story was relatively simple. You follow a young man named Sora as he travels between different worlds with Donald Duck and Goofy to save these worlds from an encroaching darkness that is stealing people’s hearts, and to find Sora’s missing friends. Using a mystical weapon known as the Keyblade, Sora alone has the power to prevent evil beings known as the Heartless from destroying all worlds.
Throughout the story, Sora travels to many Disney-themed worlds, such as Aladdin’s Agrabah and the Little Mermaid’s Atlantis. Sora, Donald, and Goofy them usually team up with the titular characters of these worlds to accomplish their goals. However, Kingdom Hearts isn’t just a game about Disney’s greatest hits. There are many new and unique worlds throughout the game, many of which feature popular Final Fantasy characters as well which help drive the greater narrative forward; and what a great narrative it is. Kingdom Hearts was the first video game to ever make me cry (I was 12 at the time), and I still can’t finish this game without getting some serious feelings.
As I have said before, a great story is only part of a great game. The game does have to be fun as well. And boy does Kingdom Hearts know how to be fun. The world exploration is some of the most interesting scene at the time. There is something fantastic about exploring all of these familiar Disney worlds, like Alice’s Wonderland which just feels so right. The game mixes up nostalgia with new content perfectly, making exploring each world a treat. You actually want to uncover all of the secrets of each world and feel encouraged to find all that each world has to offer.
The combat is woven seamlessly into the world exploration and takes place actively during the world exploration. Sora, Donald, and Goofy all follow the classic RPG tropes of finding new equipment, gaining experience to level up, and casting different abilities and magic spells. Kingdom Hearts foregoes the turn-based battle system which Squaresoft popularized, however, in favor of a more active action combat oriented system. You can attack almost as quick as you can press buttons, only limited by how many magic points you have for abilities and spells. You can do all of these things while jumping, running and gliding around the battlefield as well, offering a very open form of combat that had not been seen in many RPGs at the time.
Kingdom Hearts’ graphics were some of the best seen on the PlayStation 2, and still hold up pretty well today. The cartoon-esque style of the characters and worlds lend itself perfectly to the Dinsey worlds you travel to. Sometimes it has been done so well that you actually feel like you are playing inside of the actual movies themselves. In the recent HD remasters of the game, the color, models, and resolution have all been upgraded to fit current day technology, and to fantastic results.
The music is honestly some of the best music that has ever been produced for a video game. Squaresoft worked together with Disney to create a beautiful and melodic soundtrack, which combines the epicness of Final Fantasy music, with the emotion-evoking Disney music. This led to the creation of one of the most unique and memorable video game soundtracks to ever be produced, which perfectly adds more depth and emotion to an already deep and emotional game.
HOW DOES IT HOLD UP?
To answer the above question: it holds up as well if not better than your favorite Disney animated movie. Kingdom Hearts combines all of your childhood nostalgia with an entrancing story, memorable characters, and a beautiful and emotional soundtrack. This is one of my top 5 games of all time, and I would honestly recommend playing the entire series if you have the time. Kingdom Hearts is one of those rare things in the world that sounds ridiculous when you first hear about it, but after you experience it you don’t know how you went without it for so long.
Kingdom Hearts is available now remastered on PS4.