Rating: E10+ for Fantasy Violence
Available for: Playstation 2, 3, and 4
I played Kingdom Hearts 1 Final Mix, so I will not be discussing the original version of the game. I am fully aware that the Kingdom Hearts story gets far more complicated after the first game, but since I know nothing of what happens beyond what I’ve played, no spoilers please!
I am very, very late to this party. If you read my E3 2018 post, you’ll know that I have very limited experience with Kingdom Hearts, having first played part of Birth by Sleep and later starting but not finishing Kingdom Hearts 1 Final Mix. For the second installment of my Revisited series and in anticipation for the upcoming Kingdom Hearts 3, I decided to try this game out again to see what all the excitement was about. Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts (2002) is a beautiful blend of Disney nostalgia with Final Fantasy elements and manages to capture many of the themes that underlie a great deal of the Disney stories.
The story begins with Sora, Riku, and Kairi, three kids planning to leave their island home to explore the worlds that lie beyond theirs. On the fateful night before their voyage, creatures called Heartless invade the island and Sora, as he attempts to find his friends, discovers that he is the wielder of the Keyblade, a weapon capable of defeating the Heartless. Meanwhile, King Mickey, aware of the impending darkness capable of destroying worlds, has set off on his own journey and has instructed Donald and Goofy to find the wielder of the Keyblade. Sora, with his world destroyed and waking up in a place called Traverse Town, runs into Donald and Goofy and they set out to close the Keyholes that have been destroying Disney universes while Sora looks for his lost friends. You later discover that many Disney villains have been kidnapping the various Disney princesses in order to harness the power of darkness and rule over the multiple universes. Sora, Donald, and Goofy find themselves fighting against these villains and Sora’s own friend, Riku in order to stop the world from falling into darkness.
It’s quite the undertaking to use the Disney universes in an original story without making them seem shoehorned in for attention, but Kingdom Hearts manages to take these worlds and integrate them into an overarching plot that keeps true to the stories’ original characters. Fighting alongside characters such as Tarzan, Aladdin, Ariel, and others, you combat the same villains they did in a fight for goodness and the side of the light. The villains might have a different agenda than their original stories did, but they succumb to same elements of disaster that their originals did: power and destruction at any cost. Sora, Donald, and Goofy drop in on each of these worlds seemingly around the middle of each of the stories, and in some cases, the stories stayed relatively the same as the original movie, but in other cases, major plot points were repurposed to better fit the overall plot of the game. For example, Tarzan’s world still had Clayton seeking out the gorillas, regardless of the increasing amount of Heartless that were infecting the jungle. In Ariel’s world, however, Ariel’s goal was to seek out other worlds (not just land) and Ursula was manipulating Ariel in order to find the Keyhole and unleash the darkness. However the story might have been altered, you still have the characters fighting for goodness and light in a world being encroached by darkness.
It would be easy for all the Disney characters to steal the limelight, especially with a game packed to the brim with nostalgia, but Sora and his friends shine in their own way. Sora is a protagonist that would not be a stranger in the collection of Disney protagonists: he is a good kid who greatly values his friendships and will fight for it to the ends of the world (quite literally). He trusts the light within himself and it is something that pushes him forward to fight another day, even when he is fighting monumental forces. Riku is one of Sora’s best friends and equal rival and what works about their intertwining fates is that both are seeking the same thing: a chance to see the worlds beyond their island and to capture Kairi’s attention. The means for how they do so is what pits them against each other, but even then, Sora and Kairi have such strong faith in him returning that you as the player know there has to be a way to bring him back. Finally, Kairi is the girl shrouded in mystery and the center of both Sora’s and Riku’s affections, and by the end, she is still a complete mystery but you keep wishing for a way to unite these three friends. The strong sense of destiny between characters is sometimes hard to write without feeling contrived, but Kingdom Hearts finds a way to make it natural, using archetypal characters that fit nicely into a Disney universe.
My only complaints about the game were some of the mechanics: the worlds could feel small at times and there was quite a lot of backtracking involved. Thankfully, the worlds did get more expansive as the game went along, so it might have been just a way to slowly introduce the game to the players. As for the backtracking, I do hope that that’s something that improves in the future games, especially since Sora could get overzealous in his fighting style and falling off the side of the platform could mean a very long walk up…. I also wish the combat didn’t feel so repetitive sometimes, but I know for a fact that that is not the case in the other Kingdom Hearts installments, so I won’t go into it more.
Kingdom Hearts integrates the nostalgia and whimsy of Disney into an unique story that honors the original Disney stories and sets itself apart as an original tale about three friends united by destiny. I know the story gets more complicated from here, but the first game provides a good foundation for what the Kingdom Hearts series can be. I will be playing through the rest of the series and hopefully be ready in time for Kingdom Hearts 3! I will not be posting my reviews for the rest of the installments, but if you love Disney, I recommend checking this series out!