A long time ago, I saw Kingdom Hearts on the shelf at a local video game shop. I was immediately intrigued as it was by Square and as a long time Final Fantasy junkie, I flipped the box over and read that it was a mashup between my favourite franchise and Disney. I remember frowning, putting it back on the shelf. However, the concept would continue to intrigue me so after saving my pennies, I picked up a copy and one of the maddest journeys began.
Kingdom Hearts is a franchise like no other. It’s equal parts nonsense and brilliance. While I enjoyed it as a kid, it never set my world on fire. So in an attempt to recapture my youth, I’ve replayed and I have some thoughts.
Firstly, this game is a lot of fun. The paired back combat system allows for more precise battles compared with later instalments. As you level up and unlock new abilities the combat steadily opens up but it never overcomplicates itself or turns into the floaty anime nonsense of future games. Instead, you build on a solid foundation and by the end, you have mastered that combat and can take out bosses like a pro. Reliving truncated versions of various Disney stories is cute and as I’ve not seen any of these for years it was a fun reminder of parts of my childhood. And then we have the wider story.
Remarkably, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this about a Kingdom Hearts game, I could follow the story. The plot of the first game is surprisingly straightforward and doesn’t go totally insane until the end. The final area and boss battle is straight-up Kingdom Hearts nonsense. Thankfully until then, you are mostly exploring the Disney worlds looking for Riku and Kairi. It’s a simple goal and enough of a hook to go on this adventure. The added bits with original characters and Disney villains up to no good add some extra flavour. And while they constantly remind how stupid this whole this is, they will still make you smile and jump right into the next world.
I would honestly recommend the first Kingdom Hearts off the back of the previous two paragraphs. It’s an alright 3D action RPG with a silly, yet heartfelt story. You can follow what is happening without having to have played side games or looked at the wiki page, and the characters all have names you can remember. And that is a surprising amount of positivity towards a game I was expecting to dislike as I get ever closer to 30. So here are my less than positive thoughts (or negatives as you might call them).
Let’s revisit that combat for a moment, it is incredibly basic for a large portion of the game. For a long time, you have the same three-hit combo and that is pretty much all you are doing. You slowly add spells, a guard and some other nice additions but to go to those you need to stick with a three-hit combo for far longer than it is fun. And even then, the combat is fairly boring unless you are fighting a boss. The problem is that most of the enemies are reskins or enemies you’ve already fought. They might know a different elemental attack but generally, they only have more health. This means that even when you have a few abilities, your best bet is to mash attack and hope for the best. This can make the game fairly mindless at the best of times.
And then we have jumping. There are a few worlds that require some platforming skills, and they are horrible. Sora is bad at jumping. He is floaty and imprecise in a way that constantly frustrates. And when the camera decides to be a hindrance as well, it becomes a struggle to power through and not give up on the game entirely. Thankfully, there isn’t too much jumping required but when it is its awful.
And then we need to revisit the story. While I said it is plenty and doesn’t veer into craziness anything like later games, it does swing from overly basic and silly. The plot of each Disney world is more or less the same – beat up some heartless, watch a scene that is a bit of one of the films, beat up some heartless, another scene, boss fight. This makes each world very predictable and when combined with the fact that the retelling is shallow, it means that you don’t always feel invested in what is happening. I 100% get that if you are a kid and love this film, then this game is like 12 Christmases at once but my nostalgia had me remembering this as being a lot better than it was.
So do the bad parts edge out the good and stop the above recommendation? No, they don’t. At the end of the day, Kingdom Hearts still has this special magical quality. I don’t think any of its parts are very good but somehow as a whole, it all works and managed to keep me entertained enough to stick it out to the conclusion and some of the side bosses. If you’ve never played a Kingdom Hearts game, then please start at the beginning for your own sanity if nothing else and if you only play one of them, then the first gets my vote. However, don’t forget that this is the herald for things to come and don’t blame me if in six months you’re stuck playing Birth by Sleep questioning all of your life choices.
Thank you for reading. If you would like more Retrospective then why not check out our coverage of the Uncharted series. Alternatively, if anime nonsense is your thing why not read our article on why Blitzball is amazing.
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