You feel that tingling in your mind? That feeling that you forgotten something, yet this sense of nostalgia tingles inside you and never goes away? That is the feeling of games from your past, games that are now obscure from the public eye. Some are herald classics, others are better left in the landfill, but while they are no longer in the public eye, they still live on in some way. Each week, I plan on embracing that nostalgia, so to speak, and review one of these forgotten games in a series I like to call “From The Well.” This week, we look at Kingdom Hearts.
Back in 2000, when they first announced the Kingdom Hearts game, I was real skeptical as to how they would pull it off. An action RPG that would combine the characters of Final Fantasy and Disney, with worlds from the Disney realm, seemed like it would be destined to fail because of the sheer silliness of the entire notion. I mean, Final Fantasy greats rubbing shoulders with Disney cartoons?! What RPG player in their right mind would actually involve themselves in such a childish notion?
However, when I finally played game, I was hooked. Totally engrossed into the worlds of Kingdom Hearts, it was, essentially, dreams coming true in a way never imagined, and thanks to a lot of smart design choices, it was a smash hit.
You star as teenager Sora, who lives on a giant island with his two best friends, Riku and Kairi. The teens dream of escaping the island someday, but thanks to a series of circumstances, Kairi goes missing, Riku goes crazy to find her, and Sora becomes the “chosen one” who wields the Keyblade, a sword shaped as a key that can defeat this mysterious force known as the heartless. Then, thanks to a chance meeting with Disney stalwarts Donald and Goofy, you embark on a quest to find Kairi and save the worlds from this heartless enemy.
The story is what really surprised me, because the marriage between two franchises is never easy. But the entire main plot of worlds being connected due to some cosmic force was actually clever enough to not be stupid. Not only that, but the plot was actually intricate enough to hold up the concept. Not only that, but the end actually had some decent twists thrown in to strike a more emotional chord to the players.
It also helps that the protagonist is so likable and endearing. The game writing was well crafted, offering a blend of Disney comedy and Final Fantasy intrigue. The side characters are a nice mix of Final Fantasy cameos and Disney favorites, and it’s also kind of fun to guess who you might run into next as the story progresses. Thanks to a very strong script everything is believable, and after my initial fears on how to make people buy into this game, that is a key component to the enjoyment of Kingdom Hearts.
Another key component is the action RPG elements, something that Final Fantasy XII would eventually do. Instead of fixed battles, you fight freestyle, locking onto enemies and wailing on them with your keyblade, all the while jumping, parrying, dodging, and using other techniques you would gain by leveling up or uncovering in a secret area. The action can get fierce sometimes, and the combat camera is not the best, but that frantic pace keeps the game flowing with a sense of intensity. You also only control Sora, a move that is actually a good idea due to the chaotic flow of the battles. You can tweak Donald, Goofy, or any guest character by setting up a command queue, such as attack more often and heal rarely, or use magic every chance you get, etc. It’s not as deep or intricate as the gambit system in Final Fantasy XII, but it has its moments and is generally on target when in combat.
The only other area of combat is the gummi ship segments; customizable ships that will send you to the different planets the worlds are on. In between each of these is a Star Fox-esque rail shooter game that really seems like the only afterthought in the entire game. It doesn’t fit, is sometimes too easy, and really serves no point to the overall story.
The game also sports some fantastic looking graphics. The remaining of the Final Fantasy characters was handled with care, you can tell who is who but they look vastly different in terms of size, temperament and dress. All of the Disney characters are it the heroes, villains, or side characters are well designed too, and are almost exact replicas of their movie counterparts. Each of their worlds is colorful and look like great watercolor paintings transferred to 3-D, and each fits the characters you find in them. The Greek Coliseum is the home of Hercules, for example, while Halloweentown will let you use Jack Skellington for your adventures.
Another similarity is the voice-overs. The game easily has one of the strongest voice casts I have ever heard. Haley Joel Osmet, David Gallagher, and Hayden Pennettiere voice the three leads, Sora, Riku and Kairi, respectively. And that is the new characters. Final Fantasy had greats like Mandy Moore and Billy Zane voice some of their most memorable characters, while Disney mainstays James Woods, Wayne Allwine and Jim Cummings took on roles they either originated or inherited. Again, the voice acting made the game believable and brought about waves of lovely nostalgia every time you hear Goofy exclaim “garsh” or Donald go into his almost indecipherable tirades.
The games music was also very enjoyable. Each world has a colorful and fitting background music selection that comes from the movie it represents. The battle and hub music is well crafted, and the games core sound effects are really dynamic, with a lot of spanks and booms giving it an old school Disney feel.
So after playing Kingdom Hearts and spending weeks to beat it fully, I can easily say that this is one fine RPG. The intricate and engrossing plot mixed with the fantastic handling of two major franchises created something that could of easily failed. Thankfully, the game is an enjoyable experience that will easily sedate the appetites of the RPG community, and if nothing else, bring a sense of nostalgia to the forefront while you play.
Final Score- A-