Ah, Kingdom Hearts. The series is well known for many things. Cheesy dialogue, nonsensical storytelling that makes the Fourth Great Ninja War arc look clear and concise, and the seemingly unimaginable blend of classic Disney icons and anime-ass Final Fantasy characters. Some people love the series with all their hearts (heh heh, puns). Others think it’s lame and dumb.
Both camps are entirely correct, but neither will admit that the other is right.
I’ve played every game in the Kingdom Hearts series, each on the highest difficulty because I’m a glutton for pain and I’m not eight years old. However, Kingdom Hearts 1 is technically the only one that I’ve played all the way through twice. Certainly not because I love it; we’ll get to how I feel about it later. But because it was one of the very few games to make me so blindingly angry that I actually quit and uninstalled it.
Also, I accidentally broke my white PS4 controller during the Ansem fight. Not like smashed it, but I definitely ruined the joystick. So that didn’t help alleviate my fury.
Story: Of Hearts and Darkness
Believe it or not, but this is the only Kingdom Hearts game that is actually semi-decently written. Is it fantastic? Oh, god no! But it mostly makes sense! At least as much as your average Final Fantasy game of the time did.
You play as Sora, a young anime boy living on Destiny Islands with his two friends, Riku and Kairi. When the Heartless attack and drown the islands into Darkness, Sora awakens to a mysterious weapon, the Keyblade, and is thrust into Traverse Town. Now, with Donald Duck and Goofy, Sora must travel across various Disney worlds, find his missing friends, and fend off the Darkness!
The main problem is the pacing. See, none of the Disney worlds actually matter to the plot. Like, at all. The story only progresses in-between them, not on them. In terms of writing, only about four of the levels actually matter. None of which are Disney worlds.
The characters certainly don’t do much, either. The original characters are all just generic anime tropes and all the Disney/Final Fantasy characters aren’t used to their proper effect. They feel more like novelties on a theme park ride than characters in a story. You’ll more often say “Oh hey, *insert character here*!” rather than “How will their actions affect the story?” It does feel like a waste of potential.
Still, it is a decently engaging story. While none of the original characters are especially interesting, they’re still likable enough to become invested in their plight. Sure, it’s cliche. And stupid. And a bit confusing. But it’s still fun enough to give all that a pass.
Well, less of a pass and more of a yellow card. Also, let Kairi be a character, please and thank you.
Presentation: Blocky Yet Detailed
I love the clear contrast between all the Disney characters and the Square characters. All the Disney ones have so much more animation and model fidelity than the Square ones. Hell, even Sora doesn’t look as good as Donald, Goofy, or any of the others.
Visually speaking, I like this game. It’s got that early PS2 vibe, where everything was starting to get smoother but was still kinda blocky. Even with that aside, it’s not bad! The environments are all distinct from one another and bring the films their based on to life pretty well, the enemy designs are unique, interesting, and memorable, and (on PS4) it runs buttery-smooth and loads super quickly! Stylistically, this game does just about everything I like!
And the music! Oh my gawd dude, the music in this game is legendary! Every single track is an absolute banger! Granted, saying that Square games have good music isn’t an original compliment. But there are few video game soundtracks that can live up to Kingdom Hearts.
Welp. That’s about all the positivity out of the way. Now, let’s talk about that gameplay.
Gameplay: I’m gonna shoot however decided I had to unlock enemy healthbars and dodge rolling
Seriously, who thought that was a good idea?! Give me a goddamn name!
Kingdom Hearts is a 3D action RPG/platformer. Basically, you run and jump around each level, bashing enemies with your Keyblade and various spells, until you reach the boss fight. Rinse and repeat until you reach the final level and kill the final boss. Simple, right?
Well, there’s actually quite a bit of depth to this system. Do you build Sora to bash things to death or do you stack magic? Which items and abilities do you equip, as some have special effects beyond just boosting your stats. Do you use the various summons or do you keep Donald and Goofy around for their abilities and so they can use items?
The answer to that one is the former. Never give items to Donald and Goofy. In fact, take those away from them as quickly as possible.
I appreciate how this game not only made magic viable, unlike other 3D action RPGs (cough cough Dark Souls), but they also made it downright necessary on the higher difficulties! Seriously, you’ll need to learn the ins and outs of each spell if you’re gonna survive Proud mode. Granted, some spells are still really bad (cough cough Blizzard), but the ones that are good are just straight up broken and I love it!
And… yup, that’s all I have in terms of praise. Because this game kind of sucks.
Everything here is just so damn clunky and miserable! The platforming is stiff and awkward! Combat feels unresponsive, with enemies always being just a step out of range while you’re always within theirs. Each level is a miserable trek, featuring a nigh endless cavalcade of looping areas, backtracking, and jumps that, if you miss, will send you right back to the beginning.
Rest assured. You’ll miss them. See the earlier point about the platforming.
Oh, the boss fights! Good god how I hate them! There isn’t a single boss here that I actually like! They either spend an ungodly amount of time floating out of your attack range, have some stupid gimmick attached to them, can kill you in one hit, or all of the above. Some of them you can cheese into oblivion with a summon. Others are so teeth grindingly difficult that you shouldn’t even bother. None of them are fun.
Still, despite all my gripes, I can’t be too mad at this game (although I’ll still be in a blind rage whenever I play it). It’s kind of like another Spyro situation (only that I liked Spyro 1 almost as much as 2, but that’s a story for another day). Kingdom Hearts 1 laid the foundation for Kingdom Hearts 2 to build off of.
Unfortunately, I’m not talking about KH2. And I won’t be for a while, considering that Chain of Memories stands in my way.
My relationship with this game is strange. While I don’t enjoy playing it, I’m still really glad that I did. For everything I hated with the heat of a star, there was something that I loved too much to forget.
My recommendation for this one is weird. I’d say at least give it a chance to see if you enjoy it more than I did. If you just want to play the much more refined and enjoyable Kingdom Hearts 2, or any of the other ones after this, really, then I’d still say play this one first. If nothing else, it’ll help you appreciate the later games that much more.
This game still seems so weird to me. A marriage between Disney and Final Fantasy with anime tropes really shouldn’t have worked. Yet it spawned one of the biggest, most infamous video game franchises of the century! And this is the game that started it all!
I hate it. And yet I love it.
Though I mostly hate it.