Revisiting Kingdom Hearts 1: Was It As Bad As I Thought?

A long time ago, I wrote a review of the first Kingdom Hearts game. That was among my more negative reviews, as my first playthrough of KH1 was not an overly enjoyable one. Admittedly, it was probably one of my less fair analyses.

So, with Sora having been added to Smash Bros, I decided to go back and replay the Kingdom Hearts games (also because I need to replay Birth By Sleep again before I can review that). I still played through on Proud mode because I still hate myself, but I changed my build around a lot this time. I did everything the game has to offer, from the Dalmatian hunt to Olympus Coliseum to the Synthesis questline. All to answer the question: is Kingdom Hearts 1 as bad as I thought?

No. It’s still aged pretty poorly, if you ask me. But I actually had fun playing it this time around! Mostly.

The story isn’t great. The characters are all pretty bland, the Disney worlds are pretty much pointless, and the dialogue is so bad that it can be hilarious at times. None of the voice actors are doing all that good of a job (although the main three are children at this point, so I can give that a pass), save for Maleficent and Ansem; everyone else either sounds bored or stiff.

Granted, the story is probably still one of the better in the grand scheme of things. Mostly in that this one makes sense for the most part and isn’t bogged down by anime nonsense. It also has some fun ideas that I wished would be explored more, like how the Disney villains are sort of working together, like that old Mickey Mouse cartoon that I can’t remember the name of that I’m only half certain actually exists.

Dumb as it is, the story is charming. It isn’t all that good, but least its fine. Oddly, I found it more enjoyable the second time around. Mainly because of how refreshing it was to experience a Kingdom Hearts story that actually made sense.

I still think the game looks fairly good. Sure, the in-game facial animations are about on par with a Barbie doll from the early 2000s. But all the models look fairly true to their original Disney movie counterparts and the cartoonish graphics still hold up for the most part.

Also, the music is absolutely stellar. Surprising no one. Everyone knows KH games have killer soundtracks.

Most of my previous complaints about the gameplay still hold true after my second playthrough. The tracking on Sora’s attacks is sorely lacking, which results in a lot of infuriating whiffed attacks. Enemies are often more annoying than challenging, featuring repetitive moves or long moments of invulnerability. The levels range from short and fine to long and insufferable, the puzzles from obvious to obtuse and confusing.

Oddly enough, I had much more fun with certain levels this time around. Partly because I actually used the guest party members this time around. Whoever told me they were useless can fuck ’emselves, because these guys were way more useful than Donald or Goofy! Beast basically one-shot killed everyone in Hollow Bastion for me!

Unfortunately, the game actively punishes you for using them. So long as they’re in your party, you can’t use the Trinities to unlock items or solve puzzles. You’ll either need to keep Donald and Goofy (or Useless #1 and #2, as I call them) in your party at all times or return to the level later.

Which you’ll need to do anyways, if you’re gonna do side quests this time around.

The side quests are a mixed bag. Hunting for the Dalmatians wasn’t all that bad, though it was time consuming, and the final reward you get for it makes the endgame significantly easier. Synthesis grinding, on the other hand, is absolutely miserable. Getting certain items is extremely tricky, requiring you to pull off some super difficult combos with ultra specific abilities. Even then, you aren’t guaranteed to get it, so you might have to reset the room a couple dozen times to make the enemy respawn to try it all again.

And you don’t have the luxury of being able to buy synthesis items after you get them, like you can in KH2. If you need the same item for another Synthesis item, you need to repeat the grind all over again.

Interestingly, I had an easier time with the endgame and a harder time at the beginning than I did last time. A large portion of that boils down to grinding for side quests, yes. But an even larger part can be boiled down to my starting choices in the odd dream sequence/tutorial at the beginning. I ended up unlocking many key abilities much later on into the game. I didn’t even get Second Chance or Once More until well past level sixty!

Which made my early attempts at fighting Sephiroth hilariously pitiful.

I also had much more fun with the Gummi ship this time around. Granted, the levels themselves still suck. And building a ship still has wonky controls. But I had a ton of fun just saying “Fuck it” and slapping together the ugliest, bulkiest ship I could with the blocks available to me. I called it the ‘TRASHMAN’ and used it to throw trash at any Heartless that dared get in my way!

I then proceeded to throw it into the trash after it blew up fifteen times in a row during the final Gummi ship mission. But hey, at least the TRASHMAN passed on with his people.

Overall, I had much more fun with Kingdom Hearts this time around than I did in my first playthrough. I still don’t think it’s an especially incredible game; if you put this and KH2 in front of me, I’d pick the sequel any day of the week without a second thought. Still, I was far less miserable playing this one than I was the last time. It’s gone from a game that I dreaded revisiting to a game that I wouldn’t hate having to play again.

But I am going to skip the Chain of Memories replay. Because I honestly don’t think I could stand playing through that one again.

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