Review by: Night Ninja
An unlikely crossover, it’s happened to many IPs over the years of gaming. Battletoads and Double Dragon, Sonic and Mario, but what about Final Fantasy and Disney? Well, back then no one would blame you for finding it strange, many people would rightfully. But who would have thought it would become one of Video Game’s most successful crossover franchises? Kingdom Hearts, an action RPG directed by Tetsuya Nomura(who previously made character and monster designs for games like Final Fantasy VII), developed and published by SquareSoft back in 2002 for the PlayStation 2. This game became a surprising success and spawning an entire franchise that’s stronger than ever as of today, if not mainly for the fact that most blank spots are now filled, and the series is fully available on PlayStation 3 and 4. With the upcoming release of Kingdom Hearts III this year, I thought it would be a good idea to review each title in the series and tell all of you if it’s worth it for the overly convoluted plot. The story starts with a boy named Sora, who lives on the tiny group of islands known as Destiny Islands, where he has lived for years with his best friend and rival: Riku, and a girl who showed up at the islands during their early childhood: Kairi. Sure a peaceful quiet life on some quaint little tropical islands can be nice and all, but of course a world that’s just too small. So as they matured, they all slowly wished to see other worlds and to not be chained down by their tiny islands. One night following days of work on a raft and supplies to venture out themselves, a strange and threatening group of dark creatures floods the islands, somehow taking both Riku and Kairi, and Sora gain’s the mystical Keyblade, a key… and a sword combined, yes I know its an impractical weapon, but just look at Cloud’s Buster Sword if you wanna make those comments.
It thankfully was the “key” to destroying the dark creatures and he made his way through, shortly after Sora battles it out with a giant version of the dark creatures infesting the island, as it crumbles around him. Soon after winning, Sora was whisked away from his home world, and Destiny Islands becoming no more, afterwards waking up in another world, where he is approached by Final Fantasy VIII’s Squall Lionheart(who supposedly now wishes to only be called Leon), Final Fantasy VII’s Yuffie Kisaragi, Cid Highwind, and Aerith Gainsborough. At this point, you find out about the heartless, dark beings who took Sora’s homeworld and god knows who else with it, with them being drawn to Sora because of him being the wielder of the Keyblade. Soon after more encounters with the heartless, Sora eventually meets Donald Duck who is the grand wizard wielding a staff and Goofy who is the captain of the royal knights wielding a shield, from their own world: Disney Castle. Quickly he finds out about how the heartless has been spreading to countless worlds, devouring them, and their “king” had disappeared to find out what was going on, only telling the two to look for a “key” and that it will be the ticket to saving the worlds from the impending doom. So they all agreed to travel to these worlds via the Gummi Ship(pretty much your spaceship), saving them, and trying to find Sora’s friends and their king during the journey. The rest of the plot is a lot deeper to dive into and does definitely require a certain level of dedication to understand fully, but a good chunk also being recaps of certain timeless Disney stories as most of the worlds you discover, will be based on Disney movies.
There are countless characters, references, full worlds, and even party members from countless Disney movies, which are: Alice in Wonderland, Tarzan, Hercules, Aladdin, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Winnie The Pooh, Beauty and the Beast, 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp, Dumbo, Bambi, Mulan, The Lion King, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty. Needless to say, this game will thrive on how you feel about Disney, if you dislike the happy go lucky movies and their musical numbers(even though I promise you there are none, just an instrumental of Under the Sea you MIGHT pull your hair out over), this game might not totally be up your alley. However, if you are even a casual fan, especially of the aforementioned movies, then you may really enjoy this experience! This game however only has a handfull more Final Fantasy characters, being Cloud Strife and Sephiroth(who is a secret boss in the game) from VII, a kid version of Selphie from VIII, a kid version of Tidus and Wakka from X, other than that you have moogles in the first world: Traverse Town. What may draw you to this experience(like it does for others), will be the gameplay, or maybe even its amazing score done by Yoko Shimomura(who has composed the entire franchise’s music, along with the classic Super Mario RPG, the Mario and Luigi games, the Secret of Mana series, and the recent Final Fantasy XV) and the opening and ending theme Simple and Clean by Utada Hikaru. The game itself is still very grounded in its Final Fantasy roots, but for its time innovated with being one of the first action RPGs of its time. There are 2 difficulty modes, and 3 in the Final Mix versions of the game available on PS3 and 4. The overall difficulty comes from knowing when you need to grind, playing with a good offense and defense, and what handicaps you wish to use for that extra challenge. On the bottom right of the screen, you can find your Hit Points(HP) and Mystic Points(MP), along with the same statistics for your 2 party members you have.
On the left you see the command menu which is a staple for the series, you use the D-pad to navigate the menu and select the option with the X button, and all very reminiscent of the original Final Fantasy turn-based battle system with how it looks and is organized. 4 options are all laid out for you: Attack, Magic, Items, and Summons(or in the original PS2 title, somewhat of an action button). Other various mechanics include a tech system that rewards players for parrying attacks and even knocking them back, an ability system regulated by Ability Points(AP) to equip and better yourself for countless boss fights, as well as multiple weapons and accessories. Using the command menu, and full movement to block, dodge, counterattack, and grinding until strong enough to take down the enemies. The enemy types of the game ranges from heartless, to more unique and less common enemies who are usually boss fights or world specific enemies, which can even be some of the great villains from the countless Disney movies, like Captain Hook from Peter Pan, Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas, Jafar from Aladdin, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, even being able to take on Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty in both her original and dragon forms. Even if they all are against you, you have allies of your own like Jack Skellington, Beast, Tarzan, Peter Pan himself, and many others who joins the fight in their worlds!
One of the biggest selling points of this game is, of course, the Disney worlds themselves, some are vast and hugely explorable, and some are fairly simple, however, each world NAILS the setting and look and feel perfectly along with each set of unique exploration and battle themes! Ever wanted to fly around Big Ben with Peter Pan? Explore Halloween Town at the iconic hill from the Tim Burton classic? Go searching in the Cave of Wonders from Aladdin?? Now you can! Sadly though, most of this can become an annoyance with how confusingly big and complex some worlds are designed, some being just too big and confusing to navigate and all without a map, and throwing in some platforming, it can become an annoyance, but if you can platform easily, its not too much of an issue thankfully. However the most tedious part of the game is the Gummi Ship, personally, I am not the biggest fan of on the rail space shooters, and these sections can be summed up as very reminiscent of Star Fox, but not quite as polished, you can tell this was something that meant to take a backseat. Basically, each world you go to has a set road or path you have to navigate your ship through, shooting heartless ships, and making it to your destination.
The only MAJORLY polished part of the Gummi Ship is its customization, each enemy ship you destroy, and in some chests and enemy drops, you can obtain parts to build new ships or upgrade old ones. After a certain point in the game, you can receive a warp upgrade, allowing you to go from world to world without the long drive in between each world, which makes the game so much better, and you would have to upgrade the ship for only when you need to use it in these sections. But I know what many people may be wondering: how much content is even in this game? PLENTY, especially if you invest in the Final Mix versions! For the base game alone: you have 2 extra bosses, a Coliseum where you can take on rounds of enemies and be rewarded VERY well for each one, 2 more bosses in the Coliseum itself, plenty of Keyblades, Staffs, Shields, and accessories to collect, you can also rescue the 99 dalmatian puppies scattered throughout chests in all the worlds, The 100 Acre Woods where you can engage in mini games and be rewarded for doing so, the Gummi Ship has plenty of left over missions and customization, and a synthesis shop that you can take items from defeated enemies too and gain more items, accessories, and a weapon for each character being their peak, including the mighty Ultima Weapon!
Sounds plentiful right? Well take into consideration Final Mix, and you have even more!! Final Mix was a director’s cut of the original essentially as initially for Japan only, that offered content the overseas edition of the game had, and still more story and content! This was finally given to us years later in Kingdom Hearts HD I.5 reMIX, the new version had been rebuilt from the ground up with now triangle as the action button, better visuals, a re-orchestrated soundtrack that is godly amazing, and trophy support. If you, however, invest in the PS4 collection Kingdom Hearts HD I.5 + II.5 reMIX, not only will you have access to the other main 5 games, but you will even have the game performing at a smooth 60FPS and is PS4 Pro compatible for 4K as well! As far as visuals purely go, the original game is still very good looking for PS2 standards, but if you care about performance and graphics, you would definitely be better off getting the PS4 version. The newer features included: extra cutscenes, weapons, abilities, accessories, music, 1 new boss, a secret ending, rare heartless to hunt for new synthesis items, the new and beginners friendly difficulty mode, the ability to replay the game with never gaining XP for more challenge as well, and in the PS4 version a cutscene viewer! However, even with all these new additions, sadly the game can still feel a little dated compared to the rest of the series, however, it is still a solid game for newcomers to RPGs even, and is definitely a good starter for children! Sure its plot is convoluted and can be more so a pain to explain than understand, but it still teaches important elements as well, including friendship and other light-hearted themes, however, this game series can and will continue to get dark as times goes on. Should that be a concern? No, but this won’t be understood as easy as others. Above all though, this series has many heartfelt moments that has admittedly made me weep for the characters and everything they go through, and even if its a little bit of a strange combo, it is still one of the best crossovers to ever happen in video game history!
8 – 10
If you get past the story and understand it, you will find plenty of enjoyment in this title!