Kingdom Hearts – Retro Review

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Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG released in 2002 for PS2, then re-released in the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Collection in 2013 for PS3.

It is the result of a collaboration between Squaresoft (now Square Enix) and Disney. Combining the characters and settings from various Disney animated feature films with characters and gameplay elements from Squaresoft’s own games.

The story follows a young boy Sora who is chosen as a Keyblade wielder and thrown into a war between the powers of light and dark. He is joined by well-known Disney characters Donald and Goof, who along with many other Final Fantasy and Disney characters aid Sora in his quest to find his friends and defeat the Heartless.

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Kingdom Hearts

As someone who grew up watching Disney movies, being able to step into these worlds and take part in the story lines was without a doubt the best feature of the game. You usually land on a new world at start of a simplified version of the movie plot, you are then able to play through some of the main areas and plot points from each film.

Although at times the worlds can feel deserted (in part a limit of the hardware), the styling and the music really serve to make you feel like you’ve jumped into a Disney movie.

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Landing on a new world feels like stepping into each movie

The number of worlds in the game does mean that you don’t get to spend too much time in each level (each world will usually take around 2-3 hours). This does tend to rush the individual storylines of each world, meaning that they have to be simplified down from their movie plots.

Each world you visit really embodies the spirit of the movie it draws from. They all use the soundtrack, voices and art style from each movie to re-create the feeling of the world. Whether it’s the spooky Halloween town, the strange areas of Wonderland or the lush forests of the Deep Jungle from Tarzan, each area serves to revive the feelings you experienced as a child when you first watched the movie.

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The costume and style change makes Halloween Town one of my favorite worlds of the game

The music is great throughout the game, it is a mix of existing Disney songs and original content created by Yoko Shimomura. The tone of each piece matches the worlds perfectly, even the non Disney worlds like Traverse Town and Hollow Bastion were bought to life by some amazing musical pieces. Hearing the music now still brings back vivid images of each world and even certain areas inside the worlds.

Using a lot of the original voice actors from the Final Fantasy series and the various Disney movies really helps to immerse the player in the worlds. Hearing the familiar voices of Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon), Hades (James Woods) and Pete (Jim Cummings) was a great way to stay true to the Disney movies.

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Original voice actors from both Disney and Final Fantasy makes each world feel real

While it did definitely borrow several elements from the Final Fantasy series, the combat in Kingdom Hearts had a faster pace and was more action focused. The combat system is pretty simple, melee attacks and combos are complimented by a range of different magical spells. The summoning ability from Final Fantasy adds another ability to the players arsenal (although in the style of Kingdom Hearts you are able to summon Disney characters like Tinker Bell or Simba rather than the god-like creatures such as Ifrit or Bahamut).

Playing back through the game recently it did turn into a bit of a slog to get through some of the combat sequences. In particular when you reach a new area and find the enemies take a lot more damage than before. For it’s time the gameplay was nothing special, it was fun enough most of the time and really served its purpose to tie together the story and characters.

One of main problems with the first game in the series was the controls, which can be somewhat fiddly at times. The camera in particular could be infuriating to try and control during several areas. Personally I found the easiest way to play was to use the lock-on function almost constantly, allowing the game to (relatively) automatically keep the camera focused on whichever enemy I was fighting.

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A combination of melee and magic gives the player a choice about how to approach combat

The overarching plot of Kingdom Hearts is pretty basic, this was before the numerous character and plot-line additions in recent games of the series. Personally I like the simple nature of Kingdom Hearts, after trying to piece together the convoluted plot of the modern installments it’s nice to go back to the basic story which touches on themes of wonder, adventure and friendship.

The plot starts of slowly, Destiny Islands and Traverse Town are slow-paced can be a bit of a grind (especially if you have played it before), once you are able to travel between worlds and start experiencing the small stories of each world the game picks up quickly. The last two levels of Hollow Bastion and End of the World are where the story really hits its stride in my opinion, the stakes become a whole lot higher than they have been at any other point in the game. The final boss battle of the game against Ansem was one of the most epic moments of the series.

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A great cutscene which precedes one of the hardest fights of the game

The growing relationship between Sora, Donald and Goofy is always a joy to watch no matter how many times I’ve played through the game. In particular in the first Kingdom Hearts where the player gets to see their friendship first start to grow. The three of them have a great dynamic which follows through into future installments of the series.

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The friendship of Sora, Donald and Goofy is a defining feature of the game and the series

Pythagean

Pythagean

Head Designer at The Video Game Forum

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Summary
  • Gameplay
  • Presentation
  • Story
  • Audio

Summary

From a technical standpoint Kingdom Hearts is not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination, but it really is a wonderfully constructed experience.
For anyone who is a fan of either the Final Fantasy series or Disney movies in general, this truly is a magical game.

4.1