Over the past 15 years, Kingdom Hearts has been regarded as one of the most beloved gaming sagas in the world. It has a positive yet complex moral message, a dynamic set of characters plucked from various corners of the Square Enix and Disney universes, a healthy amount of challenge in the gameplay, and a wildly recognizable soundtrack. It is no wonder these games have garnered so much reverence and prestige over time, with fans constantly clamoring for the next installment (*cough* Kingdom Hearts III *cough*).
I am an exception to the rule. I never played Kingdom Hearts according to its original release years because I was not a child with access to video games; at least, not as readily and predominately as my peers. I didn’t know the names of the characters, I didn’t know anything about the keyblade (or even its name, for that matter), and didn’t realize how integrated the Disney characters were in the gameplay. It is 2017 and it is the first time I’ve ever laid eyes on any version of a Kingdom Hearts game.
I came across Kingdom Hearts quite by accident while browsing the Playstation Store looking for some good buys. It was the 1.5 + 2.5 Remix, which included all installments to date with the exception of Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. I had to double… no, triple take because what I saw was the entire KH arsenal up for grabs at around 40 bucks. Incredible! I jumped at the opportunity to not only experience Kingdom Hearts for the first time, but to experience the games unlike anyone else outside of Japan: in chronological order!
Currently, I am still playing through the first game in the series and it has truly been so much fun. The characters are sweet yet strong with conviction that makes you care about their success. At certain points in the game, it has been difficult for me to keep my patience because I am so eager to see how the story progresses.
As a newcomer to the Kingdom Hearts fan base, I want to add an alternative perspective vis-à-vis my first-impression thoughts as a reference for gamers who have never played this series or have not revisited the Kingdom Hearts universe in quite some time. The newly released Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 Remix compilation offers an ideal launching pad for newbies, all in one place.
This game is probably considered “easy” on the overall difficulty scale by more advanced players since it requires very little dexterity and precision. For my purposes, I find it quite balanced and fun with a few exceptions. The game uses a rating system for each world that identifies each world’s difficulty level with stars. I didn’t find this rating system particularly useful, since some supposedly less challenging boss fights, like Cerberus and Ursula, were far more difficult for me than supposedly more challenging ones, like Captain Hook and Jafar, or even Ansem. There also seems to be a large need for grinding in order to reach a suitable level to beat certain bosses, but not others. Because the challenge scale is slightly askew in this game, players may eventually find themselves with far too little EXP to advance forward. This becomes very frustrating when your momentum is suddenly halted due to lack of guided foresight and you are 10 levels below where you need to be in order to move on.
The animation is quite impressive for an older game – it is simple with bright colors, and some of the characters likenesses are a little wonky, but the overall consistency is there. I imagine this game was originally formatted in a world where smaller, fatback TVs were the going rate. Still, expression and body language are readily conveyed and it isn’t difficult for players to read the mood in any given interaction.
The controls for the game are slightly counter-intuitive to me. For example, in certain worlds, the player must adopt new skills that are exclusive to that level and render some abilities useless. This can be more than a little annoying, having to relearn what each button means after hours of tactile conditioning. That said, I’ve yet to find true universality in controller commands among the PS4 platform so I don’t think adaptability is too much to ask.
In the past, when I would hear anything about Kingdom Hearts, it was usually centered on Sora and his keyblade. Beyond that, I didn’t know much. I’d seen the commercials and knew that Disney was somehow involved but, honestly… I thought it was a marketing tool. For some reason, I didn’t believe that Disney characters had a prominent role within the actual game.
So, imagine my glee when it became immediately apparent that all of the most beloved characters from Disney were directly involved in nearly every facet of the game. I still get chills and butterflies of excitement when a new Disney character joins the journey. I feel like a kid at Disney World every time and it is so. much. fun.
The main characters Sora, Riku, and Kairi are an extremely likable crew that you will instantly care about from the very start of the game. These young kids start off as innocent dreamers but quickly, their human flaws and complexities become apparent. Sora is a confident, high-spirited romantic who wants to travel the world and see new lands, but retains a naiveté that often runs him into trouble; Riku is an assertive idealist with good intentions and misguided methods; and Kairi is a starry-eyed optimist with high hopes for the future, harboring feelings of doubt and fear that she hides from her friends. All of these traits become integral to the story line and underscore the overriding message of friendship and strength of heart.
THE VOICE ACTORS
Let’s be honest – it can be hard to find good voice acting. Most games have okay acting and sound, and some are downright terrible (but I won’t name any names). Kingdom Hearts takes it a step beyond. The actors are emotive and convincing, effortlessly expressing their characters as if they themselves were saving the world from Darkness and The Heartless. The script is imaginative without sounding trite, which is impressive considering the fairytales of Disney are front and center throughout the game.
It’s easy to become immersed in the world and adventures of KH through its aural talent, and why not? With the likes of Haley Joel Osment, Mandy Moore, David Gallagher, Hayden Panettiere, Christy Carlson Romano, Lance Bass, and Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this game is a star-studded teen beat dream from Y2K. And while there’s little doubt that I would’ve enjoyed recognizing these celebrities as a pre-teen, the nostalgia of hearing their voices brings its own unique joy to the experience. I didn’t have much from which I needed respite when I was an early teen, but as an adult this game whisks me away to an entirely different place and time, with impressive actors I’ve watched become even more impressive over time, and allows me the chance to relive my bubblegum pop youth.
Kingdom Hearts has easily become one of my favorite games. It is obvious why this franchise holds a special place in the hearts of gamers all over the world. I am happily a member of the Kingdom Hearts fan club and can’t wait to continue onward with the other games. Although I feel a little behind the times as a first timer, I also feel lucky to know there is no substitute for the feeling of taking in a scene from a game for the first time. I am often told that my emotional reaction to games is something to be envied, as some are desensitized to the novelty. Although I can’t say the feelings are always enjoyable – I can get very scared and upset – I am grateful for the cognizance I have as an adult to really be mindful of everything I’m experiencing; because I also feel immense joy, excitement, and accomplishment.
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Last modified: July 3, 2018