Reviews: Kingdom Hearts

The Door Is Open....

The original Kingdom Hearts for the PS2 is a case of First Installment Wins if there ever was one. The idea is brilliant, and it's hard to believe it was conceived between two businessmen in an elevator. As a lifelong fan of the Disney Animated Canon, a Crisis Crossover featuring hundreds of Disney characters is a dream come true for me, and this game does it almost perfectly.

The four original characters designed by Tetsuya Nomura (Sora, Kairi, Riku, and Ansem) are all great: they are JRPG archetypes playing textbook Disney roles: Sora the Disney hero, Kairi the Disney princess, Riku the Disney villain, and Ansem the REAL Disney villain. The story is also excellent, with Nomura's concepts and ideas portrayed as to be fittingly mysterious without becoming overtly convoluted, the script and events written well by Jun Akiyama, and the credited "story supervisor" being Keiko Nobumoto of Cowboy Bebop and Wolfs Rain fame, so you know the story's gonna be good!

Above all, the idea behind Kingdom Hearts, that it's a Disney RPG by way of Squaresoft, comes across strongest in this first game. The game design, original characters and story, and various Final Fantasy guest stars, are all done by Square, but they're all used to serve what is rightfully the main attraction: the Disney elements. Donald Duck and Goofy feel like natural companions to Sora, with their relationship providing them with interesting Character Development. Each Disney movie-based world moves the story forward, in either big or small ways, and nothing feels wasted. And the overlying themes of the plot, that of light vs. darkness and The Power Of Friendship, connect with the Disney setting perfectly.

As for the other factors of the game, most are very positive. The graphics are colorful and vibrant, and because they are so well modelled after Disney animation, they're unlikely to ever feel dated even as graphics for the rest of the series advance. The music is phenomenal; Yoko Shimomura is a very gifted composer. The gameplay (disregarding the Gummi Ship and Atlantica swimming controls) is fun and easily learned though difficult to master. All in all, while it may sound like hyperbole, I'm convinced that Kingdom Hearts is fated to be considered a video game classic in the future. And to me, that's a title well-deserved.

The first game still has the most charm

Kingdom Hearts has had many sequels and tried many things, but after having played many of the games in the series, I have to say, the first game just plain works in a way that the others necessarily don't.

The series has gone off into weird metaphysical territory with Nobodies, Unversed, Dream Eaters, raising animal companions, and so on, but the first game kept the focus largely on the Disney characters and worlds. Donald Duck and Goofy were great companions for Sora, creating a fun contrast between the anime-esque outsider, and the cartoon anthropomorphs that accompany him. Plus, their constant presence kept the Disney element in the forefront. This was continued by the many townspeople you could talk to, as the worlds you visited, while not filled with characters, at least had quite a few standing around who had many things to say, which changed over time - something later games have had far less of, feeling rather empty.

There's real reason to search for treasure, as many of the treasures are genuinely useful, whether they're synthesis pieces used to build new weapons or powerful items, or Power Ups and Defense Ups that permanently raise stats. In later KH games, items are less necessary. And speaking of searching for treasure, new abilities such as High Jump and Glide give reason to revisit past locales and search for things you missed the last time.

The mini-game themed world of Winnie the Pooh also provided some non-combat charm, and collecting the new Torn Pages that reveal more of it is a great pleasure, one I miss from later games. The idea of a laidback, peaceful world with friendly characters and zero enemies to fight is something I wish had been explored more in later games. But sadly, later games cut back on the amount of characters to talk to and upped the combat.

The progression is excellent. There's always something to do, and it feels worthwhile. Searching for hidden treasures and the missing Torn Pages, revisiting past worlds with your new abilities, fighting the hidden bonus bosses, meeting the characters - it all makes the game very "alive", and fun to play. I've beaten this game about 8 times. I wish I could say the same for the sequels.