Impressions: Revisiting Kingdom Hearts

If you’ve been following the blog (or stream, or whatever else) for a while now, you know that revisits to Kingdom Hearts are not rare for me. Kingdom Hearts was actually the first game I owned on my own console (before that, mostly gaming on PC or playing on friend’s consoles), and I was delighted with it. I cannot count how many times I played that game throughout the years, and it is one that I still go back to pretty frequently.

I was pretty delighted when I noticed that the HD remix collections were added to GamePass on the Xbox – although a bit weird playing it on an Xbox – and dove in for yet another revisit and more nostalgia.

So some brief background. Kingdom Hearts is the 2002 game from developers Square, which took characters from Disney and Final Fantasy and combined them with some original characters. You play Sora, who longs for adventure with his friends, but before they have a chance to set off their island, is destroyed by a mysterious force. Sora ends up with a Keyblade, and in another world he doesn’t recognize. He teams up with Donald and Goofy to travel from world to world to find their king and unlock the mystery of why so many stars (worlds) are seemingly being destroyed. The game spawned a hell of a franchise which I have mixed feelings on overall, but this piece is just about where it began.

It is unsurprising that in my younger years, this game spoke to me. I, like so many people, was raised on and loved Disney and frankly still do. It was a pretty cool experience to visit the worlds and play through pieces of some of my favorite movies from when I was younger. It is also one of the best features of the game. Each world is its own unique little piece that truly reflects the story you are in. Now there were certain limitations, so each world’s uniqueness has grown with the series, but even from game one, there was effort put into making sure each space spoke to the specific thing it was referencing. Wonderland is wholly unique from Halloween Town, which in turn is nothing like the 100 Acre Wood. It allows the player to truly get lost in each setting and feel like they are really part of the movie they are visiting.

The graphics and music really help with this, especially in the Remix. From the art direction choices like each palette being slightly different. Wonderland has more pinks and reds, Agrabah a lot of browns and oranges to give it a desert feel, etc. The updated versions of the games also come with a nice amount of spit and polish to really help the best parts of the look of the game pop even more. Each world also has music that is typically a variation of the music that we got from Disney. Even the original scores, though, fully fit their world. At any point, you could play a random song from this game, and players will likely be able to pick out where it was from because there is such personality in each location.

This is further emphasized by the fact that each world comes with a bit of its own story to tell. While the reasoning for traveling from world to world is supposed to be Sora, Donald, and Goofy looking into the location of the king, Sora’s friends, and the general mystery, that’s not all that happens. Most of the locations come with what I would call a diet version of the movies they are from, and all of them have at least a bit of their own story. They are different enough that it doesn’t feel like a total copy and paste, but obviously pretty closely and directly inspired by the stories we already have.

Yet in spite of all the effort to make each world its own little experience, they also don’t feel totally disconnected. There are, of course, the heartless enemies, and while there are a lot of redesigns, once again for each world, there are a few shared between the bulk of the game. You also have Maleficent, who is assumed to be the big bad, showing up to give guidance to other Disney villains or just taunt Sora. There are a few other common threads that manage to keep the story flowing even as each world feels a bit like its own piece. It is an interesting balance and one that I think was struck very well in this instance.

The overall story is… okay. Actually, it’s pretty solid and interesting, if a little shallow and not fully fleshed out. I like it overall, though, with age, I cringe a little at some of the cheesier moments. It’s got a solid message about friendship and inner power and the difference between light and darkness (as far as people go). It’s not the most powerful story, but it’s well-paced, entertaining, and approachable by a wide audience. And while I said I was going to focus on this game, it’s also not a convoluted cluster that completely lost all heart in an effort to be more, like I would argue the rest of the franchise is, sorry.

Basically, you are playing a half Disney game that is supposed to have a broad audience; you will get what you should probably expect out of the story.

That said, you will also get a lot of really sweet and touching moments, as well as more than a little humor, packaged in characters you already love and are nostalgic for. Frankly, for me, that is enough. Popcorn entertainment, I think, is entirely necessary and serves a role for us, especially as a hobby.

Gameplay is fun overall. There are few frustrations, especially with the camera and platforming elements. It also shows a little age in a bit of the clunkiness and a few balancing issues. However, most of that was tightened in the Remix, which is widely available, so I would recommend going that route.

Not everything added to the updated versions is great. There were some issues with the original source code, so some of the color redesigns are great, and some leave me wishing for the original version of the game. The original version was also already a hell of a grind, and they made it even more so in the updates, which I could have done without.

So bottom line? I assume most of you here have actually already played this game, so you sort of have an answer to this. I would say of the entire franchise, to me, this is the one that has held up the best. It shows its age, of that there is no doubt, but does so in a way that feels sort of nice upon revisiting rather than frustrating. It’s also the most streamlined of the games. The franchise as a whole is okay with games I consider varying degrees of hits and misses, but for me, this one was such a shining start and the one I want to play again most. If you’ve never played or haven’t revisited in a while and looking for something delightful and a little simple (but in a good way), I would say Kingdom Hearts might be just the game you are looking for.

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