Kingdom Hearts (2002)
There are some combinations that are ingenious and others simply mind-boggling. In 2002 Square Enix combined the rich ingredients of the Final Fantasy series with a fine blend of Disney history to create a delightful recipe entitled Kingdom Hearts.
On the remote Destiny Islands childhood friends – Sora, Riku and Kairi – dream of leaving their home and broadening their horizons. Their wishes are unintentionally fulfilled with the emergence of dark and mysterious creatures known as the Heartless that attack the islands. Sora wakes up alone in another world known as Traverse Town and finds himself armed with the enigmatic Keyblade that has the power to fell the Heartless and seal the recently opened doorways to new worlds. Sora sets out to find Kairi and Riku but is soon joined by two familiar faces – Donald Duck and Goofy – who have been sent from their own world (Disney Castle obviously!) by King Mickey (who else?) to seek out and follow the wielder of the Keyblade.
Kingdom Hearts‘ long and engaging story is divided between more than ten worlds ranging from Neverland and Agrabah to Wonderland and Halloween Town. In each world, Sora will find that the Heartless have invaded and are causing havoc wherever they roam. In most worlds you will join forces with a resident character such as Aladdin, Tarzan, Ariel and Jack Skellington. For every world the trio encounters, there will be a short story playing out – the traditional good vs evil battle – culminating in Sora defeating the Heartless before sealing the doorway to the world with his Keyblade. Though the format for each of the worlds is similar, there is such a rich variety that you will never notice. The further you progress the tougher the battles become and even the Heartless change shape and form to blend in with the distinct worlds Sora, Donald and Goofy must explore.
Aside from the main story there are a series of delightful sub quests to pursue. You will have the opportunity to flex your muscles in tournaments at the Olympus Coliseum, hunt down 99 lost Dalmations, and uncover lost pages to recreate the world of 100 Acre Wood with Winnie the Pooh and friends. A nice digression from the action comes in the form of the gummi ship which is our friends’ means to travel between worlds and throws you into a mini shooting game as you dodge obstacles and shoot down enemy vessels piloted by the Heartless. There is so much on offer here.
The only downside to Kingdom Hearts is that the battle system can be tricky when you first play. Rather than the turn-based battle system deployed in Final Fantasy games, Sora must fight his battles in real-time, leaving you vulnerable to attack whenever you select commands from the battle menu – a major headache if you’re on the brink of death and desperately trying to cure yourself. On the other hand this battle system is more akin to real combat with the pandemonium and frantic exchanges only serving to enhance the experience. In the majority of battles, Sora is assisted by Donald and Goofy who fight independently and can prove to be useful allies if you find yourself in a tight spot. Although you have no control over Donald and Goofy you can dictate their behaviour in battle via the menu, prioritising attack or defence dependent on your preferences. However, be wary of being too over-reliant on your two companions.
Kingdom Hearts remains a stunning experience. The cut scenes are still amazing, the many worlds are varied enough to assuage monotony, the voice acting is a treat and the story remains intriguing right up to the finale. This is a terrific reminder of where this great series began.
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