I have a friend who is obsessed with Kingdom Hearts. I think the only thing he’s more obsessed with is Lady Gaga. So, with his obsession in mind and the gift cards I received at Christmas in hand, I thought I’d dive into the world of the Disney-RPG and bought Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix. This review will be about the first Kingdom Hearts games and if that ends positively, I’ll play through the other games and write about them too.
I should probably note that I never really played the PS2 version of Kingdom Hearts. I mean, I played bits and pieces with my friend, but I never sat down and invested hundreds of hours into it, so this won’t be a comparison of the old and the new. This review is more of a review of the game and not the updated game and ways that the developers have improved graphics, gameplay, controls, etc.
The lynching may now proceed…
Sora, Riku and Kairi live on a tropical island in some non-descript ocean with dreams of sailing away on a home-made raft and visiting other worlds. The plan is suddenly ruined when dark creatures known as The Heartless appear on the island and separate the three friends across the Disney universe. Sora eventually teams up with Goofy and Donald Duck who are trying to find King Mickey, who has suddenly vanished from his castle. The three try to find their friends by visiting the previously unconnected Disney worlds; visiting places like Wonderland (Alice in Wonderland), Halloween Town (The Nightmare before Christmas) and Hundred Acre Wood (Winnie the Pooh). There’s a nice mix of places to visit for every Disney fan.
The first thing you notice about Kingdom Hearts is the musical score since it’s the first thing you hear when you start the game. Composed by Yoko Shimomura, the game features melodies from the Disney movies each world is based on and some wonderful original content. Hikaru Utada lends her voice to “Simple and Clean”. The original compositions for Kingdom Hearts are beautiful and soothing while the recomposed melodies from the Disney movies for the relevant worlds are a nice touch. I found myself singing “Under the Sea” while swimming around the oceans with Ariel.
The animation style and art suits the style of game well. It’s still “gravity-defying hair” enough for Final Fantasy fans to keep them satisfied but the cartoonish art style will keep Disney fans feeling nostalgic. All the different Disney worlds are created to pack the essence of whatever movie they’re inspired by into a few different levels. While the individual worlds themselves are huge, the universe is pretty massive. There are 8 Disney inspired worlds plus the rest of the universe which includes Traverse Town (your “base” for the game), Destiny Islands (where Sora, Riku and Kairi are from) and the two last worlds. With enough gameplay to keep fans of both series’ entertained, the game is incredibly long with just story missions alone. Side quests involving missing 99 Dalmatian puppies, lost pages for Merlin and finding every trinity mark keeps the game going for hours.
Villains come in two flavours: Heartless and classic Disney villains. Maleficent is the brains behind the operation, manipulating the rest of the villains like Jafar, Oogey Boogey, Ursula and the gang. And, of course, she plays the part perfectly.
The creatures you’ll encounter during the levels are The Heartless. Devoid of a heart (no, really!?), they’re drawn to Sora, his Keyblade and his pure heart. They range from small shadows to giant monsters and all want to steal the hearts of those around them and their difficulty varies along with them. Since you can’t change the difficulty setting during the game (something that I’m actually pretty happy about), it’s good to see that the enemies grow stronger when you do. Boss battles are challenging, sometimes infuriatingly so. There’s never a dull moment with The Heartless.
Travelling between the worlds becomes a lot easier once you’ve finished the first few worlds with the addition of a warp gummi to your gummi ship! To travel to new worlds, you still need to blast your way through space-bound enemies, but once you’ve arrived at the new world, you can travel to and from previously seen worlds with ease.
My main issue with the game is the camera. In automatic mode, it’ll do its own thing which can work against you in a battle. I’ve died several times because I haven’t seen an attack coming because the camera is looking at something else. In manual mode, the camera doesn’t feel responsive to the player’s input. It’s easier to use than automatic mode, but that isn’t saying much. From people I’ve asked, the camera has improved since the PS2 version but I’ve really got nothing to compare it too. With the battles being intense and generally involving multiple enemies, a dodgy camera can be the undoing of a good game.
I never really saw the appeal of Kingdom Hearts when it first came out. Mostly because it came out after my PS2 died and I’d bought an Xbox so I didn’t really have a way to play it on my own but with the wonders of technology, I’m able to play, and enjoy this gem of a game. Camera problems aside, being able to fly around the universe with Goofy and Donald and team up with some of my favourite Disney characters is a lot of fun. With some Final Fantasy characters making appearances too, it’s a good introduction to the Final Fantasy world. Once I’ve finished with Kingdom Hearts, I might make a run for some of those games too. What number are they up to these days?