East meets West – Playing Kingdom Hearts for the First Time

Lately I’ve been staying at home a lot. Oh who am I kidding, I’ve always been staying at home a lot… And I figured this was a prime opportunity for some quality time with my consoles. We don’t get to see each other enough and I would hate for us to drift apart.

I was therefor looking for a game to play when it hit me, I have always been fascinated by the Kingdom Hearts franchise but have never played a single game beyond a few hours at a friend’s house half a century ago. When Amazon told me there was a fancy shmancy All In One package, the deal was sealed.

all in one

Sora doesn’t look this evil in the game

The All-In-One set I got is fairly jam packed and includes:

  • KINGDOM HEARTS III
  • KINGDOM HEARTS II FINAL MIX
  • KINGDOM HEARTS FINAL MIX
  • KINGDOM HEARTS Re:Chain of Memories
  • KINGDOM HEARTS 358/2 Days
  • KINGDOM HEARTS Re:coded
  • KINGDOM HEARTS Birth by Sleep FINAL MIX
  • KINGDOM HEARTS Dream Drop Distance HD
  • KINGDOM HEARTS χ Back Cover
  • KINGDOM HEARTS 0.2 Birth by Sleep – A fragmentary passage–

Of which I have now played… Kingdom Hearts Final Mix. This has been years coming so of course I need to share my thoughts with someone. Because although I was really taken by Kingdom Hearts and absolutely loved the idea, I now realize that I had a lot of misconceptions as well.

I’m not going to attempt an actual review and game play analysis. I will leave that to me fellow way more talented video game bloggers. I will however say that I found the first game…sorta hard. I’m not exactly a novice so I confidently started off the game at the hardest available setting (since it cannot be switched later on and I didn’t want to get bored). I actually ended up restarting the whole thing just so I can set it to normal and even then I died quite a few times. It gets a lot easier after a few bosses but still it requires some muscle memory.

watercolor-drawings-kh

couldn’t find the artist but love it!

So that aside, at it’s core Kingdom Hearts is an action rpg. Or a modern platformer as it is fairly light on RPG elements beyond changing some equipment around and a minimal levelling mechanic. It’s pretty fun. But jumping around and bonking enemies on the head with a giant key was never what held my interest. It’s fine for that but there are other games that got me more invested in the action. I replayed Bloodborne recently for example and, well i love that game.

What I was there for was the story and that story is a little odd but also very charming. It’s not particularly developed in the first game. However, there’s more than enough there to make me want to play the rest. In a way, the story was not at all what I expected and yet, the only way I can properly describe it is: it’s as if Disney and Square Enix did a collab…

Brilliant description, right? But it’s true. It’s not only the characters and flagship intellectual properties of each company that rare represented in this first game, it’s also the sensitivities.

I’M ABOUT TO SUPERFICIALLY DESCRIBE THE PLOT OF THE GAME SO…BE WARNED…

KH-Kingdom-Hearts-Fan-Art-Sunset_Beach___final_by_gts

by GTS

In very brief, the story follows a boy Sora after his world gets seemingly invaded and possibly destroyed and he searches for his two friends. Along the way he meets Donald and Goofy who in this version live in a Kingdom ruled by Mickey and are looking for their king. As they travel from one Disney themed world to the next, they discover that each world has a lock and those have been damaged and are spewing out darkness that is slowly consuming them. This darkness takes the form of creatures known as heartless, inhabitants that have lost their hearts and now wander as aggressive shadows of their former selves.

There’s an epic quest, we have lock all the keyholes and rescue everyone and learn a lesson about friendship and hope…. I can perfectly see this as the plot of a Disney movie, completely with pithy banter and a great soundtrack. But there are some odd things as well. Final Fantasy characters are scattered across the landscape. Sora’s friend Riku is intensely brooding and dramatic and the entire dynamic of the keyblade is just sort of odd. Deeply symbolic, certainly but also a bit weird when illustrated so literally.

This first game seems to err on the side of caution when it comes to an international market as I feel the representation favours Disney much more that Square. All the worlds are representations of classic Disney movies and as such their individual internal conflicts and quests are based on those movies. The themes and lessons are classic Disney stuff and they don’t go in too deeply into some of the weirdness, constant plot twists, betrayals and comical levels of melodrama that the Final Fantasy franchises are known for. For the record I love FF. I say all this with love.

Halloween

this image will come into play later

However, those elements are still there, most prevalent in Riku as mentioned, but Riku is a very important part of the plot. And although “the darkness” sounds like a very Disney sort of threat, the main antagonist Ansem (at least he was the main antagonist in this game, I have not read the plot of the others, please don’t tell me…) is fairly atypical. For one he’s sort of devoid of morality. As in he’s not really evil or good. He’s not misunderstood or twisted by faith. So far, he’s simply beyond understanding. He’s deeply and unmistakably other and he is really only an antagonist because our goals are inconsistent. However he never seems cruel, or tortured or really anything beyond efficient. The non Disney boss characters in the game are all either straight up unknowable monsters or well… this guy. By contrast the Disney villains are capital V, Villains! They cackle and taunt, their aggression is personal and very emotional. And you can really see that there is something fundamentally different in the character building approach.

However, what’s really impressive is that it works. There are a few odd fits here and there and a lot of the edge has to be dulled on Sora to keep him in tone with Donald and Goofy but generally, the two very different styles, sensibilities and cultures just sort of flow together to make something that looks familiar and yet isn’t. It’s rather impressive. For all the different fiction tropes and traditions represented in this one work, somehow it settles into a really easy harmony.

Like I said, this first game is fairly Americanized so it more West than East. What is that, Europe? I’m not sure if the Square Enix side starts to take on a bit more importance as the games progress. From screencaps I have seen I would say yes. Heck, just the fact that there are 10 games in this set I bought would lead me to believe that they get more Final Fantasy like as they go along. And I look forward to it.

I know you didn’t ask but my favourite world was Halloween Town cause I thought they all looked great in costume!

Kingdom Hearts cute

Irina

I'm much nicer than I seem, we should be friends!

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32 Responses

  1. oliveunicorn says:

    At the moment I’m trying to finish up 2 and move on to the other games chronologically. Also Chain of Memories was awesome when I figured out the card system .

  2. iniksbane says:

    Wouldn’t Europe be uber-West or does it being old West make it less West?

  3. Dawnstorm says:

    For some reason, I’ve never really been interested in Kingdom Hearts. The last time I liked the core Disney characters (Mickey etc.) was when I was a kid, and even then they were never my favourites. Then they seem to have taken the things from Final Fantasy and Disney I don’t like and put them together (I get that impression from Let’s plays). And finally, and most importantly, the game play doesn’t seem to be my type at all. It’s entirely possible that the games might suprise me, but I’ll probably not find out. What you had to say about the game re-inforced my impression rather than mitigate it.

    For what it’s worth, I’m currently playing through games I never finished. I’m right now playing Ar no Surge and having lots of fun with it, though the combat system is easy even on the hardest difficulty. But I adore the crafting system, with those goofy dances (which get even better when you have the big robot join in), and the conversations when you finish a new product:

    Delta: Oh, you made a machine gun… Wait, there’s something crafted onto it that should never be on any machine gun!
    Sarly: Hah, you noticed. It’s not a machine gun that shoots bullets. It shoots needle and thread.
    Delta: Isn’t that even crueller?
    Cass: Wait, is it a fancy sewing machine?
    Sarly: Yes, that’s exactly it. With it you can even sew concrete. Maybe even steel plates.
    Delta: Why would I want to sew concrete?
    Sarly: You never know. Scientists come up with the strangest ideas. Cass, want to try it?
    Cass: No way, that’s too heavy. Delta, you try it.
    Delta: Okay, fine. *Fires Gun* Whoa!
    Cass: What are doing?! The seam isn’t neat at all.
    Delta: What can I do? There’s lots of recoil.
    Sarly: Well, it is a machine gun.
    Delta: I still wonder why I would ever want to sew concrete.

    • Irina says:

      Sounds interesting. I might need to check it out!

      • Dawnstorm says:

        It is interesting, and I’m enjoying, but it’s also a game I failed to finish the first time round. (For example, the game’s too easy on anything but the hardest difficulty, but some boss fights are nearly impossible without excessive grinding, and if you scale back to the middle difficulty, they go back to being too easy. There are some clunky interface choices, and skipping through long scenes is what makes you not want to try the boss fights on the hardest difficulties again and again….) But some of its elements are great fun (the “diving”; a lively dating-sim-like experience inside characters minds, comes to mind.)

        • Irina says:

          There’ ot of games I love that took me a few tries to finish. I think it’s the nature of gaming…

          • Dawnstorm says:

            Well, the game play’s repetitive, and the localisation is shoddy (the worst part being villager dialogue: the index seems to be broken: villager A starts his dialouge with the second speech bubble of villager X). Also, it’s a sequel to a Vita game that never left Japan; it’s easy to understand what’s going on (I didn’t quit because the story confused me), but you probably don’t quite get the full impact of certain scenes.

            I’m now past the part I quit last time, and… boy, if they’re doing things right, they’re doing them right. If you ever do check out this game, I’d say read the summary of Ciel no Surge first (a Japan-only Vita game). It’s not necessary to understand what’s going on, but it helps to get a feel for the setting and relationships.

  4. Krystallina says:

    KH is often considered one of if not the hardest game in the series since it’s the most platform-y of the games (so it’s easy to get lost) and it has some strange calculations/quirks, like your magic stat being tied to your MP instead of a separate number. So even though it seems like it should be fairly easy because you can spam Cure and because of one particular summon, it’s not. Anyway, glad you enjoyed it, and I hope you have fun with the others!

    • Irina says:

      Tinkerbell was my summon of choice and yeah the magic system was a bit clunky. I just started Chain of memories and I’m liking the card mechanic so far (I’ve only played like an hour so it could get old)

  5. Anonymous says:

    I love the Kingdom Hearts series and i’ve been a fan of it since 358/2 days. I the 2 complations for the ps4 and of course Kingdom Hearts 3. Halloween town i had so much fun exploring in.
    Kingdom Hearts also indirectly got me into the Final Fantasy and The World Ends WIth You. And it also played a big role into getting me into JRPGS growing up and the Square Enix brand too so i really see it as a big part of my childhood growing up with video games.
    I never thought that Final Fantasy or Disney would have made a great crossover but it did.
    -K(rogueotakugamer)

    • Anonymous says:

      Also damn this virus i really wish i could afford the Final Fantasy 7 remake but its always selling out on Amazon.

    • Anonymous says:

      One more thing as well too can we now have a new The World Ends With You game Nomura we really don’t need another mobile Final Fantasy game at all like seriously we don’t.

      • Irina says:

        I dunno man, I’ve been replaying WEWY on my DS before bed and it’s awesome but it still can’t beat Crisis Core for me

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve beaten Crisis Core a while ago and that ending back in the 90s Zack was this obscure character and now he’s become one of the most beloved characters in the Final Fantasy series.

    • Irina says:

      Oh really, I hadn’t considered the possibility of anyone playing this without having played an FF title before. That’s sweet. I guess it proved the SquareSoft’s marketing team were onto something

  6. jernahblunt says:

    Fantastic review! Can’t wait to see what you think of the other games! You’re in for a wild ride!

  7. Mari says:

    Kingdom Hearts takes me back. I played the first game with my friend when we were kids. Never played any of the other ones though. I heard the storyline gets really convoluted later on. Will you review any of the other games in the compilation?

    • Irina says:

      I think so. I have no definitive plans to do so but I really want to see how the story unfolds and if I have something to say, I’ll happily share it here. Maybe not all 10 games…

  8. Pinkie says:

    I found this one hard to get trough myself, the storytelling felt really stiff to me, the whole Gummiship thing I found horrible and I am not particularly charmed by the combat system, I like wacking things with the keyblade but I disliked casting magic.

    I love the world though and it is great how the these world work together, the story is kinda neat to, I just dont like how it unfolds.. most clear in the jungle world… where you have to go to random patches of jungle for plot to happen, without to much reason.
    Halloween Town I loved and I oddly enjoyed the water stage. I
    don’t like how your level effects your jump so the platforming bits felt meh. All in all I loved more worlds than I did not but I think I got over hyped again. Everyone tells me it is a master piece and for me it’s a 7.5/10 kinda game. Which still is good but each time I play it I hear people say it’s a master piece and I cant help to think.. but it’s not.

    I got everything besides 3 and I will most likely play the games that follow 1 but this isnt as magical to me as final fantasy is.

    • Irina says:

      Oh yeah, I really hated how much aimless wandering I ended up doing. Again, I’m not sure if I’m at fault here but I play a lot of games and this isn’t a common complaint. And there was way too much backtracking. The worlds are pretty but too small to make repetitive visits that interesting.

      • Pinkie says:

        Yeah I kinda like backtracking normally as well.. it felt kinda weird though to backtrack because characters learned..to run into an object with the three of them.. or because they learned to climb on each others back.. those unlockables felt weird to me because how underwhelming they felt.

        Constantly having to go back to the camp, in jungle just to hear a noice where you just came from .. to proegress story also felt a bit pointless.

        I normally never play with a guide but for example in the whale, you need to go to a certain numbered room at random intervals with no story reason to why you should be tere it’s just a matter of searching the story trigger room.. which kinda irked me troughout the whole game. I never got sucked in.. I was playing a game.. a good one.. but due to how static it was .. it was just a game for me still, where in final fantasy I am crying like a baby and for the most part know where I am supposed to go.

  9. Kingdom Hearts (the main titles) are some of my favorite games of all time! It’s always exciting to see someone get into them. KHII is my favorite by far, but I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of all the different games.

    Also Halloween Town is the best, I can never decide if I like Sora’s costume better in the first or second title.

  1. April 26, 2020

    […] bring this up because I’ve never gotten into was the Kingdom Hearts series. They were simply too goofy for me. But I like Irina’s review of the first game, so I might […]

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