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In preperation for the relase of Kingdome Hearts III**, we're taking a look back at the game series in several articales, beginning with the original game.**
It's been nearly two decades since the release of the original Kingdom Hearts. At the time the mere idea of the game, an action role-playing game that brought together the most popular characters from Final Fantasy as well as Disney, with a dose of original content for good measure, seemed absolutely insane. To be honest, it doesn't sound all that less crazy today. The only difference is that today, we know it works.
With the third console installment incredibly close to finally being real. Today is as good a time as any to start looking back at the entire franchise, starting with the very first game.
The original Kingdom Hearts introduces us to Sora, the player character through most, but certainly not all, of the Kingdom Hearts games. He's a young boy living on the Destiny Islands with his friends Riku and Kairi. The three are planning to leave the island shortly to go exploring but before they can, their island is attacked by black shadow creatures called Heartless. To fight them, Sora finds himself magically bestowed with a weapon called a keyblade. It's exactly what it sounds like, a massive sword shaped like a giant key. The islands are destroyed and Sora finds himself drifting in space. He washes up in a town he's never been in where he runs across two characters the entire world is familiar with, Donald Duck and Goofy. They've been sent by their king, Mickey Mouse, to find "the key" and when they see Sora's weapon they join him as he searches for his friends.
As ridiculous as it all seems. It works remarkably well. I still remember all those years ago talking with my brother who had already started playing the game. I wasn't convinced that a game like this would work, but he assured me that it did, so I gave it a try. Yeah, it worked, and for the most part, it still does.
Replaying the original Kingdom Hearts 17 years later was quite the experience. While it may not be a stunning looking game by today's standards, the Disney style is timeless, so the game looks great.
The story is also solid. While the lore of Kingdom Hearts would go consistently more and more bugfuck insane with each subsequent release, the plot of the first game is largely self-contained and actually makes sense without playing seven other titles or reading every collectable piece of paper. Darkness and light are two forces constantly in conflict with each other. Ansem, a scholar who has been studying the Darkness is looking to release it. He must be stopped. It's more or less that simple. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty is actually the game's main antagonist through most of the story and she's teamed up with a who's who of Disney villains, Ursula, Captain Hook, Hades, etc. to kidnaps all the Disney Princesses.
There's also the Final Fantasy element of the game. While a smaller portion of the story, characters from Final Fantasy VII and VIII make appearances and they mix with the Disney stuff remarkably well. You, unfortunately, don't get to team up with Cloud but you can fight Sephiroth, in one of the most brutal battles I can ever remember playing. I beat him back on the PlayStation 2. I don't think I'll have ever have the patience to do it again in the PS4 rerelease.
If there's one aspect of Kingdom Hearts that doesn't hold up two decades later, it's the controls, though to be honest, I'm not sure they ever did. The game requires pretty constant use of both sticks as well as the D-pad, so unless you've got three hands, there are going to be some issues. If you want to cast a spell or use an item you don't have set to a short cut, you need to access it in real time using the D-pad, which means you have to take your thumb off the stick that moves you, opening yourself up to attack, which is particularly fun when the thing you're looking for is a healing potion.
The camera is also less than perfect. This was a far from unusual state of affairs when Kingdom Hearts was new, so one shouldn't be too shocked, but that doesn't make it less annoying.
Having said that, the combat of Kingdom Hearts is still immensely satisfying. The battles against the waves of creative heartless, each one stylized for whatever world you happen to be in, are still a lot of fun, the boss battles against your favorite Disney villains and fighting alongside your favorite Disney heroes is excellent.
In the end, Kingdom Hearts is about playing an RPG through Disney worlds and as far as that goes. The story in each world is frequently a slightly modified version of the plot of the film the world comes from. There's an unfortunate emphasis on later Disney films, Hercules and Tarzan are two of the worlds that you visit early on and one gets the impression if this game was being made today, both of those worlds would get overlooked for something that's had a bit more staying power.
Remarkably, Hercules would actually reappear in Kingdome Hearts II and since we know those characters will also be in the new game as well, Hercules has had a much more significant legacy in this game series than the film itself has ever had.
The success of the original Kingdom Hearts would spawn not just console sequels, but even more games originally designed for various handheld systems. With each, the story of the game would begin to get more than a little wild and confused, but at the same time for fans of the series, Kingdom Hearts would build its own lore that, while it requires aspects of Disney and Final Fantasy, has become something all its own.
We'll be taking a look at all the other console and handheld games in the series, and we'll possibly mention Kingdom Hearts X a bit, as we dive deeper into the world of Kingdom Hearts.