Knock knock. –Who’s there? Disney, FFVII, and anime. –Disney, FFVII, and anime who? Kingdom Hearts.

Several years back, I had the privilege of spending an extended vacation (let’s call it “grad school”) in the San Francisco Bay Area.  During the “grad school” years, we had a good bit of time to enjoy the environment and various locales of the fantabulous place that is northern California.  One day in late 2003, we took a heady trip into San Francisco’s city proper to visit what we had heard was its entertainment and shopping mecca: The Metreon.  (I can’t bear to link to it…now it’s called the Metreon Mall, ugh. Boo, SF) It had an IMAX theatre, places to eat, stuff to buy, things to see, and, most importantly, a place to game.  Well…a place to game Sony’s way, that is.  The Metreon was the brainchild of Sony as a way to get its products out to the people.  And so it was that at the Metreon I was introduced to a little game called Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts cover art © Disney, Square, etc. (source)

Now, despite the fact that I wasn’t much of a rabid gamer during those years, I had heard that there was a new RPG out in the ether that included Disney characters.  As a lifelong Disney fan, I was excited but unsure.  My previous knowledge of video games involving Disney characters was relegated to games for children.  I didn’t understand how the characters would translate into a more adult and darker setting.

My experience at the Metreon changed all that. There in their game room with my better half occupied by the latest installment of Tony Hawk, amongst the crowd of all crowds (and I don’t like crowds, so that’s saying something), I thought I might as well play something.  So I “gently nudged” my way to an empty station, unaware of what game waited, and played through a good 15 minutes of KH.

I bought the game that evening.

Spoilers of the 2003 variety ahead…

In Kingdom Hearts, the Disney world exists without question alongside your own.  The main character is Sora, a young boy who, through help of a massive storm, becomes separated from two of his best friends, the moody Riku and the syrupy Kairi.  And because he can’t live without moody and syrupy, he goes on a quest to find them.  Meanwhile, in the Disney realm, the same storm has also caused the disappearance of Mickey Mouse – king of the realm.  His two mates, Donald Duck – a jester or wizard? – and Goofy, he’s a captain I remember, set off to find him.  Sora, Donald, and Goofy come into contact and together they learn about the “Heartless,” the evil creatures that a responsible for the storm.  They decide to team up to not only find their friends but also defeat the Heartless.  And in addition to the Disney mash-up, the game also mashed in FFVII characters, like Cloud, Aerith, Cid, and Sephiroth.

What better to defeat the most heartless of Heartlesses but a baby deer. Though Sora here…I really have no idea what he’s in the middle of doing. (source)

Sora’s weapon was the Keyblade, which he obtained through some magical whatnot, and which is explained by the likes of his FFVII comrades.  The “keeper” of the Heartless was the game’s primary villain, Maleficent. (She is truly the best, most evil, and my most favorite Disney  villain of all time.  Seriously, did you not see the hellfire and dragon in Sleeping Beauty??)  I forget exactly what drove the Heartless on their road to…er…heartlessness, but Sora’s Keyblade played a big role in their defeat as well as unlocking (haha, get it?  unlocking…Keyblade… :/) the final secret of the game.

Riku, left, and an apparently alarmed Sora, right. (source)

KH’s gameplay — I don’t know how unique it was in the grand scheme of RPGs — was new to me.  Unlike the strict-turn based system used in FFVII and the like, KH combined action elements with turn-based RPGing that used a card system.  I am so totally not going to describe this correctly, but throughout the game Sora (and Donald and Goofy, whom you could also play) collected cards that could be “played” during battles to induce melee, spells, and summons.  You could order and re-order your cards in just about any way you wanted — though you could only hold so many cards at a time — and that order affected battles and their outcomes.  I’ll admit, I never got a handle on the system and played much of the game as a button-masher, which led to some really frustrating play.

But as a whole, I really enjoyed KH, especially the music.  Like many Japanese-based games, KH had some memorable and emotive music.

The whole soundtrack is fairly strong and each piece works well in its chosen environment. I loved that the tunes ranged from fun and simple to grand and orchestral.

As for the iffy combat system, I think I was the only one who had a problem with it.  I mean, I got how to use the cards, but I don’t think I ever really used them to their full advantage.  My gaming picked up a little speed during 2003-2004, but I had nowhere near the hours I wanted to devote to learning every aspect of any given game, let alone KH’s combat system. (I also missed out on many a secret, I’m sure).

Let’s move it along kids, this game isn’t going to end itself. (source)

Still, the game is pretty awesome.  It’s fun to see your favorite Disney characters beating the crap out of enemies, and even more to re-imagine them in the unsettled world of Kingdom Hearts. And just about any Disney character you can think of is somewhere in this game.  From the traditional (Mickey Mouse) to the modern (Hades from Hercules).  The graphics were also really good – colorful, bright when needed, as well as a little creepy at times.  The linear play was never boring and there were side quests a-plenty.  Oh, and what about that all-star voice cast, eh?  Remember Haley Joel Osmond?  I see dead people and all that?  Uh, how about Hayden Panettiere?  Where has she been since Heroes?  Mandy Moore, that guy currently on Bones…oh and hey…Lance Bass.  Lance Bass, amirite?!  C’mon…the man voiced Sephiroth.  Yeah, I don’t understand how in the unholy name of NKOTBSB that happened either.

9 thoughts on “Knock knock. –Who’s there? Disney, FFVII, and anime. –Disney, FFVII, and anime who? Kingdom Hearts.”

  1. Good old Kingdom Hearts, it was my first real 3D action RPG after all the great classic turn-based systems, but I really enjoyed it. The first one is still one of my favourite games and I remember finally beating Sephiroth in the colosseum after numerous attempts, haha.

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    1. I found Sephiroth teeth-grindingly (that’s not really a word) annoying, especially after some of the earlier frustrations Sora faced. But it is indeed a classic RPG that’s definitely worth anyone’s time – you certainly don’t need to be a Disney or FF fan to enjoy it (but it helped). I forgot about its 3D-ness, which did set it apart from other games.

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  2. KH was a very guilty pleasure for me. I always felt it was an unholy lovechild of Disney and Final Fantasy, especially because Teedus was Teedus, instead of Tie-dus. The levels were amazing, the combat system was a precursor of a whole bunch of newer (more gory) games that feature that fluid, deliciously awesome combo-ness, and the music was indeed quite good.

    But c’mon, Final Fantasy and Disney? Two things I love that should never have come together. Oh well. I loved it anyway. Kindgom Hearts 2 was even better, I think. A little darker. Except for that “DANCE, WATER, DANCE!” guy. I was so glad you got to kill him more than once. Once wasn’t enough.

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    1. Haha, Tee-dus! With Solphie(?) and Wakka, correct? I had completely forgotten about them! Game mash-ups are sometimes very difficult to pull off convincingly – KH indeed did a good job of integration without completely loosing each characters ties to FF or Disney. And now I’m going to HAVE to add KH2 to my to-play list…after this and comments about 358/2 I feel like I missed out on some good gameage.

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  3. I loved that game. It was one of the two games that made me get a PS2 (the other game was the first Jak and Daxter). I loved getting to check out Disney locations (I always hated Agrabah, though), and they did a good job including Disney stuff without making it too childish. And I loved the music. Really good stuff. I liked the story very much, too, though I sometimes have trouble remembering parts of it. It can get especially confusing in some of the other games.
    KH2 was my absolute favorite KH game. I have most of the other games, too, but I think the originals on the PS2 are the very best. It’s driving me nuts that they’re coming out on a bunch of different handhelds now, though. I can’t keep up anymore. I bought the darn PSP and DS for KH games, and now it’s on the 3DS, and I think I’m done now.
    I feel like a creep, but I didn’t cry about the Xion stuff in 358/2 Days. I feel heartless. (Get my lame pun type thing?)

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    1. 🙂 Well now I’m going to HAVE to play 358/2 to see what this Xion stuff is all about! I’m incredibly curious…

      And completely forgot about KH2. The only other KH game I played was Chain of Memories. It was fun but mostly frustrating.

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  4. Hello!
    I LOVE KH and I currently own 358/2 days.
    If you have played the rest of the series, it is awesome.
    Yes, the gameplay is odd and takes awhile to get used to, but the story and characters are great.
    And the music…Yoko Shimmomura did perfect. Like Riku’s Theme, the song explains how he is seduced by dark and he wants to escape it but he can’t. It is a hopeful song and I love it. And of course, Xion’s theme…so sad…I cried when she died.
    That is another thing, be prepared to cry when you play these games. Like Ventus or Xion.
    Well, great blog!
    #1kid

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    1. Thanks! I’ve not yet played 358/2, but I hear it’s good, so it’s on my to-play list. I really liked how KH did a great job integrating different characters from different worlds. It was its own entity and it never felt like you were playing a Disney game or a Final Fantasy game. And yep, can’t say enough good things about the soundtrack – masterful and emotive. KH is just a well-rounded and fun RPG.

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