Welcome to the next post in my year-long series “Play or Pass” that takes on the proverbial “must before death” theme with video games. Every other week I will be covering one or two games from “32 Video Games You Have To Play Before You Die,” a list compiled by BuzzFeed based on a reader poll. I will not be critiquing the list itself, but rather I’ll be discussing each game or games in whatever manner feels fitting and will attempt to answer a couple simple questions: Have I played [insert game name here]? If yes, do I consider it a “must” and why? If no, do I want to play the game before I die? I’ll be going through the games in the order in which they appear on the BuzzFeed list. Good? Good. Let’s get on with the games!
Week fifteen: (19) Kingdom Hearts
I’m not sure where to begin with the original Kingdom Hearts. I’ve played it, and I did have fun with it…mostly. It’s a game that beautifully combined the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy. It’s a game that became one of the PlayStation 2’s flagships. It’s a game that I wanted to enjoy so much more than I think I did.
But now I’ve forgotten that this “Play or Pass” series that I’ve conjured up isn’t really about me, it’s about the games. (And my opinions, my choices, my senses about a game and it’s place within my own gaming world…hey…wait a dang minute…) Sure, I found the game to be overly frustrating at times, which is what’s leading to my tainted memories now, but the fact of the matter is that Kingdom Hearts was one of the better action RPGs of its time. It was followed by many sequels that modernized the look and feel of the series, and of course, there remains the (futile?) hope of Kingdom Hearts 3, but Kingdom Hearts holds its own.
The whole bringing-together-of-two-worlds concept was a big draw initially. And if you want to talk about two sectors of entertainment that have severely devoted fanbases, well…both Disney and Final Fantasy are pretty much at the apex. (Or Disney is, at least. Final Fantasy fandom is somewhat narrower, I imagine.) But developer Square Enix didn’t just throw shit from both universes at a wall and went with whatever stuck, it made the two uniquely one. So playing Kingdom Hearts feels like you’re playing a Final Fantasy game, but it isn’t. It makes you feel like you’re immersed in all things Disney, but you aren’t. Elements of both are sewn together quite seamlessly, so it feels like you are in a new world that’s populated by familiar faces. And that gives the game a very friendly and open tone. Because even if you aren’t the world’s #1 fan of Mickey Mouse or Sephiroth, it’s easy to accept the two of them inhabiting the game together, because the game possesses its own identity that’s both of and separate from the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy.
For myself, I’ll admit that the Disney characters were the primary draw. In hindsight that probably sowed the idea in my subconscious that the game would be “easy.” Because Disney games were for kids, and kids games were “easy.” (I was not the most open-minded gamer back then, apologies.) In fact, the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts was wholly different from whatever I was expecting, which was probably something along the lines of a team-based and turn-based system. Well, the team was included, but combat was hacky n’ slashy with “customizable” perks that involved offense, defense, or magic. I never quite found my stride in combat — I usually ended up just mashing my way through fights, which was neither stylish nor very helpful during some battles. If I were to give the game a second chance, I think I do better with thing. Y’know, because with age comes wisdom and blah blah blah.
Okay, so forget the combat, forget the crossover factor…what about the game’s story?? Ah, see, now that’s where the game really shines. And part of that lies in the fact that the story is supremely simple. Boy gets separated from his dear friends; boy must find his dear friends; boy learns the meaning of true friendship; boy saves the world. See? Easy-peasy. Okay…so there’s quite a bit more to it than that. But while the world of Kingdom Hearts is populated by plenty of enemies, it’s filled with many more friends who want nothing more than to help you. And that’s a heartening change-up from the general sense of the contrived “you against the world” that permeates many games. And there’s nothing wrong in reinforcing the power of friendship.
And now, question time!
Have I played Kingdom Hearts?
Nope, not a one.
If yes, do I consider it a “must” and why?
Yes. It does a whole lotta things right, from being a near-perfect crossover to offering up a solid combat system to wrapping everything up in a story for the ages. Oh, and hey, I didn’t say anything about the soundtrack, but it is amazing.
If no, do I want to play the game before I die?