It’s crazy to me to think that I scoffed at the idea of this game when I was first made aware of it. I was 14 when the game came out, though I didn’t know about it for another year or so and never played it until I was 16, as I was still running Nintendo 64 for a while. When I heard about it, it didn’t make any sense to me, a Disney JRPG from the guys who made Final Fantasy? Are you serious, bro?! I cast it away, even when seeing a friend play the now infamous Sephiroth boss fight. I couldn’t bear the idea of spending that much time with Donald and Goofy. But then when the greatest hits version released for $20, it was the best chance for me to try it out and at least see what all the fuss was about.
Turns out it’d become one of my favourite series of all-time.
The tutorial didn’t do anything for me but the opening track was interesting. At this point in time I was yet to really discover J-Pop music, of course this game introducing me to my all-time favourite Japanese artist, Utada Hikaru. But once the game truly starts when you’re on the Destiny Islands, things started to pick up. For starters, they had two characters from at that time my most favourite game, Final Fantasy X in Wakka and Tidus. From there on out seeing other Final Fantasy favourites like Yuffie and Leon (aka Squall) really got my attention and once I was free to roam in Traverse Town that was it, I was hooked.
The battle system was insane to me, it felt like a JRPG except I was in full control of every attack, every movement. This blew my mind when I first played it and would only be expanded upon when the sequel later hit. But for the time being, I was absolutely dumbfounded how I could go from traditional JRPGs like Final Fantasy X to a game like Kingdom Hearts that felt very similar to me, yet was so different.
Now one thing the game has that most fans will admit as a problem is the extremely convoluted and difficult to summarize storyline. For a game that seems like it’s partially marketed to younger players, the story is nearly impossible to follow at times, particularly the story that goes past just a single world. The entire story of Sora, Riku and Kairi, how this matches up with Terra, Ventus and Aqua, how Xehanort fits in with everything, the Heartless, the Nobodies, how Mickey f’ing Mouse falls into this, the story is all over the place, to the point that Eligible Monster who I know as a YouTuber who’s great a summarizing stories of entire game series even admits that it’s pretty much impossible to properly summarize the entire Kingdom Hearts story and timeline.
But at the very least when the stories go down to a single world, they work phenomenally well in tying together the original stories from these worlds such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid with the new characters of Sora, Donald and Goofy being thrown in there in the middle of the story. And being able to have the leads of these films accompany your party makes it even cooler. Sorry, Goofy. Like I wasn’t going to have Ariel in my party and Donald’s the healer.
The original game was a lot of fun, albeit with a few hiccups here and there. Some of the worlds were not that great, the camera and battle system could be sloppy at times and admittedly it was harder for me to get into characters that were so young, as I usually have trouble with games where characters are younger than 14. But the game was still solid and I had a ton of fun playing it.
Then Kingdom Hearts II came out.
I was already beyond pumped for this game. Massive improvements to everything I could possibly think of, plenty of new characters, both Disney and Final Fantasy, I was more than ready. I remember actually lying about an appointment to get out of class early so I could make the hour and change walk from my school to the EB Games in town and buy the game and be home before my parents so it wouldn’t look like I bought anything. I had to be pretty sneaky with my video game purchases when I was younger, something I don’t miss at all now that I live on my own.
I was a bit perplexed at first with the whole Roxas thing, mostly because at the time while I played Chain of Memories on an emulator, I hadn’t finished it, so I had no idea how Roxas tied into anything. But it was still a fun section to the game, although Setzer of all characters?! Think about that, Setzer is the only character from Final Fantasy VI that’s been in the series. Not even Kefka’s been in that series yet! But once we got back to Sora, I was good to go.
And then this moment happened later on:
As far as I remember, Auron (Final Fantasy X) is the only Final Fantasy party member you have if you don’t count the Sephiroth battle. Auron is your party member throughout your time in the Hercules universe’s Underworld (side note, James motherfucking Woods as Hades!!!) after fighting him briefly. Again, my favourite game at that point and the most badass character from it is fighting in my party. Sorry again, Goofy but you’re gone!
Some of the other worlds again were hit and miss, but this time around the gameplay held up in spades, every battle felt great, responsive and when the 1000 Heartless battle came around, you truly left that battle feeling like a motherfucking badass, didn’t you? Of course you did, it was fucking awesome!
Kingdom Hearts as a series has been just so good. I haven’t played a lot of the handheld games, as I’m not huge on handhelds, but anything I’ve touched with that series name on it has been gold. And with Kingdom Hearts III hopefully coming out by the end of next year, it’s only going to get better.
Seriously, Disney + Final Fantasy. Who the hell would’ve ever thought it’d be so good?