• Kingdom Hearts - an opinionated retrospective


    Kingdom Hearts is a game that needs no introduction. It seems even the most jaded of fans still hold very much respect for this little gem that has, against all odds, remained as one of the PS2ís most beloved classics. This was a time when SE was still doing tons of risky, experimental stuff rather than trying to capitalize on the thing that was big at the time. I think it should come as no surprise that I really miss those times.

    Though Kingdom Hearts may be the last of its kind - that being a quirky, experimental title - itís still a shining example of a simple joy of creating new and exciting things that used to be SEís M.O. Iíd argue itís also one of the last bastions of such creative joy within the company, but I guess Iíll be elaborating more on this in later pieces.


    But what is it that makes KH so risky and experimental? Why, itís the unique combination of Disney and Final Fantasy, of course. As if that needs to be stated. Much like the mythical encounter Sakaguchi had with a Disney exec, itís just one of those things that we treat as a given nowadays, but were just a wild concept back in the day. The result? A game that exceeded all expectations and exploded into the gargantuan franchise it is today.

    Though the game was originally meant to star Mickey Mouse, Disney was a bit reluctant to let SE use their characters just right of the bat. And so we got Sora, aided by Donald and Goofy, among various other classic Disney characters, on a very straightforward quest to save his friends and prevent the worlds from falling into Darkness. You know, the regular stuff.


    The one thing that really makes this game stand out, if you ask me, is the fact that the Disney worlds, for the most part, have stories that are actually tied to the main plot. The Disney villains, not just Maleficent, are actually very active agents until they get hijacked by Xehanort (as you do; more on that later). I love how Monstro and Captain Hookís Castle just straight up float between the worlds and move the plot forward. It also helps, that the further they are along the gameís storyline, the more involved they are, culminating in the sublime segment of the game that is Hollow Bastion which, though it may not be a Disney world on its own, has enough of Beast and Belleís presence in the main plot to count.

    Speaking of the events of Hollow Bastion, though Kingdom Hearts Iís story may be a very simple start, with a fairy tale quality to it (compared to later titles, which are far more shounen manga-y in their execution), the characters are quite deftly handled from the very beginning. Sora may remain pure-hearted throughout, but I love how he gradually shifts from just wanting to save his friends to basically considering everyone his friend and selflessly striving to protect the worlds from devastation. Rikuís journey is far more complex and though I feel he really grows into the most fascinating character in the series in later installments, you can definitely appreciate the dark personality traits planted in him in this game just for the sheer, teen drama that it causes between him and Sora. Both of their character arcs culminate in the Hollow Bastion segment, again solidifying it as the best portion of the game, no contest.


    Finally, the last large bit I want to touch on in this part of the retrospective is the atmosphere. Sadly, this is the one element the series has lost after the first game. Kingdom Hearts may be pure Disney joy and one of the lightest storylines in the series, but the atmosphere can be downright dreary at times. From the spooky Halloween Town with all its nooks and crannies, to the harrowing Night of Fate at the beginning segment at Destiny Islands, the quiet loneliness of Traverse Town and, of course, the oppressive Hollow Bastion and eerie End of the World, the various worlds of Kingdom Hearts keep you hooked in not just through their involvement in the main plot, but sheer aesthetic value and amazing ambiance. This, of course, is achieved in part thanks to the mesmerizing soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura who has since scored every single game, providing consistently outstanding music. Even if youíve become disillusioned with the series, you can never deny that the music has never stopped being excellent.



    Kingdom Hearts is a game that I hold in very high regard, even if there are many more entries in the series that I enjoyed more. Iíve spent a lot of time with it, beating all of the optional bosses - and let me tell you, when youíre 13, itís hard. The game may not really be that challenging by todayís standards, but itís definitely a slower ARPG that can be downright brutal if you donít swing your Keyblade methodically. As button mashy as these games get, over here you really needed to take things slow if you wanted to make it out alive.

    What else can I add? Iím glad that at least this game still gets the credit it deserves after all these years and has provided the people who played it with enough nostalgia to last them until today, so that theyíre hyped for KHIII even if they hadnít played every game in the series up to this point. Big mistake, if you ask me

    Alright, so letís recap this baby!

    Important story bits
    • A hooded figure shows up at Destiny Islands, talking about how ďthis world has been connected, tied to the DarknessĒ
    • Riku gives in to the Darkness, losing his right to use the Kingdom Key, resulting in it choosing Sora instead
    • Sora finds Kairi in a near-unconscious state. She disappears as he gets closer
    • Destiny Islands, along with other worlds, gets sucked into the Realm of Darkness
    • Riku is found by Maleficent as Goofy and Donald join the Keybearer (Sora) on his quest; she fuels his envy of Sora and turns him into her little henchman. He gets the Souleater blade for some reason? Itís a sword that has a blue eye in it. This is actually way more important than it sounds.
    • Sora locks many Keyholes, protecting the worlds from the abundance of Heartless
    • Riku finds Kairiís body in a catatonic state
    • Hollow Bastion happens! Hoo boy.. Riku manages to get the Keyblade back from Sora because heís its rightful owner, but then Soraís strength of heart actually gets it back to him, leading Riku to become possessed by Xehanortís Heartless (AKA Ansem)
    • Sora learns Kairi is a Princess of Heart, therefore has no Darkness in her Heart, so once their world was lost to Darkness, her Heart landed inside Sora. He uses the Keyblade of Hearts to release it. He loses his Heart and becomes a Heartless but itís okay because Kairi hugs him and he get better. For now.
    • Sora goes to the End of the World, defeats Ansem, and restores the worlds to light. However, Riku and Mickey are still trapped in the Realm of Darkness, so he sets out to find them instead of going back to his island with Kairi. Sora, Donald, and Goofy travel the Realms Between.


    Favorite story segment
    Itíd be a cop-out to say ďall of Hollow BastionĒ, though thatís what it would be for me, if Iím being honest. If I had to pick one moment, though, Iíd have to pick Soraís fight with a Xehanort-possessed Riku. Everything leading up to that fight is epic, their showdown is incredibly important to both of their arcs, and the fight itself is intense and gave me quite a bit of trouble when I was a kid. 10/10 would get my ass kicked by this dude again.


    Gameplay highlights
    • Thereís a nice weight to every Keyblade swing
    • The world design is really cool, with tons of nooks and crannies to explore. I donít think any other game in the series has this much platforming.


    What are your thoughts on Kingdom Hearts? Favorite moments, worlds? What do you like about this game? Feel free to take part in the discussion!


    ~Play order~
    KINGDOM HEARTS=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????=>????


    This article was originally published in forum thread: Kingdom Hearts - an opinionated retrospective started by Fynn View original post
    Comments 90 Comments
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -

      So here we are. It's been a long 17 years. Not counting rereleases and remixes/reboots, we've had nine games occur between 2002 and now. Though only two were actual numbered titles, all of the games (sans maybe coded) have proved to be extremely relevant to the overarching plot of the series. Now, with the third numbered entry, we'll finaly end this story arc we've been following for almost two decades. This is one dense shonen manga, let me tell you. Jokes aside, it's quite surreal going into the third game right now. It doesn't help matters that I don't have a system to play it on and will thus be missing out when, ironically enough, I had all the systems needed at exactly the right time to actually play every single installment until the PS4. To think that we're promised to have the majority of dangling plot threads resolved now is nothing short of confusing.


      For years, Kingdom Hearts has pretty much been defined by its unpredictability, acting as an inspiration for countless theories that we've delved so deep into in-between the relatively frequent releases. RIP to all those fanfics written in the meantime that have been rendered void by the sheer extent to which this universe has evolved beyong anyone's wildest imaginings. Part of me is scared that a lot of this will end with the Dark Seeker saga, even though I know for certain that that's not how Nomura works.


      I think that's part of the reason why I wasn't really initially that hyped for KHIII. There were more reasons - the fact that they ditched the command deck, that I wasn't completely sold on the new engine, that the marketing focused so much on the Disney element despite the fact the main story had so many loose ends to resolve - but the main one was really the fact that for year's I've lived in this Schroedinger's box of Sora's battle against Xehanort, to the point that now I didn't want to leave it. Partly because I believed there was no way Nomura could come up with a resolution that would really leave me satisfied. Mostly, however, because I knew I would miss those days dearly.

      But then, something happened.


      I'd thought I had it all figured out. Sora's journey in III was to be simple - that was a consequence of having multiple games set up a final confrontation in III. We knew where all this was going. We knew that Sora just had to gather all the other Keyblade Wielders. But then the trailer subverted my expectations with this one scene. The character that we all thought incorruptible, simply by virtue of already having undergone so much stuff and still being a shining beacon of all that is good in the world, had somehow fallen to darkness. Suddenly, I really needed to know what happened.


      The stakes only seemed to raise from there, and the tiny bits and pieces of interviews with Nomura I've glimpsed online have only served to whet my appetite further. Apparently, and I never knew this, Nomura is a big fan of Tetsuya Takahashi and treats his work as a great source of inspiration. He's also mentioned the theme of Kingdom Hearts III is "resolution", and while there will be future games in the series as this is not the end of Sora's story, the end of the Dark Seeker saga is meant to bring a lot of closure. He's also gone on to say that he will miss certain characters, hinting that the stakes might actually be higher than expected, though I personally doubt he'd go that far as, as far as I remember, death is not a concept that exists in the KH universe. Then there's the latest Japanese TV spot, parciularly its ending:



      And we see what appears to be Sora at his lowest point, channeling an anger and, dare I say, darkness from within him that we haven't seen since Chain of Memories. Could this be the game that not only ties loose ends but also feels emotionally satisfying for us - the fans who've sticked around since the beginning for this wonderful, mesmerizing, beautiful mess of a series?


      The game has been out in Japan for a day. The reviews have come in several days ago, and I'm not even going to mentioned the leakers, some of whom have had the game since December. The Metacritic score is very high and, shockingly, all the reviewers seem to be praising the story for being very satisfying, which is all the more odd when you consider that story is the one thing that has always been a point of criticism from the mainstream media.


      But those are reviews, and life isn't so simple. In the end, we all know what we're looking for in KH, why we love it, and based on tha we've most likely made up our minds about the game already, even if we aren't aware of it. What does it matter in the end, anyway? There will be more KH games, there will be more mysteries, but whatever the future may hold, I am glad I've been on this journey for so long. I am glad I got to share my thoughts with you guys. And, most importantly, I am so happy that Kingdom Hearts has connected me with so many people, as we discussed what we love and hate about it, theorized what would happen next, and joked about all the silly things that make this series so incredibly special. So whatever Kingdom Hearts III turns out to be like, I'm here for it. I'll keep on sharing the love, and hope that it reaches someone and maybe sparks their love for the series someday in the future. After all, there are many worlds, but they all share the same sky...


      But yeah, shame that I can't play it yet! Just an FYI, I am now accepting donations of PS4s if anyone's willing



      ~Play order~
      KINGDOM HEARTS=>CHAIN OF MEMORIES=>KINGDOM HEARTS II=>358/2 DAYS=>BIRTH BY SLEEP=>CODED=>DREAM DROP DISTANCE=>χ=>0.2: BIRTH BY SLEEP ~A FRAGMENTARY PASSAGE~=>KINGDOM HEARTS III


    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      Iíve been having these weird thoughts lately. Like, is any of this for real or not?

      Also, surprise twist, Xehanort gets killed off in the first few minutes and the big bad is really Maleficent all along.
    1. Vermachtnis's Avatar
      Vermachtnis -
      I'm waiting for Coded and the whole Datascape to be the focus of the next arc.
    1. Lord Golbez's Avatar
      Lord Golbez -
      Quote Originally Posted by Scotty_ffgamer View Post
      Iíve been having these weird thoughts lately. Like, is any of this for real or not?

      Also, surprise twist, Xehanort gets killed off in the first few minutes and the big bad is really Maleficent all along.
      I actually hope this happens. I've already tired of the KH original villains and I haven't played half the games most of you all have. I don't have any real belief that it does though.
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      I like the kingdom hearts villains, but I do like maleficent a lot too.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      Quote Originally Posted by Vermachtnis View Post
      I'm waiting for Coded and the whole Datascape to be the focus of the next arc.
      Data-Sora is the Master of Masters. You heard it here first, folks.
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      I would have guessed data Riku personally.

      Of course DDD also had a data version of Ansem the Wise in Soraís heart. In fact, Ansemís research data was put in Soraís heart. Also, Ansem was digitizing Kingdom Hearts into data in the second game with that machine. Clearly, there are many things laying the path for the datascape and data Sora being a part of the true final battle.
    1. maybee's Avatar
      maybee -
      Quote Originally Posted by Scotty_ffgamer View Post
      I would have guessed data Riku personally.
      MoM is too cheerful to be Riku.


      Data-Sora sounds like a good guess, it sounds so Nomura-y.
    1. WarZidane's Avatar
      WarZidane -
      Just two more days before I get to play it, hopefully.
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      I'll probably check out KHIII eventually. I'm no longer hyped for the franchise like I used to be, but if this retrospective has taught me anything, it's that I've probably invested too much time into the franchise by this point not to see how it all ends.

      Personal theory time: Sora is Kingdom Hearts.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      Well, heís already got four hearts inside him. Whatís a couple billion more?
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      Quote Originally Posted by Fynn View Post
      Well, heís already got four hearts inside him. Whatís a couple billion more?
      Actually, I'm being serious here.

      What is the one unique trait Sora possesses over every other keyblade user we've met that isn't somehow directly connected to Sora? He has the power of friendship. He has the power to connect other hearts with his both literally and figuratively. Kingdom Hearts isn't a physical place or some mystical power source as we've been led to believe, it's the power of friendship, the power to connect hearts with one another and if you have enough hearts, you have great sway over everything. It would explain how Sora has been capable of so much despite the series talking up the fact he's the unchosen and hinting to the fact his power over the keyblade is not really his power to begin with. Likewise, the theme of Sora facing Xehanort is that Sora will likely overcome everything because he has so many friends, not just the regular characters but all of the Disney pantheon as well, whereas Xehanort is such a calculating bastard that the only means he has to get his goal accomplished was to use the timey whimey ball to basically make a team consisting of just himself. He is technically alone, whereas Sora represents the power of many. It's why Xehanort will not likely to ever find KH because he believes it to be something physical, but it's very likely that Kingdom Hearts, much like the Lifestream in VII is symbolic and somewhat allegorical.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      Thatís all weíll and good but Kingdom Hearts is an actual thing thatís still there within reach in the χ time period. Iím not saying youíre wrong, but it would require for Sora to 1) literally become KH at some point and 2) time travel to eat before the time of fairy tales. The best thing is this really doesnít discount this theory.
    1. Wolf Kanno's Avatar
      Wolf Kanno -
      Quote Originally Posted by Fynn View Post
      Thatís all weíll and good but Kingdom Hearts is an actual thing thatís still there within reach in the χ time period. Iím not saying youíre wrong, but it would require for Sora to 1) literally become KH at some point and 2) time travel to eat before the time of fairy tales. The best thing is this really doesnít discount this theory.
      You're missing my point, Kingdom Hearts is friendship. It's never been a place outside of the characters, it's the bonds that bind them. I only use Sora as an example because he best exemplifies the current KH. If my theory were true, then there are multiple KH, because it's basically created whenever people form a strong bond of friendship together. What I'm saying is that we're being misled on the idea that KH is an actual place or tangible thing. In the current setting, KH is basically Sora, he has the power of KH already, he's just unaware of it. Likewise, Xehanort is incapable of finding KH because he only trusts himself and his thirst for power and knowledge has made him incapable of forming bonds.

      Basically, my theory says that KH is not something you can find by traveling other worlds, you can find it on your journeys, but it's not a destination, it's the bonds formed by the people you meet. The "journey is more important than the destination" and whatnot. It's basically like the number one fan theory about One Piece, a lot of fans don't believe One Piece is a physical treasure or power, it's very likely going to be the friends you made reaching the goal. Likewise, I feel that's what Kingdom Hearts will actually turn out to be.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      Ok, I get it now. That is pretty likely considering that Kingdom Hearts disappeared in the aftermath of the Keyblade War, i.e. when friends turned on each other to gain more light. Then again, the Foretellers did set out to collect more Lux in the first place to reach Kingdom Hearts so that they might meet the Master again, hopefully. So it almost seems like itís set up that nobody in the χ timeline actually knows what it is either and consequently end up driving it out completely by losing sight of the connections that are really important.
    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      Youíre wrong! I know now, without a doubt, that Kingdom Hearts is light!
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      Iím also convinced the Master of Masters is someone we know. Of course, probably the actual reason why Nomura used the hooded designs was that he himself didnít know who it was at that point and/or he didnít want to spoil the new design. But with all that buildup I sincerely doubt itís going to turn out to be some rando because Nomura loves his connections.

      I honestly think it might be Sora. Not much there to support it other than that he seems to be a cheerful guy and the Gazing Eye is blue. Itís even weirder to consider when itís really vague whether heís a good guy or bad guy, but I guess weíll see eventually.
    1. maybee's Avatar
      maybee -
      Quote Originally Posted by Scotty_ffgamer View Post
      You’re wrong! I know now, without a doubt, that Kingdom Hearts is light!
      Meanwhile, somewhere Billy Zane falls to ground in pain.

    1. Scotty_ffgamer's Avatar
      Scotty_ffgamer -
      So I now know what you mean, Fynn, about KH fans. I went on Reddit looking at something to do with Kingdom Hearts III, and one of the first thread chains I looked at was talking about stuff being floaty. Someone else said ďYour Osaka team is showingĒ about the game. Someone else said that Kingdom Hearts 1 wasnít floaty enough, but 2 was the pinnacle gameplay of the series and the right amount of floaty.

      Anyways, I wonder what Soraís mom thinks ever happened to Sora.
    1. Fynn's Avatar
      Fynn -
      You know what I wonder? Why does Xigbar sound like a surfer dude? Is this important? At this point every little detail might just be important
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