Kingdom Hearts (2002) was on of my most anticipated games, of all time. I’m not sure I’ve ever fallen for such expansive video game hype, and been so satisfied with a title than the original Kingdom Hearts. With the long awaited Kingdom Hearts 3 on the horizon, I’ve decided to go back and reminisce about my thoughts on the first Kingdom Hearts. It is an action RPG that was first released on September 17, 2002 for the Playstation 2 by Squaresoft (now Square Enix).
The story of Kingdom Hearts follows a young boy named Sora, and his close friends, Kairi and Riku. Together, they grew up on Destiny Island, wondering if there were worlds and adventure waiting just beyond the horizon. Then, one dark day, the island is assaulted by shadow like creatures, and Sora is thrust into another world, alone. He embarks on a quest to stop the oncoming darkness, and ultimately to find, and hopefully reunite, with his friends.
Kingdom Hearts was first revealed during E3 in 2001. It was going to be a new cross over unlike anything that had taken place in my life time. The RPG juggernaut Squaresoft was teaming up with none other than animation masters, Disney. Holy crap! If ever their was a match made in heaven, this union was close to it. My mind was utterly blown, and with that scarce bit of information, I was converted into a rabid fan of the franchise. And the game was still a ways off from release.
I grew up loving Square, and anything that had to do with their games. The Final Fantasy series, Chrono Cross, Chrono Trigger, Legend of Mana, Brave Fencer Musashi, Super Mario RPG, the list is endless! And of course, I grew up watching Snow White, Cinderella, The Black Cauldron, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Lion King, and on and on! My gaming and animation childhood memories were filled with fond moments, shared between the two of these amazing companies, and now they were merging to create a single game.
Since it’s initial announcement, I was pulled into anything that had to do with Kingdom Hearts. I downloaded pictures, previews, trailers, sketches, concepts, and kept them in a tidy little folder that was sorted into each appropriate category. A folder for trailers, a folder artwork, and a folder for concept art. Yeah. As I learned more and more about the worlds, watched videos on the three new protagonists, about the Heartless, and the Keyblade, I was drawn more and more into the world. My heart ticked away the time for its release. I saved money. I refreshed IGN for any more updates. I rewatched snippets of game information, day in, day out.
Then, when it was released on September 17th, 2002, I went crazy! My heart was pounding. I couldn’t think straight. I rushed to the nearest game store, which may have been Software Etc., Gamestop, or Electronics Boutique, and purchased my copy of Kingdom Hearts. I couldn’t contain, or explain, the excitement welling up inside of me as I booted the game in my giant, VCR sized Playstation 2. The opening music was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. The gentle crash of ocean waves, Sora standing to the right against the menu, staring off into the distance, and the piano theme “Dearly Beloved” enchanting the entire moment. It was sublime.
The opening introduction video, played to a beautiful sequence of Sora falling from the sky, headed by the theme song, “Simple and Clean”, will forever be one of my favorite openings to a game. I didn’t skip it. I didn’t look away. I just watched, allowing the amazing splendor of the music and the visuals take me in. There was no living room, no controller. Just me, and the beginning of an epic, mind blowing experience. Simple and Clean still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it! I can listen to it over and over, to this day.
When the game actually began, I was free to choose my starter class, of course being a warrior. I was thrust into a battle with dark creatures, that I’d eventually learn were called Heartless. This was a new experience, since I was use to Square games being turn based. I loved turned based RPGs, but the freedom of combat in Kingdom Hearts was a lovely departure from the norm, and only added to the frantic experience. In the beginning, I started with a simple hop, a lock on, and the ability to roam freely, swinging the Keyblade at anything that dared come within range. I never really used magic. Never really do, in any game that utilizes spells. It was all about melee combat, and I have to admit that at the time, I was very satisfied with what this game brought to the table.
As the game progressed, and I single handedly obliterated a giant shadow beast, the game throws you back into the real world, on Destiny Island. You’re introduced to Kairi and Riku, along with their friends Wakka, Tidus, and Selphie. It was my first time seeing Final Fantasy characters fully voiced, and I loved it all! Even Wakka. I didn’t mind, because I was so entranced by the fact that the characters I came to love in other games were finding new life. I looked forward to experiencing more of the Final Fantasy world.
I was excited about Disney, but I was really here for Squaresoft.
While we’re on the subject of Squaresoft, I have to admit that this was the most disappointing part of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I will forever treasure my experience with Kingdom Hearts, but I can’t help but feel like the Final Fantasy characters were all short changed? Each Disney movie had it’s own world, it’s own monsters, their own songs, and story arcs. Everything revolved around Disney. The Final Fantasy characters were relegated to one world, and were never anything more than side NPCs that told you this and that. You never got a chance to fight alongside Yuffie, or Squall, or freaking Aerith! I mean, they finally brought back one of the most memorable characters in Final Fantasy history, brought back from the DEAD, and you never get to delve into their story. It was a sorely missed opportunity.
As the story progressed, and you learned about Ansem, and the Princesses of Heart, the Keyblade, Kingdom Hearts, and the source of the Heartless, I was pulled more and more into the plot as everything slowly unraveled over the course of the game. It was all so imaginative, and so unlike any story I’d ever heard. It was genius. Everything about it.
Dark Riku was one of the hardest battles in the game! At least for me. I died and had to watch the opening cut scene of Sora running into the chamber, over and over again. It was so frustrating! But when I finally drew up enough skill to Keyblade that punk in the chops, I was blown away. The moment that Sora sacrificed himself, stabbed the Keyblade into his chest, and vanished as Kairi dove to catch him…I almost cried. Honestly. That scene was so perfect, so beautiful, that I believe that amid all the wondrous music, the intriguing plot, and all the amazing characters, it was at that moment that Kingdom Hearts became one of my favorite games, of all time. If Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is my favorite game, I’d say that Kingdom Hearts ranks as number 2. Rightfully so. And a lot of that weighs heavily on this one scene.
I will say that despite my undying devotion to Kingdom Hearts, it did lull in a few places. I found Alice in Wonderland, especially Atlantica and Monstro, exceptionally frustrating and boring. Oh, and lets not forget the irritating mini games in the Hercules Coliseum. The camera and lock on mechanic did nothing to alleviate the stress from trying to kill barrels, to a time limit. I hate timers. Now I hate barrels, too.
Now, on to SPOIL the finale. The ultimate build up to the ending, Ansems’ epic dialogue before the final battle, and the last fight with Ansem and his giant demon ship was an amazing way to end the game. Ansem was a world class bad ass, and his voice was simply amazing. Bravo Billy Zane, bravo! For me, I think Kingdom Hearts has the best ending to a video game. Period. The second best would go to Final Fantasy IX. When the FMV started, I was mesmerized. This was it. Finally, there was the door to Kingdom Hearts! Ansem stretched out his arm, and the door opened with a gasp of black mist. Another boss fight? I was so ready! Bring it on!!! But there was no boss fight. Awe.
I did find the line, “I know now, without a doubt…Kingdom Hearts…is light!” and Ansem being destroyed by it, really cheesy. I can forgive that, since the events that follow blew me away. I just chalk that up to Disney’s influence.
So, King Mickey finally shows up, and tears through the heartless like a freaking Jedi Knight! Dearly Beloved begins to play. Riku sacrifices himself, closing the door with a smile. “Take care of her.” My heart broke! I was like, holy crap, are you serious? On a side note, I do find it odd that while Riku was inside, Sora made no attempt to help him out. I mean, Riku could have pushed from the other side, and saved himself the trouble of being locked in? I always thought that was a pretty dick move on Sora’s behalf.
Anyways, Sora and Mickey seal the door from both sides, and Kingdom Hearts is closed for good. Ansem and the threat of the Heartless are no more! The music slows, and Kairi appears. Donald and Goofy stand back. Sora sprints to her as the world around them begins to dissolve, and the screen fades to black. Whew, that was intense. Yay, they’re going to finally be together! After spending this whole game searching and trying to find her, they finally found each other. We lost Riku, but at least Kairi is still…
Kairi backs up from the fading shore. She sees a figure in the distance, “Sora?” There’s a rumble. Sora takes her hand. The ground breaks apart. Sora looks up and says, “Kairi! Remember what you said before? I’m always with you, too. I’ll come back to you. I promise!” as they’re forced apart, hands still clasped.
“I know you will!” Their hands are wrenched apart, Simple and Clean kicks in and starts to play. Oh, my heart. I just… Sora vanishes, and Kairi is left alone. She’s back on Destiny Island, all her friends are gone, and she’s left to ponder life without them. Then, the emotional cherry on top of this already heart twisting roller coaster, Kairi makes her way to the cave, and draws a picture of herself giving a Paupu Fruit to the drawing that Sora scratched into the wall at the beginning of the game. She starts crying, and the credits roll.
Oh my gosh, I’m getting shivers just thinking about it! The ending was so good. I don’t think I’ve felt this much emotion during the end of a video game, ever. Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic may be my favorite game, but it’s ending wasn’t great. It actually kind of sucked. Just the way Kingdom Hearts brought everything together, and how it can still make me feel a powerfully emotional response to the characters and that ending FMV is a tribute to how great it truly is.
After I played Kingdom Hearts 2, I was ready to see the next, and hopefully last chapter. It’s been fourteen plus years since I was captivated by this game. Fourteen! I am expecting huge things from Kingdom Hearts 3.
I HAVE ALSO written articles about Kingdom Hearts for Gameluster and Animation for Adults:
Gameluster- Kingdom Hearts: An Ode to Disney?
Animation for Adults- Kingdom Hearts: Memories
THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading! I’ll be back with another entry next Monday. Keep that imagination kicking! Please take care all, you all rock. Cheers!