Let’s get this out of the way; I’m a huge Kingdom Hearts fan through and through. However, I do see many flaws with the games that can’t be overlooked, especially the original. This game manages to stay current at one point and then becomes outdated the next moment. But, there’s something about this game which keeps bringing me back time and time again, and the PS4 remaster once again manages to improve the graphical fidelity of this 2002 PS2 classic. Is it worth the double (or maybe the triple dip like me) into the original Kingdom Hearts? Well, how you feel in your heart will be key. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
In this Dearly Beloved tale, you play as 14 year old Sora, a once regular kid on an isolated set of islands called Destiny Islands. With his best friends, Riku and Kairi, he dreamed to explore outside lands and helped make a raft. However, as they are preparing to leave, the darkness arrives on shore and takes his friends and world away from him. Left stranded on a new world with a strange key as a weapon, Sora sets off on the adventure he always wanted. Off into the Disney worlds he sprints, and looking back as children these were the worlds that we always dreamed of visiting. The Kingdom Hearts series is often criticized for its confusing storylines, but this game is a whole package unto itself. It has a beginning, middle, and an end, with a Marvel style after credits scene to tease future titles. The story of two friends fighting each other to save their best friend from the darkness, exploring worlds and spinning the Disney stories in an interesting way is what makes the Kingdom Hearts series so magical. This game brought it all. Surprises, epic moments, the unsettling nature of the Heartless, deep themes, and interesting character development is all in Kingdom Hearts.
While there’s some cringeworthy (but charming) moments in the game, there’s some great voice acting from Haley Joel Osment and David Gallagher as Sora and Riku in the game as the two have an engaging rivalry and bring drama to the more intense scenes. A lot of the original Disney voice actors have returned like James Woods as Hades, Gilbert Gotfried as Iago, and Scott Weinger as Aladdin. The replacement voice actors do a fine job as well, except a few characters here and there. Kingdom Hearts has the levity of the Disney universe and the deeper philosophy of the Final Fantasy series, and it blends in an odd but wonderful story line that you shouldn’t skip.
But man, this game looks dated at times. Within cutscenes, the animations can be hit and miss. Mostly, the facial animations on the characters do a great job at showing how each character feels, especially when there’s emotion behind their actions. However, at some points when there isn’t an illicit reaction in the scene, the characters eerily stare into space looking dead in the eyes; they look as though they’ve been turned into a heartless. Some characters like Ariel in Atlantica look like a lifeless doll; it’s creepy. What also doesn’t help is when Sora, Riku, and Kairi have less detailed flat looking faces and like Ariel, they look lifeless. When Sora smiles with this less detailed face, he looks demented.
However, in general, this game was ahead of its time with its graphics. The giant scale of the Ursula and Jafar battles are impressive and the effects from how magic is formed to how the keyhole sparks on screen still hold up to this day. Like the facial animations, the world design can be hit or miss. In the Queen’s Castle, it looks absolutely horrendous as it looks like they’re in a cardboard box and Disney landmarks like Agrabah’s and Atlantica’s palaces look like a cardboard cutout. What Kingdom Hearts does right, on the other hand, is the attention to detail to each world. Alice in Wonderland, Tarzan, Pinocchio and every other world in the game have many details from the films. Pinocchio’s pet fish looks straight from a 1940’s cartoon as it stares at Sora in a fish bowl, Sora can interact with the camp from Tarzan with all of the contraptions that were brought along to the expedition, and Wonderland brings the film’s eccentricities to the game (and brings interesting mechanics with it). Most landmarks look majestic and make you wonder how Square Enix did it back in the day.
How Square Enix brought Disney into the game’s original worlds was cool too; that was part of the magic of the game when I was younger as all of these characters I watched joined together. Merlin’s house in Traverse Town looks authentic to The Sword in the Stone, the Lady in the Tramp reference in Traverse Town’s Third District is a cool nod, and how Beast comes into the story is a fun addition too. Major landmarks in the game like Hollow Bastion’s castle felt huge and intimidating. In later games, this appeared less often and I hope in Kingdom Hearts 3 that Disney characters and landmarks tie further into the main plot and original worlds of the game.
This game hasn’t aged well with a lot of its mechanics. The platforming is frustrating to implement, the summons are next to pointless, some of the boss battles make little sense (especially for a newcomer to the series), the controls for Atlantica suck and takes away all the abilities you have gained by restricting you to being in water, and the way to progress is unclear at many points of the game (but gives a vibe of adventure within beloved Disney worlds). The Star Fox like gummi ship sections between worlds are also dragged out in a slow and laborious fashion. Enemy ships rarely give a challenge and your ship moves at a slow pace. However, some may find fun from building a gummi ship from scratch; it’s similar to building with LEGO and you can collect parts and throughout the game. Add in a steep difficulty curve and the lack of any nearby shops at the beginning, and I can see why people have trouble getting started with the series.
Kingdom Hearts is a fast action RPG with a heavy MP system. You can use a plethora of different spells, summons, and abilities against your enemies, and many of them are cool to implement or handy in a difficult situation. The original is slower than future games, and the combat is easy to figure out. X to attack, square to block, and circle to dodge roll. Shortcuts can be made to use spells and the menu is quick and responsive to navigate while you’re dodging. It’s difficult to judge how hard the game is for newcomers as this is a game I’ve played time and time again, but each boss will require you to think of a specific strategy for Sora to triumph. Kingdom Hearts is a series I keep coming back to because the combat is easy to figure out, but the abilities, spells, and summons add a lot to the formula.
The game, like the Final Fantasy series, does a splendid job of bringing new abilities and equipment to the table constantly, as you defeat bosses and level up; this also gives a nice incentive to finish side quests like collecting all 99 lost dalmatians, finishing the cups in Olympus Coliseum or getting trinities. When you finish the game, there are multiple secret bosses to fight against that are challenging and require skill and a high level. Also, if you finish the game on the Proud difficulty, you get a secret ending. Like any other Japanese RPG, this will provide hours upon hours of content; possibly around 80 to 90 hours. And if you get the whole collection on PS4, this game is just one of 4 available to play. That’s great value.
Now, let’s discuss if this remaster is worth picking up. On one disc, you have access to six entries in the series with two relegated to movies due to their DS origin. On the PS4, you have 60 frames per second, which really adds to the fast paced combat of the series. When you go back to being without it with Birth By Sleep 0.2 on a regular PS4, it feels incredibly odd. The remaster uplifts the models and the facial animations look PS3 quality. Other than the flat looking faces, this game looks outstanding on the PS4 and the 7.1 surround sound is a nice feature as well. The HD remasters on PS3 and PS4 also provide the Final Mix content, which was Japan exclusive on the PS2. With this, you have access to a completely new boss fight against a mysterious figure that you’ll meet later on in the series. If you are a fan of trophies, you’ll have trouble with this game. Gummi ship missions are practically impossible without looking it up online (and even then, it’s insanely difficult) and with these sections being soul suckingly slow already, it’s nigh improbable you’ll be able to get the platinum. A nice thing with the PS4 version is that a trophy bug has been fixed, as when you finish the game in Proud Mode, you also get the Beginner Mode and Standard Mode trophies; this did not activate on the PS3.
Kingdom Hearts has its flaws with sloppy platforming and dated mechanics, but for some reason, it has remained my favorite in the series. It’s a classic through and through. Experiencing the in depth story and exploring the worlds we have grown up with has always been a fun element of the series, but this, just like the films it is inspired by, has become a classic in and of itself with iconic locations such as Hollow Bastion and Traverse Town. If you haven’t played Kingdom Hearts yet, do yourself a favor and get the collection on PS4.