When Kingdom Hearts was announced it was like SquareSoft had said ‘Dianne, we are making a game just for you’. At that time I was major fan of anything Final Fantasy so the news that they were making a game that would combine this with something I always loved, Disney’s animated films, was a dream come true. You can see a lot of comments by fans that they enjoy the Kingdom Hearts series for the battle mechanics or Final Fantasy characters but aren’t interested in the Disney side to it. This was not me, the Disney aspect had equal if not greater appeal than the Final Fantasy side since I was only really interested in three Final Fantasy entries, whereas I was interested in all of the old Disney animations.
When the game was released I was not disappointed…well actually I briefly was since I found the beginning of the game very slow paced. The introduction level Destiny Island introduced me to Sora, Riku and Kairi, new characters I didn’t care about yet. Once it all kicked off from there I was hooked. Aerith from Final Fantasy VII being alive again was cause for celebration! Squall deciding to carry on calling himself Leon was something I still don’t understand though…The game mixed the two worlds well, only introducing us to four new characters really, the three heroes and a new villain Ansem. This was enough for me, when a game’s key selling point is that it can delve into both Final Fantasy’s and Disney’s history, where fans are already strongly emotionally attached to characters, there is no reason to go off making an entire cast of new characters.
Oh wait come the next entry they did just that and it all went downhill from there. Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories followed on from the first game on the PlayStation 2 and changed the fighting system into a card game. I have no interest in these types of games but wanted to continue playing the series. What stood out for me was the graphics. The cutscenes were the best I’d seen on a Gameboy Advance and the 2D animated sprites looked great. This is where the plot gets murky though, a whole cast of new hooded villains are introduced and all of them look like characters who didn’t make the cut for a Final Fantasy game.
Unfortunately these characters follow us into the proper sequel, Kingdom Hearts 2 released on the PlayStation 2. I don’t know HOW players who owned a PlayStation 2 but didn’t own a Gameboy Advance made sense of the plot to Kingdom Hearts 2. The events are never really explained and even more new Final Fantasy knock offs join the fray. Still, even with the crumbling plot there was a lot of fun to be had. The battle system, graphics and camera had all been improved upon and who didn’t love the musical gameplay in Atlantica with The Little Mermaid? What, you didn’t like that? Well whatever, I thought it was AWESOME. Speaking of which the soundtracks to these games was another brilliant part of the series. Final Fantasy music and Disney music have always been great and moving pieces, the soundtrack to Kingdom Hearts is no exception and I still listen to some of it on my ipod. Voice acting is impressive too; several of the original voice actors from the Disney films have reprised their roles.
Unlike the first game which genuinely needed a sequel to resolve the ending, Kingdom Hearts 2 wrapped it all up as best it could and yet another four spin offs were released on hand held devices. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was released on the DS and the ridiculous name should have been warning enough. This was set after KH: Chain Of Memories but before KH2. The graphics and battle system was solid, Square Enix really are talented when it comes to making a game look good. Story and character wise it focused on all of the new hooded figures that I still don’t care about. Look these guys up and you will see a lot of fandom surrounding them, all based on fan’s imaginary character development that never happened in the actual game. Yet another hooded character was introduced, because there weren’t enough already. It seems to me that both the Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy series lost their way from the transition from SquareSoft to Square Enix but the timing could be pure coincidence.
Next up was Kingdom Hearts Re: coded, set after KH2. A mysterious entry is found in Jiminy Cricket’s journal which he wrote in to keep a record of your adventures. In order to solve this mystery in the journal they…digitize it and make a digital Sora to explore the digital worlds from the journal. I think this one wins the most ridiculous Kingdom Hearts plot award. In fairness to it the game was originally released on mobile phones in Japan so maybe they just wanted a reason to send Sora back to the same worlds he had been in before without moving the story forward. I guess?
Still with me? Ok scrap your DS we’re on to the PlayStation Portable now for Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep, set before the first Kingdom Hearts. This is easily the best portable game for the series so far with great visuals and new Disney worlds to explore. Final Fantasy characters have become scarce now; the only appearance is a young version of Zack from Final Fantasy VII. Disney is still here but the focus is now fully on more original characters for the series, which I still don’t care about. Maybe if Disney pulled out Square Enix wanted to be able to continue the series with what they had, I can’t see any other sane reason for dragging it in this direction. Take away the mix of Final Fantasy and Disney and you’ve lost the point of the whole series in the first place.
Wait are you still holding a PSP? Drop that we’re onto the Nintendo 3DS now for Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. This is the most recent game release date and plot wise. You know what I DIDN’T think the whole way through this series? That it needed Pokémon like creatures to join you in battle. Gone are Goofy and Donald Duck as your support, now you have a little monster you can train, pet and play with. I’ve lost what grip I had on the plot now, theres a villain that has your face, another version of you that has the face of someone else from the past and another villain that has the body of the hero from one of the previous games.
Players got to swap between playing as Sora or his best friend Riku in this adaption. Personally I never liked Riku so it wasn’t a bonus to be able to play as the moody grey haired teenager. Characters from The World Ends With You, a very cool DS game make an appearance here. With the lack of Final Fantasy characters showing up its good to see characters from another of Square Enix’s franchises turn up. However at the same time only those who had played the DS game would appreciate this so it would leave other players left out of the loop.
Next up will be Kingdom Hearts X, a browser based game with micro transactions currently only planned for Japan. I know I won’t be playing this but I still look forward to Kingdom Hearts 3. It is expected that this will be released on a console rather than a handheld but it is anyone’s guess now as to when that will be and whether it will be the PlayStation 3 or 4. I am assuming it will be on a PlayStation console, not to be biased but all the best entries have been a PlayStation title, even the best of the portable games, Birth By Sleep, was on the PSP.
While waiting you can look forward to Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD reMIX which is out in September on the PSN and more than likely another HD edition for Kingdom Hearts 2. I’m still undecided on buying this, the card game being included is very off putting. Chances are nostalgia will win me over and I’ll get it because despite how much time I just spent giving out about this series, I genuinely loved those two console games and would consider them my favourite PlayStation 2 titles, cheesy dialogue and all.