Kingdom Hearts is a wonderful series and a wonderful game, but coming back to it after so many years has not been a smooth experience. Today, we’re breaking it down into the core elements of the game, starting with gameplay.
The Gameplay of Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG. In Kingdom Hearts, you can move and jump freely, use magic, summon allies, and attack via the use of the command menu. Most of these commands are used in combat, but many of them have some use outside of combat.
The game sometimes has you use magic to activate switches and solve puzzles. Other times, they use context-sensitive commands with the triangle button. I praise the game for making use of the in-game mechanics as much as possible for progression and puzzles. Sometimes games include one-off mechanics you never see again, and that always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Anyway, let’s talk about those mechanics in one of the best parts of the game — combat.
The combat in Kingdom Hearts is good, given that the game was initially released in 2002. But, it’s also bad in certain ways. Some core combat mechanics are locked behind boss fights or story progression. For example, you don’t get the ability to dodge roll until maybe 1-2 hours into the game. You also don’t get the ability to guard until later on. Personally, I feel both abilities were necessary from the start. Speaking of the start, the brief tutorial doesn’t explain all the fundamental mechanics. The mechanic I’m referring to is parrying; parrying is necessary for certain situations especially on the higher difficulties early on (I was playing on Proud mode). But, either way, all of the combat encounters stay fun throughout most of the game except in instances when flying is involved; this is where the game becomes frustrating in a lot of ways. Now, since we discussed the major parts of gameplay, let’s talk story.
The story of the Kingdom Hearts series in its entirety is confusing. But, the first game by itself is straightforward. Sora and his friends Riku and Kairi want to leave their island home and explore new lands. This takes on a whole other meaning when the friends are separates and swept away from their world by the darkness. The main character, Sora, is caught up in a larger narrative as he learns that he’s the “keybearer”. Now, Sora is tasked with helping both Donald and Goofy find King Mickey by traveling to different worlds because he’s been assured that it would help him find his friends. Honestly, I think this story is okay.
The story is okay and I can relate to it on a personal level when it comes to wanting to find your friends. The main draw I think to Sora as a character is that he’s so concerned with friendship and relationships. That’s something we can all learn from. But, it doesn’t connect with me as much now as an adult; it definitely relates more to my 12-year-old self. With that said, the next aspect of the game to talk about is the artistic part, the visuals.
Honestly, I’m not one who cares a lot about graphics. Despite being released in 2002, the HD remaster has aged well. The visuals in Kingdom Hearts have a child-like quality to them; it’s a pretty game with great particle effects. The skyboxes work well with the 3D environments and nothing feels out of place. The use of color keeps the child-like vibe that prevents you from taking the game too seriously. To me, that’s the most important point, because the game I feel is meant to appeal to a younger audience that grew up with iconic Disney and Final Fantasy characters. There aren’t many complaints in this category. So, since we’ve covered visuals, let’s talk audio.
The audio in Kingdom Hearts is amazing. The opening song with Utada Hikaru to this day is still one of my favorite songs. The actual in-game soundtracks are great, but to me, they’re forgettable pieces. Now, the pieces I hear do work well for every single scene in the game; I know what feeling I should be having at that moment. But, it’s not a soundtrack I would listen to on repeat. I think the music plays more to my nostalgia than anything else. When it comes to sound effects, things are about the same.
The sound effects are spot on and don’t feel out of place. They sound a bit quiet sometimes, but it’s not a deal breaker. One sound that gets on my nerves sometimes is the low hp sound effect; I get it, you need medical attention Sora, just don’t become Genji from Overwatch. Overall though, I did like all the sounds but it didn’t leave me feeling amazed.
I give Kingdom Hearts 1 Final Mix a solid 7.5 / 10. Kingdom Hearts is still a great game that I can still look at with happy nostalgia goggles. But, the entire journey felt a bit shorter this time around. There were a couple of rough bumps that made me question the design choices that were made back then, but the gameplay still stands up. The gameplay has always been the main draw of the Kingdom Hearts games for me. The story on other hand didn’t impress the older me as much. Personally, I’d recommend Kingdom Hearts 2 if you want the best experience; there are so many improvements over the original game. But, if you really want to know more about the whole Kingdom Hearts storyline, play this game. Just don’t play proud mode, unless you’re a masochist.