Who would have predicted the brilliance of infusing a Japanese role-playing game with Disney characters? Well, Squaresoft did, and the product is still one of my favorite games from the days of the PlayStation 2. Soon, an entire series would emerge only getting more complicated with every entry, but in the beginning, things were much simpler, yet still pretty crazy. When games like Final Fantasy X and Guilty Gear X2 filled my library, I had not expected that I would soon be traversing different worlds alongside a giant anthropomorphic duck and horrifying dog creature.
Nevertheless, one game rocked our world with intense nostalgia and insane hair as one of the greatest action role-playing games on the PS2 and possibly ever: Kingdom Hearts.
To this very day, that inexplicable sound that plays as soon as the PlayStation 2 turns on (you know, that strange and loud harmony) is synonymous with Kingdom Hearts. Having played that game so often, the sounds of the ocean waves crashing to shore in the system menu only made it seem even more like this game was made for the PS2. Similarly, from the very first time that title menu appeared on the screen, I was entranced. The humble little piano tunes creep in and set the tone for something that will likely be beautiful, and that it is.
I can never forget that very first CGI cutscene. The animations of FFX had already taken my breath away, but Kingdom Hearts’ introduction was no less impressive to me. Also, that Utada Hikaru song was catchy as hell. I had no shame in starting new games over and over again just to watch that scene.
So everything was gorgeous, but it was the game itself that really sold me. At the sum of its parts, it was pretty simple, your standard action-RPG gameplay, but it was practically overflowing with this completely strange sort of style of combat that was so satisfying to play. The protagonist, Sora, defies every law of gravity and physics moreso than Dante in Devil May Cry, but the cartoon-like graphics and worlds made it all seem uncommonly natural.
Above all, however, Kingdom Hearts had a trump card over every other game in the genre, and that was nostalgia. Admit it, you got goosebumps from having the chance to fight Oogie Boogie alongside Jack Skellington. Seeing the worlds you grew up watching come to life was an experience like no other, however the nostalgia did not stop at Disney. With Final Fantasy characters and elements thrown into the mix, Kingdom Hearts was this stew filled to the brim with wonder, memories, and dreams. Toss in a dash of stellar gameplay and you’ve got the recipe for one of the best games to grace the PlayStation 2.
Another delightful, yet sometimes creepy, aspect of the game was encountering secret bosses, which is always a treat in any game. I remember getting chills the first time I encountered that Phantom flying around Big Ben in the Peter Pan world. In the same vein, there was fucking Sephiroth who would gladly rip you a new asshole before you even got close to beating him. Just training to challenge him alone was a feat in itself. I actually can’t remember if I ever really beat him, I only remember he was made a lot easier to defeat in Kingdom Hearts II.
Speaking of the future of the series, Kingdom Hearts created quite a universe, which can often be considered overwhelming. Apparently, Squaresoft had not anticipated the astounding popularity of the game, but subsequently did the sensible thing and created a sequel(s) that would continue to reel in ludicrous profits.
Unfortunately, with every installment that came after it, the plot began to make less and less sense, but the games were still tons of fun, for the most part. Of course, some games hold up better than others, (I’m looking at you, 358/2 Days; you are still pointless to me) but they always maintained the same feeling of the universe, never really forgetting the foundation it was built upon.
As a little side note: despite an overly convoluted plot now, the latest entry, Kingdom Hearts 3DS: Dream Drop Distance, actually does a fabulous job with synopses that actually make sense out of the entire series. I’d recommend reading those sometime, though it’s always worth playing through the games themselves anyway (unless it’s 358/2 Days and Re:coded).
Through it all, I have stuck with the series because that first game really pulled me in so well. To this day, I’ll try my best to understand the plot because I actually care by now. Kingdom Hearts was one game that really captured me in its universe from the start and I still refuse to abandon it. Every entry still brings me back to moments from the first game, like fighting Giant Ursula over… and over… and over… and over again. That’s a hell of an introduction to a series when you still remember moments that glisten through all the flashiness that has surged through the series as of late.
The impression Kingdom Hearts left on me is still strong and it stands the test of time pretty well as an action RPG in itself. There was and is still a lot to love here, even if you don’t relate to a lot of the Disney and Final Fantasy references. The PlayStation 2 was an excellent system to see the beginning of many franchises, but this happened to be one of the greatest. And yes, I am also patiently waiting for Kingdom Hearts 3 whenever it decides to come out. Whatever system it’s on, you can guarantee I will be getting it solely for that game. Thus, I heave a heavy sigh in memory of the days of Kingdom Hearts and the PS2 and look forward to future generations of a near magnificence.
Look forward to more articles as we continue to pay tribute to the PlayStation 2 all this week!