As we patiently await for the release of Kingdom Heart 3, a new series by Josh is going to take us through the history of the series, his thoughts on the legacy of Kingdom Hearts and why the long wait for Kingdom Hearts 3 has been so excruciating for fans.
Today we're looking at the original game, originally released in 2002.
Written by Joshua Condon
Kingdom Hearts. What more can be said about this crazy series?
What started as a crossover between the iconic Disney films and the insanely popular Final Fantasy series has become one of the most beloved franchises, and one of my personal favorites. While we are still anxiously waiting for Kingdom Hearts 3 to come out, I thought it would be a good idea to do a bit of a retrospective on the series to not only enjoy these great games once more, but to freshen myself up on the complex story that is Kingdom Hearts.
Our first game’s story is quite easy to follow.
A quick tip, if you have any interest in the series, I highly recommend that you get the HD compilation on the PS4 which includes every game. It is truly an awesome collection.
As these games are heavily story based, I will put a little warning before each plot summary if you don’t want it spoiled. Let’s get started with this wild ride of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix.
Our story starts with three best friends, Sora, Riku and Kairi, who spend their days on an island having fun, though yearning to go to other worlds. Riku especially has an interest in the outside world as he feels trapped. Sora, our main protagonist, has been having these weird dreams where he is teleported to an alternate realm, known as the dive to the heart, where there are these stained glass platforms of Disney Princesses.
There, it is up to you to decide on how your game will be played with some decisions, but more on that in the game-play section. Also in these dreams are these black creatures that attack Sora. This tutorial section of sorts ends with a giant creature filling the area with darkness, sucking Sora into it, with a mysterious voice that has been guiding you through saying “You are the one who will open the door.”
After the dream section, Sora wakes up and is tasked with collecting materials to build a raft to get off the island, and provisions to survive on the ocean, though they don’t know how far they could go. Sora’s friend Kairi, who is originally from another world and has a very deep connection to Sora, wonders if they will find her world.
The night before they leave, however, things take a turn for the worst. Their island is being swallowed by darkness, the same creatures as Sora’s dreams are there. Sora rushes to the island to find Riku, who says that “The door has opened.” Riku then gets consumed by the darkness, and disappears. Sora gets the Keyblade, the only weapon capable of defeating the creatures. With it, Sora goes to the heart of the island and finds Kairi, who then disappears as well.
Sora is sucked into darkness, with his home falling to the darkness. While all that is happening, King Mickey has left with a note for his two best fighters, that being Donald who takes the role of what would be a Black Mage in Final Fantasy, and Goofy, who at the start is an attacker but later turns into a support character. Mickey tasks them to find the key, and they set of for Traverse Town, a world that was made for people who lost their own world to darkness.
Just as they arrive, Sora wakes up there, due to his home vanishing. The creatures are also there, and after wandering around for a bit after receiving clues from the shop owner Cid, Sora runs into Leon, better known as Squall from Final Fantasy 8.
Leon wants to take the Keyblade from Sora, and he fights him. Whether you win or lose, Sora faints and is taken to the hotel by Leon and also Yuffie, from Final Fantasy 7. Donald and Goofy are then found by Aerith, also from Final Fantasy 7, who takes them into a separate room in the same hotel. I never got why they just didn’t go into the same room.
Anyways, Leon, Yuffie, and Aerith explain to Sora, Donald, and Goofy what is going on. Those creatures are known as the Heartless, beings without hearts who prey on the darkness in people’s hearts. Because darkness is within every person's hearts, it will be difficult to defeat them. The only weapon that can defeat them is the Keyblade. The Keyblade has the ability to defeat the heartless and also lock people’s hearts.
What the Heartless are after is the the hearts to all of the worlds, and if they get it, the world falls into darkness. However, Sora can prevent that if he finds the Keyhole in every world and locks it with his Keyblade. He sets out to do that after more fighting and after he finds Donald and Goofy, who take him on their Gummi Ship. Sora goes mostly because he wants to find his friends and Donald and Goofy are looking for King Mickey. Thus, the three of them set out to save the world from darkness.
This is where the story kind of slows down in a way. They do go to every world and lock the Keyhole, but the stories within the worlds, which are all based on Disney movies, are more shortened stories of the respective movies with a little spin on it.
For instance, in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts puts Alice on trial for attempted theft of her heart, when it was actually the Heartless. It is small things like that and they have little bearing on the overall plot most of the time. While that is happening though, a team of Disney villains, consisting of Maleficent, Jafar, Oogie Boogie, Ursula, and Captain Hook, are seeking the Keyholes, but they are also seeking the seven princesses of heart, said to be able to unlock the Final Keyhole.
They also recruit Riku, who is persuaded by Maleficent in thinking that Sora does not care about him anymore, all the while being more consumed by the darkness. So Sora, Donald and Goofy lock all of the Keyholes, and get to the final area, Hollow Bastion, later revealed to be Leon, Yuffie, Cid, and Aerith’s original home before it fell to darkness. There, Riku somehow takes the Keyblade from Sora, saying that he was never worthy of it. Not letting that stop him, he makes his way into the castle with the help from Beast, who got there because he can feel that Belle is there and he won’t leave without her.
Riku then stops Sora, but because Sora has a strong heart, the Keyblade ultimately chooses Sora, leading to Riku running to the heart of the castle. Sora gets there after fighting countless Heartless and after fighting Maleficent, who has fully succumbed to the darkness thanks to Riku, who was seemingly possessed by someone. When Sora gets to the grand hall, it is found out that not only is Kairi one of the seven princesses of heart, but her heart is also inside of Sora’s and needs to have her heart set free to unlock the Keyhole.
Before Riku and Sora fight, the person controlling Riku says that he is Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, something that comes as surprising unless you read the Reports you get throughout the games. After Sora beats Ansem, he disappears for a while, leaving his Keyblade behind.
What happens next is Sora sacrifices himself to not only set Kairi’s heart free, but also the other princesses, as the Keyblade was manifested from the collected hearts. Sora then turns into a Heartless while Kairi, Donald, and Goofy escape to the castle entrance. When they get there, they encounter Heartless Sora, Kairi realizes who it is and protects him, making Sora come back.
They then escape back to Traverse Town, but they have to go back to Hollow Bastion to seal the Final Keyhole. They do just that, and when they do, the true final area, The End of The World, appears. This area is comprised of all the worlds that fell to darkness, specifically Sora’s home of Destiny Islands. They get to the end and are greeted to the true awakened form of Ansem. Ansem talks about how all things are born of darkness and thus everything returns to darkness. Sora on the other hand believes that there is a light deep down that never goes out. The two fight, and are then transported to an area of pure darkness, where no light is found.
It is here where the end is, with Ansem’s goal in plain sight. Within this area is the door to Kingdom Hearts, something that Ansem believes is pure darkness. After Sora defeats Ansem once more, the door opens, and it is revealed that Kingdom Hearts is light. However, the doors remain open, and there is immense darkness flowing out. Sora tries to close it but is unable to, but with the help of Riku and King Mickey onn the other side of the door.
Mickey has found the keyblade that belongs to the Realm of Darkness, Sora closes the door, with Riku and Mickey trapped on the other side. With the worlds being restored, Sora Donald and Goofy set out in search of their friends. If you managed to lock every Keyhole including the optional ones, you see that Pluto has a letter from Mickey, and then runs off.
Sora, Donald and Goofy chase after him, and thus the story continues. If you lock all the Keyholes you are also greeted to this awesome cutscene that eludes to the game people thought was next, Kingdom Hearts 2.
Overall, the story is pretty standard, and definitely simpler than what it will become later on. It is still pretty enjoyable though, and it is nice to see where it all started, and that goes for the gameplay as well.
The game is labeled as an Action RPG, with stats, magic and level ups being present like Final Fantasy, but it isn’t turned based like that. Instead, you have a Command Menu on the bottom that has all of your commands. Attack is your standard attack with your Keyblade.
Magic includes spells like the offensive Fire, the defensive Aero, or the healing spell Cure. The next command is items, like potions to restore health or ethers to restore MP. The last command is Summon, which summons a specific character from a Disney film, going from Lion King’s Simba to Mulan’s Mushu. My favorite is definitely Tinker Bell as it is a constant heal and a one-time revive if you lose all your HP.
There are also Abilities that can range from extensions to your attacks, to passive abilities like increased item drops or living from an attack that would otherwise defeat you. That sounds like a ton of options, and one critique I hear about the series is that you can get by just from pressing the attack button over and over, which is true unless you are playing on Proud mode, this games version of Hard.
Even on your first time, and this goes for every game, I highly suggest that you play on at least proud mode, it is more of a challenge and in turn more fun. I don’t like how you have to play a higher difficulty to enjoy the combat more, but that is just how it is.
The worlds of Kingdom Hearts are also something that are honestly hit or miss. I love worlds like Wonderland with how bizarre it can be, Halloweentown is one of my favorites. But with every good world there are also some pretty bad ones. Deep Jungle from Tarzan is a little boring for me and the absolute low point is Atlantica, with the awkward swimming controls and the fact that it limits what you can do.
The original worlds, Traverse Town and Hollow Bastion, are definitely my favorites. Of course, one of my favorite things about this game and the series as a whole is the amazing music. It perfectly captures the mood of the cut-scenes and the worlds you are in. It’s also great that every single world has its own battle theme. Some of my favorite themes are Night of Fate and the final boss theme.
The first Kingdom Hearts game is a good game by itself, but when you compare it to other games in the series, it shows its age. The combat can be a little stilted at times, with Sora feeling a little clunky, and the jumping feels super awkward.
The game is from 2002 and it is still perfectly playable. Still, I can recommend it to see where the series starts, and for better or worse, if you want to understand the story of the series completely, this game is important to play, especially with the additional cut-scenes the Final Mix version brings.