Kingdom Hearts Final Mix Review
Who doesn’t like Disney films? You pretty much know what your going to get: a family friendly film with a few laughs and occasionally some tears. Whether you love them or hate them there’s probably a Disney film you like. For me, I love the Lion King. It still remains one of my firm favourites, closely followed by Robin Hood, an older film in the company’s catalogue that I have a lot of nostalgia for. Kingdom Hearts seemed like a fascinating IP that essentially merges the Disney Universe with a video game.
I originally saw footage of Kingdom Hearts on a demo disc for an unofficial Playstation 2 magazine. The demo wasn’t playable it was an extended trailer with just music. The music from the get go was mesmerizing and still one of the series strongest draws. The footage simply showed a collage of the cutscenes from the game showcasing the main character Sora along with Donald Duck and Goofy. With them visiting various Disney worlds such as Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Hercules and many more. The footage looked incredibly ambitious from a story standpoint. No gameplay footage was shown and I don’t believe Squaresoft (today now Square Enix) ever released a playable demo of the game. I vividly remember multiple magazine articles being excited at the prospect alone of this game. It almost seemed destined to be a critical hit.
Once again the opportunity arouse to play this for a game club and despite owning the game on PS2 (the platform the game would originally release to), I decided to play through on the PS3 version. It acts as a remaster graphically as well as including additional cutscenes and content, which were only released on the “Final Mix” version of the game in Japan (originally on PS2). The remaster also includes an additional game and the cinematic cutscenes for another game remastered but not the actual game itself. For the purpose of this review I will only be covering Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, though I may revisit and review the additional game and content at a later date.
Kingdom Hearts puts you in the gigantic shoes of Sora. Sora is a young boy on an island with his lady friend Kairi and buddy rival Riku. From the inception of the Kingdom Hearts story I found it convoluted. After two boring fetch quest missions to assemble a raft Sora fights some dark monsters called the “Heartless,” and ends up getting sucked into some kind of void and ends up in a town that features several Final Fantasy character cameos and Disney folk. You soon discover Sora is the Keymaster and its up to this spiky haired fellow to travel to multiple Disney worlds and find keyholes to seal and deal with those pesky Heartless beasts. Also Donald Duck and Goofy come along for the ride because your the Keymaster and king Mickey says so. You quickly find in this that you’re just expected to just role with the plot so for someone that watches an absurd amount of film and TV I couldn’t help but put my critical hat on and question the plot as I plodded along. Why does Kairi have amnesia? Where are these kids parents? How does a giant Key weapon cause damage?
The highlight of Sora’s adventures is visiting the various Disney worlds which center around a famous Disney films such as Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and The Nightmare Before Christmas (which was a pleasant surprise). As well as visiting these worlds you meet various characters both heroes and villains many of which are voiced by the original voice actors which was quite the treat for the ears.
Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG. As Sora you’ll spend much of your time bashing cute little heartless monsters on the head with the Key Blade. You can also cast magic, use items, and use summons. Summons call in popular Disney characters such as Simba or Bambi who can assist you in battle. You also have Donald and Goofy assisting and you can loosely control them in the menu options but I found this didn’t make a lot of difference to their AI. Still, its fun to have them along. In the various Disney worlds you visit you can usually swap out one of your team for a character from that world. Unfortunately they will only join you while your in that specific Disney world so despite my best efforts I couldn’t get Donald to permanently leave my party. The combat is easy enough to control. Magic can be mapped to shortcut buttons on the PS3 the only element I rarely used was the summons since it involved scrolling down menus to use. With the combat being quite hectic it was hard to pause and remember I could even use them. Enemies are well designed, usually you’ll be presented with a newly designed heartless which will match the theme of the world you are visiting. For example, in Tarzan world (The Deep Jungle) you will meet the monkey heartless.
Each world you visit essentially has you running round doing fetch quests until you inevitably come up against a big boss fight. The problem with each world is the majority of the time you’re constantly backtracking to the same areas you’ve visited multiple times in order to progress the game. In the Tarzan world I had to continuously scale the tree canopy to get to Tarzan’s dam tree-house, only to find that I had to return back to camp and then make the darn climb all over again because the developers lacked the resources to program more areas. Since this is an RPG it feels like excessive padding to draw out the game experience. I’ve never been a fan of this design and it really shows. The combat does begin to wear thin quickly particularly when your trying to do platforming in this game. In the Aladdin world you have to leap from rooftop to rooftop while you are continuously attacked by spawning enemies. Whilst your fighting, Sora will often get caught in his combat animation and fall to the bottom of the area meaning you have to try that fun old climb again. Despite this irritating design the boss battles at the end of each world were very rewarding and fun. Many of the boss fights require you to think outside the box in order to defeat them almost like a Zelda game. But if you’re a player that just wants to get the job down with brute force you can do, it just might take a while and few cups of tea. Additionally, the main feature of the game that will hold your interest is the cutscenes and there are a lots of them. Although I really didn’t care for the story and I felt the design of asking the player to read notes on the big bad of the game was poor story design it was pretty cool to see the Disney characters at their best.
Additionally, the game features space shooting segments which play out when you travel to a new world. Now, I love shmups but Kingdom Hearts’ space shooty segments are kinda off, control wise. You control a ship in a 3D space as you gradually travel to your next world destination. You are on rails so can’t accelerate your progress as ships move towards you. You have an overly sensitive cross hair which moves around far to quickly to get a comfortable lock on. Then you basically shoot the holy hell out of these ships as well as rotating squares (because reasons) and gain items. These can be traded to kid friendly Cid from Final Fantasy 7 (because he doesn’t smoke, just chews wheat) and you can upgrade and even customize your own space ship. This is all rather deep on offer if you want to delve into it but fortunately optional and you can survive these segments with the most basic ship.
Kingdom Hearts will keep you busy for a good twenty five hours and for a lot more if you delve into the side quests and go hunting for absolutely everything. The game does require you do a little bit of grinding to get through the experience but I found that since enemies spawned so often I seemed to comfortably level up as I naturally progressed through the game. The PS3 version does feature multiple difficulties including a beginner mode if you just want to enjoy the story which is a nice addition because the standard difficulty is quite tough. Another fantastic addition to the PS3 version is you can skip cutscenes so if you do die in segments regularly you won’t have to experience the long drawn out cutscenes again and again to the point that you want to burn your Disney DVD’s, its too late for me but you have been warned.
Overall, despite all this I’m kinda satisfied with my Kingdom Hearts experience. Even though I personally felt the story is absurd I would be lying if I wasn’t genuinely curious to what the sequel of this game has to offer. It didn’t turn me into a hardcore Kingdom Hearts fan but I feel this is a game that if you played it at the time I can completely understand the nostalgia. For me I felt this formula has been improved with other games. But that said those other games don’t have Beast in your party kicking ass. So if you like Disney this game is well worth a look. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to eBay to re-buy all my Disney films for the third time.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 (Review Policy)
The original Kingdom Hearts was available on the Playstation 2 in all regions, including a Platinum/Greatest Hits edition at a reduced price. Final Mix, the version reviewed here, is relatively the same with extra content and features. It was originally released only in Japan on Playstation 2. It was then released worldwide on the Playstation 3 as Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix. A Playstation 4 title that includes the Final Mix of both Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 have been announced for a 2017 worldwide release.