The island were our protaganist, Sora, once lived with his friends, Riku and Kairi, has been destoryed. Sora is thrown across the universe to another world. Kairi is gone and Sora is determined to find her. In the other worlds he visits, he realises that his friend is not the only one who has gone missing. A whole host of young princesses are gone and it’s down to Sora to help get them back.
Kingdom Hearts was a wise move on both Squaresoft (as Square Enix were known way back when) and Disney’s part. While Squaresoft had a male-based fan base, Disney had a female one. So what’s the best way for both to try to make a bit of cash and win some new fans? Create a mash-up of the two. The 2002 PS2 title brought together classic Final Fantasy heroes and well-loved Disney faces.
What held these two elements together in Kingdom Hearts was a simple story about friendship. Sora is a young lad who enjoys hanging around the beach with his friends, Kairi and Riku. They are planning to go exploring and are desperate to see what lies beyond their island. However, disaster strikes and a storm ravages their little part of the world. Sora blacks out and when he comes to, he realises that he is in another world and he is all alone. Or so he thinks…until creepy shadowy creatures pounce on him and game play ensues. To lend a hand, Donald Duck and Goofy appear and help fight off the creatures – honestly! Donald and Goofy agree to help Sora find his friends and he agrees to help them find their missing king – Micky. This may not sound particularly appealing, but after a slow build-up and a rather cheesy supporting cast, things can only get better. The main point is that these are characters who are thrown together as they attempt to search for people they really care about. It’s ultimately a very sweet concept and one that really won me over the first time I played it.
In a few wonderful cut scenes – with that fantastic early 2000s mix of clever graphics and awkward pixelation in places – we learn that Sora’s friend Kairi is not the only one missing. In fact, a whole host of young women have been kidnapped by a coven of villains. As Sora ventures off to find Kairi, he agrees to help out some other heroes on the way. Some of those he comes across may sound familiar. There’s Aladdin, whose love Jasmine is missing. And Tarzan, who is seeking his Jane. Alice is missing from Wonderland. And many, many more. Yes, each world you travel to is a Disney setting. These are fantastic fun. Tarzan’s jungle; the Agrabah desert; Halloween Town; inside a whale; under the sea. A plethora of places you probably spent your childhood wishing you could visit. Each world within Kingdom Hearts is filled with those horrible shadows and the villains from the original film. It’s absolutely gorgeous and a real trip through your youth.
However, there is just as much to enjoy for the Final Fantasy fans, as well as the Disney ones. Some of the first you come across are Tifa from Final Fantasy VII and Squall (referred to as Leon in the game) from Final Fantasy VIII. Fanboys and girls squeal with joy at these characters interacting out-with their own titles. Also fun is the fact that they are voiced (in the English version) by Rachel Leigh Cook and David Boreanaz respectively. Another terrifically entertaining appearance is from Final Fantasy VII‘s Cloud. A real fan favourite. Cloud appears in the Greek coliseum, fighting in the same tournaments as the cast of Disney’s Hercules, looking supremely awesome as always. What more can you ask for.
Some of the worlds are brilliantly executed. A personal favourite of mine is Sora’s trip to Halloween Town from The Nightmare Before Christmas. In each world, Sora, Donald and Goofy are appropriately attired for the location. For example when you are under the sea, Sora sprouts a mermaid tail. In Halloween Town, the team are in Halloween costumes. It’s just magic. The plot in this world is pretty clever. As the game progresses, it turns out that the girls are being stolen for their hearts. However, in Halloween Town, there’s a slight problem with their princess: Sally doesn’t have a heart. So, in amongst the game’s main plot, there is suddenly this lovely little identity crisis, where Sally has to face the fact that she’s just a scientist’s creation and not a real girl. Big ideas in what originally seems like just a simple mash-up game. Just another example of why Kingdom Hearts should be at the top of your to-be-played-again pile.
All in all, Kingdom Hearts is a real favourite for me. I adored it back when it came out in 2002. It is perfect for Final Fantasy fans who occasionally struggled with the length of FF titles. And it is a real dream for Disney fans, or just for those who are just in the mood for a little nostalgia. While Kingdom Hearts may not be the first game that pops to mind when you hear Final Fantasy, it’s a cult classic and its big messages and bright settings mean it has a huge fan base who ate up all the sequels and spin-off titles. Kingdom Hearts is a fun game with a big heart. Dust off your PS2 and start searching with Sora.