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Why I’m glad Kingdom Hearts doesn’t hold up well…

 

If you were one of the millions of people that bought Kingdom Hearts back in 2002, you’ll most likely be filled with heart-warming nostalgia for what was probably the PlayStation 2’s most charming game. That amazing-yet-unreal combination of Disney and Square Enix was for many fans a dream come true. Your favourite movies and favourite games, now combined into your ultimate favourite game. The unexpected fusion of the two companies was welcomed with open arms from almost everyone, and sixteen years later fans still hold it in high regard. It was in 2013 that Square Enix finally ported Kingdom Hearts to PS3, in the collection Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix. This featured the original game in full HD, updated to the Final Mix version that this side of the ocean was not privy to before now.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 was practically perfect in a lot of ways. The movie version of “358/2 Days” was a little disappointing, though, giving you a three-hour movie version of events instead of playing the surprisingly good DS game.

However, it wasn’t until Kingdom Hearts 1.5 & 2.5 HD Remix was released on the PlayStation 4, combining the two PS3 titles into one disk for the newer console, that I noticed how dated Kingdom Hearts now is. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to slate the game entirely, only a couple of outdated non-user-friendly systems…The truth is, Kingdom Hearts is just as charming and wonderful as it’s ever been, warts and all! The small problems to me just remind me of how far we’ve really come in gaming, and really these criticisms just come from comparing it to the 8 other games that came out after this one.

Running around the various Disney worlds in Kingdom Hearts with Sora, Donald and Goofy again, sixteen years after its original release, you can clearly see everything right and wrong with the game. The game feels a little old. The camera is possibly the worst part about the game. You’ll try to lock on to an enemy and the camera will awkwardly jerk around to target an enemy behind you that you didn’t have any intention of attacking yet, and if you don’t lock then don’t expect many of your attacks to make contact with much either. 1.5 HD Remix did a better job at updating this, but it was still a problem nonetheless. The general “janky” feeling of the game wasn’t great either – jumping was often difficult (although the high jump and glide abilities were incredible additions to improve the general enjoyment of the game). And as for basic controls, does anybody remember playing Atlantica? Easily the least enjoyable world in the game, the novelty of swimming everywhere wears off within just a few minutes, but the world is easily two hours long! A recurring theme in all of the games to date, too, is the empty worlds. Every single one, you name it, has a totally empty world. No background characters, no inhabited feeling, just the key characters and yourselves. It’s not the most important, but it’s also kind of sad. When you watch Disney movies, they’re full of bright and colourful characters, especially in movies such as Aladdin and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. For worlds such as Tarzan’s Deep Jungle and Pinocchio’s Monstro it doesn’t matter, but take a walk around the Kingdom Hearts‘ worlds of Agrabah and La Cite Des Cloches and you’ll notice there isn’t a civilian in sight.

The lip syncing, if that’s what you call it, is just weird lip flapping, which probably wasn’t overly noticeable on smaller TV’s from 2002, but nowadays is as clear as day. This is a trivial complaint, granted, but something I feel needs to be addressed, as it’s frequent in all of the Kingdom Hearts games since this one. The Gummi Ship has improved drastically in the jump from Kingdom Hearts to Kingdom Hearts 2 (KH2). The Gummi Ship in Kingdom Hearts was so slow and basic that it became a bit of a chore by the time you reached Hollow Bastion. Also, the Gummi Garage was the most complicated feature ever included in a game. I must have played the game a dozen times and still haven’t managed to get my head around it! Kingdom Hearts 2’s Gummi Ship was much more dynamic, action-packed and faster-paced, making the journeys much more enjoyable.

The battle system in the original game was very simple and less fun than future installments. At the time of its release, Kingdom Hearts had the best battle system I had played. The active Action-RPG-style battling was, and still is, the perfect way to play Kingdom Hearts. But with simple moves and combos, and two-party members that were basically useless (getting Donald to actually heal you and not waste all his MP on a Shadow Heartless, like it’s the final battle against Ansem, is infuriating), I find myself lusting after Kingdom Hearts 2 or Birth By Sleep’s much more fluid battle system.

But like I said earlier, this article isn’t being written in order to bash an old game. It’s made to praise what could be, what has been, and elements that make Kingdom Hearts one of the greatest games of our time. Anyone that has played Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage has experienced Kingdom Hearts at its best. The fluid battle system, the way magic affects the environment you are in, and the camera are welcomed changes, showing just how far the series has come. Anyone that has seen the newest Kingdom Hearts 3 trailer saw how seamless transitioning through the worlds has become. Additional characters now join the team instead of replacing existing party members, and the way that Sora and Co. traverse through the world, using parts of the environment like they did in Dream Drop Distance, is leaps and bounds better than what the original game was like.

As for empty worlds, it’s a little unclear as of yet. We haven’t seen any footage of the new Big Hero Six world, but the fictional city of San Fransokyo must be full of additional characters. Unless they make up a story that involves evacuating the town, I’m sure we’ll see a world full of life. We also know that we are getting a Tangled world, a Monsters Inc. world and probably a Frozen world, so there’s plenty of opportunity for the franchise to redeem its empty world issue.

I really hope they fix lip syncing in Kingdom Hearts 3. I’m sure that this issue has been discussed by Square Enix, and I feel pretty confident that the voices will match up with our characters’ lip movements, like they did in Final Fantasy XV. And I would wager any price that the Gummi Ship will be back, and hopefully better than ever. I can’t even imagine what it will be like, but I think it will be different from any other kind of Gummi Ship experience we’ve previously had. I just hope they improve the customization to make it more user friendly.

But I like how Kingdom Hearts doesn’t hold up so well these days. The battle system is perfect to me, as you’re following the footsteps of someone whose only battle experience at that point was with his friend Riku with a wooden sword. Of course, Sora wouldn’t be as good at fighting, and it just gives him more character development in future installments. I’m very excited to see how the new combat system shapes up when we eventually get to play it. And problems like empty worlds, bad camera control and lip syncing show the potential for improvement in Kingdom Hearts 3.

Overall, I look to Square Enix with a mixture of hope and high expectations. I believe that whatever Kingdom Hearts 3 has in store for us, it will be the greatest game in the series to date. After all these years, I feel confident that Nomura finally has it all worked out.

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