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Saturday Gaming Retrospective - Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts - PlayStation 2
By
Michael Splechta

The game that made you never look at Disney the same way

When a person thought of characters like Cloud Strife or Squall Leonheart, they usually didn't associate them with characters like Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck. That was until the year 2000, when Square Enix director Tetsuya Nomura had a chance meeting with a Disney Executive in an elevator, and in 2002 the result was a game of truly epic proportions.

What were its cultural impact and/or importance?

Kingdom Hearts was, at first glance, a very odd pairing. On one side you had characters from the Final Fantasy universe that already have a set base of devoted fans, and on the other you had Disney characters and Disney worlds, which were taken straight from classic Disney cartoons. People were confused and weren't sure whether they could take this game seriously, or dismiss it as a kids' game. It wasn't until a person dove into the storyline, to find that this story was everything but childish.

The story involved the main character Sora, and his friends Riku and Kairi (voiced by an all-star cast of Haley Joel Osment, David Gallagher, and Hayden Panettiere respectively) being separated from their home world of Destiny Islands and each other. Sora's quest was to find his friends with the help of Donald Duck and Goofy. The world as a whole consisted of separate lands that were themed after different Disney classics such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Hercules. Sora was tasked with sealing all the keyholes to all the worlds, to prevent them from being taken over by the Heartless, led by Queen Maleficent, who was collecting all the hearts from several Disney princesses. It was amazing to see these worlds that we grew up watching, realized in a manner that dealt with a storyline that was overall much more mature than anything we remembered. And there was something completely bizarre, yet brilliant, about seeing Cloud Strife striking up a conversation with Donald and Goofy.

What areas of gaming did it advance?

Final Fantasy X was a huge breakthrough in graphics on the PlayStation 2, where we could actually see emotion on each characters face that was speaking in real time. Kingdom Hearts took it a step higher, making the animations more fluid. Overall the game is very colorful, with each of the Disney worlds and characters looking like they were taken straight from the movies. But the title also had a contrasting dark look to give the feeling of despair and loneliness that the Heartless are supposed to portray.

Stepping into a world such as Alice in Wonderland for the first time, and following the white rabbit, knowing that you're now partaking in your own version of the story was incredible. At times you were doing things that mirrored the movies directly, and yet you were still part of a whole new storyline that wove all those different worlds together. That was pure genius.

Does it stand the test of time?

It has been eight years since Kingdom Hearts was first introduced to the world, and it is still a treat to play. The controls feel great, and the real-time battles are also a ton of fun. Even though there are sequels, prequels and spin-offs that try to improve on the theme, going back to the first game that started it all still reminds me of the magic I felt when I saw the two universes of Final Fantasy and Disney come together.

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