Part of Kingdom Hearts’ magical appeal is that it gives players the opportunity to interact with their favorite Disney characters and venture into worlds we’ve all wanted to explore since childhood. Classic Disney movies manage to still pull us in years later, and it’s that pull that makes the following worlds in the Kingdom Hearts franchise some of the most memorable.
Let's take a look at the top five best worlds of the past Kingdom Hearts games, and why they managed to not only captivate us through their faithful recreation, but to also fill us with nostalgia.
#5 Space Paranoids
Although the movie Tron premiered in 1982 — making it much older than most of the films referenced in this list — it’s still an iconic moment in Disney cinema, especially for gamers. Visually, it brought computers and humans together in a virtual reality space not seen before its time.
In Kingdom Hearts II, deep inside Hollow Bastion lays a terminal to enter Space Paranoids, where you meet Tron and the Master Control Program, the ruler of the system. Even if players didn’t recognize the source, the idea of wandering inside a computer system is extraordinary. The environment is entrancing, as are the fitting soundtrack and enemies that inhabit the world. You even get to drive the Light Cycle in a throwback to one of the most iconic moments of Tron. Then in Dream Drop Distance there’s The Grid, which gives fans of Tron's sequel, Tron Legacy, some continued love.
Agrabah is one of the worlds available in the original Kingdom Hearts. Sora is able to venture through the Main Street and Bazaar of the city, as well as peek into Aladdin’s home and battle close to the palace itself. Then, of course, there’s the desert, which doesn’t have much… except the mystical Cave of Wonders, which Sora and new companion Aladdin also get to venture through. Players fight Jafar in his genie form and then seal him away, epically concluding events in the same manner Aladdin does in the original movie (only to do it again in Kingdom Hearts II). Players are even able to experience the frantic carpet dash to the finish, though Abu is spared the blame this time around when the cave decides it’s time to crumble.
#3 Halloween Town
According to the official KH strategy guide, Halloween Town was added as a world solely to appease Nightmare Before Christmas’ overwhelming fan base. And it’s a great thing fans got what they wished for, because it’s wonderful exploring the various Halloween-themed areas as Vampire Sora as he fights enemies alongside the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington — all while the classic “This is Halloween” melody plays. Even the enemies get into the Halloween spirit by portraying ghosts, mummies, and jack-in-the-boxes. You can visit Doctor Finklestein’s research lab, or the curly hill where Sally and Jack share their first kiss. For some real good times, there’s Oogie Boogie’s torture chamber, complete with his colorful roulette.
In Kingdom Hearts II Sora even visits Christmas Town, stopping both revived Oogie Boogie and Jack from ultimately ruining Christmas.
“Under the sea, darling, it's better down where it's wetter, take it from me!” We should definitely listen to Sebastian on this one, because he has a point. Mermaids are an old fishermen's tale that found their place in Disney history with The Little Mermaid, presenting children with a fantastical universe of half-human, half-fish creatures that swim all day and sing on the side.
This lifestyle becomes accessible in the first game: Sora transforms into a merman while Goofy becomes a cute turtle and Donald transforms into an odd mix of a duck and an octopus. With Ariel as a new partner, you’re able to visit her father’s palace and her hidden grotto. If you’ve always wanted to fight a shark, Atlantica gives you that opportunity.
Fast-forward to KH II, and Atlantica has completely changed: Instead of swimming and exploring, you’re able to relive events in the film practically verbatim through the power of song! Although it sounds cheesy, the restructuring is quite fitting when taking into account the importance music plays in some of these well-known Disney franchises.
#1. Timeless River
Mickey is a mystifying figure throughout the Kingdom Hearts franchise; he makes an appearance during crucial moments, especially if they involve Riku, but he’s still a mouse on a quest that is still slightly shrouded in mystery. Which is why being able to venture through his castle is a delight, even if it is overrun by Heartless, leaving Queen Minnie in a nervous state.
But it’s the portal to the Timeless River that truly deserves to top this list. Everything in this world is in black and white, and characters are drawn in the art style that Mickey was first introduced in. The Steamboat Willie short, Timeless River, originally aired in 1928 — soak that in for a moment — yet it’s still a staple of the Disney brand. It’s befitting to have it as a world in the series, complete with classic Mickey not saying a word and angry Pete being a thorn in Sora’s side.
There are so many worlds in the Kingdom Hearts franchise that have their own personality and meaning in the series: Wonderland, Neverland, and the Pride Lands to name a few more. Now we just have to wait and see what new worlds are in store for Kingdom Hearts 3.