Why I love the Kingdom Hearts series – Reader’s Feature | Gaming
A reader explains how he’s learned to love Disney crossover Kingdom Hearts, and why it’s nothing to do with its story or gameplay.
This feature has been on my mind for a while now, but this weekend’s Hot Topic, along with a few letters in the Inbox not seeing what the fuss is about with the Kingdom Hearts series, inspired me to actually try and write it now. Having played the series solidly for the past few months thanks to the HD re-releases, I felt that my thoughts would take longer than a regular letter to fully organise.
I was one of those few people who never actually owned a PlayStation 2, due to my feeling Sony were getting too big for their boots and going on a (on reflection ill-advised) boycott. As a result, I never experienced the series first time around. The series became one that a lot of people I knew talked about as if it was the greatest gaming series on Earth, and over time I found myself growing resentful of the fanbase and becoming determined to hate the series just to spite the fans.
Being raised on Disney, I suppose a sense of snobbery also played its part. I could not see how Square Enix or the series’ fanbase could possibly know the appeal of Disney films, and decided that they wouldn’t even know what Disney was unless big-eyed spiky-haired emo anime characters were involved. I know that’s entirely unfair, but I wasn’t feeling in a particularly fair mood about the series.
Well, after finally playing the series myself from start to finish, I now feel like Square Enix do get the appeal of Disney’s classics, and they created something that I feel is as timeless as old Walt’s greatest films.
If you were to ask me why the series is so popular though, I wouldn’t say it was because of the gameplay. The first game in particular is not very noteworthy in that regard and hasn’t aged as well as the others due to the camera being zoomed in too close for both the action role-playing combat and the platforming.
What I do appreciate about the series is that each entry tries new ideas and mixes things up a bit. Sometimes it doesn’t work (for example the remake of Chain of Memories, which tried to mix card-based battles with the real-time combat and created a virtually unplayable mess), but other ideas such as the Flowmotion system from Dream Drop Distance really help to spice up both the combat and environment navigation. Still, while the gameplay is (mostly) perfectly serviceable and even really fun at times, I would say it’s not why the series is so beloved.
I wouldn’t say it was because of the story either. The franchise has gotten a lot of well-deserved flack for having one of the most incomprehensible, convoluted, and downright loopy pieces of fan fiction for an ongoing story that’s ever been seen, and I’d certainly agree. Unless all the games are played in order anyone new to the franchise would become utterly lost. Some are less essential than others (Kingdom Hearts Re:coded is basically the closest the series has come to non-canon), but all play some factor in the ongoing story, and with the arrival of Dream Drop Distance it just completely lost the plot and got too carried away in its own minutiae.
This isn’t helped by the series’ villain, Xehanort, whose motivations and schemes basically defy any sort of sense. It is, to be frank, the kind of story you’d need a massive amount of documentation and a wall chart to keep track of.
I would say that it’s two things that make Kingdom Hearts so beloved. The first of these is the characters, and how the series manages to weave together both Disney’s and Square’s considerable legacies. While Sora is perky and optimistic almost to the point of near satire, he’s still a very likable lead and someone who’d be fun to go on adventures with. Having Donald Duck and Goofy be his constant companions was a great move by the writers, and all three make for a very enjoyable triple-act.
The more troubled and stereotypical Riku is nicely developed over the course of the series and having the ever-optimistic Mickey Mouse act as his partner was another great move, with the two characters playing off of and learning from each other. Other originals such as Kairi, Aqua, and Axel round out a likeable supporting cast and the various Final Fantasy cameos are well-handled and welcome (not to mention having a level based on The World Ends With You, a game which often seems forgotten about and deserved some recognition).
The other thing that has really helped the series, and possibly the biggest thing, is that intangible feeling that’s created while you play and interact with the various Disney-themed worlds and characters. While the overarching story of the franchise is a load of overcomplicated twaddle, the individual stories in each world are all extremely well-handled and capture the essence of the movies and TV shows perfectly. Part of that’s down to the graphics, which do a great job of capturing the distinct style of each film (there’s a segment based on Steamboat Willy in Kingdom Hearts II that’s a particular highlight), but there’s also a less tangible quality that I’ll do my best to explain.
Basically, the series makes me feel like a kid again. The series pulls the same trick that the Ghostbusters game from 2009 did; by playing as an outside party, the games help capture those daydreams I used to have as a kid, where I’d imagine myself being alongside these legendary characters and going on adventures with them. There’s a real sense of child-like wonder that the series invokes while you’re playing, whether it be fighting Chernabog with A Night on Bald Mountain blasting out at full volume, helping Simba retake the Pridelands, battling the MCP alongside Tron, or making sure Cinderella gets to the ball on time. This feeling is definitely helped by the voice-acting, with many veteran Disney voiceovers reprising their roles.
Overall, I’m really happy I decided to give the series a chance. The developers’ genuine love and enthusiasm for all things Disney shines through (part of me suspects the reason Kingdom Hearts III was so heavily delayed was because they found more Disney properties they wanted to include), and I for one can’t wait for the newest entry.
By reader Andrew Middlemas
The reader’s feature does not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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