I recently decided to follow-up on an old article I wrote and take my own advice; by playing a game I’d never played before. Fifteen years after its release, I played Kingdom Hearts for the first time ever.
The experience was surprisingly entertaining, though I have some mixed feelings about what I’d missed out on.
In revisiting any old game, one has to be able to lower their standards—to be able to approach the game at its point before the luxuries of the player’s modern technology. Which is why, in all fairness, I think I can say that its gameplay was solid.
Fighting with the keyblade is all about control and timing. You can mash the melee button to kill things, but it’s not nearly as effective (or fun) as parrying and using well-placed abilities like Blitz and Sonic Blade. Most anything can be parried, and with no standby guard function, it makes for a very interactive experience.
Also wonderfully interactive are the character menus. Each character has unique items and abilities they can equip, an exclusivity that is helped by their attaining usually being limited to the defeat of a boss or leveling up. Item uniqueness is additionally helped by there not being that many present in the game; distinctly unlike most modern collect-a-thons, which are themselves haunted by countless useless and meaningless items.
The keyblades themselves probably have the best design, aesthetically and mechanically, and I tore through the levels mostly in anticipation of another weapon for Sora. While not all keyblades are equal, most at least have some reason for making the choice of one quite difficult.
For instance, Wishing Star crits at the end of a combo, but has short reach. Metal Chocobo, on the other hand, has great power and reach, but rarely crits and reduces MP. There were plenty of moments where the choice of a keyblade was harder than I expected; I even sometimes just missed the look of some of my abandoned keyblades.
Jumping into Kingdom Hearts after so long felt like revisiting a lost segment of my past; a nostalgia for what I’d never lived before. A large part of this is probably its borrowed aesthetic. I’d always loved the amalgamation of Disney, Final Fantasy and original Kingdom Hearts characters—it lends perfectly to the game’s sense of timelessness.
In visiting any of the game’s worlds, I am immediately confronted with three aspects: my early youth, my teenage years and my present self. But to be fair, I would say that the teenage years are the strongest—Kingdom Hearts has always been an emotional, melodramatic game. It was this that I had mixed feelings about.
Kingdom Hearts is largely inhabited by a gang of moody teenagers, who can be edgy and sullen one moment and excessively happy in the next. As a grown-up, it’s hard not to cringe when Cloud talks about his inner darkness or pretty much whenever Riku talks. But as a kid, these things might not have bothered me as much.
Annoying in a different sense was the constant presence of enemies. The worlds themselves were great design-wise, but each room had the unfortunate occurrence of spawning enemies whenever you entered or after a certain time limit—and sometimes several waves at once. Trying to open a chest or unlock a Trinity, I always had to defeat the Heartless in the room before I could perform these special actions; an exceedingly annoying task when they appear so frequently intermittent.
Most annoying, however, was the camera. A shoddy camera is, of course, something many old games struggle with–even renowned classics like Super Mario 64. But the camera of Kingdom Hearts is particularly vexing. It gets stuck on walls, caught in doors and it fails to always show where exactly I am on precarious ledges. And, most condemningly, it works with the lock-on system to have me jumped by enemies off-screen. And only sometimes for money.
But what’s a man to do, when he still enjoys the game regardless? Though it sometimes frustrated me and didn’t always have the best writing, there was much I could overlook in favor of the positive experiences it gave me.
Kingdom Hearts is one of those games that I’d heard a lot about growing up, but that I never really knew much about gameplay-wise. So in a strange way, it characterized a large part of my childhood, even though I’d never picked up a controller to play it myself. Playing it recently was like rewriting a portion of my youth, as I experienced firsthand what my old friends used to rave about, and learned things about the game I never would have expected.
The gummi ships, for one, came as a complete surprise. And though simple and easily-exploited, they ended up being one of my favorite parts of the game.
All things considered, Kingdom Hearts is still a very good game. If Kingdom Hearts III captures even a semblance of the spirit of its earliest predecessor, then it will be pretty solid as well. In the original, I have found a game that, even after fifteen years, still has a lot of life. And though I have missed its years of nostalgia, it’s enough to convince that the past can be revisited sometimes.