Kingdom Hearts header showing numerous characters from within the game

Kingdom Hearts review: Revisiting an epic RPG after 17 years

2002. Quite a significant year when we take a look back. It was the year that twelve European Union members adopted the Euro as their currency. Also, far more importantly, it was the year that Kingdom Hearts was released on PlayStation 2.

Kingdom Hearts is the child of a collaborative effort between Disney and Square Enix. It merges the Disney and Square Enixs’ Final Fantasy universes perfectly to form an epic role-playing game that has and continues to stand the test of time.

Without a doubt a Playstation 2 classic, Kingdom Hearts was a massive success in terms of critical acclaim and retail success. By the end of April 2003, it was announced that Kingdom Hearts had sold one million copies in the United States and over three million copies worldwide. This meant that it had acquired Playstations’ coveted Greatest Hits status in just over a year!

Kingdom Hearts PS2 Box Cover

The game begins on Destiny Islands. Sora, Riku and Kairi’s homeworld. They are trying to build a raft that’ll allow them to follow their dreams of exploring other worlds. Before they get the chance to set sail and start their exploration a massive storm hits Destiny Islands. This is when we’re introduced to the games main antagonists, the Heartless. The Heartless begin their attack!

The aftermath of the storm and subsequent attack leaves the three characters scattered across the universe and it leads Sora, a 14-year-old boy, on an epic quest to look for his friends and defeat the Heartless.

Originally the game was going to be released with a simplified plot. This would have enabled the core Disney audience to get straight on board and not have to worry about playing such a complex game. The game developers were adamant that they should add layers of depth and intricacy or the game would fail.

I’m glad they re-worked it because when you play the game it feels like an amazing story that you are truly a part of, I found myself not wanting to put the game down as I wanted to find out what happens next. You know it’s a great game when you can’t put it down! It’s such a deep plot with several layers that are played out through the character’s dialogue and side plots. These extra levels to the game really make it stand out amongst other titles in the action RPG genre.

I do have a couple of complaints. The writing is excellent but at some points, the dialogue between characters can be a bit tedious, it feels like it’s there just to add bulk to an already substantial game. Also, the main plot themes, like the power of friendship and human nature are a little cliche at times. It feels like it’s been done to death so it’s not overly groundbreaking.

It can be difficult to keep up with the storyline but if you stick with it and pay attention you’ll reap the rewards. You’ll need to know what’s going on. Especially if you go on to play more games in the Kingdom Hearts franchise as you’ll need to know what’s going on.

PS2 Gameplay from Kingdom Hearts

I was 12 in 2002. I remember really struggling with the game when it came out. Not because it was overly difficult but because of the lengthy cut scenes between boss battles. I was a very impatient child! You can’t skip those cut scenes so they start to get very tedious when you inevitably lose a boss battle and have to start it again. It’s a small complaint though, overall the gameplay is great.

The only other complaint I have is when travelling to other worlds (before you obtain the warp gummi) it takes ages and the Gummi levels are a bit monotonous. Once you get the warp ability though that changes and you are free to enjoy travelling to the next world and so on. The in-game menus are good and the layout of your items is intuitive. The entire user experience in terms of selecting an item and equipping it is flawless.

Let’s talk combat. The combat system is basic, make use of the targeting system and you’ll find that battles are quite easy depending on which difficulty you have selected. The only time you’ll find it that bit tougher is during the boss battles. There are loads of them and the further you progress in the game the harder they get. You may have to revisit some previous worlds and grind out more gear to level up before taking them on.

Kingdom Hearts PS2 gameplay

There’s a lot to be said about the score and soundtrack in this game, the vast majority of the songs in the game are original tracks and some are re-mixes or re-works of original Disney songs. If you were to ask me to describe the soundtrack in one word, it’s fantastic.

There’s a Kingdom Hearts soundtrack playlist on YouTube. My favourite track is called Dive into the heart. It’s epic. The track is really theatrical and it completely fits. It’s harrowing and awe-inspiring once the chorus starts. The track starts to build and you end up becoming completely drawn into it.

The composer, Yoko Shimomura has done a sublime job! I won’t go into the other tracks in any great detail but I will say that they are all full of emotion and personality. It’s well worth a listen, even if you don’t plan on playing the game anytime soon.

If you do plan on playing the game or have played the game, take a moment to really appreciate just how good those opening cutscenes are. The graphics are very much like that of the later Final Fantasy games on the PS2. The trouble with revisiting a game that’s almost twenty years old though is that it’s difficult not to compare it to the modern equivalent metric.

For example, when I revisited Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2 I played it using a modern 1080p display. The trouble is, I expected  the picture to be flawless. Thinking back whilst writing this review I have no idea why I expected it to be honest. If I look at it logically the PS2’s max output resolution was 480p for most games.

However, the graphics are really really good. I’m sure they must have been pushing the PS2’s GPU to the limit. The developers have really made use of all available hardware and the results are a very pretty game with even better cut scenes. The graphics remind me of some of the Final Fantasy games, they were great too.

75%

Kingdom Hearts TL;DR:

  • A great game with an amazing soundtrack.
  • Graphics that pushed the PS2 hardware to its limit.
  • A solid plot that draws you in and makes you want to find out what happens!
  • Now a platinum game, you can pick it up for as little as £4.00 from local stores.

Suggested reading

After you’ve played the first Kingdom Hearts game, check out Kingdom Hearts II, it’s an awesome sequel that’ll get you excited for Kingdom Hearts III for Xbox One. You can read the full KH2 review over at codewithmike.

About the author

Hi, I’m Mike and I’m the chief editor over at CodeWithMike. I love video games and love revisiting some of the old classics! CodeWithMike is a code, tech and gaming blog that features gaming reviews, tech giveaways, coding tutorials and tech news.


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