Kingdom Hearts 1 was originally released by Square for the PS2 in Japan in 2002. Square Enix has released so many different origins stories for this franchise that it’s hard to tell them apart. All you need to know is that the games designed as a crossover between Disney and Final Fantasy by both parties, headed by Tetsuya Nomura, man of 1000 zippers and one of the guilty parties behind Final Fantasies VII, VIII, X and XV. There: I made a zipper joke, I hope you appreciate how I’m blazing through the perfunctories so we can get down to business. The games were scored by Yoko Shimomura, who composed songs for Street Fighter II, the Mario & Luigi series, and more. (more…)
I got into Kingdom Hearts fairly late. I never even had a Sony console until I got a PS2 near or after the launch of the PS3, so 2006 or 2007. The system was a gift from my friend Kyle, the same Kyle from the Final Fantasy Marathon you can find on this blog. Assuming this happened in 2007, Kingdom Hearts 1 was five years old, and KH2 closer to a year and a half. This puts me out of step with the average Kingdom Hearts fans. Not as extreme as Kyle and I playing Final Fantasy 1 some twenty-one years after its original Japanese release, but still not the same. When you see them talk, these days, most Kingdom Hearts fans seem to have grown up with the series, having played it in their preteens or teens. It’s hard to find a discussion of Kingdom Hearts these days that isn’t touched by childhood nostalgia… be it honey-touched or broken.
That wasn’t me in 2007. I was an adult, wrapping up my first shot at postsecondary education, studying to be a programmer and still wanting to be a game developer (and I would be for a while, but that’s a long story and ahead of the one we’re telling). I’m not sure I would have even picked up Kingdom Hearts if I had not found copies of both KH1 and KH2 next to one another at the local Electronics Boutique, and going for cheap. I mis-remembered an ad from the early 2000s for the original game (I swear it said there were regular musical numbers in the game) and figured it sounded like fun. I liked and like Disney, even if I wasn’t so self-aware about it at the time, and still hadn’t played a Final Fantasy game. And if they turned out to be kids’ games, who cared? I had two younger brothers and had helped my mother’s work at the Children’s department at the local library for years. I’ve played more children’s games than most children and most parents. Children’s games can be fantastic, even if many aren’t. Maybe we’ll talk about that some day too.
All in all, Kingdom Hearts struck just the right chord at just the right time, and had me tracking down the GBA sequel, griping about Japanese exclusive versions, and waiting for future releases, all within a few hours of play.
This Retrospective is a series about joy. Kingdom Hearts marks the first of our In-Depth Retrospectives, a series about the games that have meant the most to me over the years. The games that have moved me, the games that have made me think, and the games that have worked perfectly from moment to moment to moment. We’ll be looking at the early games that held a place in my heart, like Link’s Awakening, recent games, and also my personal crown jewels: the Soul Blazer trilogy on SNES. But that’s in the future. For now, we’re looking at Kingdom Hearts.
Past the trap door, the Chaos Shrine was divided into floors based on the four Fiends and their monsters. This is a neat idea, but in execution meant fighting a lot of the boring old monsters from half the game away. Honestly, even the Wind Fortress enemies were behind-the-times, but that may have been because of our being over-levelled. If the game could have tweaked their stats to end-game level, this could have been a nice touch. At the end of each floor, the game ambushed you with one of the four Fiends, apparently at the height of their power, and these were adjusted to end-game level. This would be a lot more narratively significant if it weren’t for the fact that they were tied to squares on the map and you could fight them over and over again like they were minor enemies.
The Fiend of Water slain, we headed off to Mirage Tower to complete the game’s sole remaining major quest. Well, better get the chimes ready and… what? We just walked in? This game has otherwise been pretty good at telling us why we had to solve a puzzle after we had solved it. That’s a good thing for a game to do, and pretty rare to see it done… this lapse seems very strange, considering FFI has been so well behaved in the past. What would have happened if we didn’t have the chimes? There’s no way to tell!
Mirage Tower was Kyle’s run, but he had to step away for a moment and so I did some searching. I imagine that caused a bit of confusion when he got back, because he accidentally Warped us out of the dungeon thanks to a misplaced cursor on the spell screen. One mistake led to another, and this led to us both forgetting to explore the second floor, which cost us some good weapons and armour. At the top of the tower, more friendly robots (as opposed to their lethal monster brethren) told us we needed to find the “Warp Cube,” but thanks guys, one step ahead of you here. Obviously the Warp Cube was the cube we had received from the robot behind the waterfall. The cube got us up to the Wind Fortress, home of the Air Fiend, Tiamat.
From Bahamut’s cave, we went back to the volcano near the sage-town and killed Marilith, and I have to ask… why? Here’s the full scoop: Lich was destroying the continent to the southwest. This was well presented and displayed. The Fiend of Water and the Fiend of Air arrived centuries earlier and had already devastated the North with the terror of ecological success, but to be frank, besides the trees there wasn’t much sign of their evil. Okay, the Fiend of Water sank a city and polluted the water. This is mentioned in the text in the next few towns. Text certainly isn’t as evocative as the rotting land graphics to the southwest, but not bad. Meanwhile, the Fiend of Air doesn’t seem to have done anything about the air (FFV actually seems to mock FFI for this by showing what would really happen if you messed up the air), but you’ll soon learn that she is guilty of other crimes. Outside of the intro, backed by actual evidence inside the game, Marilith’s crimes include…
Absolutely nothing. Oh, sure, there’s a brief mention in the opening demo, if you wait on the main screen. But that’s it, it’s not backed up by any evidence in-game. Her volcano’s not even spewing lava on the NES, and video games are so excited about lava that I’ve seen lava drawn on dormant volcanos. The only incentive you have to kill Marilith is to get directions to the Levitation Stone. It’s not even a very good incentive, considering the game asked you to operate with limited directions during the Elfheim segment. With that incentive removed, it’s just the sages at Crescent Lake calling a hit on an innocent demon-women, like some sort of mafia don. “You like the canoe we gave you for killing the Lich? Well, I happen to have information about a new form of transportation you might be interested in, if you can make the information… worth my while.” Jackasses!
Since new canals leave no debris whatsoever to block your passage, we were able to head through Jim’s Folly immediately, damning whatever environmental consequences we were leaving in our wake. This involved sailing past another New Style bonus dungeon, which for some confounding reason is actually the third of the four dungeons, not the second. In fact, we’ll pass the fourth before we find the second, too! The front door to this bonus dungeon was little more than a whirlpool in the middle of the ocean, so I don’t quite understand why it had to be at this part of the ocean and not any other notable water-feature. I don’t quite know who organized this mash but I have a few choice words for them either way.
Now properly in the ocean, we technically had the freedom to visit most of the planet if it weren’t for the docking restrictions. The docking restrictions in mind, it seemed best to keep on course for the time being, which led us to the town of Melmond where the Earth was dying. This was probably the best example of the four corrupted elements in the entire game, with unique graphics and everything, it’s nice work. We poked around (we had left the walkthrough behind at this point, reasoning that there was no chance of getting lost) and found out that the source of the decay was to the south, at the Cavern of Earth, where the land used to be the most fertile. Also, all this trouble is clearly the fault of a vampire. Why the townsfolk felt the vampire is responsible is not explained. Oh, they knew he existed, and they’re stereotypical like that… erm, I mean they’re “superstitious” like that! What did I say? Whatever: it’s baseless, and the writing looks sloppy for doing it, but in true RPG tradition, it was the only lead we had.
So I promised I would talk about glitches. It’s not as though I want to talk about glitches just for the sake of it, though they can be pretty fun. The trouble is, like I implied up top, FFI has so many fundamental glitches that they’ve dramatically changed the way the game is played: versions that have the glitches are played one way, versions that have removed glitches play very differently, and one glitch was considered too big to remove. So I’m going to talk about those fundamental glitches, and as it turns out, there are so many that I have to subdivide them. Yeah. So let’s get started with the glitches that turned the Thief into a useless piece of shit in the original NES release.