Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 4)

I will play Kingdom Hearts any and every time Square Enix releases it. I love the original game, and I'm very excited that I got to play a 1080p and 60fps version of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix before the release of Kingdom Hearts 3. I will admit, the phrase "they don't make 'em like they used to" is both good and bad when it comes to the first entry in the series, but regardless of a few strange gameplay design choices this is a game that I can still appreciate today, 15 years after its United States debut.

If there's one unanimous thing all Kingdom Hearts fans agree on, it's that the narrative is confusing. It's not quite Dark Souls story telling where the answers are there and the player can peace it together at their leisure. You will be presented the story in a grand fashion throughout the whole series, but there are just more questions than answers after you've seen it all. That can be really useful if Square Enix delivers answers in Kingdom Hearts 3 for a jaw dropping "Oh, I get it!" moment, but a part of me wonders if the scope of the plot is too big for anyone to bring full circle - even the developers.

Kingdom Hearts starts chronologically (not canonically) from humble beginnings. You play as Sora, who wants to take his friends and leave his little island for some adventure. Well eventually he gets a version of what he's been wishing for when the heartless come to shore. The long and the short of it is that Sora is the chosen keyblade master and is sent to a different world and must work with his new friends - Donald and Goofy - to find his old friends (Riku and Kairi). During the search, the gang decides to kill three birds with one stone by keeping an eye out for the king (Mickey Mouse) and sealing the different world's key holes to effectively "lock out" the heartless and restore order.

Before you do any sealing - you best get to slaying countless heartless.

There are a ton of characters to keep track of, seeing as both Final Fantasy and Disney are represented in the game. The main cast so-to-speak consists of Sora, Donald, Goofy, Riku, and Maleficent (from Disney's Sleeping Beauty). By "main cast" I'm referring to the five with the most screen-time. Many other ones appear on a world-to-world basis, like Tarzan, Aladdin, Jack Skellington, and Peter Pan for example (there are plenty more). Kingdom Hearts really relies on players having prior knowledge of everybody featured in the game, minus of course the original characters. You're stepping in on these famous worlds and their inhabitants, so there's not much character development for Hercules for example because it's already been established in the Disney animated universe. If you're unfamiliar with these movies - Kingdom Hearts isn't the place to get formally acquainted.

The story is delivered to the player in four different ways. The most impressive are the two beautiful pre-rendered cutscenes to bring you in to the game and to send you on your way after completing it (there's a secret third scene as well). Next, in-engine cutscenes where the faces are fully rigged (meaning the entire body is animated) - these are not as common as they should have been but I understand that there were - and are - limitations on earlier consoles that this was ported from and what exactly developers can do with a port. The next one is most common where the bodies are animated with voice-overs but the faces have what I like to call "Muppet mouth." The last way is that the characters stand still and talk via text-box overlays.

The length of Kingdom Hearts depends entirely on the player. What difficulty are you on? Do you want to run through as fast as you can (my record is 5 hours and 36 minutes), or collect and do everything (my longest game is about 50 hours long)? My wife played through it earlier this month and clocked in around 15 hours. You can skip entire worlds if you want, or you can stick around to collect some resources for crafting. Heck, after unlocking the last portion of the game there are five optional and extremely tough bosses to hunt down and beat.

Pictured above: A [not so] secret end-game boss.

The game always looked good to me, and through my nostalgia goggles it's just as impressive as I remember. But I will say, without rebuilding the game from the ground up in a newer engine, you can't push Kingdom Hearts to the same heights as other games these days or even to the same fidelity of competing remasters from the same era. The PlayStation 4 is the last stop for Kingdom Hearts at 1080p without a ground-up remake.

When I was a kid in junior high, I used to listen to other music when I played video games, so this is kind of my first rodeo with the background tracks and voice-over work in the game. The music is good and catchy, but the loops aren't long enough during key Disney worlds. I'll hum along to the first few lines of "This is Halloween" from A Nightmare Before Christmas a couple of times but it gets extremely grating after hanging around the world for an hour or so. The voice-over work is tremendous for the most part with key roles being manned by Haley Joel Osment (Sora), Bill Farmer (Goofy), James Woods (Hades), and even David Boreanas from the show Angel playing Leon from Final Fantasy 8.

The whole collection performs admirably at 1080p and 60fps. On the PlayStation 4 Pro, you can run every title in 4K at 60fps as well. I didn't notice any big bugs - though there was a hefty 4gb patch right when I put the disc in my console. One fantastic thing I noticed from the PlayStation 3 Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX Collection was that the loading times are almost entirely non-existent. I only noticed them when skipping long cutscenes or after transitioning area-to-area rapidly during my long, boring farming sessions - but during organic gameplay the scene will go black, and fade directly into the next map.

I should specify that the HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX is the only way to play this on PS4.

Kingdom Hearts is an action role-playing game with an emphasis on the word action. Combat is combo based - stacking damage with powerful physical, magical, and skill techniques between Sora, Donald, and Goofy. There are two things unrelated directly to the combat that hold this game back from being a "10 out of 10 classic" for me, and those two things are the Gummi Ship missions and the unruly camera coupled with some iffy platforming. My wife said it best when she commented "Nobody anywhere wants to play this." after playing her first gummi ship mission. Sure they're not the absolute worst, but a little bit goes a long way.

The platforming and constant bickering with the camera stem from this being such an old game. I know it's hard to imagine but travel back in time with me when manually rotating the camera was both not actively done by the player and a feature that wasn't wide-spread even in first-person shooters. Kingdom Hearts is from this era. Even if we were given complete control, this isn't a platformer and it shows. After too long you'll get used to the nuances of navigating any vertical challenge, but there's a learning curve.

The party will level up, you'll unlock and find better armor and weapons for the characters, and additional skills can be toggled on or off depending on your ability point allotment. MP plays a crucial role in what magic you can cast and special skills you can use - and is very much a renewable resource but the lion-share of outgoing damage is going to come from Sora's keyblade. After toying around with Donald and Goofy's settings I was eventually being healed and buffed on a regular basis and Goofy was supporting the party with his utilitarian non-damaging abilities. Out of the gate though, both party members will die quite often.

The main menu. If you need to prepare for a tough battle, it's done here.

There are no online mechanics to speak of, but as always - if you hunt for trophies this is a fun platinum to get. Otherwise, comparing trophies with friends is the only online thing you'll do with Kingdom Hearts. To wrap up this review - go ahead and buy this collection. It has six games for only $50 if you buy it at full price. If you're waiting for a lower price - grab it for $30 on sale, it's worth it.

Let's Review:
  • Aged well for the most part
  • Gummi ship missions are a drag
  • Looks and plays better than ever
  • Intriguing overarching narrative implications
  • Final Fantasy pairs very well with Disney
Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 4) gets an 8.8 out of 10.

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