Square Enix’s Disney mash-up is too easily misunderstood by those who may not have been young enough to appreciate the wonder of visiting a multitude of worlds from various classic House of Mouse movies, or appreciate the idiosyncrasies of travelling between worlds on what is basically a rocket-armed Lego spaceship. Kingdom Hearts is fan service, but it’s a credible oddity that has deservedly found a far greater audience today than it did when it limped onto UK shelves in 2002.
This HD compilation of the first title and previously unreleased (in the UK) PS2 spin-off remake ReChain Of Memories is a worthy collection for one of gaming’s pleasing oddities, even if some parts are slightly creakier by today’s standards. A quick note, though – while it may appear that the DS title 358/2 Days is part of this collection, it’s actually just the nonsensical and tedious cutscenes stitched together with a nice title sequence. There’s no gameplay here.
The original Kingdom Hearts, then, not burdened by the encroaching and thoroughly unwelcome bullshit mythology of subsequent titles, is absolutely in the spirit of the movies it adapts. It is a simple morality tale of light vs dark, realised through Tetsuya Nomura’s Golden Age Final Fantasy lens. Following a sedate opening, Kingdom Hearts becomes a whirlwind tour of Disney-themed worlds, with Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Tarzan being the best ones. Levels are rarely big, instead operating like little interconnected hubs that tick the major audiovisual boxes relevant to each movie. In some cases, protagonist Sora is given powers that match his surroundings – swimming or flying, in the case of Atlantica and Neverland.
While the camera is dodgy during more populated combat encounters, Kingdom Hearts is actually the perfect elementary action RPG, with a slight but easy-to-grasp progression system and a simple real-time translation of Final Fantasy’s staple moveset. A character from almost every world can be swapped with Donald Duck and Goofy in the party, like Peter Pan, Beast or Jack Skellington, and the presence of many original Disney voice actors and Haley Joel Osment as Sora gives it a vital bit of Hollywood prestige. With about 50 hours of content in total, including a dramatic secret boss fight with Sephiroth, the strength of the art direction has helped the original title in the series defy its years.
Kingdom Hearts: ReChain Of Memories, on the other hand, is a slack spin-off. This late-in-the-cycle PS2 adaptation of the Game Boy Advance game Chain Of Memories (which was released over here – quite hard to find now, actually) extracts one of the series’ main draws, its combat, and instead turns Kingdom Hearts into a boring card game with no complexity, while environments from the original game are endlessly recycled.
It’s a nice curio to have on the disk, we suppose, but any fans picking up Kingdom Hearts 1.5 will almost certainly be after a high-end version of the original rather than these frivolous extras. As Square Enix takes what will probably be a decade to release Kingdom Hearts III, this expensive-feeling re-release and a matching 2.5 for the sequel will be a more than adequate stopgap.