I'd never played the Kingdom Hearts games before. In fact, I only really noticed they exist very recently. I'm not sure how that happened, but I decided to put it right by delving into the original PS2 version of the first Kingdom Hearts. It's important to plug these gaps.
To say that Kingdom Hearts is a game that doesn't start well is a bit like saying some famous footballers occasionally entertain the notion of putting their winkies in the wrong places. I swear I occasionally felt physical pain as I struggled through the opening few hours of tortuous, tedious, turgid nonsense. Why on Earth would anyone care about this bilge?
Things begin in a jumbled dream sequence that makes less sense than even my own dreams. If the central spiky-haired character, as he fell from Disney-themed stain-glass platform to Disney-themed stain-glass platform, in between emo mumbling on a beach, had suddenly turned into a crocodile queuing for a bus, before realising he's late for his exams but his legs are stuck in potted plants, it wouldn't have been any more difficult to follow.
Back in the waking world you've got a bunch of extraordinarily spoiled kids, living in idyllic island luxury, whinging that there's not enough variety in their lives. They're going to run away, they decide, because for how much longer can they bear staying on this island paradise with such extraordinary freedom? The poor dears. Charged with collecting equipment to build a raft one day, then food for their ill-advised journey the next (including a gull egg - ew), you're basically running around a small beach area, picking things up and discovering hidden chests.
That's when you're not senselessly beating your friends to near death. Everyone you know, it seems, is desperate to get hit with a stick. It's their Final Fantasy background - it's bad for them. Challenging you to a fight, you then brutally thwack them as hard as you can until they eventually call things off. And you gain a blip of experience.
And what, I beg the screen, does this have to do with the inserted Disney cutscenes I'm watching?
King Mickey is missing, we're told. His throne, in the centre of his creepily bare, vast chambers, lacks its apparent ruler. The sense of a brutal, greedy regime is impossible to ignore. A peculiar mix of architectural opulence and unnervingly barren interiors give the impression of a washed up despotic leader who refuses to give up his castle despite having run his nation into abject poverty.
You think I'm exaggerating? Donald and Goofy, when discussing the importance of rescuing Mickey, refer to it as protecting the "World Order". I'm telling you - this is something creepy.
Eventually, after far, far too long, the two halves of the story meet, as your hero - Sora - arrives in Traverse Town, at the same time as the duck and dog team. You're then tasked with wandering around aimlessly, as the three fail to meet, arbitrarily solving what look like they might be puzzles, until finally, mercifully, the team is united.
I'm not a follower of the Final Fantasy games, so the game's many references to that series are lost on me. But even knowing they're from their own fictional universe doesn't make it seem any less weird to me that no one is either a) surprised or b) excited to see Disney characters in their world. They've never heard of them, it seems, which seems to rob the game of a magical element that would have seemed key to me.
In the same way that people are excited to meet the famous denizens of Toontown, that Michael Jordan wants to play basketball with Bugs Bunny, that Brendan Fraser's doppelganger stuntman wanted to save Daffy Duck's job - meeting cartoon characters in real life is a really flipping exciting idea. The complete nonchalance with which Sora receives the company of two of the most famous talking animals in the world is unsettling. Let alone his apparent ignorance of all of Disney's interpretations of fairytales.
But when they finally meet up, suddenly it becomes clear why people might care about this game, and those that followed. Suddenly it changes gear, remembers that a third-person action adventure needs to have some action and some adventure, and begins you on a journey exploring your way through a remarkable selection of Disney classics.
It never stops feeling like a The Fly-style mutant result of an experiment gone wrong, where an attempt to teleport a Final Fantasy character was subverted by the accidental inclusion of Jiminy Cricket sneaking his way into the pod. The two universes don't so much co-exist, as simultaneously occupy the same space.
But wow, it's hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale of Disney that's on offer here. The voice cast alone is breathtaking. These aren't approximated voices, sound-a-likes or the people who did the straight-to-DVD sequel. These are the same people who originally recorded the characters. Sure, they don't get Robin Williams to voice the Genie, but when the replacement is Dan "Homer Simpson" Castellaneta it's hard to sniff. I found myself frequently checking IMDB to see if this latest voice really was him or her, each time being astonished that it was.
The realisation of some of the areas is equally magnificent. While small, the Wonderland planet (because of course you're flying from themed planet to themed planet via a very ill-conceived spaceship shooting sequence) is packed with brilliant ideas. A room you use to enter the Queen's court becomes a repeatedly used location, as you find ways into it to explore via its walls and ceiling. It reminds me a little of Psychonauts, in fact.
So you've got Tarzan, Alice In Wonderland, Winnie The Pooh, Hercules, Aladdin, and so on, each really impressively realised in 3D, but while still maintaining the original design. Perhaps the poorest effort is Hercules, where Gerald Scarfe's distinctively angular design is mostly lost, but most are pleasingly reminiscent of their source.
I think what surprises me most as I explore the game is quite how varied it is, and how involved it gets. As you discover more magic powers, start needing to carefully manage your inventory to ensure you enter boss battles perfectly equipped, select characters to be in your party, craft items, solve puzzles, improve fighting skills, get involved in complex conversations, and find the central story seemingly darker and darker, it's not nearly the game I was expecting.
Sadly, what I was expecting appear to be the weakest aspects. Having had the impression this was more of a platform-orientated third-person adventure, it's here that it's at its absolute worst. Sora's inability to jump on a thing is infuriating.
The game seems to have been specifically designed to have him mysteriously sloop down and away from an object, in the manner in which such games would usually indicate you shouldn't be jumping there. Not so here. Repeated attempts to land on a box will eventually work, shortly before you're knocked back off again by one of your party clumsy shoving you out of the way. Particularly egregious are the sequences in Tarzan's jungle, where falls mean restarting long, boring jumping sequences.
And that's if you can see what's happening. The camera adores hiding behind objects, or getting stuck on scenery, as if you're being filmed by another character in the scene. Again in the Deep Jungle, there's one remarkably stupid moment where you're sliding down a long tree trunk, and the camera insists on putting one of your party members at the fore, such that your character is completely hidden.
I'm not sure that the Disney meets Square thing really comes off. But there's no doubting that however disjointed it may feel, the result is a game enormous in scope, and just plain bizarre in concept.