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Retrospective: Kingdom Hearts

Extremely Goofy.

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.

Except take all those drugs, of course.

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.

Why does he fade to a head, not a smile? EH?

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.

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John Walker


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