For quite a few of us, Kingdom Hearts is the bread and butter of gaming. However, we understand that there are many gamers that still don't understand the appeal of the franchise. In fact, many gamers may continue to skip the series this year even with the chance at a HD compilation. So for those who are still on the fence, here's a highlight of what makes Kingdom Hearts such a special series.
The first thing about Kingdom Hearts that sticks out is its story. The first Kingdom Hearts may have started a bit stereotypically with the whole "boy vs evil" thing and suggested love triangle, but as the game progressed and the series grew, so did the story. To put it simply, it went from "beat the bad guy" to "find your other half" to "waking the sleeping worlds." Thankfully, each game has done a good job of explaining what's going on while keeping you fully engrossed in the story.
While you still save the world(s) from evil in each game, Kingdom Hearts' story has always revolved around friendship. We have Sora, who used his own weapon on himself just so his friend could wake up. There's Riku, who, after being deceived by the enemy, spent the next year of his life guarding Sora who was in stasis. And then there's Axel, who died fighting alongside the enemy because he just wanted to see a friend one last time.
In many ways, it's the heroic characters that keep us so attached to the story. Each character is unique and has different strengths and weaknesses. Some of these internal struggles are rather incredible. If you take the "emotionless" Nobodies of Roxas, Namine, and Xion, you see a struggle that many can relate to: a struggle of identity. To put simply, they don't know their place in the world. Are they heroes, are they tools, is their even a point for them to live? Terra and Riku both had to deal with darkness in their hearts. While Terra fell to his darkness, Riku overcame. Even the main villain was impressed that Riku did what so many failed to do.
While Kingdom Hearts has pain and loss, it also has many joyous moments. We've seen Sora reunited with his friends, fallen heroes redeemed, and even a few Nobodies becoming somebodies. It may sound corny, but these are characters that we've laughed and cried with. Whether it was their struggles or victories, we've related to the characters of Kingdom Hearts.
The villains, though in no way inspiring, are rather deserving of attention as well. There are the minions known as Heartless, Nobodies, Dream Eaters, and the Unversed. They are rather diverse in both appearance and threat. While one minion may look cute and cuddly, the other may be three stories tall and ready to crush you like a bug. We also have the mid-level villains such as Oogie Boogie, Hades, and Jafar from the Disney movies. They're rather entertaining because it feels like they never left their films. I would go into the central villains of the series, but I'll save that treat for you to discover yourself.
There is, of course, more to Kingdom Hearts than just story and characters. Kingdom Hearts has some of the most enjoyable gameplay of any franchise. The core of it tends to stay with attacking with your keyblade and magic while you level up to obtain useful battle skills. While the core gameplay remains, each game adds in an extra element unique to itself.
Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded on the Nintendo DS would dramatically change the gameplay at certain points of each world where you may play it like an RPG or a side scroller. Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep would allow you to take on the abilities of friends you met throughout the game and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance added "flow motion" allowing you to slide on rails, jump on walls, and swing on light polls. Each "motion" could end in either a powerful attack or a quick dash. Though some of them may seem similar, each entry into the series brings something new to the table.
Something else that makes Kingdom Hearts special is that it uses two very different franchises: Final Fantasy and Disney. Strangely, Kingdom Hearts makes it feel as if they never were separate to begin with. Huey, Duey, and Luey are often seen with Cid from Final Fantasy VII running various shop. You can also find Leon (Squall), Yuffie, and Merlin together discussing how to deal with the Heartless, and you'll meet Auron as he tell Hades, "This is my story. You're not a part of it."
You are also involved in the personal stories of the characters from Final Fantasy and Disney. You help Stitch understand friendship, show Zack heroism, and even help Simba take back Pride Rock from Scar. It's very satisfying to help all these people grow into the heroes that we know them for.
Yoko Shimomura has done a fantastic job composing the series' music. It never feels out of place, and always amplifies the moment. The character themes are a highlight for sure. From Sora's goofy tune, to Xion's beautiful, innocent song, and Riku's dark, somber music, each song reflects their person perfectly. The main theme of Kingdom Hearts, Dearly Beloved, is tweaked in each game making the song all the more powerful. You'll also find that the tracks inspired by the Disney and Final Fantasy franchises do justice to their material. Another feat is how every time you enter or exit a battle, the music is able to transition flawlessly to the point that you'll barely notice.
For whatever reason you've held back in playing Kingdom Hearts, know this: now has never been a better time to get started. Whether you choose Kingdom Hearts 3D or the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 ReMIX HD collection (the collection may be the better choice), this is a franchise you will enjoy. Not only will it be a fun experience, but it will be one to come back to time and again. Plus, it'll get you prepared for Kingdom Hearts 3, if it ever happens.