Category Archives: Kingdom Hearts Series
When the original Kingdom Hearts was released on the PlayStation 2 over 10 years ago I wasn’t playing video games much at the time. I had completed and loved Final Fantasy X but other hobbies had taken my interest. I saw an advertisement for Kingdom Hearts on TV (it was 2002 remember!) and it enchanted me straight away. It had a great atmosphere and story, a fun combat system, a nice throwback to Disney animated films and of course cameos from Final Fantasy characters from my favourite games ever!
Fast forward over the years and I played Kingdom Hearts 2 which was also great and even the PlayStation Portable entry Birth By Sleep which I also enjoyed. There were many other side stories that have been made that I just haven’t had the same interest in compared to the original and never played. There was something about the simplicity of the first game and I hadn’t felt that way about the series since then. The development team that made Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 have been working on Final Fantasy Verses XIII (newly changed to Final Fantasy XV) for at least the last five years so a new mainline entry seemed forever away. That all changed with the recent announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 in development by the studio that made Birth By Sleep overseen by original director Tetsuya Nomura.
For whatever reason, the announcement trailer has got me excited all over again about Kingdom Hearts. Whether it was the new graphics engine that looks fantastic, new worlds to explore or just the promise of the conclusion to the storyline of the mainline trilogy my imagination quickly thought of all the things I hoped Kingdom Hearts 3 could be.
Firstly, getting back to playing as Sora on the big screen with an evolution of the crazy action battle system the series is known for. I have always enjoyed turn-based RPGs more, but the Kingdom Hearts real-time battles have delivered some tense fights and I clearly remember the amount of effort and attempts it took to best Sephiroth in the original or the epic battle against the 1000 heartless with the aid of Cloud and Squall in the sequel.
Then I thought about all the returning and hopefully new Final Fantasy characters they could include and to see them in the new updated, but still stylised graphics. I’m sure Cloud will return (hopefully more in line with his original appearance, with the hair flick and more cheery personality intact) and maybe the introduction of characters from other games not originally designed by Nomura such as Terra from Final Fantasy VI, Zidane from Final Fantasy IX or even Ramza and Delita from Final Fantasy Tactics.
Lastly, with the storyline focusing on searching for the “Seven Guardians of Light” I hope it can get back to a more straightforward narrative like the first game, travelling from world to world (with new appearances from Disney films) and just piece each part of the story together to end in a massive final keyblade battle between Sora and the forces of light, against series antagonist Master Xehanort and the darkness!
Anybody else excited for the possibilities?
Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG for the PlayStation 2 that featured the bizarre, but magical combination of classic Disney characters with Squaresoft’s own Final Fantasy characters.
Kingdom Hearts created a universe where characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and Peter Pan co-existed with Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. It didn’t just rest on the popularity of Disney’s timeless characters and settings though, expertly mixing it together featuring an entertaining original story, fun real time combat system, high quality voice acting and an amazing soundtrack. Kingdom Hearts was so unpredictable, yet so ingenious.
The story focuses mostly on original characters, while leaving the Disney and Final Fantasy characters as cameos, which works extremely well as it lets Kingdom Hearts stand on its own two feet. The main character Sora is tasked with using the Keyblade to travel to different worlds and protect them from being consumed by the dark creatures known as the Heartless. The story evolves from the light verse darkness theme and provides many twists and turns such as your allies becoming enemies. The locations are also a highlight as each new world brings a classic Disney film to life.
Unlike most of the RPGs Squaresoft were releasing at the time, battles in Kingdom Hearts are in real time with the player having full control over Sora, who is joined by Donald and Goofy (plus other Disney characters) as computer controlled party members. The combat system still has plenty of depth as Sora can attack with his Keyblade, cast magic spells, use special techniques, jump, fly and even use summons. Despite the bright and colourful look of the games graphics, some bosses are very difficult and require the player to master all of their abilities such as an optional fight against the infamous Sephiroth in the Hercules’ Olympus Colosseum.
Kingdom Hearts excels in its voice acting, as the main characters are brought to life by Hollywood actors and many of the Disney characters have their original voice talent. Adding to the fantastic audio experience is the impressive soundtrack by Yoko Shimomura who carefully blends arrangements of iconic Disney melodies with memorable original compositions such as “Dearly Beloved” and “Hollow Bastion”.
Kingdom Hearts is a wonderful mix of originality and nostalgia. If you wish to play an action RPG with thrilling game play and memorable characters then you should play Kingdom Hearts.
After defining and revolutionising RPGs on the original PlayStation, Square went head first into the next generation by beginning work on the tenth instalment in the Final Fantasy series developed exclusively for the PlayStation 2. With much more powerful hardware, Final Fantasy X saw the introduction of voice acting, more realistic facial animations, fully 3D environments (replacing the pre-rendered ones used in Final Fantasy VII, VIII and IX) and had three different composers producing the soundtrack including Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy X was a huge success and was seen as a giant leap forward for the series, while still keeping the features fans enjoyed, such as an engrossing narrative, memorable characters, mini-games, turn-based battles and a gigantic world to explore.
During the early 2000s online gaming was growing in popularity and Square announced the next numbered Final Fantasy game would be a completely online experience. Final Fantasy XI allowed players to created their own online avatars and take on quests to develop their character and progress through the main storyline. Final Fantasy XI became the most profitable entry in series and is still in operation 10 years after it’s release with new developments expanding the game.
After the critical success in Japan of Vagrant Story and Hironobu Sakaguchi’s pleasure with Yasumi Matsuno’s work as a game director, Sakaguchi decided that he would entrust Matsuno with the next mainline Final Fantasy game. Co-directed by Matsuno and Hiroyuki Ito, Final Fantasy XII was a massive change in direction for an offline Final Fantasy game. It featured a seamless battle system with no random battles, free camera control, was based in the world of Ivalice from Final Fantasy Tactics and put heavy emphasis on a political storyline. Due to creating the new battle system completely from scratch, Final Fantasy XII had a very long development cycle of around 6 years and during the time Matsuno fell ill leading to his resignation from Square. Final Fantasy XII was completed after he left and was still meet with huge success.
Square had partnered with Nintendo many years earlier to create Super Mario RPG, but the world was shocked when they announced they were developing a new RPG with Disney known as Kingdom Hearts. Character designer Tetsuya Nomura made his debut as game director as Kingdom Hearts was released as an action-RPG featuring worlds and characters from Disney animated films such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, mixed with original and Final Fantasy characters ranging from Cloud Strife to Squall Leonheart. What seemed like an odd combination produced one of the best RPGs released on the PlayStation 2 and expanded into its own long running series.
With Square still dominating the RPG scene, Sakaguchi believed it was time to broaden the company’s horizons as he created Square Pictures and directed his first feature length movie. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was the first photorealistic computer animated feature film using the most advanced technology available at the time. Despite some positive reviews, the film didn’t earn enough money to even cover its expensive development and cost the company millions of dollars, Square Pictures was closed down and SquareSoft was in financial strife. Sakaguchi stepped down as vice president of Square and shortly left the company all together when Square merged with their once rival Enix in 2003, creating Square Enix.
During the years either side of the merger with Enix, many talented employees left Square such as directors and game designers: Hironobu Sakaguchi, Yasumi Matsuno and Tetsuya Takahashi, script writers: Masato Kato and Kazushige Nojima, as well as composers: Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura. Many other employees joined smaller development companies too. Square Enix still continues to create Final Fantasy games and others in old Square franchises, but the golden age of SquareSoft seems to have long past. Still, we can always look back at some of the greatest video games ever made and remember the unforgettable journeys they gave us…
Square Enix is releasing two new RPGs for the Nintendo 3DS, one is a sequel in a long running series and the other a new take on the traditional RPG that has more in common with the earlier titles in the Final Fantasy series.
Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Kingdom Hearts series has always combined fantastic action RPG game play, an interesting story, great characters and superb music. Kingdom Hearts 3D features the ability to play as both main characters Sora and Riku, explore new Disney worlds such as Fantasia and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the ability to collect Dream Eaters to aid you in battle and cameos from the cast of The World Ends With You.
Capitalising on the excellent Birth By Sleep, this new entry looks to evolve the series and tie up the loose ends in the story building up the third main title.
If you are a fan of the series and are anticipating the announcement of Kingdom Hearts III, then you should be interested in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.
Bravely Default: Flying Fairy
The most striking feature of Bravely Default is its mesmerising art style. Blending highly detailed hand-drawn backgrounds and unique character designs, it is reminiscent of Final Fantasy IX. The battle system is turn-based, while adding a new feature to stack up turns to unleash more powerful attacks. A 3D world map returns as well as a job system similar to that found in Final Fantasy V.
Bravely Default looks to be one of the most impressive RPGs currently in development, with still more features yet to be revealed.
If you have been longing for a return to the classic adventures of earlier Final Fantasy games with a beautiful art style, then you should be interested in Bravely Default: Flying Fairy.
After the evolution from 2D sprites on the SNES to the limited 3D models on the PlayStation, RPGs on the PlayStation 2 finally featured fully 3D worlds to explore. The powerful hardware of the PS2 allowed RPGs to utilise more detailed character models and environments, exciting new battle systems and topped it all off with orchestral soundtracks and voice acting.
Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2)
Gone were the days of pre-rendered backgrounds, games were now using fully 3D models with the ability to move the camera around and view the world anyway you wanted. RPGs such as Final Fantasy XII enabled players to roam around its massive world seamlessly, going to places ahead of the story and even finding enemies that were way above their level.
Cut scenes were made more realistic with the use of voice acting and motion capture and games like Kingdom Hearts even had Hollywood actors leading their talents to help bring characters to life. Musical scores where now orchestral and composers could add more depth and instruments to their arrangements. Even with the advancements in other aspects of the genre, RPGs still had memorable stories to tell such as the wonderful journey through Spira in Final Fantasy X or the 3 part Sci-fi epic of Xenosaga. The improved presentation of PS2 RPGs allowed developers to fully realise their visions on screen and create immersing worlds.
With the popularity of the PS2 and the RPG genre during these years many niche games where able to receive widespread recognition such as Persona 3 and 4, that merged the modern settings of high school classrooms with turn-based dungeon crawls. Not everything became more realistic and the use of cell-shaded graphics in titles such as Rouge Galaxy presented art styles that mesmerised players. Action RPGs became more plentiful and battle systems such as the one found in Star Ocean 3 provided intense action with full control over character movement.
RPGs on the PS2 had a tremendous amount of variety enabling all players to find a game that would satisfy their tastes. The Best RPGs found on the PS2 include: Final Fantasy X and XII, Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, Xenosaga Episode 1,2 and 3, Dragon Quest VIII, Star Ocean 3, Valkyrie Profile 2: Silmeria, Rouge Galaxy, Dark Cloud and Dark Chronicle, Persona 3 and 4, Odin Sphere, Suikoden III, IV and V and many more.
So what is your favourite console for RPGs? The SNES, PS1, PS2 or do you think another console has a greater collection of games? Let me know what you think!
Shimomura has produced many fascinating RPG soundtracks over the years. She is known for her alibility to portray colourful worlds with her music as well as produce diverse themes. These are my top 5 Soundtracks from Yoko Shimomura:
1. -Legend of Mana-
The music in Legend of Mana perfectly paints a whimsical dream world. Shimomura created magical town themes, fast battle music, peaceful and beautiful piano tracks and a fantastic vocal piece to bring the magical world to life.
Best Compositions: “Song of Mana”, “Earth Painting”, “Cliff Town Gato”
2. -Radiant Historia-
The soundtrack of Radiant Historia is relatively small, but includes a lot of quality. Like the game itself, the music evokes memories of past RPG classics. It features mysterious piano and violin tracks as well as frantic battle themes that enhance emotional parts of the narrative.
Best Compositions: “Edge of Green”, “Memories of the World”, “Blue Radiance”
3. -Kingdom Hearts-
Kingdom Hearts soundtrack is an impressive achievement as it manages to blend the themes of Disney’s motion pictures with Square’s RPGs. Shimomura created careful arrangements of iconic Disney compositions as well as memorable original pieces.
Best Composition: “Simple and Clean”, “Dearly Beloved”, “End of the World”
4. -Xenoblade Chronicles-
Recently released, Xenoblade’s soundtrack is a collaboration between many composers including Shimomura and Yasunori Mitsuda. Shimomura contributes a magnificent main theme, stirring town music and energetic battle themes.
Best Compositions: “Main Theme”, “Colony 9”, “Time to Fight”
5. -Parasite Eve-
The oldest soundtrack on this list, but it really shows Shimomura’s diversity. The music of Parasite Eve is experimental and wonderfully combines beautiful piano melodies with techno electronic sounds. It creates the perfect haunting atmosphere for the more intense parts of the game.
Best Compositions: “Primal Eyes”, “Theme of Aya”, “Urban Noise”