In 2002, Disney and Square Enix came together to make something that no one had thought possible: a game that combined the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy. The end result was Kingdom Hearts, a game that centered around a young boy named Sora who was on a journey to find his friends and save the world from destruction. The series quickly gained an avid fan base. The Disney worlds represented in the game were well-realized and filled with fun nods to the films. The action-heavy combat was also more engaging than that of Final Fantasy and made encounters much more dynamic.
For everything great about the series though, there are plenty of flaws, especially with the very first game, which this list will look at almost exclusively. With Kingdom Hearts 3 releasing sometime between now and 2020 (ahem), it’s time to take a look at the bits and pieces of Kingdome Hearts that may have been tainted by rose colored glasses. Keep in mind that this list is looking at the first Kingdom Hearts so while later entries may have improved upon some of these features when the series’ first got its start in 2002, these 15 things were very rough indeed.
15 Convoluted Story
The Kingdom Hearts series is notorious for weaving yarns that are too complicated for those without PhDs to understand. It wastes no time in cranking up the ridiculous nature of its story. Right off the bat, in the first game, we are introduced to the heartless, the Princess’ of Heart, and the various Disney worlds that house each keyhole. Then mix in the Keyblades, Xehanort, and his many forms, and the titular Kingdom Hearts itself and you have a recipe for the convoluted. The story is filled with plenty of heartfelt moments and dramatic reveals, but it doesn’t make it any easier to follow, especially for those just entering the fray. At least it manages to keep things interesting for its lengthy runtime, and it's hard to decipher nature makes for good conversation among fans.
14 Lots Of Backtracking
While the worlds crafted after Disney movies are always fun to explore and witness firsthand, they aren’t always well designed. Each level is a veritable maze of interconnected rooms tied together by clumsy puzzles. In the very first game, you visit Tarzan’s world in the form of Deep Jungle. It’s a great level with plenty of clever nods to the film, but actually finding the end is much easier said than done and requires the player to visit each area multiple times to figure out exactly where they need to be. It turns what should be rather straightforward levels into labyrinths that take up far too much time. You are also encouraged to return to levels to complete new objectives, but even these are too lackluster to shake things up and make backtracking worth it on any level.
13 Poor Platforming
Sora’s giant feet are perfect for jumping. Too bad he’s terrible at it. His jump is floaty, keeping him suspended above the ground for a little bit too long. It’s also terribly imprecise. He tends to slide off edges and into the abyss, causing the player’s health to slowly drain away, only for it to be replaced by frustration. It wouldn’t be so bad if platforming wasn’t incredibly present in absolutely every stage. When you aren’t smacking enemies with your key blade, you’re leaping between platforms that are spread just wide enough for Sora to barely make the jump every time. The game also likes to spawn enemies in the middle of platforming sections or near ledges, making it far too easy to fall to your death.
12 Series Spread Over Every Imaginable Console
Kingdom Hearts started on the PS2 in 2002 and since then has seen releases on the GBA, DS, 3DS, PSP, and mobile phones. The entire series has also been re-released on both PS3 and PS4. But if you wanted to play the series in order on one console before 2013, you simply couldn’t. It’s bad enough that the series’ story is hard to follow, actually playing every entry is made much harder by how spread out it is. It has only served to make Kingdom Hearts an incredibly unapproachable series. Kingdom Hearts 3 is even set to come out on Xbox One, which makes little sense because not a single entry in the series has been released on an Xbox console.
11 Combat Can Be Quite Clunky
Combat is a core component of Kingdoms Hearts. You unlock new abilities, spells, and key blades that make it easier to slash apart whatever new heartless rears its ugly head. Combat in Kingdom Hearts isn’t always the easiest, though, especially in the first game. You need to unlock the dodge roll ability, which means for the first hour or so you’ll find yourself absorbing a lot of hits. Not to mention the fact that hit detection can be quite unpredictable. The result is a combat system that often falls flat and feels very clumsy, especially when you have to constantly fiddle with the abilities menu in the midst of a hectic fight.
10 Poor Camera Control
One thing that does not help the combat or platforming is the game’s poor camera. It’s always getting stuck behind walls and other pieces of the environment, making it near impossible to guide Sora gracefully through the many dangers he must face. It’s especially aggravating in combat when you need to perfectly time a dodge or parry, and you can’t see what you're doing, resulting in Sora taking a nasty hit he could have otherwise avoided. This problem isn’t fixed in the HD remasters either, despite the games being reworked from the ground up because the original code was lost. Points to Square Enix for authenticity and frustration.
9 Terrible Swimming Level In Atlantis
The Little Mermaid is a favorite Disney film to many. The heartwarming tale of a mermaid falling in love with a human is timeless and the magical underwater world Ariel inhabits makes the imagination run wild. The second we set foot in Atlantis in the first Kingdom Hearts we were incredibly excited to explore the submerged kingdom. Our hearts sank just as quickly once we were introduced to the controls. Sora is turned into a mermaid, the dodge ability is removed, and actually traversing Atlantis is clunky and slow. It makes for an incredibly long level that overstays its welcome and takes the joy out of combat. Not exactly fun under the sea.
8 The Gummi Ship Segments
In the first Kingdom Hearts, the only way to explore new worlds was to fly to them in the Gummi Ship. This small vessel, crafted out of bizarre blocks called Gummis, flew through on-rail segments that included clusters of enemies and stationary walls to avoid. Every time a new segment was revealed it always involved holding down the fire button and struggling to maneuver the tiny craft well enough to not die. This was easier said than done, and once a new locale had been reached, fast travel was always the better option. Sure, it added some variety to the game but nothing fun or innovative enough to actually make players want to spend any time with it outside of the mandated sessions.
7 Repetitive Enemy Types
The main enemy in the first Kingdom Hearts is known as the Heartless. These entities of darkness take on several forms. While each is unique, they all fight in incredibly similar styles. Even when they are redesigned to fit the world they inhabit, they are still just damage sponges. You’ll dodge attacks and then mercilessly wail on them until they explode in a cloud of smoke, leaving several gems in their wake. Heartless are well-designed enemies with an interesting backstory, it’s just unfortunate that more wasn’t done with them. Maybe we’ll finally see something new and unique when Kingdom Hearts 3 finally releases in 2020.
6 Forcing The Player To Constantly Return To Traverse Town
In Kingdom Hearts, you visit many Disney worlds, but it’s one of the original locations made for the game that you visit the most. Traverse Town is a quite town devoid of much life, except for the Heartless that roam its streets and respawn the second you leave an area. You must return here often to meet new characters and uncover more secrets of the town. It’s a good place to grind but other than that all it does is make players grind their teeth. It’s not exactly easy on the eyes and the tasks at hand are boring when compared to the vibrant Disney worlds that make up the rest of the game. The constant backtracking aside, it also isn't a fun locale to wander around. There is very little to see and even less to do unless the story is telling you exactly where to go.
5 The Monstro Level
Monstrous is a quick and simple level that almost serves no purpose. What is frustrating is the literal maze constructed out of the whale’s digestive tract. He swallows you out of the blue as you drift through space in the Gummi Ship and serves as a quick pit stop before the next challenge that awaits Sora and crew. It’s one of the game’s levels that was not given quite as much care and almost seems like an excuse to shoehorn Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket into the game. Thankfully you can rush through the beasts' insides and quickly move on. There are only so many recognizable Disney worlds to choose from, but making Monstro one of the choices in the very first game does seem like an odd choice that muddles the pacing.
4 Disney Characters are Flat
Each Disney world included in the game is home to its respective characters. While all of these characters are well written and act like their film counterparts, they aren’t given much to do, and their performances aren’t incredibly impressive. It’s cool to see Square Enix characters interacting with timeless icons like Mikey Mouse, but it’s the levels themselves that actually steal the show, not the characters that serve as ways to deliver new objectives. Most of the Disney princess’ are also locked away by the game’s big baddies, so what you’re left with is a lot of supporting characters and some very empty worlds.
3 Incredibly Poor AI Companions
Sora is initially joined on his adventure by Donald Duck and Goofy. Both of these characters add a nice dynamic to proceedings, but they aren’t extremely competent when it comes to actually getting things done. They aren’t the most adept fighters, using too many health potions and never doing what you need them to in the heat of battle. The same can be said for the game’s other AI companions. At the end of the day, you can only really rely on your own skills to take down the Heartless. Donald and Goofy spend the majority of their time on the ground knocked unconscious while Sora continues to dodge and fight.
2 Hallow Bastion’s Puzzles And Layout
The Hallow Bastion is one of the largest, most complicated levels in the original Kingdom Hearts. It’s also one of its most frustrating. Many of the rooms look the same and solving the puzzles to open the gates and ascend the tower is much easier said than done. The result is a beautiful level that overstays its welcome and doesn’t even do anything particularly interesting in terms of gameplay. Unless you count fighting massive enemies in spaces too small to contain them interesting. It all culminates in Sora being turned into a heartless and stripped of his powers, which essentially turns the game into a very poor stealth game where all you can do is run.
1 Final Fantasy Characters Are Underused
Kingdom Hearts was conceived as a crossover between Disney and Final Fantasy. In the end, Square Enix decided to create original characters and craft a story around them. Final Fantasy characters are still present, but these familiar faces are woefully underutilized. The cast of FF X is present in the game’s opening moments in the form of small children and Cloud and Sephiroth both show up as incredibly difficult boss encounters in the Coliseum. There are a couple of other appearances, but they have no real bearing on the story, mostly just showing up as supporting characters for fanservice. We wish we could have seen some great moments between Micky and the moody Cloud.