When Sora loses his friends and home to an invading enemy called the Heartless, he must team up with Donald and Goofy to travel the galaxy and save his friends. On his journey, he gets a new weapon called the Keyblade that he must master. However, he must not only fight the Heartless but the Disney villains who use them as pawns to take over the galaxy. Can Sora find his friends and put a stop to the Disney villains evil plot?
Back in the 2000s, this game was highly anticipated and sold a vast number of copies when Square Enix first released it. I was one of the first to get a copy and, to this day, it still holds up. While I’ll admit that a Disney/Final Fantasy crossover is one of the last combinations I’d ever expect, it does work. For starters, the main character belongs to neither Disney nor Final Fantasy. That character is Sora, wielder of the Keyblade. Originally, there was an argument over whether Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck should be the main character. Tetsuya Nomura felt the main character should be human to relate to the audience, so he created Sora. Which, in my opinion, was actually a smart move on his part. They were creating not only a new world, but an entirely new galaxy that needed to be introduced through a character who was as clueless about it as us. Sora is our Watson, which is the character that asks the questions the reader or, in this case gamer, would ask. Mickey Mouse spends most of the game as a driving force for Donald and Goofy and then gets a cameo at the end. So far, I’ve found two reasons for this decision. One was that the makers felt that using a single shot of Mickey Mouse would be the most iconic. Two was that, at the time, another company was working on a video game with Mickey mouse, so this game agreed to not show Mickey and, if they did, just to use a silhouette. Thankfully, keeping Mickey in the background helped the game. Don’t worry, Mickey has a much bigger role in future games.
I’ve already discussed the behind-the-scenes stuff. Now it’s time for me to discuss the in-game characters and plot which will contain spoilers, so tread carefully. I’ve already summarized the plot as best as I could in the opening paragraph. Keywords being as best as I could because, truthfully, it’s hard to sum up this game in a few sentences. Sure, the plot seems simple but there is so much more going on than meets the eye. I’m going to start with the simplest first. As I said earlier, the main character is Sora who lives with his friends, Riku and Kairi. All three of them grew up on Destiny Island and have a bond so close that they plan to build a raft so they can leave and fulfill their dream of exploring the galaxy. Unfortunately, they get their dream in a really twisted way when dark shadows called the Heartless invade. Sora becomes the Keyblade wielder to defeat them and ends up traveling the galaxy with Donald and Goofy. Riku allows darkness to take him and falls in with the Disney villains. Kairi succumbs to a Heartless attack and falls into a coma. In other words, Sora and Riku are light and dark while Kairi is the driving force behind their actions.
Sora starts this journey wanting to find his friends but, instead, not only finds Donald and Goofy but a destiny. He is the chosen wielder of the Keyblade and the one meant to use the Keyblade to not only defeat the Heartless but lock the now connected worlds so that the Heartless can’t destroy them. Sora not only accepts this destiny but does not forget to look for his friends. Finding Riku and Kairi is what drives him to get on the gummi ship. Yet, at the same time, Sora wants to save them and stick to his principles. At one point, Sora, Donald and Goofy’s ship gets eaten by the space whale Monstro. No, I am not making this up, this actually happens in the game. Anyway, getting past that ridiculous situation, Riku tries to kidnap Pinocchio and use his heart to try to save Kairi. Sora chooses to fight Riku not because he doesn’t care about Kairi, but because Sora does not want to sacrifice another to save Kairi’s life. When you get to Hollow Bastion, there is a scene where Riku takes the Keyblade away from Sora and tauntingly gives him a wooden sword. Donald and Goofy, having been ordered to follow the key and not let the key out of their sight, abandon Sora to follow Riku. This is the point where Sora’s at his lowest, abandoned by the Keyblade and his friends. At that point, he almost gave up but, thanks to a few words from Beast, grabs the sword and goes on.
With Beast by his side, Sora braves through Hollow Bastion and confronts Riku, saying that all the friends he had before this journey and the ones he made on it strengthened his heart. Not only do Donald and Goofy go back to him, but so does the Keyblade. This is when Sora shows himself to be a true Keyblade master. Then, when Sora finds Kairi in a coma and discovers that her heart rests inside of him, he chooses to kill himself to save Kairi. Yes, I know I said earlier that Sora would not sacrifice another to save Kairi’s but there’s a difference between taking your own life and murdering an innocent child. Sora stuck to those principles throughout the game and, in the end, those very principles are how Sora saves the day.
Riku, on the other hand, represents darkness. He’s the one most excited about building the raft and he’s the one who wants to leave Destiny Island so badly that he allows himself to literally get sucked up by the darkness. Which honestly makes me wonder how bad Riku’s home life is if he’s that desperate to get off Destiny Island. He didn’t even care that his home was getting destroyed by the same creatures he ran off with. In the Final Mix version, they add a scene where a frightened Riku finds himself in the clutches of the Disney Villains. Which really puts Riku’s situation into a new perspective. Imagine that you’re Riku, your home was attacked, you were swallowed by the darkness, and you find yourself at the mercy of the most sinister people you’ve ever seen. Wouldn’t you be scared out of your mind? Think about the characters that make up this first organization, Jafar, Maleficent, Ursula, Oogie Boogie, Hook and Hades. Those of you who have seen their movies know exactly how evil these characters can be and these are the people Riku got stuck with. The only thing protecting him might have been Maleficent’s choice to manipulate Riku rather than threaten him, which Riku does doubt throughout the game. Judging by the conversation Riku and Maleficent had after Riku first reunites with Sora, she tried to manipulate Riku into thinking that Sora no longer cared for him. However, it took a while for Riku to buy what Maleficent was selling. After Sora beats Jafar in Agrabah, Hades points out that, had Riku stuck around to help, Jafar would still be alive. However, Riku just grabbed Jasmine for an evil plan I will explain later. While this may seem to be a small act, it shows that not only does he still care about Sora, but he doubts whether he can trust Maleficent. Remember that scene I told you about where Riku takes the Keyblade away from Sora? Sora was down on his knees at his weakest point and, if Riku wanted to, he could’ve killed him. Instead, Riku just left with the Keyblade and Donald and Goofy. It wasn’t until Riku once again lost the Keyblade to Sora that he felt at his lowest moment, agreeing to let the true villain of Kingdom Hearts, who I will go into more detail about later, to possess him.
However, as soon as Riku gave himself to the darkness completely, that’s when he started fighting back. That’s when he realized that everything Maleficent told him was a lie. Ironically, had Riku not willingly gone with the darkness, the Keyblade and the destiny of saving the galaxy would have both been his. Let me explain that the Keyblade was originally supposed to go to Riku but, when Riku was nowhere to be found, it went to Sora. Later, after discovering the darkness in Riku’s heart, it went back to Sora.
Unfortunately, the intriguing storylines went to Sora and Riku. Kairi, on the other hand, got nothing. She spent most of the game in a coma and served as little more than a plot device. All we really know about her is that she’s from another world she doesn’t remember and Sora and Riku compete for her attention. Riku told Kairi that she’s the reason he’s curious about other worlds and why they ended up on Destiny Island out of all of them. During one race, Riku suggests racing Sora for the right to share a paopu fruit with her, something she has no objection to. A paopu is a fruit shaped like a star with the story that, if two people share one, their destinies become intertwined. They’ll remain a part of each other’s lives no matter what. So, for Riku to suggest that the winner gets that right reduces Kairi to an object, something that baffles Sora a bit but doesn’t even faze Kairi. She is the reason that Riku turned to the dark side. Maleficent showed Kairi’s lifeless form to Riku and promised to save her just so he would cooperate with them. In Monstro’s belly, When Sora and Riku fight over whether to kill Pinocchio to save Kairi, Kairi just lays there lifeless. I remember a fan who was in love with Riku saying that this proves that he cares more about Kairi than Sora does. However, Kairi would not want another life to be sacrificed for hers and Sora knew that. Had Riku genuinely cared about her, he would have understood that and found another way. It is why Kairi’s heart rested inside of Sora instead of Riku after the Heartless tried to kill her. After that, the only important thing Kairi does is bring Sora back to life after he becomes a Heartless with the power of love. I’m not trying to belittle this, but this just proves that Kairi is a plot device.
The emotional support for Sora and Riku and the reason behind their actions. In the end, while Sora and Riku team up to save the day, Kairi goes back to Destiny Island and waits for them.
As I said, this game is a crossover between Disney and Final Fantasy. However, the Final Fantasy characters are reduced to cameos. Yet this doesn’t make them less important. The characters of Squall (who goes by Leon), Yuffie and Aerith are the first characters Sora, Donald and Goofy meet when they leave their homes. The characters were even voiced by actors who were at least somewhat famous at the time. Yuffie’s voice was Christy Carlson Romano, who was famous for playing Ren in Even Stevens and voicing Kim Possible. I honestly have no idea what happened to her. Aerith’s voice was Mandy Moore, who used to be a famous popstar in the 90s. She would go on to voice Rapunzel in Tangled. As for Leon, his voice is David Boreanaz who was famous for voicing Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and later Angel. I found this rather funny because, when I was younger, I played Final Fantasy VIII while being obsessed with Buffy. So, when I had the chance to name Squall and Rinoa, I named them Angel and Buffy, respectively. As for David Boreanaz, last I heard of him he was in Bones which might have gone off the air by now. Cid’s Final Fantasy VII version also makes an appearance as the guy who fixes up Sora’s gummi ship. Cloud has a cameo at the Olympus Coliseum as a mercenary Hades hired, which fits with his introduction into Final Fantasy VII where he was a mercenary hired by Avalanche to blow up a Mako reactor. Tidus, Wakka and Selphie are children on Destiny Island who point Sora to important locations on that world as well as help him train. All three of them manage to keep the personalities that make them who they are. Even Sephiroth has a cameo as a secret boss and is voiced by Lance Bass, former member of the 90s band NSYNC, which caused outrage among the fans. No, I have no idea what Lance Bass is doing today either. Leon, Yuffie and Aerith are the Final Fantasy characters with the largest roles, as they regularly provide exposition for Sora, Donald and Goofy. They explain the state of the worlds, who the Heartless are, the purpose of the Keyblade and why Sora has to save the galaxy. When Sora comes back to them, they are the ones who explain who Maleficent is and give the name of the character who turns out to be the true villain. Later, at Hollow Bastion, they are the ones who explain that they once lived there and later have to come to terms with the true villain being their former ruler.
The Disney characters, on the other hand, play a much larger role. As I said earlier, Donald and Goofy travel the galaxy with Sora. However, the reason they start on this journey is because King Mickey is missing. Their mission is to find the Keyblade wielder and not to let him out of their sight. Yes, Mickey actually said “him” in the letter he left for them, not even considering that the Keyblade wielder might be a girl. Sora, who wants to find Riku and Kairi, teams up with Donald and Goofy to explore the galaxy. Along the way, they stop at several worlds that resemble Disney movies such as Agrabah, Wonderland and Halloweentown. Now I don’t know why the game makers chose to have the Final Fantasy characters be second to the Disney worlds. Maybe because their worlds are not as complicated to work in as the worlds of Final Fantasy. Maybe because Disney appeals to a wider audience than Final Fantasy does. Either way, Sora, Donald and Goofy run into many characters from various Disney movies. Some of them even help with Sora’s development, such as Sora seeing a bit of himself in Ariel, Sora talking to Peter Pan about Kairi and Beast giving Sora hope in his darkest hour. Each of these characters help make Sora strong and prepare him for the final battle. Particularly Donald and Goofy who Sora forms a bond with and who encourage Sora when things look bad. Even though they do go off with Riku to follow the key, later on, they both choose to defend Sora from Riku and realize that their friendship with Sora is more important than their orders from Mickey.
While I know many people who don’t like the original Disney characters, such my mom, without these characters there would be no Disney. So, it makes sense that they would play the largest role in the game.
Story wise, the ones who play the greatest role are the villains who have joined together under Maleficent to unleash the Heartless on all worlds and gather the seven Princesses of Light. The first time we see them together, they have watched Sora defeat a giant Heartless in Traverse Town. Maleficent is the only one who sees a use in Sora as well as Riku, which shows why she’s the leader of the villains. It is Maleficent who reminds the other villains what their plans are and warns them about the Heartless they control. During the Agrabah level, Maleficent warns Jafar about letting himself steep in darkness too long. Which later on, when Jafar almost becomes a Heartless, ends up proving Maleficent’s point despite him having laughed it off earlier. In a desperate bid to save his own life, Jafar wishes himself to be a genie like he did in the movie. Only downside is that we never get to see Jafar’s snake form, but I guess they couldn’t figure out how to work that in. However, the fact that Maleficent even takes the time to warn Jafar, shows that she does somewhat care about the people who work for her. She gives the same warning to Hades about his hatred letting it consume him like it did Jafar. Later on in the game, when Riku teleported to Maleficent using dark powers, she scolds him for it and warns him not to do that again. So, while Maleficent is trying to destroy the universe, she is not without compassion. Unfortunately, her boss Ansem is. Ansem is the former leader of Hollow Bastion who we are told about thought Leon, Yuffie, Cid and Aerith. The one who experimented with the Heartless and the man behind Maleficent who was pulling the strings. The one responsible for the destruction of many worlds. He is the one who manipulates Riku into letting him possess him. He is the one who is trying to open the door to Kingdom Hearts and cover the galaxy in darkness. In the end, both Sora and Riku manage to stop him with the help of Mickey Mouse who tells them that they both have to seal the door to Kingdom Hearts. Sora does so on the outside while Riku does so within.
The seven Princesses of Heart are the maidens who have the purest hearts and, together, can unlock the door to darkness. You probably think that all of the Disney princesses are the ones with the purest hearts, but Ariel is actually not a Princess of Heart. Yet, for some reason, Alice from Alice in Wonderland is. Kairi is also the final princess of heart which, in my opinion, was actually a good twist. However, this move turned the princesses into plot devices and damsels in distress. While this is nothing new for Snow White, Cinderella, Alice and Aurora; Jasmine and Belle have shown themselves to be more in their movies. Belle is an accomplished reader who not only refused to conform to what everyone else felt she should be but gave up her own freedom to save her father and stood up to a Beast. Jasmine chased off suitor after suitor, ran off on her own and threatened to have Jafar executed when she’s queen. Yet, when you visit Agrabah, Jasmine spends most of the level captured and calling for help. Her only purpose is to motivate Aladdin to join forces with Donald and Goofy. Belle fulfills the same role for the Beast on Hollow Bastion, being his sole motivation to keep fighting. This reduction to plot devices is not only lazy but an insult to both characters who have proven themselves to be strong women. While the question of why Alice is a Princess of Heart instead of Ariel is on quite a few people’s minds, myself included, this does a great service to Ariel. Instead of being the one who’s rescued, she’s the one who introduces Sora to Atlantica. Ariel still has the same dreams of exploring she had in her original movie and, as a result, trusts the wrong person (Ursula the Sea Witch) due to a controlling father and her own naïve nature. When she realizes what she’s done wrong, she teams up with Sora and helps take down Ursula to fix the mess she caused.
Despite the Disney characters and the E rating, this game is very adult. No, there is no swearing, gore, or nudity but there are some existential questions. In the very beginning, Riku questions the existence of other worlds. Wondering if there are other worlds than their island and, if there are, why he, Sora and Kairi ended up on this one. During the end of the game, Sora goes to the End of the World, which is the ruins created by destroyed worlds. He asks what will happen when they set the worlds back and, if they do set the worlds back, what would happen to this one? Believe it or not, one of the most existential questions in the game comes from Winnie the Pooh. When Sora first visits the Hundred Acre Wood, he finds Pooh alone saying that he was thinking about how to say goodbye to himself. That’s right, one of the most wholesome figures in Disney is contemplating suicide.
Yet there is a reason for it. The world Pooh is part of is in a book and all the pages have been torn up, separating him from his friends and leaving him to his lonesome self. Needless to say, this symbol of innocence and happiness has become so depressed that he’s actually considering killing himself. So, without his friends, Pooh can’t be Pooh. The final fight between Ansem and Sora is one of not only skill but a battle between two different philosophies. Ansem wants to unlock the door to the great Kingdom Hearts because he wants to unleash darkness on the galaxy, which he believes is the heart’s true essence. However, Sora disagrees with this and argues that the heart’s true essence is light, which is what makes up Kingdom Hearts. Sora and his strength are what defeat Ansem when the door is opened. Together, he and Riku shut the door to Kingdom Hearts, one of light and one of dark. Which I believe makes the message of the game that, together, both light and darkness are needed to protect the world.
The game play is that of an RPG which takes some cues from Final Fantasy. You destroy enemies, you level up and learn new abilities as you go. Unlike Final Fantasy, you don’t come across random encounters in the outside world. Instead, you go through worlds and defeat Heartless that pop out of the ground. There’s also no battle screen where you select the move of each character. You control Sora and only Sora. Donald and Goofy may fight alongside you but they move on their own. All you do is equip them with the right weapons, accessories, select skills for them to have and give them items that can be used for healing. The more Heartless you defeat, the more you level up the characters. Which is something you’re going to need, trust me. When you visit other worlds, you can switch out either Donald or Goofy for another party member. In Deep Jungle, that is Tarzan, in Agrabah, it’s Aladdin, in Atlantica, it’s Ariel, in Halloweentown, it’s Jack Skellington and in Hollow Bastion, it’s Beast. While these party members can supply more power and Aladdin can unlock secret passages in the Cave of Wonders, only Sora, Donald and Goofy can activate trinity marks. Trinity marks are little circles with three hearts that give rewards when activated. At first, you’ll only be able to activate blue ones but, as the game goes on, you can activate every color they offer. You can use save points to not only save your game but restore your health and visit other worlds which you can travel to in the gummi ship. Every world you complete and every character you meet adds to your journal, which is written by Jiminy Cricket (the royal chronicler). A character who joins you in the beginning but never gets any lines until the whale Monstro swallows you. Which, believe me, is the worst world in the game. You have to go through tunnels in Monstro’s stomach and try not to get lost. Not only that, but you also have to avoid falling off the ledge or you start the level all over again. Believe me, with all the heartless constantly attacking, it’s not as easy as it looks. The only world where the heartless don’t attack is the Hundred Acre Wood, which you visit through a book on the sorcerer Merlin’s desk. Instead, you find pages throughout the worlds, return the pages to the book and play a mini game. Which might make the Hundred Acre Wood feel like a diversion but, as I explained earlier, Pooh was on the verge of suicide when Sora met him. So, for Sora, this is him checking on Pooh to see if he’s okay. Not just that, but Sora’s destiny is to protect the worlds. For him, this is just another world he has to protect though in a different way. Other than that, the only world you don’t complete in one go is the Olympus Coliseum but that’s because of the Games where the tournaments open the further you progress in the game. The tournaments themselves are usually fighting heartless or boss battles. It’s also where the famous Sephiroth makes his appearance and is, in my opinion, one of the hardest bosses in the game.
The walkthrough claims that the hardest boss is the hooded guy in Hollow Bastion, but the hooded guy was nothing compared to Sephiroth. Though the level grinding might have helped, which is what you’ll also have to do if you want to complete the journal in this game. While that’s not really necessary, doing so will let you view the secret ending.
While Sora’s chosen weapon is the Keyblade, it is not the only way he can fight. Throughout the game, he learns magic that consumes MP. He can also find gems that he can bring to the Fairy Godmother to turn into summon characters. That’s right, like many Final Fantasy games, you can summon characters to fight for you. However, these summons come in the form of Disney characters such as Simba and Bambi.
You never visit their worlds because they were already destroyed but their hearts were strong enough to become summon gems. Which, honestly, is rather sad when you think about it. Think of these characters waking up only to discover that everyone they know and love is gone. Perhaps they fight with Sora because he talked to them and gave them hope that they could not only go back home but see their friends again. Personally, I rarely summoned these characters in battle and the only magic I regularly used was cure. Only exception was when I fought Kurt Zisa and the Phantom, but that was because magic was necessary if you wanted to defeat them. Especially the Phantom, who was the one guy who gave me more trouble than Sephiroth. The only way to attack the Phantom was the heart and it changed color a lot. There was one attempt when I only had one hit left only to realize that, not only had I spent all of my MP, but the Phantom’s heart was invulnerable to physical attacks at the time. Which got me killed and I had to start the fight all over, something that was not fun for me.
This game is addictive and original. I give it 9 out of 10; a beautiful work of art that you can actually play through. Though I wish that they had done more with the women.