Why Does Kingdom Hearts Remain So Beloved After 20 Years?

Kingdom Hearts (2002) Video Game

Kingdom Hearts delivers a magical Disney experience for fans of the films and RPGs alike. It blends the gravitas of the Final Fantasy series with the beloved storylines from classic cartoon flicks.

With many mainline and portable entries across multiple platforms, Sora's adventures ring true to both old and new gamers. The discussion about a confusing Kingdom Hearts narrative shouldn't turn off gamers, and all the reasons below explain why. 

The Disney Worlds

Kingdom Hearts III (2019) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Developer Square Enix presents the main attraction of thrills in Disney's worlds. It replicates each movie's setpieces beautifully in-game. Rapunzel's Tower looks stunning among the forested areas of Corona and the waterfall in the background. In the original game, Sora soars across the city of London as he unlocks the keyhole at Big Ben. A delightful attention to detail reflects the studio's love for the source material in each world. 

New Stories To Tell Within These Disney Worlds

Kingdom Hearts III (2019) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Many players grew up with classics like Toy StoryThe Nightmare Before Christmas, and Monster's Inc. and know the stories left, right, and center. Joy spreads across Disney fans' faces as they experience new tales within Kingdom Hearts. The heartless, Organization XIII, and other villains throughout the series mess with the original storyline and create something new.

In some cases, the story continues as Mike and Sulley proceed to evolve Monster's Inc. into caring, not scaring. Final Fantasy fans may get a kick out of Zack Fair participating in the games with Hercules during Birth By Sleep. 

The Deep Combat System

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (2012) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Magic, abilities, summons, flowmotion: the Kingdom Hearts series packs so many cool mechanics into the mix. This action RPG pushes fast combat that requires skill, accuracy, and timing, especially toward the late-game bosses. Blocking incoming attacks and then countering provides responsive and rewarding moments in battle. Spells like Reflect, Thunder, and Blizzard elevate the combat.

Players call upon the aid of Simba, Tinkerbell, and even Wreck-It-Ralph to help them in battle. Then, in Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts 3, Sora interacts with the environment to bounce off walls and climb up mountains.

Gorgeous Music

Dearly Beloved Song by Yoko Shimomura for Kingdom Hearts
Image Credit: Walt Disney Records.

Long-time Kingdom Hearts composer Yoko Shimomura (Super Mario RPG, Street Fighter 2) always brings chills to her fans with the music she creates. Many world themes elicit the atmosphere and mood of each Disney world to a tee.

Meanwhile, the battle themes raise the stakes and get the players' hearts pumped up. “Roxas' Theme” stirs the hearts of many with its sad orchestration, while “Sora's Theme” forms happiness as he arises from his sleep in Kingdom Hearts 2. 

The Characters

Kingdom Hearts III (2019) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Many gamers say the Disney characters rival the likes of the originals Square Enix created. However, loads of them formulated fanbases in and of themselves. A relatable character, Sora brings charm to the series with his strong sense of justice and kind nature. Many protagonists in gaming show undeniable strength, but Sora shows his emotions, marking a refreshing change.

Meanwhile, Riku pivots towards a different, darker route, intriguing many and showing a character arc not seen in many games. 

The Graphics

Kingdom Hearts III (2019) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Every time a Kingdom Hearts game is released, fans and critics alike applaud the graphical fidelity. Particle effects, character animations, and the huge set pieces from worlds like The World That Never Was and Hollow Bastion truly inspire many. Players may scratch their heads looking at the majesty of The World That Never Was' castle and wonder how Square Enix did it with a system like the PS2. 

Hikaru Utada's Songs

Kingdom Hearts III - Face My Fears (1)
Image Credit: Kingdom Hearts Instagram page & Tetsuya Nomura – Fair use/Wiki Commons.

Whenever a new Kingdom Hearts installment arrives, Japanese artist Hikaru Utada presents a banger track. In fact, Skrillex and Utada worked together on “Face My Fears,” a melodic, striking introductory track for Kingdom Hearts 3. Despite the odd lyrics of “Simple and Clean” and “Sanctuary,” Utada's stirring vocals truly stand out every time a player starts a new Kingdom Hearts adventure. 

The Stellar Original Cast

Kingdom Hearts - Mark Hamill
Image Credit: Gage Skidmore & Square Enix – CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

Square Enix manages to bring outstanding voice talent to the Kingdom Hearts series. Throughout its two-decade history, Hollywood talents like Mark Hamill, Christopher Lee, Leonard Nimoy, Christopher Lloyd, and Haley Joel Osment stepped into the studio to provide voices for the characters in-game. All give gravitas to their roles, providing outstanding performances that fans can believe in. 

The Series Brings Back Disney Talent

Kingdom Hearts - Christopher Lee
Image Credit: Avda & Square Enix – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0/Wiki Commons.

If talented performers like Mark Hamill and Christopher Lee don't offer enough reason to take interest, fans should rejoice that many classic Disney performers returned to their roles. Cast members such as Zachery Levi (Tangled), James Woods (Hercules), and Goofy's Bill Farmer step back into their characters. Square Enix even got the hilarious Gilbert Gottfried to reprise his role as Aladdin's Iago. 

A Unique Weapon: the Keyblade

Kingdom Hearts III (2019) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

The Keyblade blends the utility of a key and a sword's blade. It presents a cool ability to unlock and seal doorways, uncover treasure, and more, establishing an important role for the wielder. As players progress through the series, they can unlock new keyblade designs that add strength and magic stats to Sora and other characters. In Kingdom Hearts 3, Sora's Keyblade transforms into dual pistols, a ship's sails, and a shield, adding an extra element of strategy. The iconic design of the Keyblade helps the series stand out among its action RPG peers. 

The Fun Mini-Games

Kingdom Hearts III (2019) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Every once in a while, Square Enix throws in mini-games to change up the pace. Sora could be shooting presents into Christmas packages, singing along to The Little Mermaid‘s “Under The Sea,” or soaring across the sky on Aladdin's Magic Carpet. The Japanese developer switches it up every once in a while, spinning players away from the traditional action-RPG combat. 

The Forms in Kingdom Hearts 2

Kingdom Hearts II (2005) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

The forms system in Kingdom Hearts 2 elevates the action as Sora equips multiple Keyblades at once. The Valor form has Sora furiously attacking foes with two Keyblades in hand, while the Final Form delivers flashy combos and plenty of awe-inspiring magical abilities that constantly delight players. Once these forms level up, Sora gains new abilities like an additional jump in the air and improved flight. 

Reaction Commands in Kingdom Hearts 2

Kingdom Hearts II (2005) Video Game
Image Credit: KH Wiki – CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED/Wiki Commons.

The Kingdom Hearts 2 reaction command system adds a cinematic flair to each fight. Sora dodges incoming attacks in an action-packed scene with the press of a dedicated button. It sounds simple, but when timed perfectly, players see a flashy attack from Sora, like the Keyblade wielder striking the belly of a dragon heartless or countering the antagonist Xemnas mid-air. Thankfully, reaction commands return in Kingdom Hearts 4. 

Action-packed Boss Battles

Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (2013) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Square Enix delivers exciting boss battles throughout the series. Whether it's the intensity of Master Xehanort's attacks or facing the almighty Chernabog from Fantasia, players are in for a treat. The developer knows how to mix up the gameplay to change everyone's strategies in battle. Guarding specific attacks can prove vital in some fights, but the game may throw some wrenches, like getting trapped in Oogie Boogie's random dungeon. Square Enix constantly surprises fans with creative boss designs.

The Secret Boss Battles

Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Near the end-game or after finishing a Kingdom Hearts title, some tough secret boss battles await. They require the utmost strategy to conquer, making these Disney games feel like Dark Souls titles. You'll need key precision to tackle the likes of Sephiroth, the bonkers Enigmatic Soldier, and Yozora.

Some of these secret boss battles also reveal what's coming up in future games. Organization XIII leader Xemnas, for example, features as a secret boss in Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, sabers and all. Good luck beating them!

A Rewarding Command System in Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep (2010)Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Series director Tetsuya Nomura and Square Enix change up the formula every once in a while. The PSP entry Birth By Sleep offers a battle system with a deck of abilities. They each level up, allowing players to meld commands together. Grinding for experience, leveling these commands up, and creating devastating moves like Deep Freeze, Salvation, and Fission Firaga greatly reward enthusiasts. Melding commands also give Ven, Aqua, and Terra buffs such as a longer combo, reload time for abilities, and boosted health. 

Summoning Disney Characters

Kingdom Hearts II (2005) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

In the Final Fantasy games, the characters summon aeons and gods on the battlefield. For Sora, he calls upon classic Disney characters like Simba, Genie, and Bambi. Similar to Final Fantasy Xillustrious cutscenes play before the likes of these Disney heroes join us, making these moments special.

Each summon brings something different to the table. Simba roars with a huge area of effect attack while Tinkerbell keeps healing Sora during tough situations. However, bringing the pointless Chicken Little to the battle in Kingdom Hearts 2 might have been a bad idea.

The Epic Storyline

Kingdom Hearts III (2019) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

While many outsiders criticize too many complexities within Kingdom Hearts‘ storyline, fans love the intricate tale Square Enix provides. Twists and turns excite the fans as Sora and the gang try to defeat the darkness. Many emotional moments occur throughout the timeline, adding many memorable scenes etched into the minds of its players.

Roxas, Ventus, Aqua, Terra, and many other characters along the way suffer and then rebound, bringing joy. Kingdom Hearts 3, in particular, feels rewarding for those who stuck with the deep storyline and made a connection with these characters, despite it feeling a little rushed. Many mysteries await within the future of the Kingdom Hearts series, keeping fans anticipating the next entry, two decades after the first game.

The Imaginative Art Design

Kingdom Hearts (2002) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

Most Disney tie-in games take the original assets from a film or TV show and make them work in an interactive manner. However, Square Enix takes this a step further with its original world designs. Traverse Town features a memorable town with plenty of neon signage and European architectural themes. Also set at night, it creates an almost creepy vibe as Sora, Donald, and Goofy explore an empty town ravaged by the heartless.

Kingdom Hearts 2s Twilight Town feels nostalgic with an orange-tinted sky, elaborate trains zooming across the tracks, and a tram car moving around the streets. Square Enix captures the imagination of many, and these worlds somehow overshadow some of the Disney-themed areas at points. 

Unique Enemies 

Kingdom Hearts III (2019) Video Game
Image Credit: Square Enix.

The Heartless, Nobodies, and Unversed throughout the series each provide unique battle scenarios. A Nobody Samurai readies his blade, and Sora has to attack just in time to eliminate it, while the Large Body requires the Keyblade wielder to attack its back rather than a bulbous belly. With each new enemy design, Square Enix keeps adding new and engaging challenges.

Author: Chris Penwell

Title: Freelance Writer

Bio:

Chris has been a freelance games journalist for over 10 years with experience from Destructoid, GGRecon, Gamepur, and other outlets. He loves to play narrative games like Kingdom Hearts and Beyond Good & Evil.