177. Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts (2002, PlayStation 2) by SquareSoft

Current Any% (Normal, English) Leaderboard (speedrun.com)

Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 2)
-Kingdom Hearts 2 (PlayStation 2)
-Kingdom Hearts 3 (PlayStation 4)
-Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories (Game Boy Advance)
-Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (Nintendo DS)
-Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep (PlayStation Portable)
-Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (Nintendo 3DS)
-Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix (PlayStation 3)
-Kingdom Hearts 2.5 Remix (PlayStation 3)
-Kingdom Hearts X (Web Browser)
-Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (PlayStation 4)

NOTE: only Kingdom Hearts games are eligible.

It took me almost exactly one week, and over 68 hours of actual gameplay, to go from having never even played Kingdom Hearts in my life, to beating the game in about 8 hours in a single setting.  This was a ride, to be sure, but a welcome one.  I knew that this SquareSoft classic would be a great time, a huge challenge, and a ton of fun, but I had no idea how much fun… and also, how utterly frustrating, it would be.  Thankfully, with the help of some good friends and a TON of practice, I was able to complete a respectable speedrun in my very first attempt, allowing me to call this Trial done with a clear conscience and forward momentum.  This was quite the game, and I truly enjoyed this process!

Kingdom Hearts was an amazing collaboration between Square Enix (back then, known still as SquareSoft) and Disney, whom likely needs no introduction.  They decided to combine the feel and atmosphere of Square’s amazing Final Fantasy series, with the worlds and characters that Disney has across their entire back-catalogue.  You play as an original character, Sora, and you team up with Disney mainstays Goofy and Donald Duck, who are on a quest to save King Mickey, but also to stop the Heartless.  The Heartless are dark characters looking to take hearts from people and use them to take over the world?  (Just know, that nobody can truly follow the Kingdom Hearts plot and lore, even causing the Nerd to make this episode in the first place!)  You get to see the worlds and characters from Alice in Wonderland, Tarzan, Aladdin, Pinocchio, A Nightmare Before Christmas, Peter Pan, and Beauty and the Beast (if you play the entire game, you also get to see worlds from Hercules, The Little Mermaid, Winnie the Pooh, and more).

The game is a 3rd-person action RPG, with real-time combat, and this game controls marvelously.  Tight combat, a lock-on system, and fluid movement make fighting mobs and bosses in this game feel so satisfying.  Donald and Goofy are not controllable characters, filling out support roles instead, which occasionally get filled by others in the speedrun, such as Tarzan, Aladdin, Jack Skellington, Peter Pan, and Beast.  They basically heal and attack mobs alongside Sora, who uses a keyblade to slash and smack enemies.  You also get magic spells and a slick combo attack called Ars Arcanum.  The biggest gripe about the controls, which only really comes into play in a few spots, is the archaic camera which has not aged very well.  Outside of that, this game feels modern and slick.  The sound effects and music are outstanding, concert-quality tunes, remixes of popular themes, and more.  And on top of ALL of that, the voice acting is SUPERB, with a lot of the original voice actors returning to voice their characters in this game once again!  It truly is a treat, a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and makes me want to watch those Disney classic movies for the first time in decades.

The speedrun is intense and lengthy, with a lot of points of tension, lest you die and lose minutes to unskippable cutscenes.  Certain fights become terrifying operations, such as the Captain Hook fight, which if you lose, you must wait through 5 minutes of cutscenes AND fight an additional battle before you get a rematch, making it even more tense when you get back to the fight, as you would hate to lose again…  Others, such as the Final Rest gauntlet (near the end of the game), become endurance battles with enemies on all sides, and you have to achieve that zen that gamers can reach in order to make it through.  Monitoring your health, your magic points, your partner’s stats, AND tracking and fighting enemies is difficult at first, but once you get used to the combat system, you can easily fight any enemies.  Once you reach this point, the gameplay becomes an extension of yourself, and even the terrible camera becomes second nature.

There’s a lot of speed tech here, as well.  Although I struggled mightily with it in my run, Dumbo Skip utilizes a summon of Dumbo in order to reach areas you are not supposed to be able to, skipping portions of Hollow Bastion (speaking of summons, you can also summon Tinker Bell, Genie, and Simba, although the speedrun only uses the latter for combat).  Also, fights like the Tiger Head in Agrabah allow for strategy that really gets your heart pounding and your palms sweaty.  You must quickly get up to his eye, poke him, then get in position for your fight whilst keeping an eye on Aladdin and Donald’s health.  And of course, the one-on-one fights with Ansem near the end of the game are true duels where you feel slightly outmatched… and only your wits and skill can save you.  It truly is intense, fair, and so, so fun.

This was a terribly long speedrun to learn, and it will not be easy for anyone, even those that, unlike me, have played this game to death.  However, the rewards for persevering are tenfold, and you’ll find yourself in a satisfying run for both you and your audience.  I cannot recommend Kingdom Hearts enough, both as a casual experience, and as a speed game.  It truly is a gem, a classic, and a wonderful experience.

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