Kingdom Hearts (2002)
Kingdom Hearts is the series that combines the realms of Final Fantasy with the animated wonder of Walt Disney, providing a unique experience all of its own and garnering fans across the globe. Part of the series’ appeal is the setting of the games, which take place in separate worlds largely based upon memorable Disney classic films. We can be traipsing through Wonderland one moment, before taking a magic carpet ride the next and onto swimming an underwater kingdom as sea creatures. Yet through all this, there is one setting that starts off the game and prepares us for the magical adventures that the hero, Sora, and his friends embark upon. That setting is Destiny Islands.
Destiny Islands is a paradise archipelago where the main characters of Kingdom Hearts call home. As the series has continued, the islands have become increasingly elusive as Sora and friends hardly get the luxury to return and relax. However, in the very first Kingdom Hearts game, the adventure kicks off here.
That is it almost does; the game actually begins in a very bizarre dream sequence in which Sora is asked a series of life affirming questions (and given some very basic tutorial pointers), before being engulfed by a scary being of darkness… This unexplained sequence of events provides plenty of intrigue for the player, as Sora wakes up on the beach in a supposed paradise with his two best friends by his side. Without this sense of impending doom, Destiny Islands would seem all too perfect.
Regardless, this supposed archipelago is presented to us as an idyllic play island that is entirely populated by children. Here, best friends, Sora, Riku and Kairi, have apparently grown tired of their little paradise and have decided to build a raft to sail away and discover something more than their tiny world. Yet first they need to gather supplies. This is where the tutorial element of the world comes in; Sora is given a checklist by Kairi and in order to complete it, he must run, swim, climb; essentially interact with his environment in a variety of ways. The wonder of Destiny Islands from a gameplay perspective is it gives us the opportunity to learn all the adventuring basics, without any invasive tutorial messages taking over. It allows the world to feel like a viable location, rather than one built solely for tutoring the player.
However, the greatest aspect of these islands is the combat tutorials it has to offer. There are three other kids on this island and, amazingly, they are all guests from popular Final Fantasy games. This is important to note, because, if they weren’t, we’d have less interest in fighting and overcoming them. Tidus, Wakka (FFX) and Selphie (FFVIII) are incredibly tough opponents for anyone just starting out with the game. These aren’t like the Shadows in the dream, which can be beaten with some good ‘X’ button mashing action. These guys need strategy to take down and by learning how to do that, we are prepared to face the bosses later down the line too. Taking down Final Fantasy legends is one of the most satisfying aspects of Kingdom Hearts and this challenge is issued from the very start. If ever there was a way the developers could get us hooked on this bizarre series, this was definitely the right way to go.
All in all, Destiny Islands is a great world, which is perhaps only let down by the fact we can never return there once it is engulfed by the Heartless. We learn about the game here, and we learn to care about its characters too, sealing our investment for the adventure to follow. Thanks to Destiny Islands, we’re not just looking forward to seeing a new Disney setting, but how Sora and his friends interact with it also. Whether it’s scanning the chalk drawings in the ‘The Secret Place’ or finally overcoming smug Riku in combat, we can spend hours cruising this tiny island and not lose interest. It grips us just as much as every good Kingdom Hearts world should.