Chris Dominowski’s favorite: Kingdom Hearts

October 21, 2012

You’ve had it happen to you before, right? I’m sure every gamer has at one point or another. That one moment when a single game, out of nowhere, hits you like a brick, and you just know that it’s the game for you. You may not have any logical reason for it, and you may not even be able to describe it with words, but it’s just in that moment of clarity that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt. This is your game.

It’s strange, it’s confusing, it’s exciting, it’s love at first sight. Ladies and gentlemen, this, above all else, is how I can describe why Kingdom Hearts is my favorite game.

Honorable Mention: Golden Sun: This one is a personal choice, as I got it as a moving-away present from a good friend. I played the game non-stop throughout the entire time I was moving to a new state, and beat it around the time I had finished settling in. That’s not to say it is undeserving of its accolades, though. It is an addictive JRPG with clever puzzle mechanics and beautiful graphics for the GBA. Few RPGs can capture such a sense of unbridled fun that Golden Sun has. Oh, and it has a phenomenal soundtrack.

It all started back in the early months and years of the dawning new millennium, when information about the game first started to surface on the Internet. It was by sheer happenstance that I found out about the game this way; I rarely visited game websites when I was younger, and it wasn’t until Kingdom Hearts that I really had a reason to do so. In fact, it wouldn’t be all that far-fetched to say that the game got me into reading more diverse games journalism outside the comforting-but-walled gardens of Nintendo Power.

As soon as I first saw the game in demo form, I knew that I just had to have it. Maybe it was due to its novel battle system, which was a fast-paced, stylized, and creative take on the action-RPG formula that allowed for a high degree of creativity and exploitation.

There was no such thing as a dull fight in Kingdom Hearts; each enemy had its own fighting style and a different weakness, and the tougher enemies demanded much more skill than simply mashing the X button. Learning how to outmaneuver a difficult foe was just as much about avoiding attacks as it was remembering the lulls in their patterns, managing your teammates and using the terrain to your advantage. Skilled players could make every fight feel deliberate, orchestrated and graceful in a way that few other games can allow.

Honorable Mention: Ristar: I am of the small minority who believes that Ristar is the best platformer on the Sega Genesis. Better than Sonic, Rocket Knight, Dynamite Headdy and everything else. Ristar has always personally seemed to have more well-implemented game mechanics than its contemporaries. The game works better as a cohesive whole because of its creative use of Ristar’s grappling ability, as well as the effort put into every single aspect of the game. The animation is gorgeous, the soundtrack is catchy, the levels are varied and everything about the game just works.

Or maybe it was the charming characters, though almost all had been taken from Disney films or Final Fantasy VII, VIII, and X. The way that they were weaved into the story matches the fanciful and fun tone, and it never really felt too ridiculous or out of place, due to the game’s pervasive sense of levity. This allowed the game to essentially go to wherever and do whatever it wanted to.

It is a great way to establish a framework for a game and a series, and the aforementioned flexibility was the next logical step to Square’s PS1-era work. I will be the first to admit the story was not perfect, and neither were the characters, but the whole production has an undeniable sense of heart to it that you just don’t see in many games.

Whatever attracted me to Kingdom Hearts, it was enough to make me play the game through and through until I had discovered every last nook and cranny it had to offer, and then do it all over again multiple times. I still play the game at least once a year as a tradition, and it has never lost its luster once after all these years.