Kingdom Hearts Final Mix is the director's cut version of an action JRPG released shortly after its original 2002 debut. It was later touched up and released on PS3 in 2013 and on PS4 in 2017. The story centers around a boy named Sora, who's granted the mysterious Keyblade weapon after his world gets consumed by darkness. He then goes on an adventure with Donald Duck and Goofy Goof where they run across loads of Disney and Final Fantasy characters whilst fighting the minions of darkness.
The plot of this first game is a strange beast, especially when compared to its successors. As soon as the first cutscene starts, the game plays its faux-philosophy/mystery card. I like what's on display, even if it doesn't mean much.
Sora questions reality in the dream he's having at the start and the nameless voice that guides him seems to speak of big and horrible things to come. Even if the game is mostly silly and sports childish naivety , the darkness is given a modicum of weight, which is appreciated.
It's like this almost Lovecraftian force that corrupts those who give it an inch and consumes worlds when given the chance. The game rarely focus on horrific this actually is, but it comes back to great success at the end. The final level is like an abstract nightmare and has remained my favorite final level in the series since. It even calls back to the start of the game in many ways, which I like.
I can't really pinpoint a good word for these elements of the game. Macabre, melancholic and majestic feels kinda right, but not completely. I think the big thing is the mystery factor. That's it, mysterious is a good word! Hell, the Final Mix bonus boss is even named Unknown.
At this point in the series, you don't know how the darkness operates, which goes a long way, even though you know deep down that a kids JRPG of this nature won't abandon hope and friendship tropes.
And those tropes are the heart of series. Sora makes friends wherever he goes, culminating with his ”My friends are my power!”-speech, which isn't as lame as it sounds. He's a kid, but doesn't play out the negative aspects you'd expect of such a character.
He doesn't whine or brood, instead chosing to smile in wonderment at the things he gets to do across the adventures. He's a successful goody-giant-two-shoes character, making him a perfect champion of light. And in the rare instances where he puts other emotions on display, they stand out more, especially during the last act.
Putting aside just how bizarre this franchise is, the fact that we have what boils down to a bunch of smaller Disney games in full 3d is really cool.
Certain budgetary limitations apply though. There are a good selection of Disney worlds on offer, but many of them are limited to 5 or so distinct areas. They hit the memorable parts of the movie, but even without adapting more of the individual movies' plots, more areas could've been implemented for the sake of bigger levels. Of course, space and budget concerns probably put that down.
That's not to say that there isn't any effort put into the thing. The animators have focused on trying to emulate the mannerisms of characters when converting them to 3d, which works pretty often. Donald and Goofy are animated the best, since they're main characters. They even get to be funny!
Most worlds try to tie themselves to the main themes of hearts, friendship and the like, but it's not really a success. Since you have free reign to decide in which order to tackle the worlds, there isn't much main plot to be found in them.
Instead, a small piece of the themes get mixed into the movie's story to little effect. A few work, but most of them are just abridged versions of the movie. Which is fine, but the whole thing could be tighter.
Hell, for being main characters, Donald and Goofy aren't given much to do, besides acting as support to Sora. There is a little bit of drama between the three of them, but it's not much. Gotta appreciate Donald being such an ass though.
One last thing of note is the music, which is almost completely original, yet manages to capture each Disney movie perfectly. Hell, the whole soundtrack is amazing!
Something that has troubled me for ages is the way you make progress in certain worlds. Most of the time, you need to trigger some rather specific flags to make progress. And before you learn them, it's extremely easy to get lost.
Let's take the first visit to Traverse Town for example. To go on, you need to leave district 1, and then go back to the accessory shop in there, leave it and THEN meet a new character. It doesn't sound that bad, but the game really spurs you to explore the rest of town, as every time you leave a new area, Donald and Goofy are just behind you. Going by that, it seems like you should go around until they find you.
I think the idea is that you're supposed to go in a circle around town, get annoyed, go to save and then get the next cutscene. It's pretty bad, especially since there isn't a proper quest log. Getting around at the early parts of the game can also be a pain, since the platforming doesn't give you half a step of leeway like platformers do, making certain jumps tougher than they should be.
But this cramped yet sprawling design does come with some good things. The game is filled to the brim with secrets to be found by returning with greater mobility powers, casting magic or examining/stabbing whatever stands out. You can easily miss some treasure even after 3 playthroughs, which helps the game's replay value.
I really like all the details they added to the worlds, as they help the areas feel less like the battle arenas they are in the other games. The only thing missing is NPCs, which weren't really properly added until KH3, which is frankly ridiculous.
One collectible that bothers me are the Trinity marks, which are small marks found in assorted places that can only be activated by Sora, Donald and Goofy together. Their existance kills any reason to swap out Donald and Goofy for a guest character, except for the rare occasion when you need their powers, which is really dumb design. Let me use Tarzan freely, dammit!
I'm impressed with the combat of KH1 to this day and it remains the baseline I compare all other action RPGs to.
It's simplistic (letting you get by with button mashing), but there's still a lot of great details to the combat system. The combo count is rather low and the speed of combat isn't that high. That means that even when you mash, you're doing like 3-6 attacks per combo, depending on abilities equipped.
It gives the game this nice rhythm that integrates with the defensive options rather well. You can dodge, block and do an offensive parry. Dodging works for most things, but if you take the time to master blocks and parries (that also grant you bonus exp), you can have some really good bouts with human-sized bosses that stagger if you intercept them. Add a stagger-resistant keyblade chain that lets you counterattack after an enemy blocks and you're golden.
The way combos chain into eachother and the way the input buffer is designed just feels perfect. Another fun aspect is that combos adapt to the context of the battle and your distance from the enemy. This means that Sora will do normal attacks when faced with one enemy at close distance, but do another combo from long distance into a group of enemies. He even jumps properly when you're locked on to an airborne enemy. And with the extra abilities in Final Mix, you can have some absurdly fun combos that thankfully don't make you completely untouchable.
The magic system isn't as solid, but it's still useful. Most spells are weak at the start, but gain good power as you make your way through the game. The advanced spells are the real highlight though.
These being Aero (Barrier & Shell), Gravity (health%-based damage), Stop (Za Warudo!) and Cure (sweet sweet healing, naturally). These spells remain useful, as they can stun annoying enemies and keep you alive. Sadly, as with many games, spending MP on healing is often the smarter option, as it makes you last longer in a battle.
The costly special skills are really fun, but spending 3 Cures worth of MP on one attack is hard to justify, unless you're feeling confident. Same goes for the summons. The offensive ones don't help that much.
On the other hand, Tinker Bell is such a broken support summon that I feel bad for using her. She regens health infinitely, revives you upon death AND let's you keep your party around.
Let's talk about the party for a bit. Seeing as the game doesn't implement the Gambit system from FFXII (Being released first is no excuse!), it should come as no surprise that your party is a bit lacking. They help, but there are some quirks in their AI beyond their lackluster attack rate.
Even though they can revive with time, you can't keep them from healing eachother, which is a major pain, since MP and items are precious in the middle of a battle. You can't completely set Donald's magic pool either, just influence it strongly. So if you only want him to cast Stop and Aero, that's a no go. He also takes too long to cast a heal, often leading to moments where he heals you half a second after you cast your own spell.
One last thing of note is the camera. Even with Final Mix liberating it from the shoulder buttons, it's still rather sluggish. I think SE put a bit too much fate into the automatic camera, which works most of the time, but a more responsive camera would be welcome.
The biggest weakness of the game is the ship riding you do between worlds. The core isn't bad, but it's such a bore!
It's a Shoot-Em-Up where enemies barely make an effort. You can get through the first half of the Gummi Ship sections by just holding attack. And even when they turn up the heat, some slight dodging will get you through it. It just feels like a lengthy loading screen with spiffy music.
The system for making ships is cool, as it allows you to construct it in 3d space and add a bunch of gizmos to the ship. But with no need to upgrade the ship, I just leave it be. And a ripple effect of the Gummi ship is that a good chunk of the treasure you find is more pieces, which sours the effort you put in to find the chest.
The rest of the minigames aren't really better. Most of them rely upon Sora's standard controls or modify them slightly. Those controls work in standard gameplay, but the addition of time limits and a precision-requirement make them easy to fail at.
The equipment system is rather standard, letting you equip stuff of choice to increase the stats you favour. Sadly, the stuff you buy at shops is rather useless, unless you want to get Donald more MP or like chugging MP items. The ability system is also simple, but I like the implementation, as it's really easy to pick what abilities you want to have.
The synthesis system is middling. The big fault of it is that it's more of a novelty until endgame, as that's when you'd want the upgrades and have access to drop rate abilities and all kinds of enemies. And even then, it's still up to RNG whether you get the drop you want after 2 minutes or 30. Getting the best equipment is also a bit painful with the addition of new Final Mix enemies.
They're inventive puzzle fights, but a few of their gimmicks can be a real hassle, especially when you have to beat them so many times. The cup and ball Heartless comes to mind, as it moves around so much that constantly pausing is basically a necessity.