My Gaming Nemesis: Kingdom Hearts

Last week, The Duck of Indeed published a great article on tackling her gaming nemesis, Super Mario World. She was not wrong in recounting just how difficult a game it was…and still is. (I tried my hand at it not too long ago, and oh, it’s cute, but it is not as easy as I remember.) Her article inspired me to regale the Internet (lucky you) about my current gaming nemesis:

Kingdom Hearts.

Yes, that spirited mash-up of Disney and Final Fantasy that captured the hearts and minds of many a PlayStation 2 owner not too long after the turn of the millennium. I was certainly among them, though not immediately. I found myself with a copy of Kingdom Hearts sometime during aught-three, right when I was on the cusp of starting grad school. At the time, Kingdom Hearts provided me with a great outlet for any school-related madness. I loved the mixing of the two worlds (preferring Disney over Final Fantasy, personally), and I really enjoyed the game’s simple story lines – from the kidnapping a rescuing of King Mickey, to the tale of Sora, Riku, and Kairi.

But despite the joy I found in the game some dozen-plus years ago, I never finished it. And to be clear, though I used the word “joy” in relation to the game, the truth is that I had to work really hard to find it. The game had its share of frustrating moments, but I somehow managed to never let them get the best of me. At the time, I wasn’t too far removed from first playing Final Fantasy VII, so my mindset may have already been edged towards expecting a sizeable degree of difficulty in Kingdom Hearts. I was willing to manage.

I got really close to the end, but found myself forever stuck at the boss Chernabog. Over the course of years, I made several attempts at beating Chernabog, and once did I get past him, only to thwarted shortly thereafter. At one point, I decided to simply start the game over playing on the easiest mode. I recall doing very well until things kind of petered out around Agrabah. And then I tried again, but I didn’t get much farther past Halloweentown before giving up. No matter what I did, it seemed that something was telling me that maybe I shouldn’t play Kingdom Hearts, but I didn’t want to listen.

Maybe I should have.

Some years later, I picked up one of the game’s sequels, Chain of Memories, and that experience was far worse. I really didn’t enjoy it, and I don’t even think I got halfway through before throwing in the towel.

With the recent announcement of Kingdom Hearts III being more real than not, I decided it was high time I beat the original Kingdom Hearts. My brain clamored loudly with happy thoughts of that game, and I blindly listened. In hindsight, all the noise had covered up my less savory memories of the game. But I steered forward nonetheless and picked up a copy of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 Remix. And a couple months ago, I began my Keyblade-wielding journey.

Things started out rough. Oh, the sights and sounds did bring back a rush of good feelings (I really do like the game’s soundtrack), but the platforming…the platforming was…wonky. I didn’t recall it being any issue on the PS2, but in the here and now, I had a difficult time getting Sora to go where I wanted him too. I found this to be especially problematic just minutes into the game where Sora was asked to run an obstacle course with Riku. Sora has to beat him otherwise the game won’t progress. I’m perfectly embarrassed to say how many time it took me before I finally won. (Not that I would know because I stopped counting after my tenth try.) It was the platforming that proved most unlikeable, but I moved on with the game nonetheless.

My dealings in the game’s first couple stages didn’t give me much hope. I had forgotten just how grindy the game is, with enemies constantly respawning as Sora and his crew (Goofy and Donald Duck) move between different areas in different towns. I know there’s good reason for the grind, as the game’s boss battles are tough, and the higher Sora’s levels are, the better. But that didn’t translate into any type of enjoyment, and neither did the boss battles, speaking of which. There’s only one early in the game in Traverse Town with a character called Guard Armor, and it was far more unpleasant than I feel it should have been (and I’m playing on “normal” difficulty).

And don’t even get me started about the nearly unreachable Trickmaster of Wonderland. Just. The. Worst.

And then there was the Gummi Ship.

I had completely forgotten about this means of traveling between various worlds in the game. I had also forgotten that until I gained the warp ability, I had to use the Gummi Ship each and every time I wanted to travel somewhere. Blergh. I quickly got super bored with the Gummi Ship’s travels, and subsequently got super angry every time I had to use it. (I nearly cheered when I was finally able to start warping!) And no, I had no interest in upgrading the silly little ship, either.

As I got further into the game, I found myself disliking things more and more….and more. It got to the point where I dreaded even the thought of playing.

My last session with the game was a couple weeks ago, and I’m currently stuck at the boss battle in Atlantica. Not only is the stage wholly obnoxious thanks to the dastardly control scheme for moving Sora as a “merman” through water, but the battle itself with the sea witch Ursula seems to require inhumane, pinpoint timing. How I ever got past her before I’ll never know. Maybe I was more patient? Maybe I was more willing to learn? Maybe I was more into the game, generally?

The answer to all is “probably yes.”

I don’t know why it bothers me so, but I think all of this boils down to the fact that I don’t like the game. But surely, I don’t hate it either. The young Disney fan in me who found so much excitement in Final Fantasy VII wants to like it, badly. But the current, curmudgeonly gamer that I am, in truth, doesn’t. I like the idea of what Kingdom Hearts represents as a game, and I like all the good feelings that it stirs up, but I just don’t enjoy playing it. If I once did, that experience is far too gone to help me now. It’s simply time to move on and eventually, and vicariously, enjoy all the enthusiasm of Kingdom Hearts III.

I do intend to complete Kingdom Hearts. Someday. After all, if I don’t get this nemesis out of the way, then how will I be ready to take on the next one? (Whatever that is, haha.)

Lede image by Flickr user Javier Domínguez Ferreiro (CC BY-NC_SA 2.0)


  1. duckofindeed says:

    Even though I am now able to beat Kingdom Hearts, it has given me lots of trouble in the past. During my first playthrough, I actually got suck on the chameleon boss in the Tarzan world. Then, I got stuck on the Cerberus boss in the Hercules world. And then…I pretty much just kept getting repeatedly stuck at various places until eventually giving up at the final boss.

    I agree that the Gummi Ship levels are really boring, and I hate being forced to complete those just to travel between worlds. Cerberus is another thing I hate because, unless I’m mistaken, you can’t leave the Coliseum world until you defeat Cerberus, so if you’re not strong enough, leaving to level up further is not an option. It was terrible. Good luck on conquering this game!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Yeah, you’re right about Cerberus. Defeating him is a must if you hope to progress. Strangely, I haven’t had too much trouble with most of the bosses so far, though none have been easy. It’s really this battle with Ursula that I just flat-out don’t like. (Maybe I’m doing something wrong as I seem to blaze through Sora’s MP when casting spells into her cauldron.) When I do go back to the game, I’m hoping that I can back out and just do some level grinding somewhere. Can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but it if helps me progress, then that’s what I’ll have to do!


      1. duckofindeed says:

        I remember last time I played the HD Kingdom Hearts remake on the PS3, I had a lot of trouble with Ursula. I felt the same as you; I had no idea how I had ever beaten her before and had to look up cheats online until I could figure it out. It was pretty tough indeed. I still don’t remember what I did to get through it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. pikaramblog says:

    I understand how Kingdom Hearts would be difficult to beat just cuz of one area that you have to repeat over and over again, but I still find it to be really enjoyable. 😮 I love Kingdom Hearts a lot to the point that I read some of the manga. The game doesn’t give off the same feeling as when you read it. The whole story is really heart felt and some of the songs such as Xion’s theme. Just hearing the song gives me a really sad, I wanna cry, feeling especially knowing the whole story. Kingdom Hearts itself is a really fun game and I’d understand why it’s your gaming nemesis. The continuing of a game is always difficult and I find I should probably restart the whole game for the whole story again. I’m really excited for Kingdom Hearts 3 though! I just wish it would come sooner.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I know. Just the thought of seeing Kingdom Hearts III in action is pretty exciting. Even if I don’t jump at it immediately, it’ll be really cool to watch others have fun in it.

      I had forgotten just how emotionally charged Kingdom Hearts is. Even just hearing the theme song after so many years, it brought back lots of memories. As I said in the my post, I really like what Kingdom Hearts is in principle: a melding of two worlds that’s wrapped up in a grand story that really hits at the core of what it means to be friends. But, in order to see how the story plays out, one has to work for it. 🙂 I’m just not in the right mindset for Kingdom Hearts, the game, right now, but I’m sure I will be again someday.


  3. Nevada Dru says:

    As some who recently replayed Kingdom Hearts I can tell you thay HD 1.5 version has been handled great. If you want to just enjoy the story you could always reduce the difficulty to easy? Would make all the optional bosses easier, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Y’know, that’s really what I should have done to start with. I had really forgotten about the difficulty when I first started. Now, I’ve gotten all the way up Atlantis, and part of me feels it’s not worth starting over. But…you make a good point. I’m thinking that I might return to the game sometime next year when I have a good stretch of time. By then, starting over on easy might be the perfect idea!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nevada Dru says:

        Yeah. I’ve been playing more and more games on easy mode just so can enjoy the story and experience what it has to offer. Also the under water bits are annoying so I can see why you stopped there.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    There are games that you love, and then there are games that you *want* to love but don’t. Like, no matter how hard you try, the two of you just cannot get along. That’s how it is with me and Kingdom Hearts, as I wrote about in this post for Virtual Bastion. It’s long been a game (a series now) that I want to enjoy so much more than I do. And like any good nemesis, it will remain as such until I defeat it. And I shall defeat it! Someday. Oh yes. I will.


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