Hearts, Hearts, My Kingdom for Some Hearts!

My gaming history is not as extensive as some, but, in addition to being a master at the original Spyro the Dragon trilogy (and the Reignited version,) three other prominent series feature in my repertoire. One is Final Fantasy – I have yet to play them all, but X, VIII, and Crisis Core are some of my all-time favorites. I am also a Pokemon master. But the last is Kingdom Hearts, and, since Kingdom Hearts III is FINALLY dropping at the end of the month, I thought I’d make a post about why I love the series so much.

Kingdom Hearts I was released for the PS2 in 2002, when I was ten years old, but I didn’t play it (nor KHII, released in 2005) until around eighth/ninth grade. I remember seeing the commercials for it, though – and being drawn in by Utada Hikaru’s theme song for the original game. Going into it, all I knew was that it combined Final Fantasy-type elements with Disney, an idea that could only have been cooked up by a Square Enix employee and a Disney employee meeting in an elevator.

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I thought it sounded silly – a wide-eyed, big-shoed protagonist named Sora fighting to save Disney-themed worlds from being engulfed in darkness with Donald Duck and Goofy at his side – but eventually picked up the game on special at Game Stop… and that was it. I was hooked from the first opening cinematic.

Now, I made things difficult for myself when I played KH1. I might have skipped over some tutorial stuff… and did not realize you could change your Keyblade until I was battling Ursula. So… yeah. I’m not going to claim to be some expert on the games, but I have since proven to be rather efficient at the series. I’ll admit, I have played, but never beaten, Chain of Memories (both the GBA and PS editions) and 358/2 Days. I hated the battle system in both, so I gave up before finishing them. The only hand-held games I really got into were Birth By Sleep and 3D, both of which I loved. I also own most of the manga series, a figurine, and a couple of blankets with KH designs on them.

50My favorite keyblades are Lionheart, Rumbling Rose, and Stroke of Midnight. My favorite worlds are Neverland (in both Birth by Sleep and the original game) Halloween Town (in both I and II) Space Paranoids from II, Castle of Dreams from Birth By Sleep, and both Prankster’s Paradise and Symphony of Sorcery from 3D. My favorite playable character is Aqua, my favorite villain is Vanitas, and my favorite Disney companions are Peter Pan and Tron, though Beast is a badass too. The boss battle I most struggled with (besides Ursula that first time through) is probably Xaldin, in II. And yes… “JUMP UP ON THE HYDRA’S BACK!!!” is probably the most annoying line in the entire series. I have yelled “SHUT UP, PHIL” many, many times at my television screen.

kingdom_heartsThere’s an earnest quality to the Kingdom Hearts games, which is part of what makes it so appealing to me. At it’s core, it’s a story about the power of friendship against the pull of the shadows, of darkness vs. light, and the mottled, massive gray space in-between it all. It’s unabashed fun that doesn’t apologize for being occasionally convoluted, that doesn’t acknowledge how absurd it is to have Squall Leonhart teaming up with Merlin, or Sora rescuing the puppies from 101 Dalmatians from the multicolored mouth of the whale Monstro, of the heroic trio beating Captain Hook in battle, then flying around the face of Big Ben in search of a keyhole. The artwork and character/world design is fantastic across all of the games, and the music is wonderful, combining original themes and Disney scores. Whenever I hear any version of the theme song, my chest swells with excitement, and I go into new Disney films wondering what a Kingdom Hearts version of that world would look like. It has become the series that I have bought entire consoles for – I bought a PSP just for Birth by Sleep.

I haven’t been waiting thirteen years for the next main installment in the series, like many dedicated fans of the Kingdom Hearts series have. Regardless, I cannot wait until the end of this month, where we will finally, after seventeen years, reach the end of the current saga, and the war for Kingdom Hearts reaches a dramatic and conclusive finale.

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The Adventure Begins…

Rumors have been swirling from here to the Dragon Realms about a possible original Spyro the Dragon trilogy remaster coming later this year, on the heels of the successful Crash Bandicoot remaster from 2017. Considering the three PS1 games about a feisty fire-breathing purple dragon are my favorite games OF ALL TIME, these whispers and mutterings have me super excited.

I played the original Spyro the Dragon game constantly as a child (and teen…and young adult), to the point where I had all of the dragons and their dialogue memorized, and the first game will always be my favorite – though, for some reason, a lot of folks consider it the hardest one to beat. I think the first is the easiest and the third is the most difficult. Dino Mines and Haunted Tomb totally kill me on every replay.

Regardless, here’s a list of the levels I am most excited to see remastered in glorious HD hopefully later this year, if the rumors prove true!

1.) Dark Passage (Spyro The Dragon)
This one is actually my all-time favorite Spyro level. An odd choice for most, probably, but I look forward to the size-changing enemies, lantern-wielding fools, obnoxious red devils, and gorgeous color palette every time nostalgia compels me to play through this game. I even consider the little fireball-spitting metallic turtles to be adorable… though they are invincible when the light goes out. It’s also got one of my favorite music tracks from the original game, so hopefully, the OST survives the remaster!

2.) Metalhead (Spyro the Dragon)
With Tree Tops and Misty Bog complete, Metalhead, the “boss” level from the Beast Makers realm in the original game, is kind of a breeze to finish. I like the design of this level – sort of swampy, yet peculiarly pretty – and I appreciate the unique way you have to defeat the giant robot, so I’m curious to see what it will look like when it’s remastered, and if they’ll keep the mechanics the same.

3.) Zephyr (Spyro: Ripto’s Rage!)
It’s got cannons, a birds vs. slugs dynamic, spotted cow-like creatures, and a Romeo and Juliet subplot… what’s not to like? I like all of the orb missions in this level, whereas in most of the other levels in this game, I hate at least 1 quest per level. Like, don’t even get me started on Fracture Hills, that alchemist shit is HARD. As such, Zephyr is my favorite overall level from the second game, and I’m probably the only one who is willing to admit that.

4.) Charmed Ridge (Spyro: Year of the Dragon)
As you can probably tell, I have a penchant for the more “magical” levels from these games, and Charmed Ridge is no exception. It’s got a bright look to it, cat enemies, fairies, some fun egg missions (though the Sgt. Bird one can be a bit frustrating) and when I first played it, it reminded me a lot of the Magic Crafters homeworld from the original game. In a good way, of course. The Jack and the Golden Goose mission is one of the best from the third game, and I can’t wait to play it again!

5.) Crystal Islands (Spyro: Year of the Dragon)
I’ll admit, I probably only like this level because it gives me Dark Passage vibes, and I abhor the slide egg mission with a passion. But I do love the colors, the crystal enemies are fantastically designed, and the flying mission is a lot of fun to do, as is the one where you beat groundhogs over the head with a club. Perhaps my fondness for this level also stems from the fact that it’s the easiest level on Midnight Mountain, and I despise all the other levels in this realm (ESPECIALLY DINO MINES), so I’m a fan of it by default.

6.) Jacques (Spyro the Dragon)
This level is frustrating for some, but it’s also beautiful to look at. It has one of my favorite level designs and a stunning red sky that is going to look amazing with updated graphics.  The whole “fairytale gone slightly wrong” aesthetic from the Dream Weavers realm comes to a head in this level and I look forward to experiencing the timer fools and the jack-in-the-box “boss” in HD.

7.) Cliff Town (Spyro the Dragon)
It might be a weird thing to point out, but the sky design from this level is my favorite in all of the games, as is the whole color scheme for this level. It is going to look stunning when it’s updated, I’ll bet.  It’s got a superb design, the dragons are fun to get, and there’s some good gliding experience and unique enemies to destroy in this level. Though, I hate getting slapped around by those ladies with the wooden spoons…

8.) Alpine Ridge (Spyro the Dragon)
A magical adventure with some adorable (if deadly) enemies, this level from the Magic Crafters homeworld features some tricky glides and paths to figure out, but that just makes it all the more rewarding to rescue the dragons. Besides… any level from this realm is a blast compared to Wizard Peak and High Caves. Those metal spiders still give me nightmares…

9.) Winter Tundra (Spyro: Ripto’s Rage!)
Oddly enough, my second favorite level from the 2nd game is a hub world. I struggled a lot with all of the sublevels in this realm during my initial playthrough, but I remember being blown away at how beautiful the homeworld is, and how calm and peaceful the music makes it feel. So no matter how frustrating the individual levels are, it’s a lovely place to come back to after collecting some orbs!

10.) Tree Tops (Spyro the Dragon)
I know, I know… why would I put the (arguably) most difficult level from the original games on this list? Because I am very curious to see if it’s difficulty and the frustration-level will survive an HD remaster. Will the monkey demon enemies still be annoying as all get out? Will the red and yellow thieves still be obnoxious to follow? Will the super-charge still be a creative, yet irritating twist to figure out? I really, really hope so – this is one of the most infamous Spyro levels of all time, and I cannot WAIT to attempt it if these remaster rumors prove true.

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