25. Kingdom Hearts
Squaresoft | Squaresoft | 2002
A third-person action game with light RPG elements added - and which happened to merge the Disney and Square universes in an utterly captivating way
What made it so great?
Kingdom Hearts is what happens when you give classic, universally loved characters to the best RPG storytellers in the business and ask them, "could you maybe fancy this up and make one of those video games with 'em?" It sounded ludicrous at first - Donald Duck as a wizard, Goofy as a knight, and you as a stereotypical, spiky-haired kid hero, zipping around a universe equal parts Disney and Final Fantasy? It simply should not have worked.
But it did. Big time. Fantastic art design literally made it seem totally logical for FFVII's Cloud Strife to have a chat with Hercules' Hades. A solid combat system created camaraderie between you and characters like Goofy, Donald Duck, Simba and Peter Pan. And the storyline that found you breathlessly journeying, wide-eyed and filled with wonder, from one enchanted world to the next was the perfect yin/yang of storytelling: a love story as pure and sweet as any in literary history, balanced by as bittersweet a fall from grace of a friend as any human being could withstand. The result? Magic.
Get ready to play
It's tough to understate how driven you'll be to keep playing Kingdom Hearts, simply because you cannot wait to see what the next world is and which Square and Disney characters might show up there. There's a novelty here that can't be denied and that never rings false - even when Chip and Dale are your spaceship mechanics.
The action is easy to grasp - lots of simple hack-and-slash combos - but gets progressively deeper, as your roster of physical and magical abilities grows. You can buy this, on eBay for $12 - and there's absolutely no reason not to. And once you're done, there's a GBA mid-quel and a PS2 sequel to tempt you.
Been there, done that?
Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht took a beating when it was released for being packed with so many cutscenes you spent nearly as much time watching this sci-fi RPG as you did playing it. But its excellent production values and character designs combined with a solid battle system to make it worthwhile. Episode II kinda tanked, but Episode III ended the series with style.