I’ve been everywhere, man.
With the release of Kingdom Hearts 3 less than a week away it is finally dawning on me that this game is real and we are all about to play it. With the recent review embargo being lifted and other professional opinions finally being able to talk about it, I thought that with the waning few hours before we dive back into the world of Kingdom Hearts, it might be fun to look back at some of the best worlds this franchise has produced. A few notes before we begin, I have only played the actual, numbered Kingdom Hearts game in full. I have played to varying degrees but never gotten to the final world of any of the sub-games that have been released. So this list will mainly be pulling from either Kingdom Hearts 1 or 2. One, last note, worlds that reappear in other games such as Atlantica, will be wrapped in to one total world. So there won’t be, for example, Kingdom Hearts 1 Atlantica and Kingdom Hearts II Atlantica will not appear on this list.
10. Disney Town
Okay, so I know I LITERALLY just said this list would contain mainly of numbered titled games, but this is my one exception. Toon Town was my first MMORPG, I played it for way too many years and still sometimes revisit Toontown Rewritten on occasion. I was honestly surprised how well they captured the look and feel of the game without being able to replicate it. In Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep this world served as a mini-game world and provided opportunities to try new things that hadn’t particularly been explored in other games. The kart racing, while frustrating at times, was a surprisingly fun getaway from the rest of the game. The rhythm games were also found in this world and they were so much better than Kingdom Hearts II. It was scaled back and focused, and it gave players a chance to play it for a little bit, enjoy it for what it was, and move on to the rest of the game. It is one of the better “break” worlds that the series has produced, and will always be a personal favorite of mine.
9. Traverse Town
Traverse Town is the very first world you visit in Kingdom Hearts. While a bit more bland than the worlds that follow it, it sets the scene well to help launch the first game’s narrative. It isn’t too distracting or intrusive, and gives a serene feel to relax the player before the story really starts taking off. It is muted, and confident enough in itself to not be over the top or flashy. The people there are all refugees from different worlds that have been eaten up by the darkness and are just trying to get by. This is where we meet the most important Final Fantasy characters in the game in Squall, Aerith(Aeris) and Yuffie. Not to mention Sid, who is the engineer and is a huge part of the plot of the first game in a very understated tone. There are a lot of flashy worlds in Kingdom Hearts and very few worlds try to be toned back, and this may be one of the best ones.
8. Destiny Islands
I wish I lived on Destiny Island. With its tropical landscape and closed in boundaries, this is a perfect place to retire to for an introvert such as myself. But it also makes for a great starting point as well. While Traverse Town may be the first world Sora visits in his adventure, this is where the story of Kingdom Hearts truly begins. A perfect and unsuspecting tropical locale provides the backdrop to contrast with the ugliness of the corruption of shadows later. This is perfect starting location for a game that is going to take you to worlds with different conventions and quirks to them. This world is based in reality, and helps ease the player into the rest of the game by slowly taking the player into more extravagant worlds, (Destiny Islands to Traverse Town, and Traverse Town to whichever world you choose next.) This is also one of the most important worlds in Kingdom Hearts lore. Everything leads back to Destiny Islands one way or another, even in the side games, Destiny Island is never fully explored but still the backdrop to some of the series’ most critical moments. Maybe some day we’ll get to experience the world in full.
7. Timeless River
While technically a world within another world, Timeless River is quite possibly the most unique world on this list. Having a monochromatic color scheme, while necessary to do the world justice, pops against the rest of the worlds in Kingdom Hearts II and brings a whole new style to the game. Drawing the line between who was mute in that world and who wasn’t was clever in their use. The team used Steamboat Willie’s lack of dialogue to create intresting plot points between confusing a modern and classic Pete, (even though it was painfully obvious which was which and killed a lot of the fun of the world at times.) If the plot of the world had been a little better thought through this world would be much higher on the list.
6. Olympus Colosseum
Quite possibly the most consistent world in all of Kingdom Hearts, Olympus Colosseum has appeared in seemingly every iteration of the series. The numbered titles, the spin-offs, even Kingdom Hearts III has featured their Olympus Colosseum world for some time now. This is a legacy world that has grown to take a much bigger place in the story of Kingdom Hearts than one would expect. Hades is a constant villain in the series along side Maleficent and will remain vigilant against Sora and his heroic endeavors seemingly until the end of time. Not only does the Colosseum have that going for it, it also provides the perfect grinding location in the form of the games. Competing in tournaments and just straight up battling is essential for RPGs and will always be necessary, and there truly is no better place to train that with the man himself, Hercules.
5. Pride Land
When Simba was a summon in the Original Kingdom Hearts, I could only dream of what a world based off of the Lion King would look like. And, while at first it wasn’t what I expected I’ve grown to love the world for everything that it is. Fighting next to Simba and taking out animal heartless feels oddly different yet just as satisfying as the rest of the game. And, while not necessarily a plot heavy world, its dark tone helps to get players comfortable with what is coming for them in future worlds. The different flow of combat sticks out to this day as one of the better choices in world design that this game has made.
Another legacy world. Agrabah is this far up the list because of just how much of the world we have gotten to explore. While going through a redesign the city is still vibrant and a great representation of the movie they are portraying. Kingdom Hearts II had a slightly better city bazaar although at the end of the day they both are still fairly well made. Exploring the cave of wonders in the first game was one of the standout experiences of the first game, all culminating to that epic final sprint to get out with a little help from Aladdin’s carpet. Both final bosses of these worlds are some of the best in the series and stand out as some of the first you may think of when thinking about bosses in Kingdom Hearts.
3. Halloween Town
Speaking of great final bosses, Oogie Boogie is my favorite boss in the series. Everything about him represents him perfectly in who he is and how he would try to win in a fight. The loaded roulette wheel is the perfect topper for an incredible world. Going to the mountain, and the graveyard where Zero is buried, exploring the town square is completely perfect in how to represent a world in a video game like this. Christmas town serves as the perfect counter to the dark and brooding world of Halloween that you transition between. Kingdom Hearts II did a phenomenal job of creating a bold and unique world that stands out, and then finding the perfect foil for that world that also stands out as its own entity. Perhaps the most important argument for this world however, is the outstanding personal moments Sora has in this world. More than any other world, Sora lets his guard down immensly in Halloween Town, and it has produced some of the main protagonist’s most tender and enduring moments, dreaming of dancing with Kairi, getting that childlike excitement to meet Santa just like a young kid would, Sora is at his most relatable in this world and the tense story is forgotten about in these moments and it is fun to watch the characters relax for a change.
2. Twilight Town
The world between light and dark, home of the nobody between light and dark. Twilight Town is a world that only gets better with age. Originating in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, this world wasn’t fully realized in 3D until Kingdom Hearts II released in 2006. And it has held up well. The color scheme was brilliantly thought out and executed, and it gives the small city vibe that you could just live in. Twilight Town is a another calm and serene town much like Traverse Town and it, and it takes everything learned from the first game about how to set a mood and blends it together perfectly to form this world. Everything great about Destiny Islands, and everything great about Traverse Town combined together to get the perfect balance between the two. As long as we don’t have to do side jobs again I will love this world for as long as I live.
1.Hollow Bastion/ Radiant Garden
Hollow Bastion and Radiant Garden is the most important world in the overarching lore of the game. This is where the most important plot points in the series come from. Kairi’s home world, Riku and Sora’s famous battle, and as a deeper cut, this is where Ansem the wise conducted his research before losing his identity. Many of the most important plot points are triggered from this world. Some of Kingdom Hearts’ biggest battles come from this world, in storming the castle in Kingdom Hearts II, battling Maleficent in Kingdom Hearts I, and the group fight in Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep just to name a few. Eventually we see our main Final Fantasy characters relocate to this world with Squall, Cloud, and Sid finding new homes in this world. It is so well designed in every game and it finds new ways to explore new parts of the existing world. While switching a world’s name because of a plot point may be extremely confusing when talking about, (or writing about) a game, it is totally justified and enriched my experience. This world is a lovechild of the grandiose side of Kingdom Hearts and the originality of the team working on it. If there is a wolrd the define Kingdom Hearts, it is this world.
Honorable Mention: 100 Acre Woods
It felt weird putting this world in the top 10 because there is simply so little to do around the world. However it is so adorable, and the most endearing world by far as Sora meets the 100 Acre Woods crew and it is such a heartwarming experience that is so far removed from the rest of the game, yet still deserving of a shoutout anyway.
What’s your favorite world? What world are you most excited for in Kingdom Hearts III? Let me know in the comments down below and don’t forget to subscribe for more Bring Your Own Games.