One of the "Kingdom Hearts" franchise's main attractions is the plethora of colorful, Disney-themed worlds based on classic Disney titles, ranging from Cinderella to Tron Legacy. And over the years -- and over a dozen games -- we as players have explored quite a few of these worlds. But which ones have been the best of the best? The cream of the crop? Well, thanks to the kind folks over on the "Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance" board, we now have some pretty conclusive results. So let's get started, shall we?

Now as a warning, there may be some minor spoilers for some of the games in the paragraphs ahead. Nothing too major, mind you, but I just wanted to give you a heads up.

In the very first Kingdom Hearts game, we met Pinocchio. And then, a whole decade later, we finally got to explore the home from which he came. And from its neon lights glistening in the dark sky, to the cerulean blues of its deep, dangerous oceans, this world truly delivered a memorable Pinocchio experience -- one that surely satisfied the yearning fans who had been waiting 10 years for it.

Now, as somebody who loves to see levels designed to be interactive with the player, watching Sora be able to ride the Ferris Wheel and roller coaster was a great treat; as was being able to fight while bouncing on a trampoline. The entire amusement park area of the world was structured very well, I must say, and really made it feel like you were truly running through a spooky circus. It even had the creepy doll eyes that followed you while you moved, which was a very nice touch. Which isn't even getting into the caverns and underwater areas that littered the second part of the world, which was all constructed marvelously as well.

But that's not where the fun ends, as "Dream Drop Distance" allows you to play through the game with two characters. In this case, the 2nd player is Riku, and his adventure through Prankster's Paradise differs entirely from Sora's. For while Sora explored through the amusement park and the ocean, Riku explored through the innards of the whale Monstro, very much like the journey in the first Kingdom Hearts game. But if you thought that the adventure was going to be just the same as it was the first time around, you'd be surely mistaken. Square did a very good job at making the belly of the beast feel like a whole new adventure this time around. And I commend them for making Sora and Riku's campaigns through the same world as drastically different as possible -- I believe this was the first time in the series where a world had completely no overlapping areas between different characters. All in all, a lot of effort was put into this world, and it was truly a joy to experience. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

The night skies, the memorable faces, ...the Gizmo Shop. This world had everything. It was Sora's very first world beyond his home, and I can't think of a better place to wind up at the beginning of a journey. Granted, Sora's visited this place quit a lot during his travels, but we're only dealing the incarnation in the very first game.

So let's start off with the "memorable faces" I mentioned above. Not only did this world have a pleasantly peaceful ambiance that can't quite be attained anywhere else, but it also had a cast of very recognizable characters. Such as Squall Leonhart from "Final Fantasy VIII", and Cid Highwind from "Final Fantasy VII". These Final Fantasy cameos are another of the series' staples (one that unfortunately hasn't been seeing much attention lately), and it's a very enjoyable one, in my opinion. Getting to see some of your favorite characters from older games fully rendered in 3D, with voices to boot...now that's just dandy. And these guys just brought too much life to the world, it's hard to imagine this place without them (although, then Dream Drop Distance came around...).

But as for the actual world itself, there was simply so much creativity to it, it's fantastic. From its secret passageways, to its hidden treasures, to those doors that can only be opened by casting specific spells on them, this world just had so many little puzzles and intricacies to it. And these intricacies made this place just that much more enjoyable -- it was as if you learned something new about the city every time you came there.

Boy, oh boy. Where do I even start with this world? This world was definitely the highlight of the 3rd installment of the franchise, and it just had so much to offer. I guess we shall go in order.

First off, it was the hub world to even smaller worlds, such as Space Paranoids and 100 Acre Woods, which means that you got 3x the fun for the price of a single world. And secondly, we got all those wonderful Final Fantasy cameos that were mentioned in Traverse Town above -- with even MORE cameos to boot, such as Yuna from "FF10", and even the sinister Sephiroth, whose reputation proceeds him. But Radiant Garden here has something that Traverse Town lacked: you get to team up with those characters in fights! Imagine, tag-teaming the evil Heartless with Squall or Cloud by your side, hacking and slashing until no more enemies dare confront you. Simply an amazing experience. But not quite as memorable as the events that happened immediately after. Events that involve single-handedly fending off an army of 1000 Heartless. Talk about invigorating.

But apart from the fighting, the actual plot in this world kicked things into overdrive, with revelation after revelation. And in a story-driven series such as Kigndom Hearts, plot progression is a must. This world also had Christoper Lee in it! So what's not to love?

Finally, in the Japanese-exclusive "Final Mix" version of the game, this world featured a brand new area called the Cavern of Remembrance, which probably exhibited the very peak of gaming that this series has had to offer -- from platforming to boss fights. Fortunately, it looks like this area won't be "Japanese-exclusive" for very much longer.

Now what this world lacks in making sense, it makes up for in atmosphere. From the moment you set foot in this world, you simply KNOW that things are going to go down. It just feels like the final world, where the ultimate battle is going to take place.

And boy does it take place. From the chambers that whisk you away to previous locales, to the epic battles with the Behemoths and the Invisibles, and even fighting the devil Chernabog himself, the entire voyage through the conglomeration of dark worlds is exhilarating. And at the end, you come face-to-face with the final boss himself. Truly, by the time the fight is done, and the world is complete -- and the ending credits begin to roll -- you just can't help but feel incredibly accomplished. A great ending to a great game.

It is my humble opinion that no other game in the franchise has managed to make its final world as such of a masterpiece as this one's.

Now as fun as the combat was in Kingdom Hearts II, it did fall short in one category, dare I say. And that was pacing. Too often did it feel like nothing really progressed in the plot when you finished a world. Fortunately, Beast's Castle did the exact opposite of that. Not only did it bring a unique new world to the table, it also had quite a bit of plot development in it too, thanks to "The Whirlwind Lancer" of Organization XIII.

Now this world might not be as large as some others on this list, but what it did have was very sublime. The corridors in the Beast's humble abode were detailed beautifully, down to the gorgeous carpet in the ballroom. And having suits of armor turn into Heartless to attack you was especially bewildering -- I can't even begin to count how many times that still manages to catch me off guard.

And apart from the amazingly structured level, the boss fight against the aforementioned Lancer, Xaldin, will forever go down in fans' minds as one of the most challenging boss fights to date. Too many a time did King Mickey have to come to my rescue to bail me out of dying. All in all, the beauty of the being a Disney crossover really came to light in this world, thanks to the Beast's short yet sweet character arc, and the chilling presence of a daring villain like Xaldin.

There's a reason why the BGM for this world is called "Lazy Afternoons". And it's not just because the prologue here lasted for 3 hours. It's because this world truly captured the essence of the shiftless summer days that involved you and your good friends just spending time together -- whether it be going on a walk through town, shirking from your academic responsibilities, or just trying to buy an overpriced watermelon. The peaceful tranquility of this serene city was portrayed marvelously, and it's always a warm welcome for you when you come back the next time.

And that's to say nothing of the menagerie of fun activities and boss battles that take place here. Honestly, the final fight in "KH2"'s prologue is simply one of the most blood-pumping (and heart-wrenching) experiences in all of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. And the other side-fights and mini-bosses are all a treat too.

Plus, how could you possibly hate the presence of a teenage Seifer Almasy, and all of his amazingly articulated insults?

From summer streets to a sparkling suburb, Traverse Town is back on this list again. This time from the most recent installment (barring the HD remakes, of course), coming at you from the realm of sleep. Like I covered in this town's last entry, one of the most wonderfully unique privileges that this town offers you is the opportunity to interact with your favorite characters from other Square Enix franchises. And if you thought that only "Final Fantasy" characters could cameo in this series, then you'd be zetta wrong! Because this time around we got to chill with the main cast from the amazing "The World Ends With You". And let me tell you -- as a big fan of that game -- seeing those guys (and hearing them!) was an amazing treat. And unlike the FF cast, the TWEWY cast actually managed to bring part of their own soundtrack with them! Although, whether you like their catchy J-pop jingles in entirely up to you, but I for one loved their inclusion -- it simply made the world feel more alive than ever before.

Although, even without Neku and the gang, the world still felt pretty darn alive, what with the neon lights and the parkour. Usually when a world gets revisited, there's a bunch of new areas to traverse, and this is even doubly true with our moonlit city here. Because with the new gameplay feature that "Dream Drop Distance" introduced, calling Flowmotion, you're able to propel Sora and Riku to new heights and have them literally fly all over the city -- including the tons of new locales that we'd never seen before. I personally couldn't put the game down when I got here solely due to all the fun new things that were available for me. And this was only the first world!

So, let's just review. Cool new areas? Check. Amazing cameos? Check. Catchy new music? Super check. Oh, and there's also the shiny new Colosseum, where you can pit your Dream Eaters to fight against other Dream Eaters in a "Chao Karate"-esque minigame. Which is always a fun way to spend your afternoon (well, if Traverse Town wasn't in perpetual night, anyhow).

Back in "Kingdom Hearts II", Sora managed to come across the menacing stronghold of the Organization, aptly named The World That Never Was. And even though we thought it was gone forever, here we are again in "Dream Drop Distance". And as somebody who was somewhat disappointed with the layout of things in "KH2", the "DDD" version of the world definitely rose to my expectations.

Firstly, there's simply so much land to cover. Not only due do Sora and Riku both have their own entirely unique maps, but both maps are dynamically huge! While Sora leaps through the skyscrapers that litter the city, Riku is able to Flowmotion up to the tallest heights of the Organization's fortress, fighting powerfully ferocious beasts along the way. And needless to say, these feats are impressive in and of themselves, because it's not everyday where you have to resort to so much insanely flashy platforming to navigate through a world like this. And in the end, the final bosses of both characters are extraordinarily fun as well -- involving stunts that perhaps even exceed those of the "KH2" boss battles.

And outside of the maps and battles, the story itself is a hell of a gale. So many twists and turns, and so many unexpected characters doing unexpected things truly made this a landmark moment in the history of "Kingdom Hearts". In fact, I believe the creator Tetsuya Nomura stated that this world has THE longest cutscene to date in the series. I believe that that itself is already a testament to just how colossal the story has become just thanks to the events of this single world. So it definitely deserves a position this high on the list.

Oh, that's right, another "DDD" world. Because if there's one thing "Dream Drop Distance" did right (besides being insanely fun) was world design. And the Symphony of Sorcery is definitely one helluva world design. From the moment I set foot here I immediately began to wonder if maybe Dr. Seuss had somehow come back to life solely to help design this place. I guess it might've had something to do with the purple trees and being able to ride across rainbows while smacking around unicorns with a magical key. But then I realized that nobody was making their sentences rhyme, so I figured that Seuss probably didn't have anything to do with it this time.

What surprised me most, though, was that not only was nobody rhyming, they were all entirely mute. Which was just an amazing reference, I thought, to the movie this world came from -- Fantasia. Because why would they be talking during a symphonic musical? So that single tiny attention to detail made the world all that much cooler to me. And then we got to walk on clouds, use music to turn giant leafs into springboards, ride rainbows across icy lakes, and just look fabulous in general.

Honestly, the worlds that "Dream Drop Distance" had overall were definitely one of the better set of worlds that we as players have seen from the series. And even out of them, Symphony of Sorcery alone is just one truly special world that gave such an exhilarating and new experience to "Kingdom Hearts".

But as fantastic as Symphony of Sorcery was, it still can't compare with...

This is where so much happened. And I truly don't even know where to begin with this world. But I guess I can just start with saying how this world FELT. When you first arrived here, you just knew the game was ending; you just knew how serious things had become; you just KNEW that you were in for one wild ride. And as you steeled yourself for the upcoming wonders, you leapt through those floating platforms that laid within the trench of oppositely-flowing water, and you ran right into one of the biggest plot twists of the game. After that point, for the next few minutes, the tension and exhilaration were ever so apparent as you progressed through the world.

And the world itself was wonderful. The foyer alone, right at the start of the castle, just showcased exactly what makes a "Kingdom Hearts" world great. From the puzzles, to the battles, to the characters and the words they said, everything was handled brilliantly. Starting with the puzzles, this world did a remarkable job at granting player interactivity with the environment around them. You could cast spells on objects to affect them (igniting candles with Fire; pushing platforms with Gravity), you could pull and push monuments to activate switches, you could open up secret doorways by going the extra mile when completing room-specific puzzles, like the "book collecting" mission in the library. And in the end, all these puzzles and quests truly made you feel so much more immersed in the world that any other I've encountered in the franchise -- it was like you were seeing life through Sora's eyes, and exploring this strange new castle right alongside him.

And after all the exploration is said and done, we finally get to Maleficent. And Riku. And Ansem: Seeker of Darkness. (and the Final Mix-exclusive secret boss that TOTALLY isn't Xemnas!) And as I'm sure you all know, at this point there were so many great moments, and so many great battles, and so many moments that just make you as a human being tear up and cry. The world and its plot were majestically wound together in a magical way that only Square and Disney could've managed to pull off. And this world is proof that when two magical companies such as these unite, truly magical things can happen.

Honestly, I wasn't expecting all of the finalists to be from the same three games -- I wish a couple from "Birth by Sleep" could've made it in there as well, but I guess even fans can't deny that a majority of those worlds left something to be desired. Not to say they weren't all pleasantly enjoyable in their own ways (really, I'm ecstatic to play them in HD next year!), but they just can't compete with these amazingly wonderful 10 worlds above.

So let's hope that the upcoming worlds in the "Kingdom Hearts" game that have yet to be released can out-do their predecessors, and manage to be even more exciting, even more grand, and even more magical!

RUNNER-UPS
#11) The World That Never Was (Kingdom Hearts II)
#12) Country of the Musketeers (Dream Drop Distance)
#13) Destiny Islands (Chain of Memories)
#14) The Grid (Dream Drop Distance)
#15) Radiant Garden (Birth by Sleep)

List by slmcknett (12/03/2013)

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