Kingdom Hearts Review
SquareSoft is easily the best when it comes down to developing a fine and memorable RPG title. No other game company has a crew of such imaginative and talented developers. Square has brought us the incomparable Final Fantasy series, games like Vagrant Story, the Chrono series (Trigger/Cross), Brave Fencer Musashi, Threads of Fate, and Xenogears. They are perhaps the biggest reason behind the success of the Playstation, and in this generation they are doing what they do best; developing innovative and quality software. Following the release of Final Fantasy X, Square has finally set Kingdom Hearts sailing. The much talked about and highly anticipated Square/Disney RPG hybrid has finally arrived on the PS2. Having inked the deal with Disney some two years ago, the once mysterious 'Disney RPG' has become a reality, and no matter how weird the concept of the game sounds, SquareSoft pulls it off like no else would be able to.
Taking the worlds most known two-dimensional universe and bringing it into an interactive third-dimension is something I would've never imagined. Now, I'm not saying that this is the first 3D Disney title, mind you. Specifically, I'm still a bit overwhelmed that SquareSoft took every nook and cranny of the Walt Disney universe and turned it into an interactive adventure. Characters like Donald Duck, his nephews Hooey, Dewey and Louie, Goofy, Pluto, Minnie Mouse, Daisy Duck, Dumbo, and countless others are all modeled fantastically well in full 3D glory. The Disney presentation is not only present with the characters, but the environments as well. As you venture through the game you will come across locations such as Traverse Town, the Coliseum, Wonderland, Deep Jungle (from Tarzan), and even Agrabah (Aladdin). Witnessing all of these locations, and exploring them creates a very warm feeling inside of me. Here I am walking and interacting with the very same cartoons I grew up watching -- it's almost like a dream come true. The art direction in Kingdom Hearts is wonderful, as well. Original designs such as Sora, Kairi and Riku blend well into the Disney world, meanwhile redesigns of Cloud, Tidus, and Squall look pretty nice, though Squall takes the cake as being the best designed character in the whole game. The whole Vincent Valentine (Final Fantasy VII) hybrid Cloud gains in Kingdom Hearts really makes him stand out, and just look like an altogether bad ass. Artistically, it is no secret that Kingdom Hearts is a gorgeous looking game.
Kingdom Hearts still looks every bit as artistically gorgeous as it does technically. While it's certainly not pushing any boundaries here, what Kingdom Hearts does well is capture every Disney environment down to the tee. The character detail, for starters, is very well defined. Not quite Final Fantasy X defined, but defined nonetheless. The facial expressions and lip-synching is actually done surprisingly well. I was pretty amazed to see that most of what the characters were saying was coordinated with their mouth movements -- something that Square slipped up on with Final Fantasy X. The animations are like no other. Everything on screen moves as smooth as silk and this is the best representation of a Disney atmosphere seen in a game to date. Being directly related to Disney atmospheres, Kingdom Hearts' texture detail is every bit as vivid as it should be. Everything around you is lively, richly detailed, and just looks downright incredibly good. The overall look of the game can be best described as "whimsical", which is what I have also described Atlus' action/RPG, Dual Hearts, as. The visual presentation is done so remarkably well that it gets to the point of awe many times.
Perhaps the most critical and ambitious portion of Kingdom Hearts is its gameplay and how it all falls together. The good news (and obviously it had to be judging by the gameplay score) is that Kingdom Hearts' gameplay is pretty much free of any significant flaws. Now make no mistake about it, Kingdom Hearts is not a full fledged RPG game. Rather, it's an action/RPG that plays more similarly to titles like Dual Hearts, Threads of Fate and Brave Fencer Musashi. The fighting is in real-time, so no turn-based skill is required -- everything you do is completely on the fly. You use the right analog stick to select between physical attack, a magic attack, using an item, and among other things displayed on the menu; once again all on the fly. Unlike Final Fantasy battles, or the more typical RPG battles where only 4 or 5 opponents is the max, Kingdom Hearts can have you facing up to as many as 20. Though never fear, as they don't take much to defeat, and in many cases you'll be able to take out as many as 4 at the same time. Some enemies are of course harder than others, and even though the game is an action/RPG, it still features experience points and status leveling up. As you fight and you fend off your enemies, you will gain EXP. points for your level up. Not only that, but most enemies drop rewards including HP restore, charge gauge refill, treasure chests, and munny (currency in the game). As Sora, you can lock on to your opponents, and you do have a combo that you can use while fighting. During battles, you will also be able to use a variety of different magic spells, and as always usage of magic will decrease Sora's MP. As you fight, you will only control Sora, while the AI will back you up using two supporting characters. The AI is generally very good, and shouldn't make matters worse during intense moments, so no worries. Aside from magic, you can also call out summons, which include Dumbo and even Bambi. So it's obvious, despite being real-time, Square has managed to cram in everything you'd expect from a turn-based battle engine.
[Please note: The following is a description of the game's story and the first three hours of the game. There are possible spoilers, nothing major though. So read at own risk]
The story of Kingdom Hearts has you taking the role of Sora, an ambitious boy who dreamt that he entered another world that had him trapped in a dark dimension where he would choose weaponry and then fight a gigantic beast of the underworld. After waking up, Sora meets up with his two best friends Riku and Kairi. Kairi wonders what her birthplace looks like, and suddenly the three of them decided to venture out and find out for themselves. For the first hour or two, the game will have you on Destiny Island, where you will encounter Tidus, Wakka, and Yuffie. You'll be able to duel them in practice fights, so that you get a hang of the game. As you make your way around Destiny Island, Kairi will ask you for some supplies to build a raft for the upcoming venture. As you get to the end of doing that, you will come across two cut-scenes, and this is where the story unravels. The second sequence introduces the Disney world, and presents Donald, Goofy, Pluto, Daisy Duck, and Minnie Mouse. Strange things are happening to Sora because he is the holder of the Keyblade. The Keyblade is a very important object in the game, and it also attracts minions of the dark world to Sora, so you will regularly have to fight them off. Shortly after a few sequence of events, you will end up meeting Squall and (spoiler!) Aerith. Following that, you will soon be partnered with Donald and Goofy, but only after you do some exploration in Traverse Town, the town in which you end up in after a chaotic event occurs back in Destiny Island. While the story seems a bit complex, it's really not. In fact, it's quite simple, and incredibly light hearted and pleasant to progress though.
As you make your way through the game you will come across tons and tons of classic Disney characters, both heroes/heroines and villains (100 in total). Not only that, but you will reunite with Final Fantasy characters such as Cloud, Aeris (referred to as Aerith in the game), Cid (Final Fantasy VII), Yuffie, Wakka, Tidus, Moogle, Squall (who is also called Leon in the game) and lastly, Sephiroth. Some characters are playable, others are not. Lastly, as far as value goes, Kingdom Hearts is roughly a 25-30 hour adventure. Not quite as epic as Final Fantasy X, but lengthy enough, nonetheless.
To me it still hasn't sunk in yet, that I'm actually playing a Final Fantasy-Disney hybrid in which I get to explore a bunch of classic scenery from some of Disney's biggest movies. There's so much to say about Kingdom Hearts, and yet there is only so much time I have. The action elements of the game are done superbly, as are the RPG elements. There's a lot to do in the game, and those who are looking for not only a great RPG title, but also a great action/adventure game, owe it to themselves to pick up Kingdom Hearts; it's an absolutely wonderful game. I know there are things that I've overlooked mentioning, but it's not like it matters. There are some slight flaws in the game, but nothing worth wasting time over or even mentioning for that matter.
When it comes down to the audio of a SquareSoft game, I expect no less than perfection, or whatever is closest to it. With Kingdom Hearts, I get what I am used to; some of the finest videogame music scores, not to mention some of the finest voice acting around, with the exception of Wakka's ever annoying terrible accent. Thankfully Wakka doesn't play a notable role in Kingdom Hearts, so players do not have to suffer that much listening to Wakka speak. Now what makes Kingdom Hearts even better is the fact that the game features a huge Hollywood cast. Haley Joel Osment takes on the role of Sora. While Riku is played by David Gallagher. Kairi is played by Hayden Panettiere. Lance Bass does the voice of Sephiroth (weird, we know). Mandy Moore plays Aerith. Billy Zane does the voice for a mysterious hooded character which you will encounter early on in the game. There are dozens and dozens of notable Disney voice actors, and as far as I could tell all of them are the original voiceovers, as Square claims. The soundtrack is phenomenally done as well and very memorable. All in all, the sound in Kingdom Hearts is some of the best you'll hear all year. A wonderful soundtrack and nearly perfect voice acting has become the standard with SquareSoft.
Perhaps Kingdom Hearts' biggest problem are the camera controls. Instead of having a camera that follows your every turn, you have to manually adjust the angle by pressing either R2 or L2. Once you get the hang of that, KH becomes relatively easy to control. A lock on feature has been implemented for combat, among other things, and that makes confrontation with enemies that much easier. Moving Sora around can only be done with the left analog stick, and controlling the menu is done with the right. Each button has three to four different actions assigned to it, all depending on what you are doing in the game. Controlling Kingdom Hearts is a breeze for the most part. Once you get adjusted to the controls, you'll be fine.
In the end, Kingdom Hearts is one game that will not disappoint. If you don't play it because it's childish, then you're a heartless bastard who's trying to fit in with the whole image of "I'm mature, therefore I only play mature games". If you miss out on Kingdom Hearts, you're missing out one of the best adventures to date. While it isn't as epic as a Final Fantasy game would be, Kingdom Hearts has a whole ton of atmosphere and personality to make up for it. It's roughly a 30 hour adventure, so most people looking for a lengthy title should be satisfied with Kingdom Hearts. Do yourself a favor and at least rent the game. It may be one of the most kick ass PS2 titles you play all year long.
9/20/2002 Arnold Katayev