Review by nastynate3118

"A little Disney magic never hurt anyone"

Introduction

I will never forget the first time I heard about Kingdom Hearts and being amazed by the premise of this game. It combined my two favorite things growing up, Disney and Square. This was during a time when Square was still making very high-quality games consistently, so naturally I believed this game to be a must-have. I am happy to report that I was not disappointed because this game is very addicting. Even though there are quite a few problems with the gameplay that take away from the experience, Kingdom Hearts is one of the more solid PlayStation 2 titles.

Gameplay – 6.5/10

Kingdom Hearts plays like an action-adventure hack and slash game with heavy RPG elements. You control Sora with Donald Duck and Goofy assisting you. You cannot control them but can set how their AI will react in certain situations (more on that in a second). You explore various worlds based off Disney movies and fight through enemies, eventually challenging a boss for that world. These worlds are all pretty short and easy in level design, but there is plenty to do in each world and you can revisit old worlds late in the game with new abilities to discover new areas (similar to Super Metroid). There are usually two or three worlds you can select to go to, giving the game a nice non-linear appeal.

The combat in this game is relatively simple; you can attack, use magic or use an item. The combat is usually far too chaotic to navigate the menu to select a spell or item, so the game allows you to set certain spells to shortcuts. This customization is very helpful in trying to manage a battle. Some might say that the gameplay boils down to simply mashing the X button, but that assessment really is not true, especially on Expert mode. Many enemies and bosses require strategy to defeat and this gives the gameplay some depth.

A great feature of this game is synthesizing items and equipment. As you defeat enemies and collect items they drop, you can utilize these items to create new weapons and equipment. This section is very straightforward and well-done and it is pretty fun to find these items.

There are a number of problems with the gameplay that plague throughout and make the game overly-frustrating especially on Expert mode. The first is simply moving the camera around. In most games, the right joystick is used to control the camera. Kingdom Hearts uses the old PS1 method of having L2 and R2 rotate the camera. It moves very slow and the control is pretty awkward. Another major problem is the menu during battles. As I said earlier, things are far too chaotic to sit there and scroll through a menu to use an item. You are forced to memorize a very fast sequence of button inputs to make sure you select the correct item and use it on the correct character. It takes a bit of time from selecting the spell/item to it actually going through and taking effect. If you use a potion, you have to wait a good second before it finally heals you because of the animation, and in that time you could have been killed by an enemy. I feel like they put way too much into that one menu and perhaps should have given the attack command its own button. Another problem arises with “locking on” to enemies. For some reason the game chooses to lock on to inanimate objects or distant enemies instead of the enemy that is pounding away on you. All of these factors contribute to a very frustrating and tedious battle system.

When you travel from world to world, the game utilizes a Gummi Ship system that allows you to create ships made out of “gummi” blocks. You fly through short stages reminiscent of Star Fox any time you visit a new world. These sections do not control well and the aim is unresponsive. These sections are just busy work that detracts from the experience. Creating gummi ships is also extremely tedious and time consuming. It was a nice idea that could have added variety to the gameplay, but it is a chore that you will try to avoid as you play.

There are a few “platforming” parts in this game as well where Sora has to navigate platforms to get to a new area. These aren't too bad and add some variety to the gameplay but jumping and landing on platforms can be awkward in some places. Goofy and Donald follow along and fight in battle with you. You cannot control them but instead can customize their AI to carry out certain actions with frequency. Of course, the AI does not cooperate very well and Donald and Goofy will spam all of their magic/special attacks very fast, even if you set it to “conservative.” One can get through the game by relying on just Sora, so this is certainly not a deal breaker.

Despite the many problems with the gameplay, there is an addicting quality to this game that makes it a blast to play. There is a charm to this game that makes it very playable but one must adjust to the flawed gameplay. It is challenging (if not frustrating at times) and has depth. The sidequests in this game are also pretty fun to complete and will only increase playing time.

Interface- 7/10

The interface in Kingdom Hearts may appear slick on the surface, but there are several annoying problems. The major flaw comes with the in-game timer and the fact that there is no way to stop it. During battles and cutscenes, you can pause the game, but that does not stop the clock. I am one of those people that prefer an accurate representation of how I have been playing and I am assuming that is the purpose of the in-game timer. I am not sure why they made it so that you can never stop it. I am also annoyed by the fact that you can only pause in battles.

The HP and Magic bars are represented on screen as little green and blue bars, but in the menu they are represented by numerical values. I never really understood why so many Square games do this, such as Final Fantasy Mystic Quest. At least in that game, you have the option of choosing between bars and numerical values. It is just unnecessary and makes it more complicated than it needs to be.

Equipping potions to use in battle is incredibly annoying in this game. In most RPGs, if you need to use a potion in battle you simply need to select “items” and choose the potion you would like to use. Kingdom Hearts makes this process unnecessarily tedious by making you equip potions to your characters, giving you limited access to them in battle. If you equip potions to Donald and Goofy, they will usually burn through them within a few minutes and you will have to re-equip them after the battle. After a while you learn to only equip them with potions during boss battles because you would have to stop the game every battle to equip potions.

Story- 8.5/10

The story to Kingdom Hearts is surprisingly complex and is very ambitious for a game featuring Disney characters. It follows the story of Sora, a boy who lives on an island. He finds a portal and is transported from the island to another planet. He is bestowed with a weapon called the Keyblade and seeks his island and two friends, Riku and Kairi. Donald and Goofy are charged by Mickey Mouse to protect the person who has the Keyblade, hence the reason they accompany Sora. He travels to various worlds themed after Disney planets in an effort to try and find his friends and stop various evil forces with his Keyblade.

Of course, the plot is far more sophisticated than what I wrote above, but that is the gist of it. It almost seems silly writing that synopsis with Disney characters getting involved, but it is done very well. The presentation in this game is outstanding and is on par with the storytelling of the Final Fantasy games. The characters of Sora, Donald and Goofy are admittedly one-dimensional, with Sora being a kid who stereotypically wants to be a hero and can do no wrong. He tends to get easily distracted from his main goal of finding his friends and gets involved in the local problems of whatever Disney world he is visiting. Some of the other characters in this game have far more development and are neither truly evil nor good.

As great as the story is, a lot of things go unexplained and are pretty vague. I think many things get lost in translation so you get a lot of obscure references to “hearts,” “darkness” and things like that. The story can be a little hard to understand at times. The ending, while very satisfying, also falls into this problem of being overly-ambiguous. Still, the plot definitely exceeded my expectations and will suck you in with its straightforward objective.

Graphics - 10/10

The visuals in Kingdom Hearts are stunning. Every area is detailed greatly and every character is full of life. I was really impressed by how the graphics really immerse you in the levels you play in. This is the best example of Disney really being brought to life with their worlds and characters. The animation is fluent and each area is varied and detailed. The enemies in this game are all themed to different areas so you are always getting a new set of enemies. I also like that in some levels Sora, Donald and Goofy have different appearances. These graphics are fantastic and among the best on the PS2.

Sound/Music - 9/10

The music in Kingdom Hearts is notably symphonic and gives the game an “epic” feel. Each world has a distinctive soundtrack and they fit the worlds pretty well.

The sound effects in this game are right on the money and do not distract from the overall experience. The only annoying thing is that in battle some of the things that Sora, Donald and Goofy say get really repetitive and I wish there was a way to quiet them while in battle.

The voice acting itself is very well done and is provided by a star-studded voice cast. Each line is delivered with the right emotion and everything sounds natural.

Play Time/Replayability - 9/10

I completed Kingdom Hearts in 44 hours and 6 minutes after completing every sidequest the game has to offer. This time is inflated due to the fact that you cannot stop the timer. There is plenty of sidequests and secrets to be discovered and an Expert mode to challenge the game on. The only annoying thing is that there is no way to skip cutscenes, making a second playthrough a chore.

PROS
+Charming, addicting gameplay
+Non-linear progression
+Fun sidequests, such as synthesizing items
+Complex, engaging plot
+Excellent presentation
+Stunning visuals
+Ensemble cast for voice acting
+Symphonic soundtrack
+Multiple difficulties

CONS
-Awkward camera controls and battle system
-Gummi Ship section is very poorly executed
-Platforming sections are tedious
-There is no way to stop the in-game timer
-Equipping and using items is not user-friendly
-Sora is a one-dimensional character
-No way to skip cutscenes

Final Recommendation

Kingdom Hearts is one of the most original titles for the PS2 from a generation that seemed to be lacking original ideas. The story and presentation is simply outstanding and you really become immersed in the experience. The gameplay is flawed, but it is not broken to the point where the game is unplayable. Any gamer who is interested in RPGs and would like to relive their childhood should pick this game up.

Final Score: 8.3333/10 rounded to 8/10


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/14/12

Game Release: Kingdom Hearts (US, 09/16/02)


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