Review by danwheeler

"Two powerhouses team up for an engaging action RPG"

Kingdom Hearts transcends some serious flaws to emerge as an action (and I do mean action) RPG worthy to stand proud among the best works of both Square and Disney.

First off, all you hardcore Squareophiles can breathe a sigh of relief. Kingdom Hearts is NOT a heaping helping cutesy pie. Just because it’s Disney doesn’t mean it’s bad is just as true as just because it’s Square doesn’t mean it’s good. Remember that Disney gave us Fantasia and Square gave us Tidus. That should give you some perspective and you’ll be able to approach Kingdom Hearts with a little objectivity. For your information the mix of characters drawn from the rich pool of Disney and Square favorites works surprisingly well bouncing off each other and their coexistence is never forced or unnatural.

The overwhelming achievement that this game represents is mindboggling. This game features at least fifty different Disney characters culled from eighty years of film making. Every single character model is perfect. Almost without exception, all of the original voice talent reprises their roles. The dozen or so folks taken from the Final Fantasy series receive a spiffy facelift without sacrificing their personalities. Selphie is still perky and Squall (or rather Leon) is still sullen. For those who might lament the absence of Chocobos or threaten suicide after learning Lance Bass provided the voice of Sepiroth: just calm down and go with it. It works.

Your character is a spunky kid named Sora and he lives on an island with his friends Kairi and Rikku. They all dream of traveling far and wide seeking adventure together but those plans are forever crushed when the Heartless attack. Sora winds up in what becomes his de facto home base of Traverse Town searching for his two missing friends in an unlikely alliance with Donald Duck and Goofy who are searching for the similarly missing King Mickey. Together you journey from world to world to find your friends and defeat the Heartless.

One of the nicest features is that you’ve got Donald Duck and Goofy fighting next to you as you progress through the game. You don’t control them directly but you can control settings governing how often the use melee attacks, magic, special attacks and items. It’s crucial to start fiddling with these settings early on so you can ''cooperate'' better as the story develops. The battles near the end will be a real headache if your partners are off doing things they shouldn’t be doing. There are also certain worlds you can swap one of them out of your party in favor of another Disney character such as Tarzan, the Little Mermaid or Peter Pan. Usually the new characters are more powerful than Donald or Goofy and since Donald’s magic doesn’t get strong enough to really contribute much until you’re pretty well into the game so you’ll probably play a lot of worlds through with Goofy and whoever the not-Donald is for that world.

The battle system is simple and engaging, not overly deep but not meant to be. It’s meant to be fun, and it is. It’s fairly obvious that Square really wanted to concentrate on making this a game that’s feels natural to pick up and play with a minimum of pages of instruction or complicated tutorial. I’m pleased to say they succeeded brilliantly. Kingdom Hearts is a fun romp that anyone can jump head first into but also incorporates enough RPG elements, rare items and customization to keep the more hardcore crowd satisfied.

Another unique feature is the fact that you level up immediately during battle. You just defeated the first of five enemies and he’s worth twenty experience points. You don’t have to wait until the end of the battle, if those points kicks you up to the next level you level up right then and there as you’re fighting the next enemy with no interruption. After playing you’ll scratch your head and wonder why has no one ever thought of that before?

The graphics are (what else?) incredible. As mentioned above all the character models are highly detailed and true to the source material. Your enemies come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and they all move in impressively unique ways. Some are large and bumbling, others are small and twitchy. Battles are an energetic frenzy of motion and effects. In Kingdom Hearts when you defeat an enemy he drops money and power ups in the form of different orbs which you have to run around an pick up during battle because they disappear quickly. So it’s you and your two companions against usually between three and six enemies, everyone’s on screen at once fighting, casting spells, picking up money and power ups and it never hits a glitch. All that going on at once and it never slows down, the framerate never drops. It’s almost more eye candy than you can take in at once.

The music, especially the fun ''island'' numbers, are also up to Square’s normal high water mark. The occasional homage to a classic Disney ditty adds to the enjoyment but original music is the rule here and the Disney tunes are the exceptions. You never feel like you’re listening to a ''Disney’s Greatest Hits'' soundtrack.

Let’s do the bad news as quickly as possible. 1.) The camera: it’s hard to see where you’re going, what you’re doing and what’s around. 2.) The gummi ship: a space shooter minigame is your transportation between worlds and a baffling addition. Not bad but certainly not good. 3.) Winnie the Pooh minigames: they all frustrate and annoy. 4.) What do I do next? The story is very linear but your gameplay is not always well directed. Be prepared for occasional aimless wandering.

It’s the camera that almost killed this game. It’s a constant maddening eyesore but when you add together the whole package it somehow can’t manage to ruin the experience. This game is not perfect but whenever I got frustrated, said ''screw this'' and walked away, I found myself quickly returning to have another crack at it. This game got under my skin and, as Martha would say, it’s a good thing.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 10/28/02, Updated 10/28/02


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