Review by Karpah
"This game could have been so good..."
Kingdom Hearts was supposed to be one of those rare perfect games. Square, the undisputed king of RPGs, and Disney, everyone's childhood sweethearts, working together to create a gaming masterpiece that was supposed to appeal to the child in us all. Sadly, it's fallen far short of this hypothetical mark.
I wanted very much to like this game, and for a while I did, it was rather fun. But as the game wore on, and the difficulty increased, it became near impossible to play and tolerate, much less enjoy. How? You'll see what I mean later on.
KH has quite the interesting storyline. You are Sora, a young 14-year-old boy with the typical big spiky hair (what is it with every Square hero having big spiky hair?). As you make plans with your friends to leave your small Destiny Island in search of bigger and better things, tragedy strikes, and the world is invaded by the Heartless. These small black pesky creatures just hang around causing mischief, and you don't find out about their greater purpose for quite a while.
However, Sora has been entrusted with the Keyblade as his weapon against the scores of Heartless. Unbeknownst to him, the Keyblade is a source of great power, and there are others who would try and take it from him. One of these is the King, King Mickey. Mickey knows that the Keyblade is what is needed to save his world, and he sets out to get it.
It all continues from there. Let it suffice to say that, while the storyline is childish in nature (it is supposed to appeal to the younger market, after all), it is still entertaining. Fans of both Disney and Final Fantasy will immensely enjoy the inclusion of famous characters like Donald Duck, Goofy, Leon (Squall), Tidus, and Aeris. It's one of KH's strengths, one of few.
On the topic of positive points, the game's appearance is incredible. In terms of both graphics, and sound, the game is simply one of the best out there.
While the appearance of characters and locations is childlike (with exaggeration of features, bright colours, and total non-realism), they suit the game perfectly. All are beautifully rendered, and simply outstanding. From Sora's spiky hair, to his big red shoes, to the way he swims through the water surrounding Destiny Island, you simply can't fault the graphics. They're as good as something you'd find in a popular children's movie such as Toy Story, but seeing as it is a game not a movie, the effort is twice as impressive.
Sound is another place where I can't pick a fault. The beautiful melodies of normal travel will captivate you and have you humming along, while the battle themes will evolve as the Heartless do, into something more intimidating and edgy. Each new theme of each new place you visit, will have a new storybook theme, and some will be familiar to you from Disney experiences you would have had as a child. KH does include voice acting, and superb voice acting at that. While Sora screaming ''C'mon!'' (ala Lleyton Hewitt) every time he makes a three-swing combo does get irritating, the rest of it is perfect. Voices for characters such as Donald and Goofy will be familiar, and will be exactly as you remembered them, while those for Sora and his band of friends are believable as young teens, and suit their characters perfectly.
Also introduced are voices for Final Fantasy characters, some previously voiced, some not. And I'm afraid to say, that the voices for those voiced such as Tidus and Wakka, have been done poorly. The same voice actors have obviously not been used as in FFX, because instead of Wakka sounding like a Jamaican import, he sounds like someone like me impersonating a Jamaican import, which is never entirely good.
Voices for previously silent characters are debatable, but in my opinion they have been done well. Characters sound exactly as their personalities would suggest in their respective games - for example, Squall has a low, hushed voice that deliberately pronounces each word. In all, the sound is amazing and I can't really find a negative thing to say about it.
So far, this is sounding like a pretty incredible game, ya? In all the categories I've described so far, it's one of the best in the business. But overall, it's not that good, really. Now that I've talked about the major strengths of the game, I have to talk about the weaknesses, which is basically everything else. Something has to justify the 4/10 I awarded, right?
I'll start with the controls. This is a major pet peeve of mine, and something I'd like to talk about. It's incredibly hard to enjoy this game, because the controls are arranged so horribly. I know the game tried something new, with an action/adventure RPG, and that it was always going to have trouble organizing the controls for both genres onto one controller. But it failed miserably in attempting to make the game play well. Movement is done using the left analog stick, while menu selection is done with the D-pad. While this sounds good in theory (and most of the time it works well, don't get me wrong), it can prove to be troublesome, especially in big battles.
Imagine running around, locking on to a big-ass enemy and hammering X to attack. When you run low on health, you want to stop and recover. While dodging the enemy's attacks with the left analog, you must scroll through menus with the D-pad, selecting Item, the item to use, and who to use it on. Lemme add that up. Most people literally don't have the capability to do this, me being one of them. I have only one left hand to control both the analog and the D-pad. Simply put, it can spell disaster.
Outside of major battles, the controls are fine. Sora can attack, jump, and run around perfectly naturally. When it comes to using skills, magic or items, and simultaneously performing the above actions, is where we run into drama.
Second major sticking point. The camera. Normally I don't even find this necessary to mention in a review, but for this game it is a must. Either whoever patterned the camera movements was high or drunk, or they set this up to torment the player. The camera, and the point of view, practically never stops moving. For example, you can run along the beach on Destiny Island, and although it's only a short stretch of beach, the camera will pan 360 degrees around Sora about three times. Forget trying to run in a straight line, it's impossible.
This is tolerable out of battle situations. Annoying, but tolerable. When you get into battles with swarms of Heartless, or bosses, it becomes downright horrid. Often, in battle mode, the camera focuses on Sora's front, facing him, so you've got pretty much no chance of seeing whatever it is he's locked on to attack, or the path in front of him to know where to go. Either the camera does that, or it continues its familiar spinning-wildly process. As I stated previously, running in any particular direction becomes a tedious task when the camera changes, because as the camera changes, ''forward'' no longer means the same direction. This makes it tough to avoid enemies, while at the same time fighting, healing, and whatever.
Both of these minuses relate indirectly to gameplay. The gameplay itself has its good and bad points. No longer do we have RPG style battles, but action-adventure or even survival-horror style battles. If you don't want to fight, you don't have to fight anything except boss battles. Heartless, the only enemies in the game, appear from nowhere randomly, and sometimes appear in large packs. You don't want to take them on, just keep on running. Again, keeping on running can be tricky due to controls and camera, but it's tolerable.
Similar to some RPGs, a '?' pops up over everything that can be examined, everyone that can be talked to, so you can't exactly miss much if you explore. And similar to some action/adventures, these things cannot be examined or talked to while you're in battle mode, so you'll have to kill everything around before you can check it out. So beat up a few Heartless until the music goes back to normal, that's how you know you're done. When a Heartless dies, it will explode into spheres that ricochet everywhere - these spheres can be HP spheres, or munny spheres. Run around to collect them, or let your allies pick them up.
Munny is the currency of the game, and is obviously used to purchase items and accessories. The game is unique in that each character has their own item store. Because you will only ever control one character in battle (with the controls, I dread the thought of controlling any more than one), sometimes your allies will use healing potions and the like. To stop them using your ENTIRE supply (which is altogether possible, knowing the AI here), they can only use items in their own stock. When they run out, that's it. When you buy items, you decide whose stock to put them in, or to put them in the party stock for anyone to use. It's a clever system, and one of the few that actually works in this forsaken game.
After items, each playable character has their own set of accessories they can attach. These accessories can boost stats such as HP, defense, or attack power. Like any sort of accessory system in a RPG or A/A, the best accessories are rare, usually very expensive or only found in one treasure chest in an obscure place. Once you pick one up it will take a while to find out just who can equip it.
Another major annoyance here. (There are so many!) The menu system. I've played games in which the menu system is simple, and I've played ones in which it is complicated but still understandable. Here, I find one that is complicated, bizarre, and not understandable in the slightest. It took quite a few minutes for me to work out how to use an item out of battle, because the system was poorly designed plus the controls seemed to be backwards for the menu alone. I press X, to select the option, and it sends me back a screen. What the? If you can understand it and successfully navigate it, my salutations to you.
In my opinion, the most important feature of a game is gameplay. A game can be ten years old with 16-bit graphics, but if the gameplay works well and the systems of improving characters and fighting battles are good, gamers will keep coming back to play it. Final Fantasy VI springs to mind here as a good example. On the other hand, a game can look as pretty as anything and be perfect on the surface, but if the gameplay is subpar, it turns a good game sour. This second category is the one KH fits into.
There are a decent number of side-quests in the game, such as finding the 99 Dalmatians, or playing the Hades Cup, and they will take you some time to complete. Big points for that. The problem with these lie with sticking with this game long enough to get to them. The ideas are good, and the execution of them is surprisingly decent. They throw up a good challenge for the average gamer, if you can stomach the lead-up to them.
This game has just been released Platinum here in Australia, so I'm guessing it has also been released as Greatest Hits in America. Even with the significant price drop that comes with the re-release, I wouldn't buy recommend buying this game. The shoddy gameplay makes this game tough to like, impossible to love. At the very least, rent it and try it out before making the commitment of a purchase. Most people that play this game will be sorely disappointed, as what could have been so good went so terribly wrong.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 10/30/03, Updated 07/16/04
Got Your Own Opinion?
You can submit your own review for this game using our Review Submission Form.