Review by ChocoRider

"WARNING: May love Disney again after playing!"

I was looking at the magazines in the grocery store one day, with my younger brother, when I happened upon an article that had Final Fantasy characters and Disney characters. Like many, I presume, I immediately thought “What on EARTH is this????” and “Squresoft and Disney? What’s up with that?” Despite my hearing many predictions from other magazines about how Kingdom Hearts would not succeed, I went on believing that Square could go and make one heck of a game, even with such a strange idea. Hey, what do you know? A few months later, sometime in December, I bought Kingdom Hearts, popped it in my PS2, and was amazed. Even other magazines agreed that Kingdom Hearts was one heck of a game, not to be missed. If you do miss it, I feel sorry for you, because you might very well be one out of millions of people who love Kingdom Hearts, and anxiously await its sequel.

Gameplay
Kingdom Hearts is an action-RPG, one that deserves to stand out right beside Zelda. You explore worlds by moving your character around, a boy named Sora, while your party members follow you. There are a variety of actions you can do, including walking, running, pushing stuff, hitting stuff with your keyblade (yeah, that’s right…a keyblade) hanging of edges, and moving along narrow edges standing up. Also, you can jump, talk, and look at signs. Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s really even simpler, because there’s only one point in the game in which you have to push something…that’s it. Also, you never really need to side-step along edges…it’s not necessary. Therefore, these two things seem very gimmicky, and there’s no real purpose to having them there. Oh well.

To do actions, you have a menu on the bottom left corner of the screen that you can select from using the right analog stick. The top menu, hit/attack, you use to…well, hit and attack. While in battle mode, you can press attack several times in the air or on the ground to do combos. You start with a maximum of three hits in a combo, but you can make it more with the additions of abilities. I’ll get on to that later. The second command on the menu is magic, where if you open it up, you’ll find all the magic that you can use. There are several different kinds of magic, including Blizzard, Fire, Gravity, Cure, and so on. You can make them level up by finding their power-ups in treasure boxes. Blizzard + power-up =Blizzara + power-up = Blizzaga. Every spell has 3 levels, which to get the maximum effect from, you need to find the power-ups. You can also assign magic to a shortcut menu, which you open up by holding L1. At the bottom of the magic menu, you can find summons, which you can use to summon different Disney characters like Dumbo, Tinkerbell, Simba, Genie, Bambi, and Mushu. They each do different things, whether it’s damaging the enemies or healing you if you die. At first, the magic and summons are powerful, but as you get further and further into the game, the only magic you’ll be using is Cure and Aero (which casts a shield around you or someone else in the party.) Summons aren’t worth it either, as they take a large chunk out of your MP and your party members get taken away (with the exception of Tinkerbell). The third command is items, which you open up to find healing items. You can use potions on you or your party members, which heal HP. Ethers heal MP. There are also Mega-Potions and Mega-Ethers, which restore HP or MP to the whole party. Finally, we have the rare Elixirs and Mega-Elixirs, which fully heal one person’s or everyone’s HP and MP. The fourth command is blank a lot of the time, but when you get close to someone, it will say “talk.” Also, it is used to do Special Abilities, which cost MP but do a LOT of damage AND make you invincible. Most of the time, though, it’s just blank.

Now, one of the most important parts of any RPG is the battle system. The menu I described? It’s here, too. Whenever you go into battle against these things called Heartless, the menu turns from blue to red, making you know that it’s time to fight. All battles happen in the environment you’re in, and you don’t actually have to fight. You can run to the nearest exit, and escape from fighting. Of course, if you never fight, though, you’re not going to level up much. You can repeatedly mash the attack button on the menu to do a combo, which is the only way you’re ever really going to do much damage. You can cast magic at enemies, and if low on health, use the Cure magic or use an item. However, the flaw with the items is that it takes quite a bit of time to get ready. You can get whacked right when you’re using an item, and if you’re not dead, you have to open the menu back up to select an item. The worst thing that can happen, though, is that you waste an item. A few times when playing, I used an item, and just as it was about to take effect, I got hit by a Heartless. I opened my menu back up, and the item was gone. Just as it was about to take effect, I got hit, meaning I had used it for nothing. Luckily this doesn’t happen much.

The Heartless come in different shapes and sizes, with different strengths and weaknesses. Some are very large, and their gigantic bellies block every attack from the front. Thus, you need to go around back and hit them from there. To level up, you need to collect Experience points, which you gain by defeating Heartless. When you level up, one or two attributes, like HP, Defense, or Attack get increased. As weapons, everyone can only use one type of weapon. Donald uses staffs, Goofy uses shields, and Sora, the main character, uses the keyblade. You can find different keychains to equip on the Keyblade, altering its strength, size, and design. You can find keychains by beating worlds and just looking all over for hidden areas that might contain a keychain. You can find weapons for Donald and Goofy by buying them from a store, or looking in treasure chests. Like Sora’s keyblade, you can find different shields and staffs that have different sizes, shapes, and strength. You don’t have armor, but you do have accessories which boost different attributes. Some only increase Defense, but some may increase how much MP you have. It’s critical to find accessories that boost each character’s weaknesses, unless you really want to get hurt. Finally, you can equip different abilities that do different things. Some abilities make it so that you can use special techniques, and some make it so that you can collect even more munny (yes, that’s their currency) or experience. You equip abilities using Ability Points. Sometimes when you level up, you can get different abilities or AB. The final word on the battle system is that it’s pretty fun, but the item bit is annoying. Eventually, you’ll realize that you’ll just be mashing enemies by rapidly pressing X. Somehow, to me anyway, it doesn’t get annoying, because as there’s a bit of strategy involved. Some Heartless fly, some are fast, some cast spells on you, so you have to think a little bit. The battle system is pretty fun, and you better like it…if not, I wouldn’t recommend you playing this game.

There are different areas in this game, called “worlds,” that you get to by using a “Gummi Ship.” gummi ships are made up of gummi blocks, which stick together like legos. You can add different blocks to the gummi ship to make it have better defense, maneuverability, HP, MP, Attack, or speed. You get these blocks by shooting up enemies when you’re going from world-to-world. In-between the worlds, you’ll find Heartless ships which try to stop you from reaching your destination…they fail miserably. Honestly, a bunch will just rocket right at you, trying to kill you in a kamikaze attempt. If you shoot them down (it only takes one hit), they’ll either drop gummi pieces or blueprints, which are used to model gummi ships on. There are many blueprints, and many include Final Fantasy summon names, or things like Cactuar. Final Fantasy characters’ names also appear. So far, if you’re thinking that this sounds really fun, it’s not. Unfortunately, the traveling between worlds is not fun at all. Fortunately, you get a Warp Block early on, so that you can teleport between worlds you’ve already been to. If you think the construction must be fun, it’s not either. It’s not even necessary, either. I beat the whole game without upgrading my gummi ship at all. The gummi aspect of the game could have been a lot better, but no. Squaresoft didn’t take enough time to make the gummi block parts more fun. It’s too bad, because it’s a very cool idea.

Story
To start it off, you’re a boy named Sora who lives on a set of islands called Destiny Islands which is totally surrounded by ocean…no mainland. He and his friends, Riku and Kairi, have recently been building a raft in order to visit another world. At the same time, Donald and Goofy have found out that King Mickey is missing, and they decide to go find him. The king leaves behind a letter that says “Find the boy with the key.” Donald and Goofy go out, looking for this person who has this “key.” One night on Destiny Islands, a swarm of Heartless swarm Sora’s world, and he gets a thing called a keyblade, you’re weapon for the rest of the game. Sora fights a gigantic Heartless, which is also an extremely easy boss, and he winds up in a world called Traverse Town, where he meets up with Donald and Goofy. I won’t tell you any more of what happens, but there are a couple plot twists that you wouldn’t expect to happen…

Along with Donald and Goofy, there are Sora, Kairi, Riku, and a grab-bag of Final Fantasy characters, including Cloud, Squall, Yuffie, Aeris, and a few others. In addition, there are a bunch of other Disney characters for you to meet, some that you will fight alongside. You’ll meet Alice, Aladdin, Genie, Peter Pan, and a whole ton more…there are over 100 Disney characters in the whole game. Every world you go to has a unique Disney movie theme. Only 4 don’t have a Disney theme, although some Disney characters appear in them. Destiny Islands is the only one without any Disney characters. Sorry, Final Fantasy lovers…no fighting with Final Fantasy characters. You can, however, fight against a few of them in the Coliseum, a place where you fight against a ton of Heartless and other hidden bosses…including one very evil person from FF7. Final word on the story is that it picks up later, and you find Riku and Kairi…but something bad has happened to them both. It gets exciting as you go through it, and the ending sequence leaves a perfect cliff-hanger for Kingdom Hearts 2.

Control
The menu system will take a little getting used to, but that’s the only hard thing about Kingdom Hearts. The status menu is very easy to get around, and doing all the action are quite easy. It's just the menu that will take a little getting used to.

Graphics
In some cases, the graphics are amazing to look at. One of the most noticeable things is the FMV at the beginning and end, which certainly bust your poor PS2’s power to the limits. The cut-scenes within the game are very good in some cases, with the characters having very good facial expressions…when the people at Squaresoft GAVE them expressions. Most of the time, the mouths look like they’ve been drawn on, with no depth to them. Also, the eyes don’t move in those cases. There’s a very definite difference between the two types, and you’ll find yourself wishing for more of the “realistic” kind. Other than that, though, the graphics are quite good. Environments are fairly detailed, and true to the Disney world they are. Characters’ movements are realistic. The clothes on the characters are also very detailed, with several small buckles or necklaces that are only there for realism. Overall, the graphics are excellent, and the only drawback is the characters’ faces in some situations.

Sound Effects/Music
The voice acting, unlike most video games, is very good quality. Each character sounds realistic, and full of life. They’re not stiff at all, and the translation team apparently did a very good job. The opening and closing theme, “Simple and Clean,” I find very lovely and catchy. I’ll find myself humming it every once in a while, because it just sounds so GOOD. The music in other areas is pretty good, with some that are good, and some that get tedious after a while. There are two different songs for every world that you’ll hear often…the normal theme, when you’re not battling, and the battling theme, which will flow right out of the normal theme. It’s quite cool that it doesn’t even stop in between the songs, but flows right in and out of each theme. Some songs you might not get tired…some you will. It’s a mixed bag, but I find that most of the songs are good.

Play Time/Replayability
This game is pretty long, and may take you 25 hours or so. I beat it in around 27 hours or so, and that was with some leveling up and beating the final coliseum challenge. If you don’t try to find some of the secrets, I’d say it might take 24 hours. Pretty long. There are also a bunch of mini-games and side-quests. The coliseum will take up a bunch of your time, and you can search for the pages to Pooh’s book. When you find the pages, you can go into the book and play some mini-games (which aren’t very fun, but earn you some Status Power-Ups). Throughout each world, there are dalmations hidden in treasure chests for you to find. If you find all 101 dalmations, you’ll get a nice accessory plus the chance to get a sneak peek at the hidden movie, which gives off a little info on the next Kingdom Hearts. You can also find these things called Trinities hidden throughout each world. You activate them to find treasure chests. You can go back through each world and look for the trinities. There are a whole lot, so it’ll take a while. You can also collect different ingredients to make synthesis items, which the moogles in one world will make. This includes getting the legendary weapon for Sora, the Omega Keyblade. All-in-all, there are a bunch of things for you to do, and it’s a pretty long game. You’ll be busy for a while playing this.

Buy or Rent?
Please buy this, especially if you like Action-RPG’s. It’s a fun game that any should take a look at, and as I played this, I felt my old love for Disney characters come back. I even started wanting to see Pooh Bear! If you play this, be warned…you may have your old love of Disney characters opened.

Gameplay: 8/10
Story: 10/10
Graphics: 8/10
Control: 9/10
Sound Effects/Music: 9/10
Play Time/Replayability: 9/10
Buy or Rent? Please buy!
Final Score: 9/10


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/11/03, Updated 12/06/03


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