Review by Auron255
"Squaresoft's Kingdom of nostalgia"
Being the most rabid of Kingdom Hearts fans, I can certainly say that Kingdom Hearts, even though a game with some hard to miss flaws, is probably one of the greatest games in gaming history. It teaches us so many things we didn't realize about games, Disney and the depth of both children's literature and RPG's. Under the gun, Kingdom Hearts has a lot of people to prove wrong, and even more people to convince that this isn't just another outing from Disney to make a quick buck off of something gimmicky at first glance. Kingdom Hearts, the joint effort between Squaresoft (not Square Enix) and Disney, is both a masterpiece and an icon in today's gaming industry.
The game follows young Sora, a boy with the impeccable ambition of sailing off with his best friends Riku and Kairi, to find new worlds, and new lands to explore. Yes, it is a degenerate plot, but it evovles into so much more as the game moves on. You'll find that the plot trudges along rather slowly at first, when you're just starting out, trying to get an idea of just what is going on in this expansive universe of Disney characters and worlds. As Sora, you eventually fly off to a place called Traverse Town, where you'll meet some familiar and unexpected faces, which will explain the dire circumstances you are in, and why you are the one who must stop it. Sora eventually gets lost, loses his friends in the void of disarray, and meets up with two unlikely companions. Donald Duck, and Goofy. I know what you're thinking: Donald and Goofy? Possibly THE most adolescent and sophomoric characters ever conceived! This all too true, and at first, you won't be convinced otherwise. Later on, as ties between Sora and party grow deeper, the mature and comradic nature of Donald and Goofy become more apparent, which in the end, draws the inclusiveness of this game. You'll get caught up in the emotion and and back-stabbing that goes on in this game, that you will never want to put the controller down.
Kingdom Hearts also does a good job of putting the "Disney = 'teh kiddie'" in the 'broken ideas' bin. On the surface, visiting places like Monstro the Whale, Tarzan's Deep Jungle, and Halloween Town seems rather cliche for a Disney game, but the plot, again, is woven tightly into these different worlds. For a seasoned Disney-o'holic like myself, seeing all the Disney worlds fleshed out into vibrant 3-D landscapes, is just breath taking. Simply put, the game is art.
Now the common enemy you fight, is called, "The Heartless"; a race of darkness endowed creatures, that can appear out of thin air, due to the evil and hate common to all worlds. The Heartless, alongside the now beloved Disney villains, make an attempt to take the Keyblade, of which Sora is the protector, and use it to open the door to Kingdom Hearts, where we are lead to believe, total darkness reigns supreme. Transparent and uninvolving at first, Kingdom Hearts does one of the best jobs at capturing the audience, and keeping them there until the credits roll.
The characters of Kingdom Hearts are your general Disney fare, with Peter Pan, Captain Hook, Jack Skellington, Alice, The Cheshire Cat, Aladdin, Genie, Jasmin, Jafar, Belle, Beast, and a vast amount of more classic characters. This game takes on the task of converting what we know as 2-D animated cartoons, and fleshing them out into fully three dimensional, living beings. To be short, the conversion was done flawlessly. Never has a better 3-D rendition of any of the Disney characters portrayed in this game been done. All nostalgia and flesh and blood Disney characters aside, the original (and central) characters of the game, Sora, Riku and Kairi, are also wonderfully crafted. You can tell Nomura had a hand in their creation, but you can also see the Disney influence in their oversized feet, and laughable body proportions. Once again, Nomura's experience shows, and his character design and character transitions are top notch.
Without argument, the best part about Kingdom Hearts, is the audio quality and soundtrack. I know I usually go into detail about the gameplay first, but this is a crucial part of what makes Kingdom Hearts so immersive. First things first, the voice over cast in this game glimmers with star power. Haley Joel Osmet, known for his role as the ghost visionary child in the 6th Sense, does the voice of Sora. Going from the transition of his younger roles in the 6th sense, to this game, you'd be hard pressed to tell if it is indeed Osmet, but I assure you it is. His incredible acting spirit shines through in his role as Sora. David Gallagher (7th Heaven), the voice of Riku, also does a stupendous job. Both Osmet and Gallagher have amazing chemistry. The light and dark duality, present throughout the entire game, is most noticeable between Sora and Riku, and the excellent voice work makes that possible. Other hollywood voice actors include Mandy Moore, David Boreanez, Billy Zane, James Woods, as well as a slew of other high quality voices, you'd probably only find by taking a trip to your local cinema.
Enough about the stars, I bet you're wondering how the Disney voices faired in their transition from the big screen to the small, gaming screen. Once again, unparalleled. Most of the voice actors are not the original voice actors who breathed life into these characters upon premier of their respective movies, but it doesn't matter in the end. The voices of the characters, are so well mimicked and duplicated, that for all intents and purposes, there is no difference between old and new. Superb!
On a related note, the soundtrack is wonderful. It's really a work of art. The introductory FMV, has a simple techno trance mix version of "Simple and Clean", the games theme song, playing in the background. At first you'll scratch your head, and think "OH, it's one of THOSE games", but don't be deceived. The score really picks up afterward. New orchestral arrangements have been produced, using identical themes for the themed Disney worlds, based off of their respective film. Aladdin's "Arabian Nights", "Prince Ali", and "Cave of Wonders" are reproduced with mucho style and charisma. Nightmare Before Christmas' "This is Haloween", is one of the more notable pieces in this game, but not to be held so high as to over shadow the terrific jobs done on the rest of the themes, like "Trashin' The Camp" from Tarzan, Some terrific Hercules themes, as well as "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid. The quality and value of this soundtrack is supreme, and stands right next to some of Nobuo Uematsu's best compositions. A work of art. Though, one thing stands above all else in this game, the theme song: Simple and Clean. No, not the trance mix version you heard in the beginning, but the acoustic version, with the orchestral accompaniment. The song plays throughout the game at certain points, and in the end, you'll get the full stretched out version. This song is memorable, to say the least. Sung by Utada Hikaru, the tone and melody just seem to fit so well together with the game. Hikaru's voice truly makes the song however. The waning of her voice really shows you the emotion, and really makes the song what it is. When you first hear it, you won't get it, and you certainly won't think it's the theme song of Kingdom Hearts. But when you hear the real version of "Simple and Clean" after completing the game and most loose ends tied up in the plot, you'll get it, and you'll know, this song is to Kingdom Hearts, what peanut butter is to jelly.
The game itself is fairly straight forward. Nothing ever gets too complicated, as you lock on to enemies, and mash away at the attack button. If you scroll down the on screen menu, you can cast magic spells, and summon spells, which work, and do their job; though never become too tedious to use, and use strategically. It's a very well balanced battle system, allowing for active RPG combat, without the nuisance of random battles. All enemies appear on screen, and all enemies are fought without making the transition from field to battle screens in classic RPG style. Occasionally, you can pick a special attack, given the correct circumstances. The aerial attack Ragnarok can only be used on air born enemies, and the long range technique can only be used when the enemy your facing is far enough away. Makes sense right? Good, because it stays that simple. Some would whine that Kingdom Hearts over simplifies the RPG genre, but it really doesn't. Equipment and character customization is all there, as well as your special ability and upgrading magic system. Your allies Donald and Goofy are all AI controlled, though most of the time, you'll be rapidly pressing triangle to get them to attack, instead of use up your supply of ethers and potions. A simple flaw, one that never impedes game progress, but can get annoying from time to time.
The game controls just fine, and the free-roaming camera works pretty well outside of battle. In battle, sometimes the auto-target feature moves the camera away from where you want to look, but most of the time, it does a pretty decent job of aiding you in battle. As mentioned earlier, the battle system operates on a simple level, so the game never gets too frustrating so that this camera becomes problematic, but occasionally it does make for some challenging fights. Speaking of challenge, some of the games bosses are worth the price of admission alone. Challenging, hard (but never too hard), and creative, the range of bosses in this game is outstanding. Squaresoft really out did themselves with this game. From the Cave of Wonders, to a giant estate, in the shape of Oogie Boogie from the Nightmare Before Christmas, it's unbelievable. The variety in gameplay is awesome too, as well as the replayability. It's definitely there, you just have to go looking for it.
Finding special abilities like Super Glide, will help you locate chests, strategically scattered throughout the game, that will require another trip back to the Disney worlds that you've previously journeyed to. Unlocking secret movies, defeating secret bosses, and bringing down one of the most fierce villains in Square history are the cherry on the cake in terms of what you can do after you've completed the game.
With so much character, originality and charm, Kingdom Hearts stands out as one of the strongest developed games ever. Yeah, I said ever. Even though the battle system suffers from few camera issues, and Donald and Goofy's artificial intelligence is far from advanced, it's small potatoes compared to multiple servings of awesome this game throws your way. In my head I know this game deserves to be criticised for the camera and AI, but in my heart, I think back, and realize, they never caused me any stress, it's just something that can improve. In fact, the game immerses the player so well, that all that's left in the end, is the visceral experience this game offers. If I were to score it any less than 10, I'd be doing myself, and the rest of the gaming public a serious injustice. This game deserves to be put on everyone's game rack. Hang up the old adage "cartoons are for kids", because Kingdom Hearts will tear your world apart, and build it anew.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/13/04
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