Review by chaoticone

"Why battle heartless when you have the camera?"


Why is Kingdom Hearts so overrated? Why oh god why? Sure, cool game, but seriously flawed to the end. Perhaps the good old Playstation people have forgotten what a decent game is. You can hardly blame my verdict on Kingdom Hearts because I've just finished playing Legend of Zelda Wind Waker. That game deserves credit beyond anything. Kingdom Hearts is another… game. That's it. Another RPG. If you're looking for a decent RPG like Zelda on the PS2 there is such thing as a brilliant game called Dark Chronicle (Dark Cloud 2). But overall, Kingdom Hearts is not THAT bad, just it's an OK game.

Like I said, I finished the LoZ Wind Waker and decided to take up Kingdom Hearts because I wanted more sword fighting. Damn I was disappointed. Kingdom Hearts is still a nice game, yet it could have been so much more.

Squaresoft and Disney made a collaboration to bring out your typical Square game. RPG, story-driven and more emphasis on the story than gameplay. Kingdom Hearts begins VERY poorly, but slowly redeems itself when you're about halfway through the game.

GAMEPLAY
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Kingdom Hearts falls into the darkness here. You are Sora. You have a weapon called a keyblade and it literally is a key. I will defend Kingdom Hearts here as people immediately dismiss this game as kiddie. I'm sorry, but they need to grow up. Kingdom Hearts is intended for all ages, if not the teen age group. OK, the main hero of the game is a young kid of the age of 13. But that doesn't necessarily mean only kids should play it. Neither does the Disney influence. Hey, I LOVE Disney and I'M a teenager.

Kingdom Hearts is a real time RPG and you level up as you defeat enemies. That's cool, but even though it may seem to be repetitive, it is actually quite an addictive game. The production values on this game were phenomenally high – everything bar the Gameplay has been polished. Anyway, you have a giant key as a weapon and you can get different models of it.

What I DON'T like about the keyblade is that you beat enemies with it. It is a bit strange and unnatural, beating someone with an oversized key… it would hurt a lot, that's for sure, but never really have the impact a sword would have. For beginners, the game is really an exercise for mashing X. The combat is real time, which means Zelda like. You swing the keyblade by pressing X. Combos can be formed, but that's where the great frustration of Kingdom Hearts begins! Whenever you press X, you take a step forward. When you are fighting enemies, you'll move around the battlefield without directing your character once. This sounds good, but there are many areas suspended over tall areas and one step off the cliff doesn't mean death, it means worse: you have to get back up to the top of the cliff to face the same set of enemies again! This could take a while because enemies respawn in every room you come into, so why not keep pressing X throughout the entire game! And you know why the screen keeps spinning around like a spinning top and you're becoming dizzy? That's the camera. The camera is a monster in itself. Lock-on, like Zelda's innovative targeting system, does nothing except annoy the crap out of you. I'll give you a classic example: fighting a big dragon dude who breathes fire. You target the gargantuan head and are mashing X to deal the most damage possible. But, the dragon decides it will do its famous 360 degrees spin around move and bash you with the tail. Guess what? The lock-on follows the head so the camera jerks from your point of view and follows the head in like a one second manoeuvre. You won't be able to see Sora and you'll be dead as soon as you can say BLOODY CAMERA!

And when you are hurt? You learn spells in this game akin to the Final Fantasy spells. They are all USELESS and a waste of MP. There are a few exceptions: Cure, Cura, Curaga and Aero. The healing spells will be the saving grace of Sora, as his health goes down quite fast, especially during boss battles. The thing is, if you try to do one, Sora pauses to channel the spell for about a second or two. That is all that is needed for a boss to take off half your health. Combine that with the abominable camera and this game will frustrate you to the point of controller throwing. Point is: In Kingdom Hearts when you die, it is never your fault. It is always the game's fault. Oh and Aero? It halves damage, but always runs out when you really need it.

And don't get me started on jumping. I thought only FPS's could mess this up (Turok Evo, Halo), but we have a new contender for the Worst Jump ever award. Sora doesn't jump normally. Sora raises his oversized shoes in the air while a magical force levitates him upwards.

Yet amidst these problems, the game is addictive. Very addictive. The end of the game is very addictive, strangely. There are a monster of bosses to face, and they are very exciting and challenging. Kingdom Hearts is actually more money than it costs to buy: you'll definitely need a new controller after this one. My X button was dead after the final boss, literally. I couldn't move it I'd pressed it so many times.

To visit different areas in Kingdom Hearts you are given a flyable ship (oh no I forgot about the gummi sections!) and you fly to different worlds. These worlds are Disney worlds – for instance Agrabah from Aladdin or the Sea from Little Mermaid. And you meet the characters from the respective worlds, and they even join your team. The worlds are small, unfortunately, but my favourite character would be Beast or Jack from the Halloween world. The Halloween world is pretty much the best and most interesting world. There are others, but less interesting, although they all come from Disney movies. Even cooler is that nine times out of ten you get to fight the bad guys from those Disney movies. Yes, you get to fight those villains too, but although some fights are disappointing, others are excellent. The fight with Ursula was quite weird but awesome at the same time. Maleficent is the main bad guy (or girl should I say) for most of the game, but after her another villain is unveiled. Anyway a real bad thing is that the worlds are small, too small, but still awesome. I was only disappointed with Wonderland. That world was pathetically small and annoying, oh, and so was Olympus Coliseum, but that was understandable.

Oh, about the gummi sections, I'm not going to waste words on those… terrible is the best I can say about them; the worst I could say is that they are almost as bad as the camera. Ugh.

Basically I got through the game just to see the end. That is usually what makes me get through Squaresoft's games. The story drives me through it, no matter how much I hate the game. And once I won Kingdom Hearts, I started again, because after the end I thought the game had redeemed itself considerably. It was memorable, just like FF7, 8, 9 and 10. So if you're like me and are mad at the game at the moment, give it time and pass the bit you are up to. There are some real annoying moments like the huge cutscene before a boss that you are forced to watch 50 times before you fight the boss. It reminds me of FF 10's Seymour in the mountains. I can remember that cutscene perfectly and there are some that you will no doubt remember in this game, even if you don't want to!

CONTROLS
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I'll put a control section here because of a few gripes I had with the controller setup. First off, every button on the PS2 pad is used. Every single one. Movement is with the left stick, navigating menus on the right. That was a serious mistake because that leaves L2 and R2 for the camera. So to move the camera you have to use the shoulder buttons, which is absolute rubbish. The camera is uncontrollable anyway, so don't bother trying to fight it. R1 will lock on. As explained above, lock on is also useless – it just makes everything more frustrating. So try to refrain from using it.

Overall the gameplay is a mixed bag overall. The story is awesome, so that saved the game a LOT (see below). So did the production values – the reward of more Disney is completely flattering. You WILL want to proceed to other worlds. A disappointment to say the least.

5 / 10

Story
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Kingdom Hearts has a great story. Instead of the usual RPG cliches, Kingdom Hearts opts for the psychological feeling like some good games do. You are somehow the chosen one and the keyblade is yours. Kingdom Hearts is all about friendship and trust. Donald and Goofy become your party members and close friends, while Sora is on a journey to save Riku, his old friend and the one he cares most about – Kairi. And there are some truly memorable and touching scenes in the game. The end of the first part in Hollow Bastion was a wonderfully played out scene.

STORY 10 / 10 (not counted in the final score)

VISUALS
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Keyword: Squaresoft (Square-enix now). That should mean visuals of above par near to the extreme. Kingdom Hearts could be compared to Final Fantasy X – where FF X concentrated on the scenery, Kingdom Hearts concentrates on the animation component, and it does this BRILLIANTLY.

The characters are animated unbelievably well in the cutscenes and look just like the Disney characters should. There is no mistake in character design (except for the Final Fantasy characters), every Disney character looks excellent.

The Final Fantasy characters are in the same vein as the Disney ones, as they have been toned down to give a more anime, friendly look. For instance Tidus from FFX looks like a little kid, while Squall (I REFUSE to call him Leon) looks a lot younger, even though he still holds the legendary gunblade. Cloud is back and looking actually better than he did in his FF7 debut while Sephiroth is also there as a hidden boss. Sephiroth is something special, as he is as evil as ever, even sporting the same evil music when you fight him as you did in FF7.

Still, the backgrounds are a bit bland, and also the little balls of Munny (yes Munny is the currency of KH) splatter around everywhere when you destroy an enemy. The catch is they are all 2D and look strange. However, the magical effects are absolutely outstanding, especially some of the magical explosions and effects later on in the game. Bosses are also to be noted of particular recognition – they look so evil and menacing.

And lastly, there are TWO FMVs in the game – opening and closing. People often get confused with the in game engine mainly because the spell effects look so damn beautiful. However, the FMVs can sometimes not be noticeable and although there are two, they are both awesome (both versions of the vocal songs are used in them if you are confused).

9 / 10

SOUND
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The main part is voice acting. First off let me say that Kingdom Hearts has the best localization I have ever experienced. A lot of games screw up after the conversion from Jap to English, but Kingdom Hearts doesn't. In fact it is practically flawless.

The voice acting is incredible. Young actor Haley-Joel Osment plays Sora, while the original actors for every Disney character return in complete style. Donald is as confusing as ever to understand while Goofy is just… plain goofy. The genie from Aladdin returns in style as well, with all the necessary Disney touches like practical jokes. The only thing I felt was missing were the good old ‘sing-along songs,' though for a game this is perfectly understandable and probably for most people better without it.

Sound effects are average, however. There is really nothing special to mention here – the sounds do their job and that's it.

8 / 10

MUSIC
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If you expected Kingdom Hearts to come along with a plethora of sing-along songs, you're in for a shock. There are none whatsoever. HOWEVER, this is a game, and being a Square game it has a theme song that is very suiting for the game. Sung by Japanese pop artist Utada Hikaru (spelling correct hopefully), this song wraps up the game in a wonderful memorable fashion. It is good to note that the song is a different style than the FF8, 9 and 10 theme songs; rather this one is a pop sort of song. Yet don't get confused with the terrible FFX-2 Real Emotion! Titled ‘Simple and Clean' this sounds like it belongs to a Disney movie, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it because it was one of the few things I did enjoy about this game.

That is the one highlight of the score – the background songs in the game are also worth of mention – some are memorable while some aren't. For example there is a different type of ambient battle theme per world that sounds a lot like a sped up version of that world's main theme.

Speaking of main themes, the Disney classic themes make a triumphant return like the Little Mermaid song, which is as annoying as ever. The boss battle themes are not as ambient as the normal battle songs, but still not really memorable. The only few I can remember is that real evil battle track present when you battle the main villain (not Maleficent), Night on Bald Mountain which was a nice surprise and of course, One Winged Angel, which is played during the fight with Sephiroth (duh). Anyway the music in Kingdom Hearts is truly great, yet some parts could have been better.

8 / 10

LASTING APPEAL
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It really depends on how you like games. If you are a true gamer and purchase games for their fun and immersion, then Kingdom Hearts may not last long. If you are a graphics whore then this game will last you about 25 – 30 hours. Because I must tell you that the presentation of Kingdom Hearts is well above average, even above that of Final Fantasy.

There are side-quests of course, like you can build your own gummi ship, but with such a flawed mini-game you'll be always using warp gates. The optional bosses like Sephiroth definitely deserve checking out, however.

Lastly, there is a hard mode with this game! Kingdom Hearts is hard enough and frustrating enough on normal mode so beware. If you want your controller to stay intact, by all means miss the hard mode. I've tried hard and reverted to normal after 2 hours of unfair deaths. By all means try it if you want a decent challenge, but be warned.

7 / 10

Pros / Cons

+ Disney mixed with Final Fantasy
+ Interesting and memorable story
+ Brilliant Localization
+ Great variation of worlds

- Flawed Gameplay
- You are constantly battling the camera rather than the heartless
- Tiny worlds
- Frustratingly unfair and hard

There you have it. Proof that Kingdom Hearts is an over hyped flawed game. It could have been better, it should have been better, but it isn't but perhaps Kingdom Hearts II will change that (it's looking good!).

If all this is not proof, borrow or purchase the game and see what I mean. Squaresoft disappointed in the gameplay area but it is hard to blame them because they don't make many real time games do they? Not bad for one of their first tries then.

OVERALL

37 / 50 (7/10)


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 10/04/04


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