Review by DjSkittles

"Squaresoft and Disney: What could possibly go wrong?"

Over the course of history there have been many incredible pairings. There's been peanut butter and jelly, hot dogs and fries, and various other non-food related pairings that I'm to hungry to think of. Some may consider the fusion of Squaresoft's and Disney's vast talents in Kingdom Hearts to be another one of these incredible pairs. On paper it looks like a foolproof idea. Just think about it- the kings of the role-playing genre and the masters of animated movies collaborate to create one ultimate game. How could anything go wrong? Let me count the ways.

We're introduced to the bland antagonist during an impressive-looking opening movie. He's about 13 years old and reminds me of the loud, annoying kids I see at the mall. Sora lives on Destiny Island with his friends, Kairi, Rikku, Tidus, Wakka and Selphie. Wait a minute; did I just mention some characters from Final Fantasy games? Apparently the inclusion of Disney characters weren't enough for Squaresoft. They had to throw in random Final Fantasy characters that contribute nothing meaningful to the plot. God forbid a Squaresoft fanboy deems this game as “kiddy.” With the inclusion of our favorite Final Fantasy heroes no one will think of this game as childish!

Anyways, all seems well on the island until the evil Heartless attack the island. Our insipid hero ends up being split up from his friends and embarks on a quest to find them. He teams up with another legendary duo, Donald Duck and Goofy, to find his friends and help his new partners find Mickey Mouse. They travel from world to world (most of which are based on Disney movies) to accomplish their goals.

Visiting the worlds of Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Tarzan and one of my favorite movies of all time, The Nightmare Before Christmas, should have been a dream come true for a Disney aficionado like myself. Disney movies have always been heavy on humor and delightful musical numbers, which is something that seems to have been lost in their digital translation. The absence of musical numbers can be forgiven, but there is no excuse for the lack of humor in this game. The only real attempt at humor is the frequent banter between Donald and Sora. Too bad all the jokes fall embarrassingly flat. The strongest scenes in the game are deliciously evil meetings that all the villains of each world have. Some argue that villains are usually the best parts of Disney movies. In Kingdom Hearts there is no argument; they are the only good parts of the plot.

In each world you experience what is essentially a stripped-down version of the movie's plot and because of this the storyline lacks any sort of cohesion. How does delivering a book for Cid Highwind and escaping with Pinocchio from a whale affect the grand scheme of the things anyways? It almost feels like the characters forget their initial goals for most of the game. The fact that you must do all this pointless stuff just to find some people is ridiculous.

At least the combat is fairly unique. It's sort of a mix between action RPG titles like Zelda and the more traditional party and spell casting elements we have seen in countless other Squaresoft titles. All of the combat is real time, so when you go to use an item or look for a spell to cast, the game does not stop. Important healing potions are much too difficult to use because you have to brave an endless amount of menus to actually use the item. Either you end up too late in healing your allies, or in the process of finding the potion you take plenty of damage from attacking enemies. To make things worse your AI controlled allies constantly waste potions on one another, making it difficult to be properly equipped for a tough battle. At least there are 3 button shortcuts that can be used for spells, but you'll never use any of the other spells because it takes too long to get to the menus.

Combat is essentially broken down into the sequence of hit the attack button repeatedly, go through 3 different menus to try to use a potion, and then attack repeatedly again. It is all so mind numbing and dull. In the earlier parts of the game there are some fun moments where you can deflect an enemy's projectile with your weapon and hit him back. However, with the exception of that a few bosses, the combat is a nuisance rather than anything resembling fun.

Unfortunately, there is too much of an emphasis on battling on Kingdom Hearts. Almost every area has respawning Heartless. This may not seem bad, but in some worlds you just wander aimlessly from area to area trying to find the right place to go, and all the while enemies are popping up everywhere.

One of the main problems with the game is that you battle the horrible camera angles more than you battle the Heartless. When you lock onto an enemy the camera angles changes, but oftentimes objects obscure your view. Sometimes there isn't even a view to obscure camera does a horrible job of actually showing the enemy. There is a fair amount of platform jumping in the game, but when you try to set up the camera for the best view it inexplicably changes to the frustrating view you tried to get rid off.

There is more to Kingdom Hearts than dull combat, cumbersome menus and obnoxious camera angles. There are also a few mini-games. The largest mini-game (quite an oxymoron) is the Gummi Ship. While in most role-playing games you have to walk to get the next town, but here you fly your Gummi Ship from world to world. You can customize your ship with a variety of different parts found around the world, but why bother? You will probably spend more time trying to find the right parts and equipping them then you will ever flying it. The actual flying portions are embarrassingly bad. Enemies attack you while flying and there are a couple obstacles to dodge, but overall it's almost impossible to die unintentionally. The most alarming part about it is that even Starfox 64 had superior graphics than what's seen in this joke.

There is more to Kingdom Hearts than dull combat, cumbersome menus and obnoxious camera angles. There are also a few mini-games. The largest mini-game (quite an oxymoron) is the Gummi Ship. While in most role-playing games you have to walk to get the next town, but here you fly your Gummi Ship from world to world. You can customize your ship with a variety of different parts found around the world, but why bother? You will probably spend more time trying to find the right parts and equipping them then you will ever flying it. The actual flying portions are embarrassingly bad. Enemies attack you while flying and there are a couple obstacles to dodge, but overall it's almost impossible to die unintentionally. The most alarming part about it is that even Starfox 64 had superior graphics than what's seen in this joke.

The one thing that cannot really be criticized is the graphics. All of the Disney characters look incredibly faithful to the source material despite the jump to 3D. While they may not be as…animated as their movie counterparts, they are definitely close. It is amazing how each world manages to closely mimic the art style of the movie it is based on. The most eye-popping portion in the game is the trip to Halloween town. While it is nearly impossible to replicate the claymation style of The Nightmare Before Christmas (unless you're the people who made Skullmonkeys), Squaresoft still delivered graphically on my favorite Disney movie. The creepy town, foreboding fog, and incredible character models made me feel like I was in Halloween town.

If for some reason the graphics do not impress you then the voice acting will. The original voice actors voiced most of the Disney characters and an A-list cast (at least for a videogame) was assembled for the new characters. The distinguished Haley Joel Osment voices Sora and the incredible diva Mandy Moore voices Aeries. Yes, the latter was sarcasm. Oddly enough, the fan favorite Sephiroth is voiced by our favorite N*Sync boy, Lance Bass! While a couple of the casting choices were strange, the voice acting never gets distracting or annoying. In fact, I actually wish there was a lot more of it. A few memorable Disney tunes are present, but most of the music is original. The original music is pretty good, but I really wish there were more of the classic tunes to listen to.

Kingdom Hearts is a strange game. It is obviously geared towards kids, but the combat is too frustrating to be enjoyable to the little ones. The graphics and voice acting are unparalleled, but the gameplay is very boring. Even the inclusion of some of Final Fantasy characters weren't enough to amuse me because they were nothing more than gimmicks. It is shame that the two greats, Disney and Squaresoft, could not create a good game. They couldn't even create a mildly entertaining game. It should be a crime to waste such potential.


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 12/20/04, Updated 01/03/05


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