Review by Korubi

"Unless you're a hardcore Disney fan, or you've run out of Square RPGs to play, Kingdom Hearts isn't for you."

Unless you're a hardcore fan of Disney, or you've run out of Square RPGs to play, Kingdom Hearts isn't for you.

Square has always been known for its epic RPGs that continue to redefine the genre with each release. The deep characters, engaging story, and high production values make Square stand head and shoulders above its competition. In 2002, Disney and Square merged their properties into one video game — Kingdom Hearts. Unfortunately, Square's first attempt at incorporating an existing franchise into their RPG formula falls short of expectations. The combination of only half-finished storylines and shallow character development does both the Disney movies and Final Fantasy games a disservice. Ultimately, it's Disney's cameos and some of Square's original content that keep Kingdom Hearts from being a very lousy game.

As the game opens, Sora and his friends, Kairi and Riku, watch the sun set and wonder what life will be like beyond their desolate island. He turns to watch their raft float back and forth in the water next to them. None of them have experienced life outside their hometown, but that's all about to change. A strong wind picks up and the first signs of a storm streak across the sky. Sora runs to save the raft, but is quickly surrounded by a group of black creatures emerging from the sand beneath his feet. He catches a glimpse of Kairi struggling to break free as one of the demons carries her away. He goes for a stick, but it is useless against them. Just as the enemy is about to overtake Sora, a mysterious, key-shaped weapon appears in his hand. He uses his new weapon to fight off many of the enemies, but is unable to save Kairi. After defeating the largest of the demons, shadows begin to encompass Sora's body. As he slips into the darkness he hears a distant voice: “You are the one…who will open the door.”

A horde of aptly named demons, the Heartless, have unlocked the doors that separate all worlds. Their motive? To capture the princesses within each world and use the pureness of their hearts to unlock the final door and unleash a permanent darkness. As a result, King Mickey leaves his throne in order to resolve the conflict. Upon leaving, he asks his loyal guardians Donald Duck and Goofy to find the “key bearer” and help him on his quest. Donald Duck and Goofy will seek Sora out, and accompany him on his journey to relock the doors hidden within each world, and eventually to save all worlds.

Kingdom Hearts is disorganized in the way it uses Disney's plots and Final Fantasy's characters. Most of the worlds Sora visits are borrowed from classic Disney movies. For example, you'll travel to Neverland where you'll encounter Peter Pan and Captain Hook, and the Olympic Coliseum where you'll meet Hercules and Hades. In each world you'll follow an abridged version of the plot of each movie. However, the stories of these particular worlds don't fit into the bigger picture. Although you accomplish the task of locking each world, the shortened Disney plots never feel connected to the overall plot of rescuing all of the princesses and finding King Mickey. To top it off, Final Fantasy characters are also strewn randomly throughout some of the Disney worlds. You'll see many of these characters in the Olympic Coliseum where they act as nothing more than challengers in the arena, and add nothing to the story. This is unfortunate because Final Fantasy's characters are deeper and more involved than anything else Kingdom Hearts has to offer.

The basic comabt in Kingdom Hearts is oversimplified and feels unproductive as a result. Although at first it might seem like Kingdom Hearts has a diverse set of enemies, you fight the same group of enemies for the entire game. Kingdom Hearts throws a few different enemy types at you that all require slightly different strategies to defeat. They might look threatening at first, but taking out most enemies takes nothing more than tapping the X button a few times. Though there are a few exceptions, most of the enemies are extremely simple to defeat. For example, the larger Heartless do a sort of ground pound that creates a shock wave that you jump to avoid; you can then take care of them easily with your Keyblade. The only time the combat feels even remotely engaging is when you're fighting bosses, which are few and far between. Most bosses require you to dodge more, and even use special abilities. When you defeat an enemy, they'll drop a combination of green health orbs and blue magic orbs. You'll have such a plentiful supply of health and magic that picking up more is redundant. You won't lose much health or magic because the enemies rarely pose a threat. As a result, you'll leave a lot of these orbs lying around unused. Gaining experience points is your only worthwhile incentive. You don't even have to worry about those much, either, because they are available in surplus as well. Kingdom Hearts' lack of difficulty makes trudging through each area a waste of time.

Like in many RPGs, you acquire new magic abilities and discover new weapons as you go. These weapons and spells are more aesthetically pleasing than they are useful. Disney fans will enjoy the ability to summon their favorite characters like Simba from the Lion King, or Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. Unfortunately, they deal little damage and stay alive only briefly. Only one or two spells, like the basic curing spell, is actually useful. As a result, the rest feel tacked on. In addition to magic spells, you receive a new Keyblade every time you complete a Disney world. Each new Keyblade looks different, but its powers remain essentially unchanged.

While most RPGs make vehicular transport instant and painless, Kingdom Hearts makes it a chore. Much like the older Star Fox games, these segments consist of flying through space in Sora's Gummi Ship as you are bombarded by lots of enemies. Your ship is made up of bricks called Gummies, and the graphics end up looking too boxy for their own good. The controls also lag, and the aiming reticule doesn't show an accurate spot of where your lasers will hit. Unlike the old Star Fox games, there are no power-ups for you to pick up along the way, and thus not much of an incentive other than to reach your next destination. Square offers the ability to upgrade your ship later, but these upgrades are mostly visual and don't make the Gummi Ship sequences any less tedious.

Disney's characters and environments look great in Kingdom Hearts. The detailed character models look exactly like their 2D counterparts. The combination of Disney's voice actors, characters, and settings make for an accurate representation of the original 2D worlds in 3D. Aside from the Gummi Ship sequences, every area looks very clean and polished. The cartoonish graphics don't have as much detail as say, Final Fantasy X, but they have a lot of style. Even the Final Fantasy characters are much larger and more colorful to match Disney's style. Although they're not the most spectacular graphics on the market, they get the job done.

Kingdom Hearts' focus on voice acting brings its characters to life, but the music falls short. As you explore each Disney world, you'll hear a familiar tune in the background. Although it's cute at first, you'll get annoyed quickly because of the lack of variation. Fortunately, Disney made it a top priority to have each character voiced accurately. Either the original voice actor or someone who sounds almost identical voiced for each character. Sora is acted by The Sixth Sense's Haley Joel Osment, and Mandy Moore voices Aeris, a character from Final Fantasy VII. Disney and Square spared no expense to not only hire back their original voice actors, but acquire talented new ones as well.

Kingdom Hearts lasts around 25 hours, but could take well over 30 if you're willing to find all of the secrets strewn throughout the different worlds. The Olympus Coliseum offers some interesting additional boss fights that include several of the final bosses from past Final Fantasy games and reward you with upgraded weapons and items. Towards the end, you'll stray into other worlds not related to the Disney's movies. These worlds feel more complete because they don't follow an abridged version of a previously established plot. In the Disney worlds, you are distracted from your ultimate goal. In the original worlds, you're covering new ground in your quest to save Kairi and King Mickey. These last few hours prove that Square makes much better games when they use original content.

Sadly, Kingdom Hearts' cameos and graphics aren't enough to form a complete game. The oversimplified fighting system reeks of untapped potential. Unfortunately, most of the enjoyment comes from seeing how each Disney movie is portrayed in three dimensions. Unless you're a hardcore Disney fan, or you've run out of Square RPGs to play, Kingdom Hearts isn't for you. Square's original RPGs and Disney's movies are much better representations of each of their respective characters and plots. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 08/30/06

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