Review by EJRICH

Reviewed: 07/25/07

Looks like Pooh really isn't Poo after all.

When you think of kick-butt weapons, a key probably isn’t one of them. Sure, they serve their purposes, opening locks, and well, opening locks. Some people actually use them to scratch their names into the DS’s located at my local Walmart. Could you imagine beating someone over the head with one, though? I couldn’t, because they usually are about two inches in length. “Hey, I’m going to hit you with a key!” (guy goes over to smack the other guy in the head with the key, only to wind up having it snapped in half. Some weapon).

Now try whacking Hades from Hercules with one.

And yes, you’d probably wind up being cooked well done, possibly rare if he was in a bad mood. Sora isn’t scared, though, he’s the Keyblade master. Great thing to be a master of. But wait! It turns out the Keyblade master is the only thing standing in the way of the evil Heartless’ ambitions of stealing every heart in the Magical Kingdom’s universe! You see, at the bottom of every heart is a bit of darkness, and contrary to reality, that darkness forms those teeny tightwads we call the Heartless. The only way to stop their advance is the sealing of each individual world’s keyhole, and that’s where the Keyblade comes in. If Sora can find the Keyhole when he travels to a world, he’ll be able to seal it and save the day.

There’s something fishy about the worlds he’s visiting, though. Instead of them being completely original, they turn out to be centered upon cartoons. And they aren’t the super cool, laugh-out-loud cartoons that you watch on Saturday mornings, either. Ever hear of Cinderella? Possibly Aladdin? No? How could you!? The epitome of cartoon greatness and you don’t even know it. What a shame. Kids these days, always watching stupid things like Spongebob.

In order to give you the opportunity to redeem yourself from this vile Disney drought (you horrible, horrible fiend), Kingdom Hearts forces you to get in touch with your young side – in an amazingly old way. Although it may seem to strike its audience at younger kids, Kingdom Hearts is actually anything but childish. It’s edgy. In every world that Sora visits, childish looking or not, you can tell that it’s in trouble, and it’s going to take a bunch of work on your part if you want to save its sorry rear.

Let’s take a step back, though. How can Sora expect to save anything if the only thing he has is some Keyblade? Well, this ain’t your normal key. It’s actually a three-foot long mega blade that puts Cinderella’s magic wand to shame. Using a system very similar to something out of The Legend of Zelda, Kingdom Hearts puts Sora on a fantastic adventure through a variety of worlds. In those worlds you’ll visit a multitude of dungeons, mazes, and more that can be a huge fun-fest. You’ll be needing to do something while you’re running around, however, and that’s battling. Using a free roaming environment, you and your enemy engage in real time across the landscapes available. Sure, you can choose to skip out on the battles (which can be a huge life saver), but then you’d die on the vine due to the lack of experience. And trust me, without experience, you don’t get those bonuses, plus the most important things – the skills.

At the beginning of the game, you’ll be given the opportunity to pick at which rate Sora will learn his skills. There are three options, attack, defense, and magic, each effecting Sora in that way. If you pick attack, he’ll learn skills that focus on making his attacks have longer reach, possibly upping the combo number and damage amount. If Sora chooses defense, though, he’ll learn skills that allow him to block damage or raise his HP. Through time, you will learn every skill in the game, but the rate at which you learn them drastically affects the play experience that the game offers.

No matter which path you choose, though, the game still focuses on one major button – X. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll be relying on this little X to pull of many of the game’s major actions, such as opening chests or beating enemies over the head with your oversized key. The other buttons serve as hot keys for pulling off magic and such, but their use is minimal, if almost nothing at all.

Of course, that opens up a big question: is KH a mashing fest? Yep. And you know, it’s darn fun. Sure, people may or may not be perturbed by its nagging desire to destroy your X button (expect to go through quite a few controllers), but the fact is really simple: the game makes sure to cover its horrendous obsession with solid game play that never fails to deliver. Although some Heartless are dumb as bricks, most have a special trait that separates them from another, and you’ll have to change around your battle strategy accordingly if you want to come away with the victory. For example, some of the fat guy heartless have the ability to totally negate most of the damage you could do to them if you attack them from the front. If you attack them from the back, however, they’ll loose HP like any other Heartless out there. But watch out, though. After you get it down to red HP, it’ll turn purple and start to speed around. Such variety in a single Heartless is only the beginning. As you go throughout the course of the game, you’ll see Heartless that carry swords, sling magic, heck, even some can heal other Heartless. Kind of makes you wonder if you’ll actually be able to fight all of them.

But don’t think you’ll be doing it alone for even a second. Just as each Disney themed world has a villain who’s trying to kill you, so does it have a hero, and heroes they are. From Tarzan to Beast, some of the most hallowed heroes from cartoon land will be joining Sora. And yeah, they aren’t there to sit as window dressings, either. Each one of them controls on their own, with a specialized weapon to reflect the world from which they come. For instance, Aladdin comes with a scimitar. Tarzan has a spear. My person favorite, though, is Beast. He just mauls things. As you progress throughout the worlds, you’ll encounter a different hero, but you can’t forget the friends. Sora’s permanent party members include Donald Duck and Goofy the whatever. You can only have two party members with you at once, too, which adds a certain level of strategy when you battle.

Aside from that, most of which KH offers is really what you’d see in a typical RPG game. Sora can level up, gain new Keyblades, go on quests, and even embark on the hunt for a 101 Dalmation puppies. Some of it does sound boring, but by adding these things the developers managed to add in a ton of replay. Even if you do find a certain puppy once, there’s no guarantee that you’ll remember it a second time through.

What you will be remembering a second time through; however, are the graphics and music. Both are extraordinarily colorful, sporting multiple tracks and graphical schemes to keep you busy at all times. Production values are top notch with the graphics, while the game features two beautiful CGI cut scenes that truly test the limits of the PS2 hardware. It doesn’t stop there, though. Although some people complain KH can look a bit pixilated at times (which is the exact truth, unfortunately), there’s also an incredible realistic edge to it as far as cartoony games go. You can tell you’re flying through the skies in Neverland, or possibly battling it out with Hercules in the coliseum. Things like that definitely compliment the game play, which was sorely needed.

Another thing that was sorely needed was the music, and KH definitely delivered. Tracks are varied as to each world you visit, sporting classic Disney tunes to go along with each themed world. For instance, in Agrabah you’ll be hearing the classic Aladdin theme song, whereas in Atlantica you be dancing around the the tunes of Under the Sea. It keeps the game alive, and was definitely a treat to listen to.

Were it not for the fact that KH practically destroys controllers with its X button obsessions (which, in lamens terms, is mashing) it would probably be one of the greatest games to grace the PS2. Battling is a riot, the game is complex enough to keep fans happy, and there are enough side quests to keep the dream going long after the main game is over. When KH first was announced, people thought it would be an underwhelming failure. They had their merits, and to an extent, they were right. But when you think about how easily it manages to implement worlds that you’d never see in a serious game in a serious way, it has to mean something. KH rocks. Few other games can match what it has accomplished, and I doubt few other games will ever accomplish what it’s done. X button or not, Disney is back.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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