Review by ShapeQuest
"For the younger audience, but was a great blend of Disney and FF"
There was probably an audible gasp around the internet when news broke that Square would be paired with Disney to make some sort of Final Fantasy lite game. Square and DISNEY? A marriage made in hell, we assumed. Despite my efforts, I simply could not even begin to fathom what sort of game would result from this. But then word broke out proclaiming Cloud, Squall, etc, would be present in this game, and that seemed to settle the matter. Determined Squeenix fans would purchase this game no matter what. I bought the game with skeptical thoughts. I was pleasantly surprised.
You'll play as Sora, a boy who really just wants to leave his tiny island and find adventure. After certain events, he eventually meets Donald and Goofy, who make up the final party's trio (though you can only control Sora). After further time passes, you gain control of a Gummi Ship (this game's version of an airship, basically). You'll then be able to travel to different worlds. Each world is based on a certain Disney movie series, such Aladdin or Alice in Wonderland. In some of the worlds, an optional fourth character will become available in that land only.
Your weapon is a keyblade, and Sora is the wielder. His goal is to lock as many worlds as possible so they can't disappear. The basic plot revolves around beings known as Heartless. These creatures thrive in the shadows and are the enemies you'll be squaring off against. You also fight them during boss battles.
The gameplay is somewhat similar to FFXII. You're allowed to free roam during battle, which occurs as soon as an enemy spots you (there is no transition between walking around and the encounters). You must toggle the left analog stick to move around. The right analog stick is for the camera. The directional buttons are used to select different battle moves (normally attack, magic, and item, but there are also special moves and conditions you can perform). You collect magic gradually through plot events and even sidequests, whether it is a new spell or an upgrade. You can even perform summons, though none of them are the famous FF summons.
Another button will allow you to lock on to a certain enemy, though Sora will do this automatically if you choose not to (in other words, you can't just miss an enemy when he swings his keybladethe attack will connect, and if it misses, it's because the enemy evaded the attack, not because your aim was a little off).
And another neat gameplay element that is similar to FFXII is a gambit-esque system. Sometimes when Sora is in trouble during battle, Donald or Goofy might help you out by using a potion, curing, etc. In the menu, you can adjust the settings to determine how often they do this (for example, you might not want them to use potions TOO frequently because then you'll run out). You may also want them to stay conservative with MP usage, so you can adjust that as well.
While Sora and company are leveling up, you will eventually learn new abilities (different from magic spells) that are either character-specific or general. You can only equip a select number of abilities at any given moment. Each ability has an AP amount assigned to it. Each character has a certain number of AP. Once that number runs out, you cannot equip any more abilities. Sometimes these abilities cost MP. You can perform some VERY powerful moves once you're high enough in level.
One of the most famous sidequests in this game is the Coliseum. Here, you can battle tough opponents or fight in tournaments. Tournaments involve several rounds of enemy encounters with no breaks. Great rewards are to be had here. It also makes for some challenging battles. You can sometimes choose between fighting with Donald and Goofy or fighting solo. If solo, there is no one to back you up if your HP is low, so that is a challenge. You may even choose to fight with a timer in place.
There are other sidequests, of course. Most notably is finding all 101 Dalmatians. There are hidden bosses to defeat, and even an extra world (it's in a storybook, so you need to find all the scattered pages of it to finish that scenario). Synthesis is also back. You can collect items the heartless drop to create some powerful accessories. Honestly, most of your time will be spent looking for the rare items you'll need to synthesize something. There are also abilities you may equip so that the heartless drop rare items at a higher rate. This is also how you can obtain Sora's best weapon.
Once you manage to lock all the worlds, find all the Dalmatians, win all the tournaments, and perform every Trinity (a symbol on the ground will allow Sora and company to perform an action, which can lead to items, etc), there's a secret ending you may watch after the very last clip. You may also choose between normal and hard mode at the very beginning. Hard mode has less requirements for the secret ending.
So what didn't I like about this game? Well, not much, but there WAS some stuff. First, I thought KH sometimes overdid the cutesy, aww we all love each other, FRIENDSHIP~! stuff. Granted, I understand that's more for a younger audience. But it really became too much sometimes. I also thought the voice acting for some of the characters could have been better. It's obvious not many of them (as far as the non-Disney characters go) were professionals. Not really a hindrance, though. And in the case of the Disney characters, some of them were actually the original voice actors from their respective movies, so that's a plus right there. Lastly, I really didn't like the whole Gummi system. In case you don't know, you can customize your Gummi ship to become stronger, etc, but there's basically no incentive for you to do this, since you can navigate just fine with the ship you are given originally, and you don't get any special items out of it. The tutorial showing you how to change your Gummi is also confusing.
The graphics were great, overall. You have to keep in mind that the game has a more cartoony feel than, say, FFX, another PS2 game. Most of the scenery is reminiscent of past Disney movies. The soundtrack is top notch. The battle music never gets old. You'll also hear some classic Square choir music, and even a vocal soundtrack with several remixes. Great stuff.
Overall, I believe you should purchase this game, especially if you would enjoy seeing an environment where all your favorite FF characters interact. We've got a great plot and great gameplay. Better yet, you should purchase all three of the games that have come out so far under the Kingdom Hearts series so that you can dive straight into the next thing. The first game ends with such a cliff hanger (won't reveal anything, obviously) that you'll really want to strive for the hidden ending. Basically, if you don't mind the sillier tone the KH series is known for, you'll see a quality game here.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 07/15/09, Updated 07/15/09
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts (US, 09/16/02)
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