Review by Hollaback77

"Kingdom Hearts: Still Got It"

So, Kingdom Hearts, at first glance you look at this spunky-monster and think to yourself, "Oh mah gawd, what were they thinking!" A mixture of Final Fantasy and Disney is a cocktail that could easily end in disaster. But, I assure you, the developers knew what they were doing and instead of disaster we get something pretty darn good and special to boot. The game tells the story of Sora, the Keyblade Master, and his companions Donald and Goofy. Sora is tasked, through fate it would seem, to travel to various worlds and lock 'em up tight using his, you guessed it, Keyblade. It's a pretty Goofy (see what I did thar?) premise but it works, quite well. Such is the general premise of the game, more on the story will come later.

With Sora well on his way to Key Master-stardom we get to see the tools our precious developers at Squaresoft (Square Enix)/Disney Interactive have afforded the player; or, in a less obtuse fashion, the gameplay presented to the player. I would like to preface this part by informing my dear reader that this game was originally released in 2002. As of this writing Kingdom Hearts is a game going on double-digits in age (10 years, right?). Therefore, in terms of gameplay it is likely that we could point out many dated elements. For me, it is easy to forgive these "flaws", but I'm honor-bound (harr harr) to point them out none-the-less.

Many people consider Kingdom Hearts to be an RPG. And while it has many RPG elements such as an inventory system, various forms of equipment and heavy exploration I feel that it is more comparable to a modern action-adventure title rather than an RPG. I mainly feel this way due to the combat. The game is essentially a Hack-n-slash title. Sadly, I'm not sure it was meant to start out this way but it certainly ended up this way. The games mixes a lot of elements found in traditional Final Fantasy titles such as magic, summons and consumables with a real-time combat system. Normally this would sound pretty interesting but the problem is that the developers decided to essentially copy-paste the menu system that is used in the turn-based Final Fantasy titles. And let me tell you, managing a menu system such as this in real-time while facing a challenging encounter can be a real pain-in-the-you-know-what. And it's for this very reason that the game becomes much easier to play in a Hack-n-slash fashion. If you set your party up to support Sora and regenerate MP (Kingdom Heart's mana) at a ridiculous rate and focus Sora as a melee power-house you can essentially play the game spamming one attack while having access to unlimited healing. Once again, I truly believe that the developers wanted the game to be open to various playstyles from the heavily defensive to the all-out-offensive caster. But the game, due to its mechanics and interface, punishes the player for trying to play this way.

If you decide to play as a caster or some other form of play, as I said, the game allows for this exceptionally well. The number of spells given to Sora is rather impressive. The spells range from your typical elemental-nukes to heals; there are also some more interesting spells such as one that deals with gravity and another that stops time. It's pretty cool how some of these spells interact. Throughout your adventure you will also be afforded some melee-combos that can pretty devastating when used correctly. However, once again these are managed through the menu system I mentioned earlier which makes using them effectively to be a fairly clunky exercise.

In terms of gameplay there a few more things that I feel are pertinent this review. Firstly, the equipment in the game can be subject to abuse throughout the title. The game relies heavily on resistance (Fire, Ice, Lightning) gear that can essentially negate almost all damage coming at a player. If I ever got hung up on a certain boss that deemed it necessary to freeze, burn or electrocute me on a regular basis I would simply stack Sora with a bunch of resistance gear and essentially bash my head against the controller. Such is the role resistance gear generally plays in titles like this -- Kingdom Hearts isn't the only guilty party here. Fortunately, most developers have ditched this age-old practice in favor of more balanced gameplay. This is certainly an instance where dated gameplay elements hurt the experience so it's hard for me to fault Kingdom Hearts in this regard. Secondly, and lastly for that matter, the camera can be a bit wonky at times. In tight areas it tended to do weird things that I certainly did not endorse at the time. And control of the camera was, to my dismay, mapped to L2/R2. Doing such isn't an unforgivable slight but it was a bit awkward to get used to and I still feel it limits the player's ability -- mainly due to a lack of control on the y-axis.

The gameplay having been covered ad nauseum, I'll try to hurry the rest along here. One aspect of the game, and probably the only aspect, that I don't have anything negative -- or even slightly negative -- to say about the game is the presentation. The graphics have aged considerably well these past nine or so years. While they do show off the potential of the PS2 fairly well, especially in the handful of cutscenes, I would say the art direction has done more to keep the game looking good than anything else. There is a very cartoony, easy-going (whaaaaaaaaaaat?) look to the game. The Disney characters look as true-to-form as ever while the Final Fantasy characters bring a more mature feel to the game. Cloud looks especially good (is that a spoiler? nah), in his donning of a much darker and infinitely more tattered guise. In addition to the visual, your ears are in for a treat as well. The voice-acting is rather good. The Disney character, you guessed it, sound just as the did the first time you heard them utter a syllable. On second thought, some sound a bit odd, but said characters are the exception rather than the rule and are more than made-up-for by some of the exceptionally strong performances.

Finally we come to the story and/or narrative. As I mentioned earlier Kingdom Hearts performs a most unexpected feet. The developers did a wonderful job of combining the two very different worlds into one coherent and, for the most part, enjoyable narrative. And it does so while retaining the identity of both parties. Not once did I feel like I was playing a Disney game that had Final Fantasy characters shoehorned in or a Final Fantasy game with arbitrary Disney characters. As for the plot itself it is solid -- towards the end. I don't want to get hung up on the narrative and get to in-depth in this regard mainly because I lack any amount of restraint and tend to drop spoilers without even noticing. In trying to keep things very general, the narrative is pretty slow to start. Sora, before getting into the real business at hand, is left to venture to a handful of worlds that generally feel pretty arbitrary in the grand scheme of things. Each world has its own unique "mini-story" that can be considered on its own. These stories are usually heavily inspired by the worlds that Disney has already created and presented to us. Prepare yourself for a crash-course in Disney's more modern library with a few classics tossed in; of course, there are a few unique bits tossed in to make these stories fit into the "meta-narrative" but for the most part these worlds are very much Disney.

While these little asides that you are forced to undertake are generally pretty good, as I mentioned earlier, said ventures feel ineffectual when considered in the context of the overall narrative. This fact doesn't necessarily drag the game down in the story department mainly because the latter half of the game is so good. So if you can stick with a slow start, let's be honest most RPGs/RPG-esque titles have one, then Kingdom Hearts will reward you for your patience. I wish I could say more but I really must refrain for fear of spoiling something or another.

That's really all I have to say about this fantastic game. Though I may have got hung up on the negatives in certain parts it's only because the positive aspects are so apparent and will smack you in the face off the bat (at least for the most part). If you're saying to yourself, "Bro, I'm way too cool for this kiddie stuff," I'd very much implore you to reassess your opinion. Abandon whatever disposition in regards to Disney, perhaps even Final Fantasy, and give this one a go. Despite its age it still remains a solid experience that holds a little something for everyone.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 04/22/11

Game Release: Kingdom Hearts (US, 09/16/02)

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