Review by Badgerman

Reviewed: 10/26/02 | Updated: 10/26/02

A crossover that raises the bar for future games

Sora and his friends live on Destiny Island, a peaceful place with apparently no adults. However, after a strange dream, Sora's world is assaulted by hideous shadow creatures. He tries to fend them off with a mysterious Keylike weapon that appears to him, but ultimately his world is destroyed. He awakes in a strange town, alone, with the mysterious ''Keyblade'' in hand . . .

Little does he know that far more is afoot. The strange beings known as the Heartless are rampaging across the worlds, and one of the few people who understands what may be going on has vanished - King Mickey. With Mickey's loyal followers, the wizard Donald and the knight Goofy, they hope to unriddle the mystery of the Heartless - and it starts with the Keyblade . . .

Or, in short, this is a fantasy adventure that tosses in tons of Disney worlds and characters. However, if you expect a bunch of slick and soulless merchandising, you'd be mistaken . . .

Graphics: 10/10
Simply, this is one of the best-looking games for the Playstation 2, perhaps the best. An amazing amount of detail is included, and the animation is almost always smooth (though you can get a bit of slowdown or minor texturing/effects issues, especially when a bunch of enemies die or appear at once in the heat of combat).

One note is that the engine for the video sequences is usually not the super-deluxe system we're used to from FFX. It appears to be an advanced version of the gameplay engine, if not the gameplay engine itself. So don't expect much cinematic-quality rendering except in a few noteworthy sections. Still, the game looks so good overall, and its marvelously cinematic.

The environments are, in general, very well done. There's little details, lighting effects, appropriate designs, etc. that makes everything live. The locations have personality and you get a sense of ''being there''

Gameplay: 8/10
Gameplay is essentially arcade-like. When you're walking aroud, think Maximo or Jak and Daxter. When you're flying between worlds, it's old-style arcade shooter.

Lets get this out of the way - it's not perfect.
1) The camera occasionally gets confusing, and can occasionally whip around and confuse you. You can ''lock on'' to targets, but sometimes this makes it worse.
2) You'll have to get used to real-time controls in combat, and it's not exactly easy. You have to juggle four buttons, camera angles, locking on, shortcuts, and menus.
3) The travel between worlds in the Gummi Ship is pointless, kind of stupid, and a waste of time.
4) Except for your main character, the other characters have AI, acting on preset options. These AI's are not bad, but they sometimes make poor decisions, especially early in the game - usually over-using recovery items or special abilities.

OK, beyond these things? The gameplay is great, and to be honest, as good as it could have been in such a game. However, it is not as easy as it may seem. It is not for everyone, and it requires definite arcader skills to go along with the RPGer skills.

What you do, essentially, is explore areas, and after completing certain tasks, more areas open up, which you reach via your ''Gummi Ship,'' in rather uninspired arcade sequences. However, the Gummi ships are the most boring part of the game - the rest is far more interesting.

Different worlds present different inhabitants, puzzles, and challenges. You walk around in a platform-arcade style setting, finding and manipulating objects, talking with people, and fighting. There's no real transition between moving and combat, so a seemingly peaceful experience can turn ugly - adding to the ''twitch'' factor and heightening the adsorption and realism of the game.

Combat is done via AIs for your companions and by buttons, shortcuts, and cascading menus for yourself. It sounds complicated, and sometimes is. However, one actually can adapt very easily. It's not perfect by any means, but it is perhaps the best implementation that could be achieved in such a complex game, and one eventually develops instincts, shortcuts, and personal combos to make things more effective.

The AIs . . . well they can be tweaked so they are OK, and as your party gains experience, and the non-player characters have more options, they seem to work better. Mostly, the AI is a Recovery-Item hog.

Combat wins you experience, and, enjoyably, all characters you can play advance. So you can rotate characters in and out of the party as you see fit, and no one gets behind on the experience scale. New skills are learned, and can be equipped or unequipped, and finding good skill combinations is one of the fun parts of the game.

Each world is, except for a few, a Disney world. You'll meet very familiar characters, most of whom are done quite well and feel in the spirit of their individual worlds. There is usually a lack of ''background'' characters, leading some worlds to feel a bit underpopulated, but overall they're interesting and fun, though a few have unobvious puzzles that take some exploration and guesswork.

Sound: 10/10
There's great sound and music, good voice acting, and all sorts of little touches that bring gameplay to life. The sound enhances the gameplay as opposed to dominating it or fading into the background. The mysterious ''bubbling'' created by Heartless materializing, or Goofy thanking you for using a Cure spell on him all blend together to make the experience, again, one that comes to life.

Story: 9/10
There is a story here. In fact, one that twists and turns a few times rather delightfully. In addition, each world has its own ''substory'' that ties into the larger one.

Character motivations are usually clearly explained, though don't think you know everything until the credits roll. Most characters have their own motivations and agendas, and they intersect nicely.

It's a tale of friendship and loyalty, destiny and finding yourself, and bittersweet understanding. It is at times incredibly corny, but it knows its a living cartoon, so the over-the-topness works. Is it perfect? No, nothing is, but it works very well.

Replayability: 7/10
The real flaw with this game is that, in general, you've seen it all when you're done, or at least so much that you probably don't care. It's difficult to wade through the story sequences, the training sequences, etc. one more time.

Overall: 10/10
Despite the fact I haven't given the game a 10 in all categories, I have to give it a 10 overall. Why? Because though it's not perfect in every category, Kingdom Hearts achieves the rare quality of synergy of elements - the elements work together so well that they produce something greater than the sum of its parts. I can point out flaws, but the greater whole makes the flaws seem rather small.

An unqualified gaming success.

Rent or Buy: I bought it right out of the gate, and its one of those that many will. If this sounds like your cup of tea, you'll buy it. The only reason to rent it if you're very, very unsure you'd like it, or if you fear the control system may be too complex.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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