"What evey 2002 Nintendo game should have been."

Ever since I've been exposed to video games, I've been a Nintendo fan. I've enjoyed their systems and played their games. I've grown to like the Mario franchise and recently the Star Fox one as well.

Still, my first visit to GameFAQs.com was over the summer, when the Summer 2002 Character battle was all the rage. The characters listed intrigued me, some to the point where I did a lot of research over the Internet to find out about them. One that particularly caught my attention was one Cloud Strife, and upon learning about his world and his game, Final Fantasy VII, I was convinced that Sony's systems were better than anything Nintendo had to offer. Of course, I looked around to find the game for the PC, but no such luck. So I settled on buying a PS2 and while I probably won't give up on playing FF7, this game intrigued me as well. I rented the game the day I bought my PS2 (I couldn't find it on retail to buy it). Suffice to say, I'll probably do quite a bit of hunting to find this title too.

Simply put, Kingdom Hearts is a magical game, filled with fun gameplay, an intriguing story and excellent graphics. This game clearly exemplifies why the PS2 is beating (badly) the GCN in terms of sales - the effort and the magic put into this game far surpass anything Nintendo has put out over the year in 2002. Get this game? Of course!!!!!!!

Story/Presentation: 9/10

The opening FMV sequence is simply breathtaking and mesmerizing. In fact, the many FMV sequences in this game are so much fun to behold, you'll probably wind up playing this game again just to experience - they never grow old, even if its the first or the tenth time seeing them.

The story's pretty good too. You play as Sora, a young boy (I like to think he's 15....) who lives on the Destiny Islands with friends Riku and Kairi (Sora has a crush on the latter...). Apparently Kairi was washed up onto the Island and longs to return home, while Riku is sick of living on the island and wants to experience new worlds. So they build a raft to take Kairi home. Still, that night, a huge vortex breaks out in the sky and these strange shadow creatures emerge. Sora, who was asleep at the time, stumbles into Riku on the Island's port. Riku says something about exploring new worlds and then gets promptly sucked into the vortex. Sora survives and emerges with a giant key, called the Keyblade. Perplexed, Sora nonetheless finds out that this Keyblade is quite adequate in fending off the creatures. A huge shadow creature emerges and although Sora defeats it, he too gets sucked into the vortex along with the rest of the isles. He lands in Traverse Town, disconnected from Riku and Kairi (who were nowhere to be found in the town). There, Sora learns about the point of his Keyblade - Mickey Mouse, King of Disneyland, has witnessed stars ''burning out'' in the sky. He then set out to find the cause and entrusted Donald Duck to find the ''key'' that will aide in Mickey's search. Problem is, ''beings of darkness'' called the Heartless are also seek this key. The Keyblade ''chose'' Sora as its master, so the beings have no choice but to target Sora. Sora stumbles into Donald and Goofy and they agree to find the King since Sora has the key. There's more to the story than this, but if you want the basic story, this is it. It's pretty well thought out and somewhat original, although I don't like the name ''Heartless'' for the villains - I think Squaresoft could have come up with a much more superior name.

Also, elements in this game that I can't mention since they are spoilers, reminded me too much of Star Fox 64 and Super Smash Bros.: Melee's trophy gallery, so presentation suffers a little. But not by much.

Graphics: 9.5/10

Considering the PS2's dated hardware and graphics processor, Kingdom Hearts delivers a knockout blow in the graphics department. Rich and full of energy, at times you'll feel like you're watching an animated movie - which is a complement considering that Disney lent its hand in the licensing of the project. The characters and levels have realistic representations and textures, so much so that you are convinced that you really are witnessing Donald and Goofy - and Tidus for that matter.

And unlike Star Fox Adventures another rich game graphically, Kingdom Hearts suffers no letdown in framerate. Even a crowded battlefield doesn't hamper framerate. What's more, there isn't any fog, which is refreshing.

Sadly, there is a minor gripe. Again, it's a spoiler (it's a minigame), so I can't elaborate, it's just that in this minigame, details are kept to a minimum. It contrasts greatly from the rich graphics in the rest of the game.

Play Control: 8/10

Responsive controls are pretty much a given - you can rest assured that when you want Sora to jump, he jumps. What's more, they gave Sora an insane jumping ability, so reaching many platforms shouldn't be too much of a problem - even if it doesn't look like Sora could make the jump.

Battling is a different story. For one, the camera in the game is a big headache. It's often difficult to set up the right angle at which to see the action. It can make jumps tricky and what's more, enemy battles somewhat difficult. It's pretty difficult to nail a good hit on your enemy - unless you use the ''lock-on'' targeting system.

Square probably saw how difficult these battles could be without them and decided to add this feature - which from what I've read has also been done in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, so it wasn't as innovative as I thought it was. But its a good idea and it makes striking enemies much simpler. I'd like to point out that you can still strike your enemies otherwise. Also, Square made casting magical spells easy via shortcut keys.

Still, the controls do take some getting used to. I often wound up hitting the wrong buttons many times. It doesn't detract much from gameplay and who knows? Maybe I'm still used to the GCN controller and still haven't grown accustomed to the PS2 controller. If you play the PS2 regularly, perhaps you'll have better time with control than me.

Challenge/Fun: 10/10

I don't know what it is - the breathtaking FMV's or the sheer joy I have in hacking at enemies - but this game is fun! Part of the fun is in knowing that the challenge level is fair. The game is difficult enough so that you don't complete it in one day, but not too hard that you can't advance past the first level.

Don't get me wrong, some of the challenges can be quite daunting early on (I haven't finished the game yet, but I'll get there...), but its nothing a novice couldn't handle. What's more, the FMV's serve as good motivation to keep plugging away at the game and trying to finish it even if you're stuck - you'll continue searching for a solution or beating that one boss to see exactly where the story will take you next. They say that a good story makes a good RPG, and Kingdom Hearts, given its story with its many twists and subplots is proof of this fact.

What's more, sources over the Internet are brewing with information of many secrets. What's more, the game comes with an Expert Mode - naturally, a harder version of the Normal Mode, which will probably serve to motivate those who finish the game in Normal Mode to play the game again. Or who knows? Perhaps I'll play the game to see those FMV's again and experience the game's great story.

I'd like to point out the battles aren't tiresome and repetitive. It's always fun hacking at enemies in battle even if you don't have to. I'd like to point out that this isn't a turn-based RPG. In this game, enemies pop out of the blue and fight you. You have the option (in most cases) of battling them or just running along doing what you were doing before. And you fight in real time - none of this ''I strike first then the opponent hits me''. Still, even though you could scurry along and avoid battle, your party members get caught up in the battle and fight anyway. It's a minor nuisance sometimes, but nothing major has happened yet in these regards.

Sound/Music: 10/10

My ears tell me that Square convinced the real Disney voice actors to lend their voices to the game. It's a good thing on Square's part - I don't think this game would work if Goofy didn't sound like Goofy, etc. It gives the game a good sense of ''realism'' - again, the game at times feels like an animated movie - maybe a Disney one? What's more, the Final Fantasy characters included - and many make cameos - were given good voices that fit the mood and image each character has.

Music wise, this is a bip-bouncy soundtrack. All of the tunes don't grow tiring or repetitive and don't strain the ears of the listener. What's more, Japanese pop star Hikaru Utada lent her voice to sing what Square calls the ''theme song'' for the game - and it fits beautifully into the opening FMV sequence. It's Kingdom Hearts' equivalent to SFA's excellent track that plays in the first level Fox lands on. All in all, this department is exactly what you would expect from a classic game.

(Tilt: 10/10)

Overall: 56.5/60

Perhaps I'm making too much of the FMV sequences and the game's story, but an engrossing story can go a long way in wanting to complete a game. Never mind that the game play engine is a hoot and a half to play - despite the wonky camera.

There was a time when Nintendo games were this quirky, this magical. The second you played them, you knew that the game would be a classic. Alas, while Nintendo's 2002 releases have been good (SSBM is technically a 2001 release), they don't have the magical feel of Kingdom Hearts. I found myself saying ''this would make a perfect Nintendo game''. But it isn't. It's a Sony game. It's a game that made me closer to jumping ship from Nintendo. I'll probably still support them, but this game is at least proof that Sony's games have an extra edge that Nintendo games seem to lack.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 12/10/02, Updated 12/10/02

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