Review by Garbol Shora

"With 'Kingdom Hearts', I don't know what I was fighting against more - the Heartless or the heartless camera..."

When I first heard of Disney and Squaresoft creating a game using their licenses of Disney and Final Fantasy, I was extremely intrigued. Disney had some pretty big failures in games in the past, but now with the guiding hands of Squaresoft, it seemed evident that they may have created a high-quality Disney game!

And thus, came Kingdom Hearts. It was a game that felt totally different to a Final Fantasy game, but reeked of Squaresoft goodness. However, some gripes made it disappoint in several areas, particularly in gameplay. The biggest underlying problem, however, was the camera issues. With Kingdom Hearts, I don't know what I was fighting against more - the Heartless or the heartless camera.

Gameplay Elements:
Squaresoft did some things a bit differently in Kingdom Hearts. The 'Final Fantasy feel' gameplay of traditional turnbased battles is no longer existent and gamers are introduced to a more action-oriented game. Players control Sora, the main character along with CPU-controlled Disney companions Donald and Goofy. Magic Points and Health Points are in this game as well, determining a person's life and how much more magic one can perform.

Sora is your basic balanced character (lucky you!), and you can choose in the beginning how you want to vary your 'Sora' (but only slightly). Overall, you are decent or relatively strong in magic, strength and defense. With your trusty keyblade, you slash out the Heartless, evil bad guys who all resemble a similar lifelessness. Goofy is your defensive melee character with a fat stock of potions and in-battle items. He smites the Heartless with his gallant (or lack thereof) shield and frequently helps the extremely weak Donald. Donald is your generic mage with an extreme lack of health or defense. I'd be pretty confident to say that 95% of gamers will have Donald dying most through the game.

Anyway, the game is pretty much an adventure-exploration game, exploring from under the sea, to flying through Neverland, to venturing the wonderful wonders of Wonderland, to the belly of a fat whale. No matter, you'll be flying, swimming and running through lush environments that provoke a serious nostalgia. You'll also be introduced to those enemies you just love to hate like Ursula the fat octopus-woman and Jafar, the snickering genie-wannabe sorceror. In respect to these great enemies, you'll be surrounded by great scenery to complement these great Disney characters.

However, nasty spawning Heartless monsters roam throughout the lands and you'll be slashing away like mad before you can enjoy any of the great Disney sceneries. To aid you in this, you are offered an Attack, a Magic, an Item and a Summon skill. Attack is basically... attack. Magic all are RPG-goodness like Blizzara and Curaga. Item pretty much replenishes ones health/magic points. Summons pull Goofy and Donald out of the battle for the entrance of a Disney character like Dumbo or Simba.

Ironically, you don't have any 'random' encounters, because you'll be encountering Heartless monsters that spawn every ten seconds that they don't seem all too random!!!!!! (ARG!) You'll be mashing the X button (which is attack) continuously until you just get sick of those lifeless idiots. You may think the random encounters in Final Fantasy were tedious, the Kingdom Hearts battles are hellishly boring.

To spruce up the game with some variety, equipment including armor and weaponry have been offered to you. However, they aren't extremely varied to truly make a difference, as attack and magic statistics of the keys just keep on getting better through every consecutive world. Most of the time, you'll ditch your old keyblade when getting a new one.

Passive and Ability skills are also offered to enhance efficiency in gameplay. This includes Treasure Magnet which allows the money and small health/magic bubbles to come to you instead of going to them. Some other abilities include Critical Plus, which increases the power of your critical attacks and MP Rage, which increases MP when hit. Those are only a few of the vast amounts of skills you can use to fill up your limited supply of AP (Ability Points).

As you traverse new worlds, you'll be transferred to it using your excellent lego-like gummi ship. This is essentially a pointless shooting game which occupies you while going from point A to B. I found this extremely useless and rather tedious, as the gummi ship sequences really don't contribute that much to the gameplay. Of course, you can fashion your gummi ship to be faster, to be stronger or to simply look cooler, but it's somewhat uninteresting and unnecessary to get through the game.

Difficulty-wise, this game is doable (to the exception of Sephiroth) but is initially hindered by... THE GODAWFUL CAMERA FROM HELL. This camera is even worse than the Heartless monsters in the game. I felt dizzy, sick and queezy in the stomach watching the camera constantly give me the wrong angles and me constantly trying to find the right one. In the beginning, the camera doesn't seem like a problem, but you find out later on that this camera will be the reason you died or lost unnecessary health points. Several come to mind including Oogie Boogie's poker table-like battle sequence, where I constantly battled with the camera to see where Oogie Boogie was sneaking off to next. Another one is Ursula's cauldron battle which kept me swerving my camera around to see where Ursula was lurking. EVEN MORE is Jafar, as he flies around, I didn't even know how to make my camera SHOW that Jafar was behind me or not.

To solve this, Auto-Locking Targets attempts to become the solution, but it simply does not. You eventually find yourself irritated by the Auto-Lock as your scrolling from Boss 1 to Monster 3. Truthfully, I felt like I do when I'm carsick or seasick as this game's swerving camera simply did not allow me to enjoy this game. The game already has faults including the overly frequent battle encounters and the rather shallow equipment selection.

It's not that Kingdom Hearts has bad gameplay, it has bad camera. The gameplay overall already forces you to simply smash the attack button with the occasional shortcut Curaga to cure Donald. With so many re-spawning monsters and boss battles, it's not excusable to have a camera that you have to constantly end up fiddling around with. The Gummi Ship fights weren't that great either and this simply became a tiresome issue. Lacking considerable depth, a decent camera and interesting extras and flooding the redundancy of fighting, dizzy swerving cameras and ho-hum Gummi Ships, Kingdom Hearts is a serious disappointment in gameplay. Mind you, you will still have some good fun, but if only some of these problems were resolved, Kingdom Hearts would've been a more enjoyable experience. 6/10

Visual Presentation:
Terrific. Kingdom Hearts does an amazing job of recreating some of the most loved characters of the Disney and Final Fantasy worlds. Most noted is the uncanny ability to reproduce the nostalgia one will have from Kingdom Hearts. The themes are all very well done despite its extremely large variation. It would have been difficult to recreate the numerous Disney worlds offered in this game, but Squaresoft does a great job of doing it.

You'll feel like reliving your childhood when going through some of the various themes. I have to note that Atlantica was one of the areas I enjoyed most. For example, one can only help but remember the song 'Under the Sea' when entering a particular area in Atlantica. One will remember the mean and strict, but good-natured and well-mannered King Triton and his recreated throne (they did a good job on that not). Other places include Agrabah from Aladdin, which I can't help but say that it was somewhat disappointing to see the lack of detail and the generic townstalls in it. Nevertheless, it did give me the great nostalgia of Aladdin and his great ventures on stealing watermelon. Who can forget the forgotten Halloween Town and its bizarre and frightening theme? This was one of the places where I felt was most varied from the other places, and they did an amazing job at that. I was disappointed with Olympus though... it just didn't seem very extravagant.

Character models range from amazing to slightly iffy. Some of the character models were amazing and well done (Jack Skellington and Sebastian) while others... were kind of odd (Alice and Hercules). And for some odd reason, Genie just wasn't as loveable as he once was in Aladdin. It may have been his model, or his voice actor, but it just didn't have the Genie charm. The Final Fantasy characters sport a completely different look. Cloud is darker and more mysterious while Squall (Leon) looks more opened and less anti-social. I kinda laughed at Aerith's costume (just looked kinda odd) and loved Yuffie.

Nevertheless, the nostalgic world of Disney was very well created and in truth, I don't think anybody could've done better than Square has done. This game's graphics and visual quality is for the most part, detailed and immersive. It's evident that the visual department was a place that was worked on. 9/10

Audio Presentation:
The audio presentation is a mixed bag. It's good and it's... repetitive. Let's start off with the good, which is, for the most part, the more dominant of the two.

The good part is that the voice actors are excellent. Sora is played by... forgot-his-name kid who sees dead people. However, he's not as paranoid here and he plays a very believable troubled preteen. The voice actor of Riku plays a very good angst-ridden mystery preteen and reminds me of that kid who was anti-social, but nobody would touch him with a ten-foot pole... not even the bullies. Kairi, Sora's girl friend is okay, but her voice sounds rather forced in some places. Donald is Donald, he sounds like you'd expect him to sound and you'll either love him or hate him. Goofy is Goofy, he sounds like you'd expect him to sound... and of course... you'll either love him or HATE HIM (I think you know what I'm leaning towards)! The other actors and actresses all play a pretty convincing voice to their previous movie counterparts. Genie, however... I don't know whether it's the fact that Robin Williams is such a hard voice to recreate or the fact that the voice actor of the Genie just sucked... but I was just not very pleased by him. Jane sounds better... it might be that I hate Minnie Driver with a passion, but Jane sounds better... just better. Yep. Pretty much the vast group of characters from Disney are wonderful for the most part and one can't help but find the oddball from the pack, and there isn't a lot, but enough to worth a mention... but not enough to say that the voice acting is bad... because it's very good (and I just nitpick)! Oh... and Flounder sucked... he gets the suckiest voice actor award from the pack... he just really sucked. Maleficent, I found the most impressive... maybe the creepy music in the background whenever she talks... but impressive.

The music department is the repetitive part. I really didn't like it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Nobuo Uematsu wasn't the chief composer of this project, and (if it's true) it shows. The pieces are short, for the most part, annoying and nothing truly memorable. The intro (Dearly Beloved) is a good song and the one Utadu Hikaru sings is also a great song (although I don't know the relativity of the lyrics to the game... but hey, it's J-Pop... it's not supposed to be relative). But some of the songs are just really annoyingly repetitive! Imagine hearing a remixed-shortened version of Under the Sea a billion times. Not pleasant. And some are just very awkward, such as the theme in Wonderland. While I know they may have tried to depict a bizarre score for the Wonderland theme, but it just didn't fit the situation. Overall, the music is a mixed bag and there are enough repetitive songs to give mention that the music is not a Squaresoft quality work.

The voice acting is top-notch (despite Genie) but the music is awful (except some notable ones including some boss fights and Dearly Beloved). The audio department is not Squaresoft quality, and therefore, somewhat disappointing, but the voice acting manages to convince and beats Final Fantasy X for the most part. The voice actors did such a good job, however, that if this was merited on the acting alone, I would be confident to give it a 9 or a 10... but that isn't the case here. 7/10

Story and Composition:
The story is basically... the Heartless are messing up the world and the key (pun intended) to solving this mess is the Keyblade, held by a small boy named Sora. After his paradise is lost, Sora finds himself alone and lost of two of his good friends, Kairi and Riku. At this time, King Mickey has gone missing and Donald Duck is in a panic. He takes Goofy with him and bids Minnie Mouse farewell as they go off to save King Mickey. At this time, they bump into Sora, of which they begin a somewhat rickety relationship that slowly grows to be a tight bond.

The story premise is interestingly original although the basis may seem somewhat cliched. Integrating a bunch of Disney worlds that hold hidden keyholes, Sora and his new companions must go off to do three things: A) Save the world of the Heartless, B) Save King Mickey, C) Save Kairi. However, it seems that the Disney villains have teamed up, apparently led by Maleficent. However, it later becomes revealed that a bigger entity is controlling the bigger plan... which I won't spoil for you, of course. The relationship between Sora and the two Disney characters is an interesting one, as Sora's detest for them slowly grows into a bond of trust and friendship.

The dialogue is well-done, but some of it seems awkward and some Disney quotes are left out. The story, however, is a simple one, although it's rather memorable due to the Disney characters and license. However, I can't help but feel kind of uncaring towards some of the characters, as some of them were portrayed a bit too mean (Triton), too bratty (Pinocchio) or too stupid (Tarzan). Overall, though, Kingdom Hearts lays a good storyline to mix up all the Disney characters, although I can't help but feel that it should've been slightly deeper... even if the main audience may be children. 7/10

Replayability and Extras:
There is a heft amount of Extras and Replay, but for the most part, they are ho-hum. The usual for every Squaresoft game is there, including sidequests and optional boss battles. Some Final Fantasy and Disney villains make a return for optional boss battles and for the most part, they are HARD. Squaresoft does a good job of going the distance and making a bigger challenge for the hardcore gamers (some extra bosses for us lucky Americans! Sorry Jap...). However, for the people who have already gone the distance with some of Final Fantasy's tougher monsters will feel right at home with these fights.

Oh... that part wasn't the ho-hum part. The ho-hum part is the scavenger-like parts of this game. Who REALLY wants to find 99 Dalmations? Definitely not me, and whatever prize I get, it probably ain't worth searching through the various worlds. More boring scavenger hunting include the Trinity sidequest. However, I usually just 'bump' into the many Trinity points in the game. The Trinity spots in the game are pretty much places where Goofy, Donald and Sora do a trick to get a small reward, some are satisfying but most of them are ho-hum. The real extra, though, if you really enjoy this game, is the hidden ending. I haven't done it through manual hard labor, but I've downloaded it... and it's pretty interesting. I can't say it would be worth the trouble though.

Squaresoft's Kingdom Hearts comes with the typical tough boss battles including hidden and secret weapons one can get as well as arena battles from Olympus, but I don't see how one can enjoy the scavenger hunt sidequests of this game such as the Dalmation quest. The replay of this game is lacking, and the extras is a mixed bag. Some of them are ooh-ahh-tough, while some of them are argh-I-don't-have-Dalmation-no.45-dull. 6/10

The camera issues were truly apalling for me and I just couldn't help but deduct gameplay marks due to that as well as the redundancy of it. I love Squaresoft's games, but Kingdom Hearts is one of those games where it will definitely appeal to the majority. However, for once, I am not that majority.

This game is solid in many respects and many of its departments are top-notch, but it fell short to my expectations in many ways. Squaresoft's reputation is a mighty high one and a lot of people will consider that reputation and enjoy this game to no end. Mind you, I did enjoy this game and loved the nostalgia of Disney, but it just caught me by surprise. Many of the search-and-find quests were boring for me and the redundancy of the battles droned the game longer than I wanted it to be.

However, Kingdom Hearts can easily hold its own as a prize-piece in any PS2 library. It holds a lot of things many gamers want... which is a merger of two famous markets, a nostalgic feeling of a second childhood and a compelling story with top-notch voice actors and beautiful models.

I really wanted to enjoy this game... I really did. This game has exceptional qualities... but a game with exceptional qualities should try its best to rid itself of small problems. Kingdom Hearts, in this respect, has a lot of small problems... and a big problem of which I will learn to never disregard - camera control.

How it stacks up
(average is determined through the importance of the criteria)
Gameplay Elements: 6/10
Visual Presentation: 9/10
Audio Presentation: 7/10
Story and Composition: 7/10
Replayability and Extras: 6/10
Final Score: 7/10

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 02/02/03, Updated 02/09/03

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