Review by ShadowGeenhx

"The poor unfortunate soul who doesn't have this game must buy it now."

No question about it; Disney's been in a rut lately. Having not released a particularly interesting movie since The Emperor's New Groove, the House of Mouse has since been forced to churn out sequel after mediocre sequel and send them straight to home video; that is, when the company isn't kissing Pixar's backside. With Comcast recently threatening to buy the company, Disney looks to be descending into a repeat of the 20-year wreck that befell them until it was lifted by Roger Rabbit.

However, if this game is any indication, Disney may be on the verge of reclaiming the glory they had when Walt was still alive. Born from a partnership they found with RPG king Squaresoft (now Square Enix), who is known for Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts is a game no one saw coming, and yet managed to be one of the top games in 2002. Though there's an argument that the positive status is a result of company power more than anything else, no one can deny that Kingdom Hearts is one of the most personality-filled and just plain fun games ever made.

However, this is not a game that succeeds without major flaws; it's one that succeeds despite the flaws. I should also mention that I totally despise action RPG's ever since playing the colossal wreck known as PSO, though Kingdom Hearts can likely change that. It's also not a game for people who are strictly fans of Final Fantasy; you need to have an appreciation for Disney to enjoy this game.

You've probably seen screenshots of this game somewhere and thought, what is going on here? Well, it seems that several ''worlds,'' each one inspired by an animated Disney movie, are scattered across the land, and each one is completely hidden from the others, unknown to all the rest. A new breed of enemy, the Heartless, seeks to change all that by destroying some of these worlds and forcing its inhabitants to move to others, thus destroying the unity that was once there. The source of these Heartless? Why, the Disney villains, of course, led by Maleficent.

There is, however, one world that has not yet been reached: Destiny Islands, where young teens Sora, Riku, and Kairi live out a ho-hum existence. As it is their wish to leave their island and see the world, they build a raft to take them there, only for there to be a storm the night before they set out. The Heartless invade, and Sora is swept away.

Meanwhile, in the Magic Kingdom, Donald Duck walks to the throne room one morning to find the king nowhere in sight. Instead, his dog Pluto has a note waiting for Donald, telling him to go to Traverse Town, find Leon, and start looking for clues. Dragging Goofy along with him, the two set their course for Traverse Town, and what happens next is anyone's guess.

Sora lands in Traverse Town, where inhabitants from other places have come to live ever since their worlds disappeared. Sora meets Goofy and Donald Duck, as it has been determined by King Mickey that the stars have been mysteriously going out and the Heartless are most likely behind it. Then there's all this other spoilery stuff involving Ansem, the Princesses of the Heart, the Keyblade, blah blah blah.

As you can see, it quickly becomes apparent that you'll be seeing a lot of things Disney. All of the classics you know from your youth, such as Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, are here in fine form. To make things even better, these elements are elegantly woven into the story; there's never a moment where one of the Disney characters appears out of place or shouldn't really belong. The plot is also simple to accompany the concept of different worlds that were never before linked to each other.

Unfortunately, it's obvious that the Final Fantasy characters did not get such beneficial treatment. Square started with one good element; the moogles' forest being a world that was wiped out and sent them to Traverse Town. Everything else looks like an afterthought and shows no respect to the character's origins. Squall is the first victim, for he no longer keeps his original name (he's Leon now), and his gunblade weapon is not shown actual size. Yuffie, who could once kick butt on her own, is now reduced to a passive role where she actually runs from the Heartless instead of fighting them! Aeris is just there to tell backstory, while Cloud is there for no reason other than to fill in a boss fight. The worst offenders, however, are Tidus and Wakka. They were completely bastardized; in fact, they look AT LEAST half their original age!

Those who know the good side of Disney will be happy to know that the humor style of this game is very similar to their classics. The Final Fantasy characters are, as expected, more serious in tone as they discuss the Keyblade's choosing of Sora and the scattering of Ansem's report to many worlds. The light stuff does eventually give way to the epic-scale proportions that Squaresoft is known for, but you can still tell that Disney had much to do with it.

The actual game is, as was originally said, an action RPG. This means that you get a hack 'n' slash game along the lines of Zelda, but you can also use items and magic in the style of a traditional Final Fantasy game. Somewhat unique to this game is the ability to summon other Disney characters, including Dumbo and Simba, to do some of the dirty work. You also have Donald and Goofy by your side as CPU teammates. Donald is better with magic while Goofy is the better swordsmen and guardian. Their AI can be tweaked to your liking in the sub-menu.

In fact, that's one of the reasons this game is so good to an action/RPG hater - it's beginner friendly. You can learn the basic fighting skills and get started right away, but you can also delve into the bigger nuances such as equipped abilities a la FF9, accesories, item synthesization, and much more. There are also magic spells that can defeat specific enemies, provided you keep a healthy-sized magic bar with you at all times.

Controls are carefully mapped to each of the PS2 controller buttons. O is to jump, X to attack, Triangle to cancel, R1 to lock on to an enemy, and L2/R2 to shift targets while locked on. The lock-on system, which is very similar to Zelda, will aim all your attacks in the direction of the locked-on enemy, making combat that would otherwise be an annoyance somewhat fun.

Much has been said about the camera and how unwieldy it is during a fight. Rest assured, that the camera does nothing wrong, it's just the extremely fluid animation is too fast for it. The lock-on focuses your attacks on specific enemies in order to clear up some of the confusion, but you might find yourself hitting L2/R2 a little more often than you'd like. Not much more, though.

Nevertheless, it does add some difficulty to an already challenging game. This game is not made for the younger Disney audience, but rather for FF fanboys who grew up on Disney, as the challenge level is on par with your standard FF game. Thankfully, the unbelievably intelligent AI from Donald and Goofy make up for it somewhat.

However, I must rip apart one aspect of gameplay, and that is the truly deplorable Gummi Ship mini-game that plays out between worlds. It's clear that Square and Disney were trying for something similar to Star Fox, but what could have been a fun diversion or interesting challenge turns into a nightmarish mess. The Gummi Ship game is tedious, interrupts the flow of the game, and sports some of the worst graphics to curse the PlayStation2 hardware. Honestly, it looks just like the original Star Fox, but with more colors.

Thankfully, the rest of the game looks like a dream. Every world's scenery recalls the Disney movie from where it came. The vibrancy of The Little Mermaid, the unique art style of Hercules, and the stained-glass depictions of the Disney princesses are all true works of art. It's clear that the animators who fashioned the movies are at work again here, only this time they have some powerful game console hardware to work with.

Sound-wise, music disappoints a little, as none of the classic tunes that gave the movies spirit are recognized to their fullest here. I will give credit to whoever came up with the theme song, ''Simple and Clean,'' for it is quite catchy and sounds like something from Radio Disney. However, voice acting is every bit as authentic as you could hope for. All of the original actors who are still alive return to voice their parts again (with the exception of Robin Williams - d'oh!) and the show-stealer here would definitely have to be Pat Carroll as Ursula. I'm not kidding when I say that she made The Little Mermaid almost unwatchably scary for me at times, and she still knows how to wreck those ''poor unfortunate souls'' who get in her way.

There is definitely plenty of replay value here, with six different statistics charts to go by, depending on whether you focus on Strength, Defense, or Magic, and three different rates with which to gain experience. Beginners won't see much difference, but advanced players might see their styles change just a tad.

No, Kingdom Hearts isn't perfect, as there are plenty of flaws that stick out like a sore thumb. These flaws don't matter, however, because all of the strengths make for one of the most memorable games ever, and one that correctly preserves Disney's heritage to the point where you may even start re-watching the classics! At last, Walt can look down and be proud, or he can at least stop spinning in his grave.

The Kelly Clarkson:
- true-to-heritage animation
- authentic voices
- some music is catchy
- truly fun gameplay
- 18 ways to set up statistics!
- I can't believe I actually like an Action/RPG!
- Disney doesn't suck anymore!
- Seeing Yuffie smack Donald with the door by accident was pretty amusing. :-)

The Kelly Osbourne:
- bad FF character treatment
- BAD Gummi Ship mini-game

Final Verdict: If you are or were once a Disney fan, you must own this. FF fans, beware.

Final Thought:
Hopefully, Kingdom Hearts 2 will pay recognition to some of the classics that were left out here, including The Jungle Book, Lady and the Tramp, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 03/12/04

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