Review by UltimaterializerX
"If the game wasn't an X-mashing excersize that gives its player motion sickness, it would be nearly perfect."
One random day in the life of the Square franchise, some wierdo decided to make a Squaresoft RPG featuring Disney characters and cameo appearances from Final Fantasy characters along the way. Add in a Zelda-like battle system, and an absolute gem was born. The title of this masterpiece? Kingdom Hearts, and in a little over a year, it has sold over 4 million copies around the world. I don't know how, but this game somehow struck the right chord with the gaming audience. 4 million copies in such a short timeframe is no joke, no matter how you look at it.
The beginning of this game, to put it mildly, is about as boring as a game can get. You start off as Sora, a young child from the Destiny Islands. This is fair enough, but you actually start the game on some stained glass made after Disney heroines, such as Sleeping Beauty and Belle. After going through some tutorial nonsense to choose your base stats and to briefly explain the battle system, you find yourself on the Destiny Islands. From here, you can meet up with your childhood friends Kairi and Riku from the island, or you can walk around a little bit and make friends with Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka from Final Fantasy 8 and Final Fantasy X fame. The problem here is that the first few parts of this game are so god-awful boring that you may wonder why you are playing through such childish nonsense. But bear with it, because it gets better. After going through all of these beginning sections made for trained monkeys to be able to get through, Destiny Island finally gets invaded by a force known as the Heartless.
Now the Heartless, these guys are some bad dudes. Their mission is to invade a planet, then destroy it from the inside out. You eventually find out that stars have been disappearing from the sky one by one because of the Heartless destroying worlds. In the beginning of Kingdom Hearts, they set out to destroy Sora's world. After Destiny Island was seemingly destroyed, Sora awakens alone and miserable to find himself in a place called Traverse Town. Riku, Kairi, and the rest of the cast from the Destiny Islands are all gone, and it is up to Sora to figure out what in the world just happened, and what he can do to find his way home. Along the way, he meets up with many Disney characters, characters from Final Fantasy games, and allies that will join the team on his quest. What starts out as a little kid trying to find his way back home eventually turns into a quest to save the world. Gee, an RPG main character who gets his heart broken sets out to save the world from having the same thing happens to others.... why, that sounds like something Squaresoft has thought up time and time again on a regular basis. But I promise you that it isn't so bland. Meeting up with Disney and Final Fantasy characters is far more nostalgic than it seems, especially if you are a fan of one or both of the franchises. Even better is that you get to do battle with characters from both of the franchises. As most people know before buying the game, Sora can fight against characters such as Cloud, Squall, and Yuffie. There are also boss battles in the main story against Disney characters, as well as original Heartless bosses thrown in by the game makers themselves. It's almost like a three way dance. There are the evil Disney characters trying to control the Heartless to fit their own means, the kindhearted Disney characters trying to help stop the Heartless, and the cameo appearances from Final Fantasy characters to make the game badass. The entire game also revolves around the Heartless being uncontrollable, and that the only way to stop them would be to seal them off forever. It sounds strange, but it works out well. The key is getting past the boring nonsense in the beginning of the game, and once you do, you'll either love this game forever or wonder what in the world Square was thinking. The game doesn't have the deepest story in the world, but it's still good enough to warrant an emotional reaction from its fanbase.
And here's where we have our issues. For virtually any fight in the game, the battle is basically hit R, mash X, winner is you!
And let's not forget all of the abilities that you can add to Sora to make the X-mashing even easier on yourself -- Vortex and Counter most notably -- as well as a lot of special attacks that set Sora into pimp mode while the game automatically does the attacks for you. When you start unlocking these skills, you no longer need to mash X. All you need to do is hit R, hit up once, then press X. You're winner!
Have an enemy that can't be defeated by the simple X-mashing method, such as one of those really fat heartless that goes Yokozuna on your ass and bounces every attack you have off of its belly? Why, just walk behind it and press X! All the enemy's base are belong to you!
But wait, there is more. Some enemies are a little too high for you to reach by simply standing on the ground. In this instance, you have to *gasp* jump in the air before mashing X! Oh perish the thought, for I have one extra button to press. Even better are the fact that there are even abilities to make your aerial X-mashing easier. The saving grace for all of this nonsense is the fact that some of the enemies in the game are actually quite difficult to kill, require certain attacks and tricks to defeat them, and/or have large lifebars. Most of these enemies are bosses, but there is a certain part of the game that causes every enemy in the game to become more difficult once cleared. The game also has optional superbosses and underwater battles that require you to do more than mindlessly press the X button. You actually have to use your head during some of these fights, and you may have to even bust out a magic spell or two. It's a shame that most, of not all of the game's difficult points can be solved by a few castings of Thunder spells. And to make sure this doesn't cause any issues with your MP meter, there are abilities in the game that allow you to regain MP at the same rate in which you lose it, just by getting your ass kicked.
Or, you could simply stack Donald and Goofy, aka Dumbass 1 and Dumbass 2, up with healing items that they will use upon the first warning of a problem. That brings me to an entirely different issue, and that is the fact that you have guests fighting alongside of you in battle. As if button mashing wasn't easy enough to do with just one character, now you have three characters doing it. And in the rare event that you actually come across a problem, you can simply sit back and out of the way while Donald and Goofy get their asses handed to them time and time again. Not like it matters, because they have an infinite number of lives. Simply watch them pop up off the ground over and over again, as many times as you please.
Look, I've always wanted to see a Square game try a Zelda-style battle system, and for the most part this game does very well with it. But it didn't actually improve upon Zelda's battle system. In Ocarina of Time, all you had to do was hold Z and press A or B to kill enemies. In Kingdom Hearts, all you have to do is press R and hit X to kill enemies. It's the exact same thing, just Sora doing it instead of Link. And no Kingdom Hearts review is complete without mention of the vomit-inducing camera angles thrown about like a bad case of the fleas. As if the easy battles that take no skill whatsoever weren't bad enough, you have to deal with the camera shifting every which way as fast as it possibly can at all second during a fight. It gets even worse when you are constantly locked on to an enemy, as the camera has to keep that enemy in sight at all times. Add in the fact that you have three characters hitting enemies with a bunch of attacks that cause little effects and sounds to flying every which way, and you have one gigantic headache on your hands.
To be completely fair here, the gameplay isn't so bad given future games in the series. Compared to KH2 and all the bad handhelds, the original feels the most interesting. Rather than making you press triangle to do something cool, this game makes you do all the cool stuff yourself. So that's a bonus, but there's still a bit too much X and weird camera going on.
It's a recent Playstation 2 title. The graphics are just fine, thankyouverymuch. And unlike Final Fantasy X, the voice acting is accompanied by BIG, BOLD LETTERS just in case our gaming audience has bad eyesight. I like that.
Speaking of voice acting, the only game I can possibly think of that does a better job of it is Metal Gear Solid 2. The voice acting in this game is amazing, no matter who is doing it. Be it an enemy in battle calling out its attacks, a regular conversation between characters, or the fact that you just know that voice but can't put your finger on it, the voice acting is amazing all the way around. Even more impressive are who they got to do some of the voices. Lance Bass? David Boreanez? Mandy Moore? These are big names that have better things to do than voiceovers for a video game, yet Square managed to reel them in.
As for the music, it's pretty damned good. It doesn't stack up there with the best of Squaresoft's soundtracks, but I enjoyed it. The only way I can really describe it is that it's a lot of pimped out Disney tracks with the occasional Square tune thrown in. Nothing earth-shattering or overly original, but it all works.
Personally, I love this game; however, it's definitely not for everyone. It's a love it or hate it title that will see mixed reviews for as long as it lives, and for good reason.
On the bright side, the game is a great title with a great concept and a great chance of becoming a decent series if Square doesn't mess it up like they did with Final Fantasy. If they improve upon Kingdom Hearts with each new title rather than trying to make it completely different with each new title, they'll get somewhere very special with this. But if Kingdom Hearts winds up following the pattern seen from every game from Final Fantasy 8 and onward, I won't even bother. Final Fantasy 9 is the exception, but that game has a host of in-game flaws as well.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts is worth playing at least once, if not twice. It's a very addicting title that appeals to most gamers. Honestly, who else has ever tried to mix together Final Fantasy, Disney, and a Squaresoft storyline? You can't fault Square for trying to do something new and succeeding, but you can surely fault them for all of the flaws within the game. I just hope that the game becomes a series and that Square learns from their mistakes. Kingdom Hearts could really go somewhere if they do, and deservingly so. It's just that this one title has its share of mistakes that are usually apparent within the first game of any set series.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 06/19/04, Updated 11/01/10
Game Release: Kingdom Hearts (US, 09/16/02)
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