Review by ShadowGuardian9

"Open Your Heart"

Squaresoft has always been known for their excellent story-driven RPGs. Disney has always been known for their light-hearted characters and whimsical worlds to explore. In 2002, these two different company joined forces to create a Disney-Square crossover RPG for the Playstation 2. I personally could not believe that they could pull it off successfully, but boy was I wrong. Despite the skepticism at first, Kingdom Hearts blew gamers away and brought an excellent action-RPG for the PS2.

Graphics 10/10

The graphics of Kingdom Hearts are stunning. From the start, the player is introduced to some mysterious environments to explore and an absolutely beautiful opening cutscene to view. Although these extremely well-made cutscenes are few and far between throughout, they are amazing to watch. Throughout most of the game, the cutscenes, through not as stunning as at the beginning, are well-animated and provided a good amount of character. Each world of Kingdom Hearts is full of character from its Disney roots or its original stylings for the game. The worlds are very diverse, as the game uses many different Disney environments and characters to keep the game fresh. Character animations are smooth and even the facial expressions are well-articulated and fluid. During gameplay, the action moves quick and your main hero Sora is gifted with a nice amount of animations. Using an attack differs depending on distance, height, and skill sets, keeping the game at a frantic pace. Special attacks are specifically beautiful and full of bright effects and over-the-top animations. Enemies are the dark and ominous-looking Heartless and they come in a very nice variety of forms, each having distinct weaknesses and strengths that can be determined by their appearance and attack animation. The graphics of Kingdom Hearts are pretty much what we've come to expect from Squaresoft: pristine and beautiful.

Audio 10/10

Kingdom Hearts has a massive amount of voice acting. Sora and his friends are voiced by some big-name celebrities. Haley Joel Osment, Mandy Moore, and Lance Bass, among many others lend their talents to voicing the many Disney and Final Fantasy characters throughout Kingdom Hearts. The music for Kingdom Hearts is very great. Classic Disney tracks are present when exploring the worlds, from the lighthearted “Under the Sea” in the Little Mermaid world, to the dark and grave theme of the Nightmare Before Christmas world. Even the original worlds have excellent themes. The Kingdom Hearts theme, “Simple and Clean”, is the icing on the cake, sung by Utada Hikaru and performed well in a nice J-pop remix at the start. Even the menu theme, the quiet piano song “Dearly Beloved” is an excellent inclusion in the soundtrack. In gameplay, the theme remains the same during the basic exploration, puzzle-solving, and interaction with the characters, but when entering a battle, the music's tempo speeds up and the action feels much more fast-paced. Sora and friends' battle quips never felt overdone and the attack and magic effects felt solid. The excellent attention to audio in Kingdom Hearts gives it a cinematic feel, even if there is a bit more action than previous Square games.

Story 10/10

Kingdom Hearts' story picks up when island boy, Sora, along with his female friend, Kairi and rival Riku, prepare to leave the peace and serenity of their island to explore the many worlds and seek out what lies beyond the ocean. As they prepare to embark the night before, they are swept up in a violent ocean storm which brings shadowy creatures called the Heartless to their peaceful island. During the madness, Sora is separated from his friends and is called out to by a mysterious voice and given the weapon, the Keyblade. Sora is then sent to a market world, Traverse Town, and meets up with some unlikely heroes, Donald and Goofy, two servants of a king who they are searching for. Sora teams up with the odd heroes and together they search for Sora's friends and the missing King Mickey. Throughout the story, Sora realizes his destiny and, although I won't tell you what, many twists and turns arise. The story is actually quite deep and soulful than what you may expect from even a Final Fantasy game, but it never feels too dark and never seems to be too deep that no one will follow. It is deep, while still being for all ages. The story is a fresh new experience for RPGs, using Final Fantasy style, Disney charm, and original characters to produce a well-done story that must be played to be believed.

Gameplay 10/10

Kingdom Hearts presents a new real-time battle engine to play in. As Sora, you move with the left analog stick while cycling through a menu with the right analog stick. Pressing X allows you to execute the highlighted action. Circle is used for jumping. The game uses a lock-on targeting system to keep enemies in sight, and camera is controlled separately with the shoulder buttons. Items can be selected using the menu as well. This all seems very complicated, cycling through a menu while simultaneously avoiding an attack, but after some practice, the game flows very well and executing the moves feels intuitive. Along the way, Sora can learn Magic and Summons to use. These techniques can be assigned to shortcuts combinations, so the flow becomes faster as you progress. The Summons are very unique, as you can summon Disney characters after finding specific items. I mean, how cool is summoning Simba to fight the Heartless? New techniques and defensive abilities can be learned throughout as well and using them is styled and effective in battle. This battle system is a brilliant concept and in the end, works excellent in practice.

Sora's main allies are Donald the Magician and Goofy the Knight. The allies' abilities and battle strategies can be tweaked outside of the battle, so they can be conservative with items, high on the defense, or they can merely be set at their personal strategy. The AI controlling the allies is solid and smart. Throughout the other worlds, Sora can team up with other Disney friends. Join up with Tarzan in the Jungle, or Jack Skellington in Halloween Town. The AI and different moves each ally has is constantly enjoyable, as you'll immediately want to see what each ally can do in battle. The ally system is very well-designed, creating a very good RPG.

The worlds in Kingdom Hearts are separated like planets, so traveling between the planets is a problem. Fortunately, Donald and Goofy have a Gummi Ship, a customizable spaceship to travel between planets. The Gummi Workshop does have a tutorial run by Chip and Dale if you need any help, and customizing your ship is a bit fun. Earning the Gummi parts allows you to give your Gummi some better effects, armor, or shield. The customization of the Gummi is a welcome idea between the normal gameplay. The Gummi Ship is a nice diversion from the action, and customizing your ship is a nice little minigame, especially if you're creative.

The worlds of Kingdom Hearts each portray a specific Disney universe (with the exception of a few original worlds). So, you'll be meeting up with Hercules at the Coliseum, or Aladdin in Agrabah. Each world captures the essence of the Disney world perfectly and even the enemies have a related theme in the world. When in Agrabah, look for some turban-wearing Heartless bandits. In Atlantica, look for fish-themed enemies. The enemy design is a perfect replication of the Disney themes themselves and that is also involved with the characters. You'll meet up with not just allies, but familiar faces from Disney films. Each world is brilliantly designed in character and gameplay. Also, each world is diverse and no world will feel redundant. At the end of each world's story is the climactic boss. While these bosses aren't particularly difficult, they are well-designed and feel epic. The big bad guys of the Disney universe will appear in their evil primes and will give a decent amount of challenge in defeating them. No corners were cut in bringing the Disney charm to this game and it's quite enjoyable to say the least.

While there is a very nice amount of Disney charm in Kingdom Hearts, don't think that Square didn't miss out on bringing some of their most treasured characters to the table. Yes, you will encounter some Final Fantasy characters (although they are mostly just for cameo appearances). Cloud, Squall, Cid, among many others will appear to either help you or challenge you to a battle. While it is rather strange seeing Aerith talk with Donald, it only adds to the charm. It's a seamless blend, creating a very unique universe to explore.

Along the way, Sora can collect new items to increase his skills, weapons, or stats. Also, a numerous amount of side quests, including the Coliseum Challenge, provide some more things to do when not fighting the Heartless. The Coliseum Challenge allows Sora to fight waves of different varieties of Heartless to gain experience or just earn a trophy. Another fun inclusion is Item Synthesis, where Sora can combine Kingdom Hearts has many challenges and the gameplay is sheer joy and a brilliant bit of fresh air to the traditional turn-based worlds. Excellent in every way.

Replay Value 10/10

The Replay Value of Kingdom Hearts is mostly driven by the excellent story and presentation. Even when you know the story, have defeated every enemy, and saved the worlds, you'll play it again. The story is so well thought-out that the game presents lasting appeal. Not only that, but the gameplay is so solid, customizable, and diverse that it's hard to get bored of Kingdom Hearts. The many challenges and items to gather makes the game much deeper than to the final boss. Kingdom Hearts is a romp through an epic storyline and fun gameplay, giving it a massive amount of lifespan.

Final Verdict 10/10

In a world full of fantasies and turn-based battles, it's great to see something so odd, but so well-made come to life the way Kingdom Hearts did. The ingenious battle system, excellent graphics, well-done voice acting, and incredibly wonderful story gives the game a lasting place in any gamer's heart. The unlikely alliance of Squaresoft and Disney stunned everyone and created one of the best RPGs ever created. This is how action-RPGs should be made: accessible, epic, and all around fun. Even if you've never even heard of a role-playing game, Kingdom Hearts will open your heart to a excellent genre and incredible game series. This is a role-playing masterpiece and a must-buy for any gamer.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 11/14/05

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