Review by Hyperblade

"Why play it? Question is, why not."

The story starts off on a little island called Destiny Island. Here a group of 6 young kids seem to be hanging out. Other than the name of the island, we don't know much about this world or the island itself. The 3 main characters: Sora, Riku, and Kairi, out of the 6 kids in total are preparing for their trip off the island. They have been wondering since their childhood what the rest of the world is like out there, so finally the day has come, they to built a raft and go exploring into the ocean. As the night before the trio decide to set sail, the island was invaded by strange dark creatures called the Heartless. These creatures came out of small black wormholes that are appearing everywhere throughout the island. The Heartless began attacking Sora who was awakened during his sleep. Sora then venture outside in the night looking for his 3 close friends. Sora couldn't find Kairi but he was finally able to find Riku during the night attack. As the 2 friends quickly reunite, they were then dragged into a black wormhole by the Heartless. Sora soon awakens after the night attack to a new surrounding.

In fact a new world and place called Traverse Town. Again the Heartless seem to have taken over this town and are attacking everywhere. But to Sora surprised, a weapon mysteriously appeared in his hand allowing him and giving him the means to destroy the Heartless called the Keyblade. During the fight against the Heartless in Traverse Town, Sora met up with Goofy and Donald. During the meeting, Goofy and Donald explained to Sora that they are on a mission from their king, Mickey. The mission is to seek out and accompany the bearer of the Keyblade. Guess who's the bearer of the Keyblade. Sora. The world that Goofy and Donald are from, their king, Mickey, has discovered a problem amongst all the worlds. Gateways from different dimensions to different worlds are opening up and creatures known as the Heartless are coming through these gateways. As well as people from different worlds are being pulled out of their worlds and trapped in other worlds. Sora is one of them. This is not good for the universe. King Mickey has disappeared on a mission of his own to find a solution to stop the impending doom. In the meantime, Mickey has left an order to Goofy and Donald to find the Keyblade and one who wields it. As you see the Keyblade is the tool needed to lock the Gateways of different worlds, so that the worlds cannot be connected amongst each other, the way it is supposed to be. So with Sora being the Keyblade Master, Goofy and Donald decides to team up with him to help search for the missing King as well as to seal all the worlds. Sora on the other hand is lost in a different world with his 2 friends being lost out there as well. And with the help of Goofy and Donald, he set out to find his 2 missing friends and to seal the open Gateways.

So in essence, the plotlines and quest is to search for Riku, Kairi, and King Mickey as well as to seal the open Gateways. Now the basic plot and quest seem to be pretty good. The rest of the storyline is good, nothing above the ordinary, but its really something to experience for oneself but the story has a very hard time delving deep into the reasons why the Heartless exist, or even why the different worlds all became connected. You tend to get more confused by the story as the more you get into it. A lot of people thought at first that a “mesh” of Disney together with the different Final Fantasy characters was just a gimmick. After experiencing the depth the game has, even if it isn't as deep as traditional RPGs, it certainly isn't a gimmick. But it felt different to normal RPGs and unnatural at the same time, from going to different worlds, at first experiencing the story of Alice and Wonderland and then jumping into the Jungle with Tarzan, truly unique, but like I said before, the storyline does not delve deep into each world. Most of the worlds just feel like a side-track to the main storyline.

This game presents to us a large variety of various Disney characters from their popular line up of animation movies released through the century. Pretty much all key Disney characters are present in this game. If that's not enough, the game will give us some Final Fantasy characters from the new generations of FF games. FF7, FF8, and FF10 all have some characters representing them in this game. Then you have the 3 new original characters name Sora, Riku, and Kairi, created by game director Tetsuya Nomura. Of the three original characters, the game pretty much focuses on Sora and Riku. Kairi is pretty much the girl that was kidnapped and needs to be saved, so the does not interact with Sora as much as you would think. Of the Disney characters, Goofy and Donald are up front and center as your allies in battles with you wherever you go. The FF characters are present but they don't have an important real role in this game, as they are not supposed to, as being cameos. Now in terms of characters development throughout the game, There's really not much at all. We know who Sora is but we don't know anything about his parents or the place he's from other than the name of his island. We know that Sora seem to have a crush on Kairi and is good friends with Riku, who also seems to like Kairi but that's about it. You basically have 3 kids growing up on an island all by themselves? How's that possible? Where are the adults? See what I'm getting at. Destiny Islands is supposed to be made up for many islands, the one where Sora and co. play and have fun, and another island of civilization and where they live. But it is never shown or explained in the game, almost like a forgotten plot. Then we come to the key Disney characters: Donald and Goofy but they lack development in the Characters department even more, they just feel as allies who magically came out of nowhere to help Sora, even though there not, it feels that way. Again there's a lack of development there. The main characters do have personality but they just lack the background development on who they are and where they are from to make them really good characters.

And now with the FF characters, Development for the FF characters is so vague and they play a role in this game to the point of pointless. Yes despite all the hoopla surrounding a cross over with Disney and FF characters. The FF characters themselves really serve no point in the game at all in terms of storyline. Tidus, Wakka, and Selphie have really absolutely nothing to do with the game at all. You can erase their names from the game and it will have absolutely no effect on the game or story. The same can pretty much applies to the other FF characters. There really is no reason for them to be in the game, but as a Disney and Square cross-over, it seems as Cameo appearances of them would just help the game sell well. Another point and misconception is that even though they have the same name and looks of their counterpart, these are not the same FF characters in the FF games. Kingdom Hearts pretty much borrows the looks and name of the FF characters from the FF series but not the actually character themselves. Yes Cloud looks like Cloud but not the Cloud of FF7. Either way, as a fan of Final Fantasy myself, I loved the cameo appearances, it adds something to do the game that no other game has, and that is a great cross-over. I may seem to talk about the character development being poor, and yes it is poor, but it does not make the game any worse, just not any better.

The graphics are very good to say the least. It's a blend of 3-D smooth polygons in a Disney animation world. The rendering of the world is done very beautifully with a rich array of excellent colors borrowed from the Disney world. The game does not focus on hard shadows, or dark lighting. It just filled with brightly themed environments. The character designs of the Disney characters are done very smoothly and mesh nicely with every other character in the game, it all fits and looks natural. I may have said that going from world to world seems unnatural, but the way it “looks” doesn't seem to change drastically from character to character. Looking at Tarzan then comparing him to Aladdin makes it seem like it was all meant to be. The FF characters are a little bit different. While the FF characters are done nicely, they are made into looking realistically human, more than Sora. They do not seem to follow the certain, “big eyed, big feet” design that Sora, Riku and Kairi share. Making them stand out from the Disney characters, unlike Sora does. The game runs at a smooth 30 frames-per-second, and that means that lag can be noticeable. Battles can be very hectic with a lot of different animations going on, while it keeps you on the edge of your seat, a little slowdown won't stop your excitement, which is why I give the graphics a high honor.

Music wise I'm not into this game as much as the Final Fantasy music composed by Nobuo Uematsu. Don't get me wrong. There's lot of unique musical scores from the battle theme to the great dramatic score. The theme song is called Simple & Clean by Utada Hikaru. The song fits the game's elegant and playful theme nicely and only plays a few times, so it shouldn't really be called a theme song, compared to how other games use their theme songs. There are of course numerous tunes for different places and characters. Some good and some are okay. Nothing that is spectacular in the line of the FF games though. The music is better than most RPGs out there but it's not one that is on par to the FF series.
The sound in this game is excellent. Every hit with your Keyblade sounds perfect and solid, the magic sounds effects sound even better. And finally the voice acting is excellent. Of course you can't expect any less when you have seasoned actors providing a convincing voice over for some of the characters in this game. Some key names providing voices include, Haley Joel Osment and Mandy Moore and many others. As well as every Disney character's respective voice actor, returning to voice there characters, from Maleficent to Pinocchio. To simply put, probably the best voice overs in any RPGs to the date of this game's release. You can clearly tell that this is an RPG made for the American audience.

Gamplay wise, this is one of the best and most addictive action RPGs that I've played. Like with most action RPGs, it's a hack and slash style of game. It's not random battles but enemies do start to pop up as you enter a specific area. Once the enemies appears, you can just run by them or hack and slash to kill them. Either way can get you killed. Each time an enemy is killed, they burst into either HP, MP, Munny bubbles. HP bubbles are green replenishes your HP bar, MP bubbles are blue and slightly restores your MP bar and Munny is the game's own form of Money or Gold which is used to buy items and accessories at the only 2 shops in the game, which are located in Traverse Town. By defeating enemies, you gain experience. Once you reach certain levels, you will learn different Abilities. You can then equip them to help you in battles. They vary from extending your 3hit combo to a 4 hit, or increasing the chances of a rare item to drop and even to scan enemies to see their HP. Of course you have a limited number of AP (ability points) so you can only have a certain number of Abilities equipped as each of them costs 1 or more points to equip. You can also learn different fighting skills by defeating certain bosses. Such an example is learning Sonic Blade by defeating Cloud. Next to fighting skills, you have elemental magic. The usual suspects are fire, ice, thunder etc. As you progress deeper into the game, your magic level will rise in the same form that Final Fantasy works. Blizzard will upgrade to Blizzara then Blizzaga, therefore becoming stronger in range, speed and strength but costing slightly more MP to cast. Basically the same way it works in every RPG, nothing special, but it all works great. The unique thing is Summon spells. Summon spells are based on Disney characters such as Dumbo and Genie. You can gain summon spells as part of the story and by acquiring them through certain items and then releasing the Disney characters. It's all quite addictive and fun. And depending on what game mode, it can be easy or hard. Donald and Goofy are your party members. Depending on what Disney World you are at, you can also get guest star Disney characters as party members for that certain world. Enter the Deep Jungle and you can have Tarzan fighting by your side with a Spear. You can even swim around Atlantica with the Little Mermaid herself, Ariel. You can't control the action of your party members directly but you can assign them the type of action they will commit more often, whether it's attacking skills for Goofy rather than using items, or Donald using advanced magic, rather than physical attacks. To my surprise, the computer controls your party members quite well and they are quite helpful to you.

Battles take place in a 3-D environment world. In fact the gameplay is a 3-D environment so when you move around the world of Kingdom Hearts, everything is 3-D. Unfortunately when you have a 3-D environment, you have to provide good use of camera angles to make movements more better and manageable. Something that this game fails to do miserably. The only drawback is the crappy camera angles that makes jumping and running from platform to platform very annoying at times. The camera is directly behind Sora, and in my opinion way to close to him. Not making you perfectly aware of everything around you. Even though you can rotate with the R2 and L2 buttons, it is really slow, and in the fast paced actions, you're going to need every second to stay alive. Still it's a small annoyance at best.

Now each stage or clearing of each stage is based on a Disney movie world. You clear the stage by defeating the boss of that stage and then sealing the keyhole of that stage. Once done, you progress to the next world. Traveling to the next world is very easy. You have to fly to that world in your Gummi ship through space. Your basic Gummi ship is really the same ship that Goofy and Donald came in. When you fly to a different world, you travel through space, you are confronted by obstacles such as meteors and alien ships flying by shooting at you. Your objective is to fly to your destination with your ship intact. You can do this by avoiding the obstacles or by blowing them away. This is like a little mini game. Fun at first but becomes boring after awhile because you have to do it to venture to each new world, eventually you can just Warp between worlds which is a good feature. The gameplay also involves upgrading and building your own Gummi ship out of blueprints or from scratch using various blocks. It can be a tiresome process to make a ship using the Menu, but once you have it down, you can make a killer ship like I did. It is a good thing that building Gummi ships have nothing to do with the storyline and you don't get any good reward for it. So I didn't really care for the creating your own Gummi ship feature.

Lastly a key feature is synthesizing weapons and accessories. You can buy your weapons and items from shop but to get really rare and good items and weapons. You need to synthesize for them with rare materials. You can only get these rare materials when you defeat monsters and they sometime will drop them. This is very time consuming but can be really worth it. While synthesizing can result in getting the best weapon for Sora, trying to collect all the rare materials needed to is so hard and will take literally hours to do.
I'm not an instruction book but I have listed and detailed the main concept of Kingdom Hearts gameplay. I find the game very enjoyable to play and I didn't mind fighting all the times cause it's actually fun to fight instead of eventually tedious in most games where all you want to do is skip a fight or breeze through it. Fighting is always fun in Kingdom Hearts.

At times the game does not seem to interact with you, what I was deeply disappointed in was the worlds. They were not massive, but a good size, yet when I find myself swimming in Atlantica, a city under the sea, it did not feel like a City. Normally in RPGs you can go around a random town and talk to anyone at any given time, but in Atlantica, its just fight after fight, no interaction or real involvement into what the world really is, and that's a city.

After writing this review, I look back at the 80+ hours I have spent playing this game. Even though you can breeze through it in 35 hours, your urged to just do everything you can to the best of your ability. Whether it's defeating Sephiroth (the hardest boss in the game), getting all the items to synthesize for the Ultima Weapon, or even getting to level 100. In the end, a very enjoyable game to play and a good time all around. The only major disappointment comes from the lack for a truly solid compelling storyline that uses Final Fantasy characters much better to go with the great gameplay and characters that are featured in this game. Even though I may have pointed out a lot of the game's flaws and stressed on them, this is seriously one of the most original and best Action RPGs I have ever played. And I personally love it to death. I would recommend this game to anyone who has a passion for gaming to not miss it.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/26/06

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