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Kingdom Hearts

Action, Rating: E - (Everyone), 1 player, published by: Sony

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I Left My Heart in Traverse Town

  • Jan 18, 2003
Pros: Disney and Squaresoft? Where do I sign?

Cons: The Little freakin' Mermaid section! UGH!

The Bottom Line: The world's greatest animation producers meet the world's greatest RPG producers. Need I say more?

Think for a moment, if you will, about the meanings of such terms as breathless, breathtaking, takes your breath away, et cetera. You think about them, you would normally think of a beautiful woman or some sort of natural wonder like a sunrise over the Grand Canyon or something (well, technically, the beautiful woman would be filed under natural wonders). But no one ever thinks about what they MEAN. Breathless, for example, is two words: “Breath” and “less”. The first word is a verb turned into a noun that refers to an action you perform every few seconds to stay alive. The second word means to have something below the normal standard. So the word “breathless” means to breathe below your normal air intake. Now think about things that would leave you breathless. I mean literally breathless. If you’re like most people, you’re thinking of things like being strangled, punched in the stomach, hyperventilating and other physical unpleasantries that you normally try to avoid. So think about how sights that are supposed to leave you breathless are usually little more than exaggerations. Face it, any sight would have to be REAL awesome to leave you so awed as to be gasping for air, having actually forgotten to breathe.

Kingdom Hearts will leave you breathless.
No, I don’t mean breathless in the punched-you-in-the-stomach kind of way. I mean breathless in the awesome kind of way. Now think about what THAT means.

For those of you going back to the beauty definition of breathless, I’ll clear this up right now: Yes, Kingdom Hearts is a sight to behold. But, like any other game, the beauty of Kingdom Hearts is only packaging-deep. It’s the gameplay that runs straight to the circuitry, and yes, the gameplay surpasses the wholesale breathtaking-ness of the graphics. So when you lump all this high praise together, it doesn’t take a mathmatician to figure out that Kingdom Hearts is one awesome, awesome video game.

Even more wonderous than the game itself is the fact that a crossover so improbable would wind up being the must-have PS2 game of 2002, and possibly even the must-have PS2 game period. All respectable hardcore gamers know that games based on movies, television shows and other such forms of liscensed media almost always wind up sinking faster than Monstro the Whale. Most of those games are only based on a single liscense. Kingdom Hearts was based on a general Disney liscense that allowed Squaresoft to not only base the game on a dozen or so Disney movies (all these movies made it into the game as levels), but to populate the game with countless Disney characters and images. So no matter how promising Kingdom Hearts looked when it was first announced and throughout the ensuing hype, you had to keep at least a few reservations aside in case Kingdom Hearts turned out to be worse than that horrible Tarzan movie Disney vomited at us a couple of years ago. After all, if one game based on one movie is bad, one game with many movie-based levels and characters would technically be bound for the bargain bins a week after release, right?

Of course you also had to feel a little stupid about having those reservations once you popped the thing into your PS2. Remember, the Disney liscense is one of the few that has actually produced playable video games. From Aladdin, The Lion King and The Jungle Book to the (reportedly) amazing Mickey Mania, the Disney liscense track record has shined where most others blew up like the action movies they were based on. And once you saw that Squaresoft logo flash across the screen, your fears were put to more ease. Final Fantasy 8 aside, Square has been responsible for the most memorable RPGs of all time. Between this high-profile business merger and the unavoidable hype, Kingdom Hearts HAD to be good, or else neither company would have ever heard the end of it.

Aside from enchanting you with its graphics and sounds, you’ll see that with Kingdom Hearts, Squaresoft redefines the common action/RPG gameplay engine. In fact, I will even go as far as to say that Kingdom Hearts is the first TRUE action/RPG. While the Nintendo fanboys can plead their cases for The Legend of Zelda until Hades’ hair freezes over, Zelda still journeys further into adventure territory than I would consider for it to be an RPG. Zelda contains the hack-and-slash action of an adventure game, the complex puzzle solving sometimes found in both genres and the vast number of usable items and general power-building generally found in RPGs. But it lacks level building, battle options, character parties and, in the earliest games, character and plot development. While Kingdom Hearts doesn’t necessarily have its plot and character story development on the level of a Final Fantasy 9, it does contain many of the traditional Squaresoft plot elements. A love story (albeit dumbed down a bit for the main demographic audience, but you can’t deny that Sora’s primary motivation for looking for Kairi arises from something more than just friendship), a betrayal and an unlikely party of oddball heroes brought together for the common cause of saving the universe. It also contains traditional RPG elements, including experience points and a menu battle system. Yet, at the same time, it contains the one-button battle action of a Zelda game. Not only does this make for an interesting gameplay combination, it works surprisingly well. Although it does take awhile to get used to scrolling through items or spells while running around hacking and avoiding bad guys at the same time.

All is not perfect in Disney/Squareworld, though. I think I speak for a lot of Squaresoft fans when I ask: Just WHERE are all the Chocobos? There are Moogles and Cid, but no Chocobos. Unfortunately, Square’s lack of contribution is even more half-cocked than that. Characters from all of three Final Fantasy games made it to Traverse Town, and those three are the ones that the more hardcore Final Fantasy fans spit on. You could argue that the Moogles are there representing all the absent Final Fantasies, but there’s no excusing that only Final Fantasies 7, 8 and 10 (the series black sheeps) have significant population crossovers. Especially not in a game clearly geared toward the younger crowd, to whom missing characters like Polom and Porom (from Final Fantasy 4), Shadow (from Final Fantasy 6), and pretty much the entire cast of Final Fantasy 9 would be more endearing. At least the more fantastical settings of the other Final Fantasies would have been keeping in league with the setting of Kingdom Hearts and probably the entire theme of Disney. Instead, we get appearences from the biggest prick in the series, Squall (FF8 hero, goes by Leon in KH), who doesn’t come off so much as a prick than as a loner. Yuffie, the annoying little materia thief from 7, is Squall’s accomplice. Square used a Phoenix Down on Aeris (who goes by her Japanese name, Aerith), so she throws in her two cents worth. You get to fight 7 hero Cloud in the Hercules stadium. And the three main, original characters from Kingdom Hearts, Sora, Riku and Kairi, live on an island with a grab bag’s worth of other FF characters. Only one villain, Sephiroth, made the cut. Meanwhile, all these great villains and other characters are just lingering around outside this game, nothing to do but watch as the less worthy characters go on to Disney immortalization. At the very least, Square didn’t have to limit their crossovers to Final Fantasy. Magus and Crono from Chrono Trigger would have made for some interesting twists, as would have Kid, Lynx and bumbling guards Solt and Peppor from Chrono Cross.

Another complaint: I’ve played through two levels based on the two worst Disney movies I’ve ever seen, Tarzan and Hercules. And the Japs show their odd taste by including a level based on the twisted Nightmare Before Christmas. But I’ve not yet seen a single reference to The Jungle Book, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or The Rescuers. And the section based on The Little Mermaid is just plain torturous. Especially the first battle against Ursula. At that point, you begin to feel like the designers were trying to get even with you for having such high expectations for everything Squaresoft releases these days.

These two complaints are mostly utter bull. Stuff like more or less Square characters and which Disney movies are really things that only people buying Kingdom Hearts for the novelty would care about. If you’re a hardcore gamer, this game could have been released by an unknown, inexperienced third party company and you’d still enjoy every minute of it. The story makes for a good setup. Meet Sora, the main character, who lives on the Destiny Islands (omenous name, don’t you agree?) with his pals Riku, Kairi and a half dozen or so Final Fantasy characters. They all have it pretty good, doing nothing but playing around and tanning all day. But our three main characters are bored with Island life, so they decide to build a raft and set out in search of other worlds. The night before the big voyage, a storm hits the Island. Nothing unusual, but this is a Squaresoft game, and storms in Square games are never the same old thing. This particular storm leaves the island flooded with little black creatures. Riku is standing in his personal spot, raving about going off to other worlds before sinking into an abyss. When Sora tries to get him out of the sinkhole, and finds himself alone with a weapon called the Keyblade, which he uses to fight off the invaders. Eventually he gets sucked into a different dimension himself and winds up in someplace called Traverse Town, and Riku and Kairi are missing. Meanwhile, on another world, Donald Duck wakes up one morning to find that King Mickey is nowhere to be found. Donald flips out, grabs Goofy and heads off to Traverse Town, following his departed king’s orders. The two of them are looking for a “key”, and Sora, with his unique Keyblade weapon, is supposedly the one they’re looking for. So the three of them team up to stop the Heartless, a force of evil trying to take over the universe. I should also mention that the Heartless are led by a group of Disney villains including Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty), Jafar (Aladdin), Captain Hook (Peter Pan) and Hades (Hercules. Which may have sucked, but its villain really stole the whole show).

I’ve mentioned the odd gameplay. Just how did Squaresoft come up with a way to combine a regular action system with a menu-based system? Simple: The menu is always displayed at the bottom left of the screen. To scroll it, you use the directional pad or the right analog stick. You then press X when you reach the command you want. It works out pretty well, which is good because X is also the attack button and you’ll often want to find the item or spell, use it and be done with it before a Heartless realizes how vulnerable you are when you’re not hacking away at him. The rest of the combat system was ripped from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, complete with the targeting. Unlike Ocarina, the targeting is likely to create more problems than it solves. It works out just like it’s supposed to when you’re trying to track down and defeat that last straggler from a pack, but during a melee it’s likely to point at the most insignificant thing in the crowd. Then you have to press the target switch button until it goes around the entire crowd. Hopefully you’re not pressing it so frantically that you forget to stop pressing it when it reaches the enemy you intend to destroy.

Sora, Donald and Goofy can also epuip character-specific abilities a la Final Fantasy 9. The three of them learn new abilities every so often, and when they do, you go to the equipment screen and equip them using a limited number of ability points. Remember, I said limited, so you have to be careful about what you decide to equip. Although it’s not like you have a choice in some cases. You can’t make it through Monstro the Whale without using the high jump ability. And just like in every other Square game, you have to use certain abilities to grab certain items. Along these lines, there are mini-games up the wazoo. In Winnie the Pooh’s world, you have to go through a series of mini-games, but I can say no more about this since I haven’t gotten that far yet. The Hercules level has a series of tournaments designed to sculpt Sora into a Hero, with the last tournament being an onslaught of 49 battles. While you’re at it, be sure to look for the 101 Dalmations puppies and a bunch of trinity symbols. If you find every item in the game, there’s a secret ending. And between levels, you get to pilot a “Gummi Ship” through interdimensional warp holes in a Star Fox-style shootout. In fact, Kingdom Hearts contains an entire Gummi Ship customization system that lets you build your own ship from scratch. Unfortunately, this is less fun than it sounds. The building screen is annoying to work your way around, and although the shooting segments are fun the first few times, the novelty of doing it through every level quickly wears off. Once you get into the game, you’ll just want to use the warp drive to skip through the shooting segments.

Aside from the targeting problems, Kingdom Hearts mostly works smoothly. Sora moves at a brisk pace that lets him outrun most of his adversaries, but that split-second delay whenever he lands from a jump is a curse in the middle of a brawl. Poor Sora can’t really do anything (not even attack) during that split-second, so you better make sure you won’t land close by an enemy before making Sora take flight. This delay is also there when you input the command to use an item or cast a spell, so if you’re not in a nice, safe corner when you do either of these, a bad guy can swoop right in and nail you (this happened to me numerous times in the first battle against Ursula). Since you get attacked constantly, it’s sometimes tough to remember what button does what in the middle of everything. There’s a spell “shortcut” option that allows you to cast a spell by holding L1 and pressing any of the action buttons, which is good because it’s a pain to scroll down to the spell you want while frantically avoiding everything. So Sora is a flawed warrior, almost annoyingly so at times. Then again, the challenge is on an accessable level for everyone who wants to play the game, so you won’t have to worry too much. Add that to Donald and Goofy, who are both controlled by the AI. Although they do some truly dumb things at times, they mostly behave themselves, healing when needed and keeping your foes off your back. Basically, Kingdom Hearts isn’t exactly a cakewalk, but you should be able to get through it without too much frustration.

The graphics are right on par with what we’ve all come to expect from Squaresoft. Not only do they successfully provide pleasing eye candy that perfectly matches that Disney atmosphere, they bring it all into the third dimension detail by detail with no slowdown, although concessions had to be made to their own characters in order to capture everything just right. Tidus is just a little kid in Kingdom Hearts! Even with the characters that stayed grown up (they would be Squall, Cloud and Aerith) were softened up a bit. So everything looks great, except for the usual thing: The clothes and hairstyles are still U-G-L-Y. Sometimes I wonder if the boys at Square aren’t so immersed in their creations that they don’t go outside, and therefore don’t know how people dress these days.

The music is very catchy in Kingdom Hearts, although most of it is Disney remixes. The read audio star of the game, though, is the voice of Haley Joel Osment as Sora (you know, the kid who sees dead people). Osment is just at that stage in his life right now where his voice is beginning to change, so what we hear is the voice of a curious little kid with a slight drawl of adult maturity, which is a perfect match for Sora’s personality. Some of the original Disney voice actors are here reprising their roles, including Gilbert Gottfried as Iago, Robbie Benson as Beast and, best of all, James Woods as Hades. Although I don’t know the voices of many of the classic characters like the Queen of Hearts, they all do wicked imitations. While some other casting choices were questionable, they mostly work out well. David Boreanez (the spaz who plays Angel on the show of the same name) portrays Squall with the same lone wolf aura that Squall always had. Mandy Moore voices Aerith with a maturity that some Aeris-haters never thought she would have. A big question is why Sephiroth, the enigmatic, all-powerful mako-craving villain from Final Fantasy 7 is portrayed by... (duh Duh DUH)... Lance Bass! I’m sure there was some kind of twisted logic involved in this casting decision, but not having met ol’ Sephy yet, I have no grounds to complain. And someone please tell me that there’s a better Robin Wiliams impersonator out there than Dan Castellaneta! No offense to Castellaneta, who voices Homer Simpson on The Simpsons, but he just doesn’t work as the Genie. Sometimes You begin to hear so much of Homer that you half-expect to hear a shout of “D’oh!”.

As much as I’ve wailed on the control and character and scenario selections in Kingdom Hearts, those are nothing complaints. My one serious complint about Kingdom Hearts is, despite all its overwhelming grandeur, it doesn’t live up to its general potential. Squaresoft certainly could have fit more into it! Why is there no Jungle Book level? That would have been more fun than Tarzan’s. We get a summon spell from Mulan (Mushu), but there could have been a level for it-fighting a ton of samurai Heartless in a Chinese palace would have made for a wonderful scenario. The Lion King, too, would have been better made as a level than a mere summon (Simba). They included Alice in Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Aladdin, so there are some very good scenarios to fight through.

The Heartless may never be able to steal your heart, but they compenate for that by taking your breath away. Whether marveling at the scenery or fighting the Heartless, Kingdom Hearts is the new Ps2 game to top. Pity every other game made for it from now until it becomes defunct. And despite the Disney theme, this is definitely a game for even the most casual gamers. What more is there to say? I can’t threaten to steal your heart if you don’t like it, because let’s face it: If you don’t like it, you never had a heart to begin with.



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More Kingdom Hearts for PlayStation... reviews
review by . December 13, 2008
In 2002, Squaresoft (now Square-Enix) released Kingdom Hearts.  At the time, it was a risky endeavor.  A game which threw many of Square's beloved Final Fantasy characters with many of Disney's beloved characters.  It was risky because of Disney's involvement which made many Final Fantasy fans speculate that it would turn out to be a children's game.  To the surprise of the gaming community, Kingdom Hearts became a huge success!      You play as Sora …
review by . August 13, 2008
If you're anything like me, then you grew up totally into all things Disney. As a video game fan, my mouth was watering as soon as I heard Square was teaming up with Disney to create an action/adventure RPG. The best part is - THEY DELIVERED. The game play is fantastic, the characters are pheonominal, and the story is compelling. There were actually times when my eyes would glisten because I was so drawn in to the story along with characters I had known a lifetime. Kingdom Hearts is definitely a …
review by . August 11, 2006
Pros: Great game, wonderful plot, fantastic graphics and characters...     Cons: ...can be a bit challenging, but that isn't exactly a "con"!     The Bottom Line: Kingdom Hearts is a great game, and well worth buying. Now stop reading this, and head on over to your video game retailer!     The mere idea of a Disney RPG game probably sounds ridiculous. But in 2002, Disney paired up with Squaresoft (the creators of the Final Fantasy series …
review by . March 01, 2004
This is a fun, cute game that offers many hours of enjoyable play. The basic premise of the game is the standard stuff... the world is coming to an end, bad people have taken the girl, and YOU are the chosen one who has the "Gift" to make it all better. See pretty standard stuff.However, there is some non-standard stuff here too! First of all, the game is fun. Sure it is cheesy and it was (mostly) made for 12 year olds but it is still playable. Second. the blend of Disney characters adds a nice …
review by . April 01, 2003
When I first saw the television commercials for this game back in October 2002, I knew that one day I would buy KINGDOM HEARTS and play it (even though I didn't even own a PS 2 at the time). Fast forward six months and I finally have a PS 2 and have purchased KINGDOM HEARTS, played it, and beat it.All I can say is that I found the game amazing. The graphics are great, the soundtrack memorable, and the plot unforgettable. The plot of this game is what really sucked me in. I found myself playing and …
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Ever wondered what would happen if the worlds ofFinal Fantasyand Disney collided? It’s an odd concept to be sure, but from the most schizophrenic of acorns the mighty gaming oak ofKingdom Heartshas grown. Legendary role-playing game makers Square have been given unprecedented liberties with the entire Disney universe and have created a game featuring everything fromThe Nightmare Before ChristmastoThe Little Mermaid. This is odd enough in itself when you have characters as disparate as Tarzan and Donald Duck teaming up, but becomes majorly freaky when Square thrown in a variety of their own characters such as Cloud, Squall, and Aeris from the variousFinal Fantasygames. But this incongruity has one side benefit in that the storyline behind the game is by necessity rather vague, which seems to have stopped Square from filling three CDs full of their usual New Age whining about Mother Earth. Instead they’ve spent even more time on the graphics, and the end result is a quite stunning 3-D cartoon.

As for the gameplay, it may come as a surprise to learn that it doesn’t actually feature, as all the Final Fantasy games do, turn-based combat. Instead it's essentially a scrolling beat-'em-up-cum-platformer with exactly the kind of complicated Square-style knobs you’d expect. The game may be a little shallow, but it’s an impressive artistic achievement and to be quite frank any title that allows you to magically summon Bambi out of thin air to ...

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ESRB: E - (Everyone), Violence
Publisher: Square Electronic Arts/Disney Interactive
Developer: Square
Console: PlayStation 2 Games
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: September 17, 2002 (NA);
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