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Kingdom Hearts

Action RPG
Kingdom Hearts
  • September 16, 2002
  • March 28, 2002
  • November 15, 2002
A 287 total ratings
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More than a heartless cash in

A Kingdom Hearts review Author: Phoenix Down Published: December 18, 2002
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Two of the world's premier creative forces?Square and Disney?cease eyeing each other lustily, leap into bed and make love for three years. Over one hundred people assist. Their child: Kingdom Hearts, an action-based RPG that scoops beloved characters out of Disney's hall of fame and out of Final Fantasy VII, VIII and X. On paper, it is an incongruous, perhaps binary marriage: lugubrious men with spiky hair and enormous swords sharing a game with Winnie the Pooh and Goofy. Absurd, surely?

The game starts with three pubescent rapscallions: Sora, Riku and Kairi, who live in pleasant wooden huts on the tropical Destiny Island. They dream of exploring lands beyond the realm of the ocean and, as one might guess from the sledgehammer foreshadowing of the island's name, their wish is granted. After a sinister force overcomes Destiny Island, Sora is stranded in Traverse Town: a sprawling haven for those whose worlds, like Sora's, have been destroyed. Upon King Mickey's (commonly known as Mickey Mouse) request, Donald Duck and Goofy search for Sora because he is in possession of the "keyblade": an enormous key that handily doubles up as a bludgeoning instrument and a tool to somehow save the world.
Sora is a standard RPG hero: vibrant, moral and too young for introspection or self-doubt. His design, by Tetsuya Nomura, is a little formulaic, but adds a good dose of anime style into what is primarily a western styled, Disney-oriented game. He is perfect for the action; his optimism and attire is akin to that of Mickey Mouse (who is purposefully scarce), and with Donald and Goofy at his side, he is one third of a heart-warming, yet never too sugary, evil-fighting trio. This evil takes the form of the Heartless: vicious beasties who have, surprisingly, lost their hearts and given in to the darkness (concept of psychological evil given physical form). The top of the evil hierarchy is overseen by several Disney villains, all cohorts in a super-evil villain union. Each villain present was easily malevolent enough for their film, so having them gang together is a fabulous sight, and will delight anyone with a wicked streak.
Sora visits various worlds in his adventures. Each is centred around a different Disney movie. These mostly equate to standard RPG areas, including desert, jungle, spooky and underwater, each with the salt and pepper of dungeons and bosses. This dependency on RPG conventions may disappoint, but this is largely soothed by the delight of playing within superbly-realised landscapes of Disney movies. However, only three of these worlds are based on classic Disney movies, the primary focus being upon those from the last decade, which are, debatably, inferior to?and less fondly remembered than?vintage Disney movies.
The game plays like a 3D Secret of Mana, or a less puzzle-based, more combat-oriented, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Most combat is little more than locking on to an enemy then tapping the attack button. Despite this simplicity, battles are neither dull nor repetitive, and so enjoyable that the player will find themselves killing every monster they can find, just to savour the joy of combat. Whilst Sora fights, Donald and Goofy, controlled by the CPU, wage war on any Heartless they can find. They are surprisingly useful (in this reviewer's mind, a first for this genre of RPG), healing Sora, casting spells and using special techniques to dispatch the Heartless. They tend to their wounds, don't get stuck on the landscape and help more than they hinder. Sora and his two companions can learn and equip abilities that are useful for both combat and adventuring. A traditional magic and experience system sets the gameplay in familiar territory that, although old fashioned, is not stale.
Similar to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, areas that are initially inaccessible become available as new abilities are learned. This keeps the player intrigued and puzzled, and opening up a previously locked area is hugely satisfying. The game is carefully structured to give an impression of non-linearity and to exaggerate the importance of exploration. Whilst the linearity is obvious, it is possible to tackle many of the worlds in any order. Resultantly, if the player becomes stuck or bored, they can simply visit a new world. Numerous mini-games and side quests further break up the action, all of which are extremely addictive, and some of which are joyfully time consuming.
Most of the music is remixed renditions of Disney songs. These form the main tune for each world. Although fitting and atmospheric, they quickly become repetitive, especially if the player is already over-familiar with the tunes from the films. The original compositions are superb, particularly the theme for Traverse Town: a waltzy, jazz-inspired swagger of a tune that will keep your shoulders shuffling whilst you play. The voice acting is unparalleled. Numerous talents contribute, including James Woods, Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense and David Boreanaz from Angel. Unlike FFX, there is no variety of quality: it is all superb, and the lip-synching is accurate and realistic. Unfortunately, the subtitles cannot be turned off. This may be necessary for a character such Donald Duck whose frenzied quacking is incomprehensible at times, but regardless, they are largely unessential and intrude upon important scenes.
Kingdom Hearts is the first time an outside company has been allowed to work with Disney characters. Hisashi Suzuki, president of Square Co., Ltd. said the game is "?a breakthrough title for our industry." Indeed, whether a money-hungry franchise crossover, or a genuine artistic experiment, Kingdom Hearts is a staggering success, in both gameplay and art. Imagining a more successful result is practically impossible. There are faults, but the sheer charm and spectacle of Kingdom Hearts makes them easy to ignore. It is an utterly engrossing, spirit-lifting adventure that does not dwell in memory lane, or become lost in a haze of nostalgia, but uproot it and combine it with the present and future to create a totally refreshing experience.
Editor's Grade
dotted line "Kingdom Hearts is a concept so exciting that it seems doomed to disappoint. Square and Disney prove themselves ideal bedfellows and create a hugely enjoyable, delightful RPG that fulfils every promise it makes."
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Phoenix Down
Vapid Buttmunch
Square Haven V.I.P.
Member since July 09, 2002
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