: Kingdom Hearts
: September, 2002
: Playstation 2
: Kids to adults 6+
Square... Disney... Together? WTF?
Indeed, Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG combining the characters and worlds of both Square's long winded Final Fantasy series and various Disney works. There was quite a bit of controversy when this collaborative game was announced. Concerns by hardcore gamers such as "What the hell is Square thinking, letting riffraff like Goofy and Mickey Mouse address the most holy (and living) Aeris by name?" and "This is a stupid move by Square! They're blinded by the money! Capitalist pigs! Viva la revolucion!!11" were voiced in forums across the internet. Disney fans were also skeptical, but not as blatantly opposed.
However, the two companies must have anticipated the backlash, as their effort create something special is obvious in the game. In some aspects, they succeeded; Kingdom Hearts is rock solid and a great deal of fun. The amount of effort and quality put forth is readily apparent. It is far from a masterpiece, though, as there are many faults. There was also an embarrassingly horrendous excuse for a mini game known as the Gummi Ship. That was just wrong. I'll rant in more detail momentarily.
There's also the issue that the entire game is a gratuitous self promotion for Square and Disney. I found it to be annoyance, but a non issue concerning the overall game. However, if your moral standards on commercialism and consumerism affect your enjoyment of a gaming, then shying away from Kingdom Hearts is understandable.
The game revolves around a young boy named Sora, who looks like a combination between a very childish Crono and Tidus. Sora and his friends Riku (not to be confused with another Square character, Rikku) and Kairi live on a happy island wasting their days away dreaming of adventures.
Suddenly, their tropical utopia is attacked by all these crazy little shadow creatures called The Heartless. The three friends are separated and Sora gets booted off to Disneyland.
That was the Square half of things. On the Disney half... Donald Duck and Goofy discover King Mickey Mouse is missing. Thus, they set off on a quest spanning multiple Disney worlds to find him. Sora joins up with them, hoping to find his friends, almost right away.
Sora is controlled by the player through a directly behind third person view. At the start of the game Sora can do basic heroic things, like swing a sword, jump, and run. As the game progresses, he learns more abilities and attacks either through the story or by leveling.
There is a intriguing split path of leveling up Sora. At the phenomenal introduction sequence to the game, the player is offer to chose a shield, a sword, or a wand. Immediately afterwards, a choice must be made to reject one of the two remaining armaments. Depending on the choices, Sora will intrinsically learn skills relative to the piece of equipment. For example, if the wand is chosen, Sora will have more max magic points for spell casting; the sword helps him learn combos faster; the shield teaches all around useful skills early on.
Donald Duck and Goofy join up with Sora relatively early in the game to form the strangest RPG party I've ever seen. Donald is essentially the dedicated magic user whereas Goofy is essentially the dedicated fighter. Occasionally, a third Disney character is available to be used in your party, but only for a short while. The computer autonomously controls Goofy and Donald. There are settings that change the computer's behavior of the two characters, like "use more magic", "use more special attacks", or "only use normal attacks". I found it highly reminiscent of Secret of Mana. Unfortunately, one of the biggest drawbacks is that there is no two or three player option.
Fighting The Heartless and the other Disney minions is arguably the best part of the game. Basically, Sora pulls out the Keyblade, a magic sword that looks like key, and the player gets down to the tune of hack and slash. There are protective moves like rolls and guarding as there are offensive combos that gradually build upon each other throughout the game. Bosses usually have some weak point that is revealed in patience.
Near the end, an incredible skill is learned: glide. You basically get to fly around with Sora. The way the controls, animation, and response come together makes gliding and flying amazingly fun. You can fly to previously unreachable areas, hover over swarms of enemies, and pretty much get around ten times faster.
After the first few introductory hours, the game doesn't quite fall into this over simplified pattern: The three heroes go to a new world in search of Mickey/Riku/Kairi, only to find some evil plot being hatched by a Disney villain. The heroes foil the plot, get some better equipment, and move on to the next world.
The game's menu screen has a great melancholy piano piece tune playing not unlike Final Fantasy X's opening piano song, To Zanarkand. While starting a new game, Japanese pop star Utada Hikaru begins singing the only video game music single to date, Simple and Clean, as the high quality opening CG sequence rolls by. Each Disney world has music appropriate to its respective movie that it came from.
The Voice Acting in Kingdom Hearts was arguably the best in console gaming for its time. It's a giant step up from the "OHNOGODZILLA!!" mouth to voice synchronization problems with other PS2 games.
Sixth Sense star, Haley Joel Osment, does the voice of Sora very well. I was hoping the entire game Sora would fit in a "I see dead people", but alas... The Halloween Town level from The Nightmare Before Christmas would have been a perfect place to slip that in.
Many of the other voices are authentic. Some of the characters from archaic Disney films like Pinocchio have radically unfamiliar voices, but for the most part, nothing was terribly too far off. The Square voice acting surprisingly well done. Cloud Strife, Leon (Squall with a new name), and Sephiroth's voices were perfect.
All the Square and Disney voice actors in both English and Japanese can be found at the Kingdom Hearts section of www.gamefaqs.com.
The Good, The Bad, and The Gummi Ship
Kingdom Hearts excelled in the freedom of the characters in their environments as well as the battling. The voice acting was superb for the most part and the whole game felt like it spared no expense.
I felt the beginning of the game was much better than the rest, however. There is an interesting love triangle between Sora, Riku, and their object of affection Kairi. However, that dissipates as the game progresses and turns into a cliche Pokemon-like rivalry between Sora and Riku. Regardless, all of the character interaction between the three original characters is the best part of the plot. The random, scattered Disney plots for each respective world were horrendous. They were all basically ground down versions of the movies that spawned the level and its characters. I didn't find the ending sequence of events and the ending itself particularly moving. Most of the late game fun was building up Sora's skills and getting his ultimate weapon.
And finally, there was the Gummi Ship. While traveling between worlds, Sora and his friends get in a blocky set of mashed polygons and go through a terrible imitation Star Fox mini level. There is no point or reward for doing well in the Gummi Ship; the idea is you have to survive to the next planet. If you die, you just start the mini level over. The biggest problem, however, is that you never die. I actually set my controller down and let the ship fly through the mini levels while I grabbed some food or something. Thus, the Gummi Ship and all of its upgrades are useless beyond belief.
To make matters worse, many of the rewards for side quests end up being the undesireable Gummi Ship pieces. It's quite aggravating to get a handful of worthless small Gummi lasers when expecting a new sword or shield. All in all, the Gummi Ship and all of its scattered components could have been removed with 99% of the game still intact while being much less annoying. Damn you, Gummi Ship.
This write-up complies with the E2 FAQ: Video Games standards.
Playing the game