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Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 2) artwork

Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 2) review

"If you’re willing to bypass the game’s numerous flaws and instead look at its marvelous accomplishments, you’ll enjoy your time immensely. It’s plot really is touching, and sometimes even shocking, amidst the predictability; the realms of Disney are so well thought and acted out that they feel almost real; and combat is refreshing, if clumsy at times. "

Kingdom Hearts isn’t unique for its overarching storyline, nor is it unique for its almost predictable character development. But it is unique for its presentation: the numerous worlds you explore, the battle system, and the brilliant way the realms of Disney and Final Fantasy combine with its independent plot.

Sora, the main character, lives on a tropical island paradise where life is serene and uneventful, where he and his two friends (Riku and Kairi) have everything they’ll ever need.

Except diversity.

Tired of repetitive, monotonous days, the trio decides to build a raft to cross the ocean beyond their island, hoping to discover new worlds.

But the Heartless, malicious world-swallowing manifestations of darkness, have other plans. On their rampage of galactic destruction, they stumble upon Sora’s little paradise, threatening the stability of his once sacred home. This force darkens the skies, churns the waves, and separates Sora from the rest of his friends. It’s here that Sora discovers his destiny as the Keyblade Master. With this mighty weapon, he battles the Heartless long enough to escape his world in some unseen magical fashion, getting knocked out in the process.

The plot itself is moving (if cheesy and archetypal), but it’s not the only thing keeping the game together. After Sora awakens in an unknown world and befriends both Donald and Goofy, who explain more about the Heartless and Sora’s “destiny”, the three of them travel to other worlds in an effort to seal keyholes while searching for lost friends.

Exploring these worlds, you’ll be awestruck at the incredible accuracy etched into each Disney-themed realm. While not graphically impressive, each location is represented in vivid 3D detail, bringing the magic of Disney to life in front of your very eyes. Tarzan’s home looks just as you’d expect from ancient childhood memories, only interactive with an added dimension. You’ll swing along vines in order to reach a new location; hop across hippos before they sink back into the water; even battle the infamous cheetah Sabor, that same feline that tormented Tarzan all those years ago.

But rather than simply act out each planet’s respective Disney story, that plot has been remodeled around the plot of the game. You help Alice avoid execution by providing evidence that a Heartless committed whatever crime she’s been accused of, only to discover she’s vanished, taken by the very Heartless you’ve been fighting. Instead of helping Pinocchio become a real boy, you search for him in Monstro’s enormous gut, only to discover he’s being held captive by a giant Heartless who ensnares him in its cage. Instead of rescuing Wendy from Captain Hook, you rescue her from Captain Hook and the Heartless who want her for plot reasons. By combining these old tales with the new made-up plot, Kingdom Hearts becomes a nostalgic yet unique experience.

Advancing this plot, however, has its ups and downs. Menu-controlled, real-time adventuring quickens combat but also produces problems of its own. Using items is risky; it takes time, time that could be better spent tearing your enemy a new asshole with powerful combos and ancient, Final Fantasy-esque magic. Instead, you’ll be trying vainly to heal yourself, only to die, because three seconds to activate a potion is just too long. Acquiring new abilities lets you perform special skills, which require precise timing and no damage absorption in order to pull off, because getting hurt automatically nulls your action, even if you’re 99% complete with it. But executing these skills is worth it because they not only look flashy; they do significantly more damage.

In fact, the system’s greatest strength isn’t even in the engine at all; it’s in boss design. Each boss has a specific method of defeat – a certain weakness to exploit. Oogie Boogie has you chasing around an oversized roulette wheel, stepping on different pressure pads which raise your platform to his level. There you only have a few seconds to get a decent combo in before the platform suddenly descends again, and you’re dodging his malicious traps. The sorcerer-turned-genie Jafar requires you to constantly beat up his annoying pet parrot who just happens to be carrying his lamp. The evil sea-witch Ursula forces you to cast magic on her cauldron several times before her slithery form becomes vulnerable to attack.

But as attractive as these aspects are, the game does have its issues. A shoddy camera angle will have you fighting blind as it gets stuck behind a pillar in Hercules’ Coliseum. Or it’ll randomly switch to a side angle shot while you’re trying to glide to a tiny block of land in the water, making spotting impossible. The camera will ruin combos because you can’t see who’s attacking you; it’ll make navigating worlds a test of patience more than skill as you blindly jump from platform to platform in the vain hope you’ve gauged it right; and it’ll disorient you enough so that you don’t realize you’re going back the way you came until you’ve reached the beginning of the level, dragging out a game that really doesn’t need cheap means of lengthening.

Unskippable cut scenes will keep you permanently frustrated as you watch that marathon pre-boss sequence for the fifth time because your randomly reliable party members are too inept to heal you when you need it.

Traveling between worlds would have been neat, except that your vehicle of transport, the Gummi ship, is almost impossible to figure out how to modify. Not like it matters. I literally traveled to every world (except the last) without any modifications at all. One small cannon, no shields, basic armor. It was easy. The levels are short and repetitive, the obstacles easy to dodge, and your enemy retarded. You’ll likely crash into foreign ships more often than get shot by them.

But aside from these flaws, there are several interesting smaller activities. You can always collect dozens of seemingly useless objects which can then be used to synthesize awesome items and accessories, including Sora’s Ultima Keyblade, the most powerful weapon in his arsenal. You can hunt the 101 Dalmations for various prizes. You can scour the worlds for every single Trinity Mark, acquiring helpful bonuses from them. You can even engage in several mini-games, many of which encountered in Winnie the Pooh’s 100-Acred Wood. Locking up that laid-back world rewards you with a secret ending.

If you’re willing to bypass the game’s numerous flaws and instead look at its marvelous accomplishments, you’ll enjoy your time immensely. It’s plot really is touching, and sometimes even shocking, amidst the predictability; the realms of Disney are so well thought and acted out that they feel almost real; and combat is refreshing, if clumsy at times.

But you’ll have to try really hard to ignore all those flaws.

Rating: 7/10

wolfqueen001's avatar
Community review by wolfqueen001 (October 11, 2008)

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dagoss posted October 12, 2008:

Nice review. I felt like it was dependable, like I learned everything I needed about the game. Details like the frustration of trying to use healing items seemed like a good thing to include, since it's stuff like that -- not the big things like the story -- that have the player throwing down their controller and screaming, "cheap ass bloody game -- !!"

One thing I did wonder at though -- and this is probably because I never played KH -- is that I had heard that the series actually a blend of Disney and Squaresoft worlds. Your review didn't say anything about Cloud or Sephiroth or Aerith, so I was wondering if they are just there for the shameless cash-in or do they actually matter?
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joseph_valencia posted October 12, 2008:

The Square characters play supporting roles, but they aren't exactly central to the story. Actually, the same could be said of 99% of the Disney characters too.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 12, 2008:

Thanks! Yeah; I feel like I should've at least mentioned the FF stuff more in the review... I wanted to, but really couldn't find room for it. But, yeah, they really don't play that important a role, especially not later on. Leon and Aerith (is it really Aerith? I thought it was Aeris) help Sora out in the beginning a bit, and Cid provides the gummi material and stuff... Cloud, Yuffie, and a few others are mainly just encountered in the Coliseum for event purposes.

And there's a boss called a Behemoth, kind of similar to the ones in FF but not really because it's a Heartless and its form is significantly different (at least from the Behemoths I've seen)
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dagoss posted October 12, 2008:

I've heard Aerith is a more accurate translation; it seems to be the one that hardcore nerds have adopted, at least. Also, the word "Aeris" looks too much like "Aries," which makes some of FF7's dialogue ridiculously cheesy if you're not playing attention.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 12, 2008:

Ah. That would make sense.

On reflection, I did find a place to mention some FF characters. Or at least one of them since the rest aren't important. It's in the 6th paragraph, if you count the one liner as a paragraph. I hope the way I changed that around makes the review stronger not weaker... and that that paragraph isn't weaker than it was for it.

EDIT: I've also been told that Squall's name really isn't Leon in FFVIII at all, unless it is in some translation or another. So I stuck a joke in there.
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wolfqueen001 posted October 12, 2008:

Changed my mind again. Switched it back to the old paragraph... sort of added a minor adjective to something in the battle system to denote it FF-based. I want to elaborate on it, but can't find a way to do that without ruining flow or possibly weakening the structure of the review.

Anyway, the new paragraph is here if anyone wants to compare it to the old one:

The plot itself is moving (if cheesy and archetypal), but it’s not the only thing keeping the game together. After Sora awakens in an unknown world, he has a run-in with Squall Leon, who beats him soundly (unless you're really good) before eplaining some plot-related stuff that you won't remember and sending him on his way again. Some time later, Sora befriends both Donald and Goofy, who explain more about the Heartless and his “destiny”, after which the three of them start their journey, traveling to other worlds in an effort to seal keyholes while searching for lost friends.

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