"If youíre willing to bypass the gameís numerous flaws and instead look at its marvelous accomplishments, youíll enjoy your time immensely. Itís 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 isnít 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 theyíll ever need.
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 Soraís 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. Itís 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 itís 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 Soraís ďdestinyĒ, the three of them travel to other worlds in an effort to seal keyholes while searching for lost friends.
Exploring these worlds, youíll 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. Tarzanís home looks just as youíd expect from ancient childhood memories, only interactive with an added dimension. Youíll 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 planetís 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 sheís been accused of, only to discover sheís vanished, taken by the very Heartless youíve been fighting. Instead of helping Pinocchio become a real boy, you search for him in Monstroís enormous gut, only to discover heís 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, youíll 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 youíre 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 systemís greatest strength isnít even in the engine at all; itís in boss design. Each boss has a specific method of defeat Ė 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 youíre 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 Herculesí Coliseum. Or itíll randomly switch to a side angle shot while youíre trying to glide to a tiny block of land in the water, making spotting impossible. The camera will ruin combos because you canít see whoís attacking you; itíll make navigating worlds a test of patience more than skill as you blindly jump from platform to platform in the vain hope youíve gauged it right; and itíll disorient you enough so that you donít realize youíre going back the way you came until youíve reached the beginning of the level, dragging out a game that really doesnít 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. Youíll 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 Soraís 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 Poohís 100-Acred Wood. Locking up that laid-back world rewards you with a secret ending.
If youíre willing to bypass the gameís numerous flaws and instead look at its marvelous accomplishments, youíll enjoy your time immensely. Itís 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 youíll have to try really hard to ignore all those flaws.
Community review by wolfqueen001 (October 11, 2008)
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