I recently had the pleasure of visiting Disneyland in Anaheim, California, with my longtime girlfriend and I couldn’t help but think about the brilliance that was Walt Disney. The way his magic transcended from the depths of his mind into our own reality truly amazes me. Although I had visited Disneyland many times throughout my youth, this was the first time that I had returned as an adult, capable of fully comprehending what Walt Disney’s vision was truly about. As I spent my day there, I couldn’t help but become engulfed in the land of Disney, for those 12 or so hours the kid in me was alive and kicking. The truth of the matter is, no matter how old you are, there’s always something out there that is so magical, so beautiful, and so amazing that you’ll find a way to lose yourself in its brilliance. In this case, it’s the masterpiece that is Squaresoft’s Kingdom Hearts, the most engaging game you’ll play this Holiday season.
In case you’re not familiar with Kingdom Hearts, it’s a collaboration between two of the largest companies in the entertainment business. On one end we have Squaresoft, producers of the highly successful Final Fantasy series and other best selling properties, on the other side we have Disney, one of the most recognizable images in the entire world. By combining their collective resources, they have produced a fun and imaginative game that includes an amazing story that is propelled by an excellent cast.
It takes something truly special to be able to convince us to give out a perfect rating Kingdom Hearts truly is that amazing. The fact of the matter is, you’ll be hard pressed to find another game that even comes close to matching the quality found in Kingdom Hearts. Games just don’t come as beautiful and well thought out as this, it’s a virtual masterpiece that excels in every way possible. The good people at Squaresoft put a lot of their heart and soul into this game and it’s apparent in every single facet of the title, Kingdom Hearts is video gaming at its finest.
This game is so amazing to me because it manages to display that Disney magic while exuding that uniquely Squaresoft flair. The two unique visual styles never clash and in fact, mesh together quite well. Thanks to the amazing artistic team at Square you would never be able to tell that the two franchises were operated by two entirely different teams, one of American origin and the other of Japanese origin. It’s amazing how they really managed to capture the feeling that comes with Disney magic, you’ll notice all the little things that really make a Disney movie memorable. When Donald Duck blinks his eyes you don’t just notice the overdone animation, you’ll notice the over exaggerated sound effects that accompany the action. It’s the little touches and nuances that really make this game so amazingly memorable.
The other visual elements of the game are appealing as well. The textures are well done, featuring clean and crisp details that really show off what the Square artists can do. The characters are all very well crafted, remaining faithful to the Disney originals while containing subtle Square touches. Every part of the game's visuals are above par and live up to the standard that we have come to expect from Square and their games.
The storyline is vintage Squaresoft, while the game may feature young teens as its protagonists, there's nothing childish about the story. You'll get the usual themes that we have come to associate with Square games, "What's out there?" "What's the point to life?" and the other usual assortment of rhetorical questions. The game begins on the Destiny Islands, populated by children, including some Final Fantasy favorites. It serves as your basic tutorial as it gives you a chance to become familar with the basic aspects of the game. Then as you progress along, your party will eventually become separated with Sora ending up in a remote location. After being awakened by Pluto, you'll discover that the king of Disney, Mickey Mouse has gone MIA, leaving Donald Duck and Goofy to search for him. At the same time, the land is being overrun by the heartless, a group of baddies who want to control the land for themselves. This is when Sora discovers that he holds the 'key' (literally) to banishing the heartless for good. Through the game, you'll travel through plenty of different Disney locales that spans nearly every single Disney movie imaginable. This game is so large that well over 100 Disney characters make an appearance throughout the game, most of them in small cameos, some in supporting roles. I don't want to spoil anymore of the storyline for you but rest assured, it's full of twists and turns that will keep you glued to your seat.
A large problem that many of the hardcore gamer populous had with Square’s last offering, Final Fantasy X, was the voice acting. Due to the large amounts of dialogue, the lip synching could not be reworked and seemed to be quite a ways off throughout many of the game’s emotional scenes. Furthermore, some of the characters featured the worst voice acting performances of the year. I’m not sure about you, but my friends and I cringed every time Yuna opened her mouth to speak, her voice sounded so un-natural and forced that I elected to bypass her lines and read the text every time her lines would come up. As I feared for the worst in Kingdom Hearts, I actually got some of the best voice acting to ever appear in an American video game. The lines are spoken naturally and come through the speakers full of raw emotion and character. I really felt like I was hearing the original Disney characters speaking their lines instead of some next generation impersonator, the kids really felt like they were young at heart and full of awe and wonder. Best of all, the close-ups are no longer painful to watch; the extra months spent translating the game have really paid off. The all-star vocal cast really should be commended, as should the scriptwriters and the localization team.
Though this game is being billed as an RPG by some, it feels more like a third person adventure game that features a large dosage of RPG-like elements. You’ll retain sole control of Sora (the game’s main protagonist) as you venture through the game’s many environments and gain new abilities that will aid you in your quest. As you travel along your way you’ll be accompanied by two NPCs, usually Donald and Goofy but at times, you’ll have level specific characters such as Ariel or Peter Pan that will play the supporting role. While you can’t control them directly, you can control their behaviors and characteristics in a neat little sub menu. I found this to be a great way to balance out the gameplay without turning it into a horribly jumbled mess. The combat in the game is handled pretty well although it becomes quite hectic at times. Sometimes you'll have a hard time telling what's going on and you'll just hack blindly in hopes of vanquishing your enemies. I didn't really have a hard time handling the battle sequences my girlfriend seemed to have problems with it. Since at heart, this game is a third person adventure game, the combat takes place on the surrounding landscape. Enemies range from being fodder to being some of the most ferocious baddies to ever appear in a game and yes, you will do combat with some of the most malicious Disney villans. Combat is handled with simple button presses where your timing dictates the manuever that you will execute. There are lots of varied manuevers that really make this game a joy to play, though you'll have bread and butter moves, the game encourages you to try different moves in order to be successful. You'll also be able to call in 'summons' to help you in the course of a battle. For instance, you can call in Dumbo to come in and handle your enemies for you in the midst of a battle. It's fun to see how Square used all the various Disney characters in roles that remain faithful to their characters.
In order to push along the storyline, Sora will always retain the Keyblade (that gigantic key) as his primary weapon. He'll be able to learn a handful of magical spells that are paramount to his success. You'll have to learn the proper mix of magic and melee in order to stand a fighting chance against the game's villians. Of course your two NPCs will always be there to help you but you'll need to learn how to use your attacks effectively in order to survive.
If I really had to nitpick, I’d say that the camera is a bit inconsistent at times. However, when I go back to think about the camera systems in other 3rd person games, this one really isn’t even all that bad. You’ll be able to manipulate the camera via the use of the R2 and L2 buttons and position it as you like. It does have a hard time keeping up with the action at times though, and it doesn't really track your character all that well. I also felt that it was zoomed in far too close to the action, it made everything seem so hectic and frantic. Had the camera been zoomed out quite a bit further, I would have had a much easier time in many of the game's situations. As it stands though, the camera is pretty functional and controlling it becomes second nature after a bit of practice.
There is one feature, however, that I really wished that Squaresoft would have implemented into their title, multiplayer. Remember Secret of Mana? It allowed you to plug in an extra controller and have a friend or two join in the action. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to get together with your two best buddies and take on the baddies from all your favorite childhood movies? Though I really can’t fault the game for it, it would have been a great addition.
I’m often hesitant to hand a game the coveted five-star rating but when it came to Kingdom Hearts, this was a no-brainer. A lot of time and effort was put into this project and the end result is a masterpiece that encompasses everything that an adventure game should be. This game comes with my highest recommendation, Kingdom Hearts may not be the greatest game of all time but make no mistake about it, it’s the best game that you’ll play this Holiday season.
Squaresoft brings some of that Disney magic and mixes it with a distinctly Square flair that equate to the year's best RPG. One of the year's best titles and most likely, the best title to arrive on the scene in the past five years.
Rating: 9.7 Exquisite
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.
It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.
It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.
When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."
As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.
When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.
Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile