pretty good

Kingdom Hearts, from the minute of its conception, was scrutinized as being a childish waste of time for both Squaresoft and Disney. I'm here to tell you it's not. Set in a Disney universe, using elements and characters from Final Fantasy, and sporting one of the best real-time battle systems ever, Kingdom Hearts goes above and beyond the call of duty.

Differing from Square's past endeavors, Kingdom Hearts sports a new twist to the RPG genre. Instead of wading through command after command, attacking is as simple as hitting the X button. While not a perfect game, Kingdom Hearts does manage to rejuvenate the RPG genre and freshen up our fingers for the upcoming holiday season.

The story, which is very typical of Square, is one of the most unique approaches to the plot that I have seen in awhile. The main character Sora and his two friends Riku and Kairi are looking for a change in their lives, and in this case it means getting off the confined island where they live. Their escape plan is going along perfectly when all of a sudden Sora is swept away from his friends. He presented with a key blade and told that he is the only one who can seal the keyholes in each of the worlds to prevent them from disappearing.

Gameplay - Never before have I played a game that made hitting one button so fun. The idea behind this real-time battle system is simple: allow the player to control when Sora moves, but how it looks and whom he hits is almost entirely decided by the excellent AI. While in combat, you are exposed to many different options. You can use items, open chests, and do many other things. The interaction between you and your two other allies is amazing. You can use items on them; they can use items on you. You can get together and form a move and you can create combos. The possibilities are endless. This is the standout point in Kingdom Hearts.

The level design is top notch. This was extremely important in Kingdom Hearts because of the obvious Disney tie-ins. Square wanted you to feel like you were making a movie. Platforming elements are present, but if you are remotely skilled, it shouldn't be a problem. The problem with the battles is that they get way too tedious. After awhile you'll be asking yourself why you have to fight this enemy all over again.

In the menu, which can be accessed only out of battle, you can do many things. Items must be attached before battle so that they are available. You can change your party members, tweak the AI settings on your allies to fit your
fighting style, equip armor and weapons, and do just about anything you'll need to do to prepare for battle.

The Kingdom Hearts universe consists of many different worlds, and getting to and fro between them takes some space travel. For that you will be using the Gummi Ship. This is one aspect of the game that I thought Square could have done without. The Gummi Ship levels, which transport you from world to world, are much like Star Fox. However, while safe on the ground, you can customize your Gummi Ship whichever way you feel is fit. Want double lasers? Just put them on. Want a sleek, agile spaceship? Shave off some of the extra pieces that it's carrying. Anything you want to do, you can. While this may sound cool, flying the ship over and over again gets old, and it seriously makes you dread transferring worlds.

Square did an excellent job of presenting the player with an easy to use battle system that is highly customizable? Before long, players will find themselves developing their own style and approach to the battles and you can further this personal element by telling your AI allies how to act and when to act. The difficulty isn't too high, and an average gamer can probably finish the quest within 25 hours. Overall, the gameplay is crystal clean, but it could use some definite tweaking in some areas.

Graphics - Kingdom Hearts boasts some very pretty graphics. The excellent blend of Disney themes and Square's innovation make for a great visual presentation that will not only leave you drooling at the end of each cutscene, but play a large part in the gameplay and overall feel of the game itself. As notably different as the graphical presentation is, however, the in game, real-time animations and character models fail to impress me in the slightest. This can be ignored, but after seeing the opening cutscene, you were probably expecting a little more than what you got.

The Disney theme is, of course, a very colorful one. Square used this property perfectly to create a world where all Disney characters interact, speak, and fight along side each other. The replication of movie sets is amazing. Many times in the game, you'll find yourself exclaiming, "Oh yeah! This is from Tarzan." Once again, the childish issue is brought up. In no way do the graphics portray the game to a little kid. Sure there are many Disney influences, but who hasn't watched one of their movies?

The animations are nothing short of spectacular. Sora seamlessly jumping from one enemy to the next is something you'll enjoy watching over and over again. Your interactions with your allies are amazingly done, and it presents a feel of actually being in the movie - being the star.

There is one blatant problem with the graphical engine: the camera. It's just way too slow. Many times, throughout a battle, you'll find yourself running towards the camera with no idea where the nearest enemy is. However, as bad as the camera is, it can be over looked. Soon find yourself mastering the camera controls and being able to work your way past this inconvenience.

Overall, Square, as always, did an excellent job on the graphical engine of Kingdom Hearts. What more could you ask for from a company that can successfully incorporate Disney themes into their game?

Sound - Take any one of Square's past releases, plug in the music CD, and you'll immediately notice that they are something special. With ten installments of Final Fantasy behind them, the audio team at Squaresoft has accomplished a mighty feat. With Kingdom Hearts this pattern does not stop. The song in the opening cut scene, entitled Hikari, is sung by Japanese pop star Hikaru Utada; it's nothing short of mind-blowing. However, in some of the locations the music is just plain annoying. With repetitive melodies and bad drum work, the music could use a little reworking. The sound effects on the other hand are great. While this category consists of mainly item uses and attacking effects, it is excellently done. The voice-overs, which are becoming a continuing trend in the more recent RPGs, are remarkable as well.

Gameplay 8.5
Graphics 9.0
Sound 8.0
Control 8.5
Replay 9.0
Challenge 9.5
Overall 8.8
Overall Value - Once again, Square has delivered a gem in Kingdom Hearts. While the game does have some minor glitches here and there, the overall experience is too much to be missed. If you, in any way, enjoyed one of Square's past releases, or if you like the idea of fast past paced, Zelda-esque action, give Kingdom Hearts a try, you won't regret it.