Kingdom Hearts is a game series that nary needs any introduction. One of the last games developed under the name of Square Soft before the Square Enix merger, Square got together with Electronic Arts and Disney to deliver what seemed to be the ultimate sellout game of the century. The PS2 had just come out, new graphics were on the rise, and the lore of Final Fantasy was ever expanding. How do we celebrate decades of Square’s accomplishments and successes? Disney characters!
Alright, now flame shield for a minute: I love the Kingdom Hearts series. I even have the manga adaption of this specific game. But up to this point I had almost every game in the series except this one because the ending had already been spoiled for me by my friends, the manga, the internet, and other games. Kingdom Hearts II is easily one of my favorite games of all time, and Kingdom Hearts doesn’t necessarily live up to that standard but I would still recommend it to others… and then tell them to play Kingdom Hearts II.
I usually don’t care about graphics in a game. I’m not one for realistic graphics. If anything I think realistic graphics take away from a game’s appeal… maybe it’s just me. Though some of the graphics are not consistent throughout the game, notably their mouths in certain cutscenes, I personally believe that the soundtrack makes up for it. It ranges from MIDI compositions to fully orchestrated ensembles to electronic, but somehow works. The Kingdom Hearts world is set in many different worlds of Disney, as well as a few original places, and whether it is pure nostalgia or sense of adventure, you can’t help but be enthralled by the music and backgrounds and the way they seem to somehow blend together. Although I’m not a huge fan of some of the visuals, again, they are hardly noticeable, and the bigger cutscenes have amazing graphics for early PS2.
Although a beautiful experience, I felt that when I played through the game on Normal difficulty or whatever it’s called difficulty, something was lacking. In other games, sure they are action-rpg beat-em-ups, but I feel like you had to really think about what you were doing and have a really solid reaction time to have a full satisfactory experience, especially on higher difficulties or just later bosses and battles in general. Like in this game, some of the later battles can get pretty epically intense, but if you cater your style to it, all the way to the final boss, you can essentially cast Aeroga to defend yourself and your designated healing character, lock-on, mash X… win.
Oh yeah, I guess I should explain how this game works. You control Sora, who is the main character who is supported by NPC’s in the form of Donald Duck, Goofy, and an assortment of occasional other Disney characters such as Jack from Nightmare Before Christmas, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, and Alladin… from Alladin. It’s an interesting system with a lot of helpful customization. You can equip accessories and weapons to each member of your party and have three characters in your party at once and cater each one to your play style. When it comes to catering the entire party to your fighting strategies, this one is one of the better ones in the series. Here’s my problem with it, other than the fact that it becomes an X fest. Donald is a magic-caster, therefore he is typically a healer. Goofy essentially just does extra damage and maybe restores your MP, which Donald can also do if you give him items, making Goofy, and all the other support characters essentially useless. There is also no penalty for losing your party members, so why bother with them? Donald can heal you but everything else you can do by pressing X yourself.
I could go on, but I don’t want to spend a lot of time with this and think I’ve made most of my points. The basic control scheme kind of makes sense. Except you know that right analog stick? It basically doesn’t do anything except go through the battle menu, which is also what the d-pad does. The camera controls, slowly mind you but it does control, with the L2 and R2 buttons. The menus are hard to navigate and the Gummi Ship mini-game is abysmal to both your eyes and brain. There’s something endearing about the overall system and since this is the first game released into the series, I have to give in and say that it’s good, or maybe even genius and revolutionary. But all of its flaws just brought it down from what it could have been… it could have been as good as Kingdom Hearts II… Jesus, I can be one-sided…
REPLAY VALUE: 1.5/2
There is plenty to do in Kingdom Hearts after you beat the last boss, but all of it is open to you before you beat the it. SPOILER ALERT: Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII makes a cameo appearance in this game as one of the hardest optional bosses you will ever fight in your life. I am not going to spoil it further by telling you where he shows up, but I will tell you that you can find him before you beat the main storyline.
In fact, beating the main storyline doesn’t seem to do much of anything other than give you a ton of experience from beating the last handful of enemies. Final cutscene, rolls credits, does a few more scenes at the end, and then takes you to a screen that says the end… leaving you in freefall. It’s a still shot. Did my PS2 crash again or is this what I get for beating the game? Will it be like this when I turn it back on???
Essentially all there is to do is continue to level up your guy, do some alchemy with the cute little Moogles, and battle a lot of enemies. If you like to press X, or just don’t like blue X’s very much, then this has plenty of replay value. But beyond other difficulties and maxing out your stats, there is only so much to come back to other than to relive the memories of beating it and to go back to its fighting system… which again, in my opinion, was fine but not yet perfected.
The Kingdom Hearts storyline is arguably one of the most beautifully complex in gaming history, which is one of the reasons I keep coming back to it so often. This is where it all stems from. Coming back to the storyline after playing the other games is even more satisfying as you see how every single game in the series connects to each other in one way or another, even the handheld games.
The story of this game specifically is a little cut and dry for my taste, but it is just a start to one of the most elaborate stories in video games, and I think it is fitting to the game overall, especially if you are just a ten year old kid who really likes Disney… or Final Fantasy… or beating things with blunt objects. It’s stereotypical of an action-adventure game where you have to save your girlfriend but with deep philosophical overtones strewn throughout. I hope you enjoy the story of this game, because you can’t skip the cutscenes, even if you die on a boss fight and have already seen the cutscene, it will continue from the cutscene before the fight. Genius.
Some things in a game just have an extra oomph: something that separates from the crowd of literally thousands of titles to choose from. Kingdom Hearts, even in comparison to the rest of the series, is extremely unique. And what still baffles me to this day is who would have thought that mixing two of these media deities together would have been a good idea? Well… Tetsuya Nomura I guess, since he is the guy who more or less made the characters and storyline of Kingdom Hearts. It certainly worked. For a game that mashes a bunch of worlds together, it has a very original plot, feel, and battle system. Again, who woulda thunk it?
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10
Yeah that sounds about right, although Gamespot's new format has forced me to round up to a 9. It isn’t my favorite in the series, but I can’t deny that it’s a great game. I guess I have just been spoiled by finesse of the other games that truly perfect the formula while giving something entirely new to the series every time without alienating fans. In other words I guess I should just sum it up by saying this is arguably a masterpiece, and at the very least worth a peek. But if you’re going to get into this, I would strongly recommend putting some of the other games on the backburner and beating their main storylines to fully put into perspective what Kingdom Hearts means to you. I don’t know how else to conclude this review so I just won’t.