The storyline is however bears the trademark of Squaresoft. It tells the tale of Sora, a boy who lives with his best friends, Riku and Kairi in a remote island (referred to as a world in the game), completely cut off from the rest of the universe. This is until an evil force called the Heartless manages to open connections between the worlds and threatens to destroy them one by one. As the bearer of the legendary Keyblade, Sora is entrusted to help battle the Heartless, and with the help from Donald Duck and Goofy, also find his lost friends.
At the start of the game, and after a long tutorial where you’re thought the fundamentals of the game, you’re off on your adventure. You control Sora by the left analogue stick, which is very responsive, just the way it should be. Square also has added a jump button, making the game play more like a platformer or an action RPG rather than their standard Final Fantasy style of exploration.
This is further confounded by the game’s battle system. As opposed to Square’s previous efforts, like the highly successful Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Heart does away with the battle screen and random encounters, and replaced them with a real-time combat system. The result is a more involving game, as you can’t just sit there while pushing the X button. You can initiate attacks with the attack button, which is self-explanatory, and also do a few neat moves like dodging and rolling and jumping attacks by doing certain combination button presses.
The use of magic in Kingdom Hearts is also handled adequately, with each Square continuing its convention by naming the spells according to their potency, for example Fire, Fira and Firaga. These spells can be cast by pressing the assigned buttons on the control, or by the quick menu. For Final Fantasy fans, you’ll also be glad to know that Square has also included summons in Kingdom Hearts, which is pleasant surprise in this Square-Disney collaboration.
To help in those battles is the R1 shoulder button, which enables you to lock onto an enemy or a specific body part. This is absolutely crucial as you’d be constantly harassed by multiple enemies, and can dispatch them with comparative ease with the Lock-On feature.
One major gripe in regards to the battles is the camera system. Generally, when you’re exploring all the fantastic locations, the camera just sits behind you, or moves to more ’cinematic’ positions elsewhere. As soon as you encounter enemies, the camera shifts the view and goes everywhere, except where it should. Most of the time you won’t get to see what you’re up against, as the camera repositions itself chaotically every second. Granted you can rotate the view using the lower shoulder buttons, but Square should have developed a ’centering button’, or at least a more fluid rotation method by the use of the idle right analogue stick. It may seem trivial, but you’ll agree with me once you engage enemies in battles.
I’ve mentioned earlier that you get to hop to various worlds. This is made possible with the Gummi Ship, a spacecraft of sorts, designed for Donald and Goofy. Instead of just zapping or teleporting to the next destination, you have to pilot the craft through the dimensional rift. While being on rails, you have to guide the ship via the analogue stick to avoid obstacles, and fire laser beams at Heartless ships. While this may sound like a great idea, I can assure you that the execution is very poor, and an absolute waste of time.
Aside from the reasonably good gameplay and atrocious camera system, the thing that shines the most about Kingdom Hearts is its aural aspects. The voiceovers are top-notch, which comes as no surprise as it boasts some excellent actors such as Haley Joel Osment of Six Sense and A.I. fame voicing the lead character Sora, and James Woods as the brilliantly evil Hades. Square spared no expense in this department, as others in the star-studed voice cast include Hayden Panettiere (Ally McBeal, Remember The Titans), David Gallagher (7th Heaven), Sean Astin (The Lords of the Ring), Lance Bass (N’sync member), David Boreanaz (Angel, Valentine), Mandy Moore (A Walk To Remember) and Christy Romano (Kim Possible). Imagine hearing Yuffie (Final Fantasy VII) talk for the first time, and you’ll agree that it she sounds exactly like you’d imagined it. Heck, even the score is excellent, which featured some of Disney’s memorable themes such as Under The Sea from The Little Mermaid. All in all, full marks for the perfect aural treatment.
The opening FMV, which features the theme song ’Simple and Clean’ (the remixed US version of Utada Hikaru’s hit single Hikari), tells you pretty much what you’ll be expecting from this game. In this case, Squaresoft has done a great job in bringing all the Disney elements alive. Worlds such as Alice’s Wonderland and Aladdin’s Agrabah are lavishly presented, much like in their respective animated movies.
Character animation is also smooth and reasonably detailed. Disney characters, like Donald Duck looks exactly like the way he should in his cartoons, and the same goes for every single character in the game. Special effects like magic attacks and summons also look great, but you’d expect that coming from Squaresoft.
Although not as long as previous Final Fantasy games, which could clock up to 100+ gameplay hours to complete, Kingdom Hearts is as equally engrossing and time-sapping endeavor. There are lots of sidequests in the game, ranging from finding all the lost Dalmations, to finding Trinity Marks and postcards throughout the game. For those creative minds, there’s a place where you can combine items and forge them to produce more powerful equipments. Great.
All in all, despite its poor camera system, Kingdom Hearts deliver on all other fronts. The luscious worlds come to life, and you can’t imagine a more perfect game that combines Disney’s Rich characters and Square art of storytelling and gameplay execution. Seen as an odd partnership at first, both parties performed magnificently, resulting in a solid, feature-rich and involving title. Kingdom Hearts definitely warrants a place in your collection.
Former owner and editor in chief of Darkstation.com