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Kingdom Hearts

Developer: Squaresoft | Publisher: Squaresoft
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 09/16/02 | Genre: Action/RPG

For those of you wondering if Kingdom Hearts is worth owning, let me give you the short answer to the question. Kingdom Hearts is an awesome Action/Role Playing Game, that mixes Secret of Mana in the style of Chrono Trigger, with the epic feel of a Final Fantasy title. Even though it may appear at first glance to be quite odd having Disney characters in an Action/RPG, Square pulls off arguably their best non-Final Fantasy title to date. To sum up my short answer to the question, Kingdom Hearts is a classic. Go buy it now. However, for those of you who need a little more information before making a purchase, keep reading...

When I first set my eyes on Kingdom Hearts, I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Characters in past Square titles in the same world with Donald Duck and Goofy? Was this for real? At this last E3, Square was only showing off Kingdom Hearts in their booth and I had quite an extensive amount of time playing the US demo version. The gameplay was solid and it appeared that Square was on the verge of creating yet another epic masterpiece... Fast forward several months to today. They succeeded� boy did they ever succeed. In fact, I am loving this title so much, I am more concerned with seeing another Disney/Square game than I am a Final Fantasy sequel.

You begin as Sora, a fourteen year old boy on an island with five other kids. Sora continues to have nightmares with strange shadow creatures in it and through the course of one of these nightmares, you get to make some choices that will effect certain elements of the game. After navigating through Sora's latest nightmare and defeating a boss who doesn't prove to be very challenging (although he is about 50 times taller than you), you awake on the island by one of your friends--Kairi--who you have a big crush on.

The game starts off very slow. Through the next few hours, you spend time trying to build a raft, battle your friends, gather food for a journey on your raft, and explore a mysterious cave. While the gameplay did not impress me at this point, I really love what Square did with the graphics. On the shore, you can watch the waves come onto shore and then evaporate away. Also, each of the characters has a �Disney� look and feel to them. Bright colors are used to make each character very appealing to the eyes. The main character, Sora, also appears to have some of the characteristics of Mickey Mouse. He has big shoes and big red shorts. While the graphics look good, they are not quite as polishes as what can be done on the GameCube and Xbox. This doesn't mean the graphics are bad� however, it does show that the PlayStation 2 hardware is beginning to look a little dated compared to titles like Star Fox Adventures on the GameCube.

Once the action began to pick up, I started to get hooked. Gameplay is fast and furious. After gaining people in your party, you will have some help from AI controlled characters in battle. How do battles occur? At any point while running around the world, enemies can pop up and a battle will take place wherever you are standing. The only way the battle ends is if your party dies, you kill all of the enemies, or if you escape through a door or into another room. Be warned that if you run away, the enemies will be there waiting to popup next time you venture to that same location.

To help the AI controlled teammates make decisions, you can set their fighting style in the options menu. Here you can also equip weapons, armor, and items into each character's individual inventory. In addition to the items each character can hold, you have an extra �stock� that all other items not being carried are stowed.

Controlling the gameplay is both easy and complex. Sora swings his weapon and has a variety of special moves that can be equipped and used during battle. During battles, the game will automatically target the nearest enemy. By hitting R1, you can lock on to that enemy so the camera will keep him in front of you. If you don't like the enemy you have selected, you can hit L2 to switch to the next nearest enemy. The problem with this system is that at times you want to target a particular enemy and it takes forever to cycle through the closes enemies to get to him. Since it is hard to hit an enemy you aren't locked on to, prepare to get a little frustrated at times if you can't fight the enemy you want to go up against. While the system is not perfect, it works just fine the majority of the time.

After defeating an enemy, little circular coins and health are left behind. Also, it is possible that items will be left too. However, if you find that you are still low on health after picking up all of the health on the ground, run over to a save point. Once inside a save point, your whole party will regain all of their MP and HP. In addition to being able to save, you can also warp to The Gummi. From The Gummi, you can warp to any save spot within the particular world you are in.

One of the most impressive features of Kingdom Hearts is the voice acting. All of the Disney characters sound just like they should. As for the rest of the cast, everyone does a fantastic job. This is the first time that I can remember where none of the voice actors were annoying. Continuing the trend they set in Final Fantasy X, Square has most of the game using voices instead of just text. It is a shame that every line of text in Kingdom Hearts isn't spoken though. Because every single voice actor is just as good as an actual Disney movie. There is one problem with the voice acting, however. Since this is originally a Japanese game, developed by Square in the land of the rising sun, a lot of the mouths don't move just right. This was also a problem in FFX. Since this is their second game using voices in the cinemas, you can tell that it won't be very much longer until they perfect the lip synching.

I have a few problems with Kingdom Hearts. First off, when the game loads up to the title screen, the cursor is automatically on �New Game.� In past Square titles, they have the cursor begin on �Load Game.� It is an annoyance to move the cursor down to load up your game each time you play. Another problem I have with Kingdom Hearts is the ship sequences onboard The Gummi. Everytime you venture off to another world, you must participate in a graphically appalling arcade flight sim to reach the new world. Unfortunately, even after you reach your destination, you have to go through the sequence again when you fly back. I am quite surprised Square included these sequences in Kingdom Hearts since they are so poorly done. The AI is terrible, the graphics rival a PSOne game, and there is no fun to these events. It really makes you wish they could be skipped�

The biggest flaw in Kingdom Hearts would have to be the camera. After spending time in this game, you have to give credit to Square for the excellent job they did with trying to keep up with the action. However, sometimes the gameplay is so fast that the camera just can't keep up. Also, because the camera cannot pan in or out of the action, it can get stuck. This is quite frustrating during the heat of a battle. But the time spent complaining about the camera was minimal compared to other 3D titles. Until someone can perfect 3D gameplay, we will have to live with a few camera annoyances.

Like I said in the opening paragraph, Kingdom Hearts is a masterpiece and could other Square/Disney projects in the future. If you love Disney or are a fan of RPG's and Square titles, you owe it to yourself to pick up the biggest console RPG of the year.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 10/02/02
ESRB Details: Violence
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Screenshots for Kingdom Hearts

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