Kingdom Hearts (2002)
Developer: Square Co.
Platform: Playstation 2
Brought to you by the makers of the Final Fantasy series and Disney, Kingdom Hearts is a single player action RPG hybrid. The game follows Sora, an original character in the Final Fantasy mode, as he progresses through a series of Disney-themed worlds in an attempt to rescue his friend Kairi and rid the worlds of the Heartless that captured her and are consuming the worlds in question. Joining Sora in his quest are Donald Duck (a magician) and Goofy (a fighter), who are on a quest to find their King (a shadowy figure that bears a strong resemblance to a certain four-fingered mouse.
Players control Sora throughout the game, with Donald and Goofy accompanying him, controlled by AI. It’s a hybrid RPG because it plays as a hack-and-slash action game, but the story develops as an RPG. Also, it has other RPG elements such as leveling up characters, item collection and usage, weapons upgrades, menu-based items and magic. Along the way, players earn and develop abilities, and compete in fun sidequests.
The highlight of Kingdom Hearts is the wonderfully imaginative use of Disney’s characters and stories, putting them together in original ways that remain faithful to the stories many of us grew up with. Along with Donald and Goofy, the game progresses through worlds inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Hercules, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The variety of the worlds leads to a fun variety in gameplay, with a water world (Little Mermaid), a flying world (Peter Pan), and a puzzle world (Alice in Wonderland). In some of these worlds, you are joined by new Disney characters that can be swapped with Donald or Goofy in your party.
Exploring these different worlds is a lot of fun, creating over 60 hours of solid entertainment. The graphics are stunning throughout the game, given distinct feels for each world (the Nightmare Before Christmas world is particularly special, treating us to Tim Burton-esque interpretations of Sora, Donald, and Goofy). The cut scene graphics are as impressive as one would expect from Square, aided by the voice talents of celebrities such as Haley Joel Osment (Sora), Billy Zane (Ansem), David Gallagher (Riku), David Boreanaz (Leon), Mandy Moore (Aerith), Lance Bass (Sephiroth), Sean Astin (Hercules), Dan Castellaneta (Genie), Gilbert Gottfried (Iago), and James Woods (Hades).
I’ve never been a fan of the Final Fantasy series, mostly because I’m not into traditional RPGs (I’m not into RPGs or First-Person Shooters… I’m so obviously a live-long console guy), so I can’t tell you how well this will play to fans of this series, or how loyal it is to characters from the series that appear in the game (Cloud, Selphie Tilmitt, Tidus, Wakka, Aerith Gainsborough, Yuffie Kisaragi, Squall Leonheart, Cid Highwind). But, for a guy who grew up watching Disney animated movies (you know, before they started to suck), this was a nostalgic blast. Even what could be viewed as a pointless sidequest was a delight because I got to roam the 100 Acre Wood.
The actual gameplay can get very repetitive, and possibly boring to some. A basic battle consists of a lot of button mashing, getting Sora to slash at the Heartless (or Disney villains) with his keyblade. You can also cast spells, which are occasionally helpful, but that’s just another button to mash (depending on what spell you want to use, spellcasting can be unnecessarily frustrating, as it often requires you to scroll through a menu in the middle of a heated battle). However, the game is very objective-heavy, so you don’t concentrate as much on the repetitive action and instead on discovering the next part of the game, or figuring out where to go, or what to do next. Also, in boss levels and the Olympus Coliseum battle levels, there is more variety to the action required of you, which often require more strategy than simply pushing the A button.
The biggest flaw in the game involves the Gummi ship that transports you and your crew from world to world. The graphics, while colourful, are about as impressive as old school Spy Hunter, and there’s nothing much to it other than button mashing and steering. In fact, most of the trips can probably be made without doing either, if you don’t mind taking some damage. Throughout the game, you collect pieces to help you build and modify your ship, but I never saw much use for that. Also, modifying the Gummi ship is horribly frustrating, for all the good it does. Even more frustrating is taking up all your time trying to get to a reward box, only to find that it holds a crappy-ass Gummi block.
The game’s primary story is long and involved enough to make a purchase worth your money (especially as it is a Greatest Hits title, and thus should be had for $29.99 or less). The side quests offer more game play, and some re-playability for completists. I’ve even heard that there are some that love the Gummi ship stuff, which could add to re-playability. Apparently, the game has a two endings: one for finishing the game normally (which I’ve seen), and a bonus one for completing every aspect of the game (or so I hear). Unfortunately, for those who would like to go back and finish everything in the game, you can’t go back into the game after you’ve finished it. However, you can continue it from where you last saved it, which is right before the approximately 30 minute final battle (with cut scenes).
I highly recommend the game to those looking for an adventure with a yearning for some fun nostalgia. It’s obviously designed with younger audiences in mind (rated E for Everyone), but is sophisticated and involving enough to satisfy older gamers willing to put their cynicism aside.