Kingdom Hearts - Staff Retroview  

Have a Heart, Have a Kingdom
by Tyler Willis

Easy to Medium
30 to 45 hours


Rating definitions 

In reality, a kingdom of hearts would likely be a rather messy, bloody affair with random spurts of bodily fluid cascading down upon an ever thumping landscape consisting of naught but grossly misshapen organs.

Luckily, Squaresoft and Disney opted for a more figurative approach to their joint effort RPG, Kingdom Hearts. While it may seem an unlikely combination - the perennial RPG powerhouse teaming up with the company that has defined American animation - the result is a surprisingly fun, light-hearted romp through many of Disney's most beloved intellectual properties juxtaposed with the signature Squaresoft-style storyline. Add in an action RPG battle system and a few Final Fantasy cameos, and it becomes obvious that the two giants have created a magical kingdom.

The story tells the tale of three kids from the Destiny Islands: their journey as their world is torn asunder, what happens as they are thrown into a brave new world, and finally the tie that binds their hearts together. Kairi is the object of affection for both Sora, the main protagonist, and Riku, Sora's friend and rival. When they are separated, Sora and Riku search for her, but their methods are worlds apart.

In another land, far far away, King Mickey has disappeared, leaving only a cryptic instruction: find the one with the Keyblade and follow. The royal wizard Donald and captain of the royal knights Goofy set out to follow the king's message. It is early in the story that these two find Sora and discover him to be the bearer of the Keyblade.

The rest of the story involves an overall progression toward finding Kairi and unraveling the mystery of the Heartless, black beings who are attacking and swallowing whole worlds. Sora et al will travel through a dozen different environments, most based on Disney stories: Agrabah from Aladdin, Wonderland from Alice in Wonderland, Neverland from Peter Pan, etc. Though each world is self-contained with its own problems for Sora to solve, each also furthers the overall plot progression.

Are you absolutely certain that we HAVE to jump in? Are you absolutely certain that we HAVE to jump in?

Kingdom Hearts is an action RPG, resembling the later Zelda adventures. For much of the journey, Sora will have two traveling companions, usually Donald and Goofy, but they can be switched out for local heroes while visiting particular worlds, e.g. Ariel will lend a fin while in Atlantica, but she won't be accessible anywhere else. Players have direct control only over Sora but can adjust the character AI to suit the situation. While the AI may not be beating Deep Blue anytime soon, it does a respectable job of keeping party members alive and attacking.

Sora has a variety of actions at his command, but only two basic types of attack: physical and magical. While the physical starts off very basic, Sora can gain abilities as he levels that will enhance, extend, or add to his physical attack repertoire. Magical attacks include a variety of elemental magics combined with a few all-purpose spells; these are gained during the progress of the story. Kingdom Hearts features a lock-on system to keep targets in check, but the camera has definite issues in keeping the player in view at all times.

Beyond the camera issue, controls are solid and take just a short while to get used to. Similar to the .hack franchise, playtime is divided in between battle and normal modes. During battle, the player will not be able to access most of the main menus and is stuck with whatever configuration (items, abilities, AI) that started the battle. After an enemy is defeated, it may expend HP balls, MP balls, munny, or items. Given the limited item inventory, it is essential that characters pick these up in order to stay alive. Unfortunately, the AI does not always pick up on this fact, and any excess above a character's max is wasted.

While Kingdom Hearts has a lot of great features, it is not without its detractions either. Notably, the Gummi Ship is used as both minigame and sidequest: the ship is used to travel between worlds and can be upgraded at times. In practice, however, the Gummi Ship sequences are horribly degenerated clones of the original Star Fox, and the building menu is exceedingly complex. Fortunately, it is possible to keep the original ship throughout the entire adventure.

As Bender says, "Oh man. We're boned." As Bender says, "Oh man. We're boned."

The magic system is underdeveloped and underpowered in comparison to the physical attacks; most players will opt to use magic sparingly and spend most of the time hacking and slashing. Unfortunately, this leads to a simply repetitive battle sequence of continually hitting the same button. Also, the specific environment of two worlds lends itself to an awkwardness of movement, especially in battle.

Graphically, the game exhibits a perfect combination of Squaresoft and Disney talent; characters are detailed and life-like, and environments are true to their original settings. It is clear that no expense was spared in creating a believable atmosphere. Aurally, the game also shines. The soundtrack is as varied as the worlds, often sounding so similar to Disney movies that it adds the perfect touch. Voice acting consists of top-level actors, many of whom are the actual voices for their respective Disney characters; needless to say, the result is dialogue that is a cut above most RPGs.

Kingdom Hearts features a number of sidequests, end-game tournaments, and extra bosses to add to replayability. Completing certain requirements unlocks bonus features, and players can opt between two levels of difficulty each with their own reward.

Overall, Kingdom Hearts is a solid effort and collaboration. While not without flaws, the game showcases the better aspects of its progenitors. Recommended for Disney fans and action RPG fans alike.

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