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Kingdom Hearts (PlayStation 2)

85
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.8
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  krisko6 (252)
Written on  :  Feb 06, 2011
Rating  :  4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars4.67 Stars

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Summary

An epic crossover

The Good

Kingdom Hearts was one of the first "epic" games I ever got to play. It's high production values, interesting (if confusing) storyline, and gameplay really stood out to me. As one of the first PS2 games I ever got, it was the first game I played on the system that strongly convinced me that upgrading from the PS1 to the 2 was the correct decision.

I was, and will always be, a fan of Disney. I loved most of their movies, and would spend hours as a kid watching the shorts with Mickey and his friends, including my favorite, Donald Duck. When I saw there was a game that allowed you to fight with and against many of the iconic Disney characters, I was skeptical, but I went ahead and bought it anyway. What followed was one of the strongest memories I had for the PS2.

The storyline involved an anime-ish character named Sora travelling through different worlds with Goofy and Donald in an attempt to find his own friends and return back to his own world. Incidentally, Goofy and Donald are looking to find Mickey, who oddly enough is never seen for the entirety of the game. Weird, huh?

Each world played out like a mini story in and of themselves. Some of the worlds, such as Traverse Town, were created exclusively for the purposes of the game, but most were based on Disney films. The stories in each world loosely followed the plots of the films they were based on, and allowed the player to interact with the various characters they had only previously seen on film. One world, Atlantica, based on " The Little Mermaid" has Sora transformed into a human-dolphin hybrid, which offered an interesting twist on the gameplay by forcing the player to swim around instead of jump on platforms.

The gameplay plays out like an action platform game with RPG elements. Yes, most of the time you will be mindlessly mashing the X button, but the addition of magic and items, along with the verticality of the levels, makes for an interesting and fun style of gameplay. In addition, there are also on-rails shooting levels in the style of "Starfox" or "Iridion 3D" where the goal is to shoot your way to the end while avoiding obstacles. The game gives you the option of building something called a "Gummi Ship" by using a needlessly complicated interface to do so. Thankfully, you will only need to play through the shooting sections once for each new world that you come across, as purchasing a key part for the Gummi Ship will allow you to warp across worlds you've already been to.

The graphics are outstanding. The characters resemble their animated counterparts so closely that somethime's you'll swear you are watching a Disney animated movie instead of a game cutscene. The framerate stays pretty consistent throughout, and the battle sequences and backgrounds offer plenty of eyecandy to gawk at. Simply put, one of the best looking games on the system.

The sound is great too. You'll hear classic Disney tunes as well as fully orchestrated original music, which complements the familiar stuff well. There's even a pop song with lyrics sung by Japanese singer Utada Hikaru, that's quite difficult to get out of your head. Sometimes the music can be a little "MIDI"-ish in some spots, but overall, it's quite well done.

As a story driven game, the voice acting here also deserves mention. The voices for the Disney characters sound exactly like their original voices. I bet more than a few of them ARE the original voices. As for the non-Disney ones, they picked a surprisingly recognizable cast there as well. Haley Joel Osmont voices the main character Sora, while Hayden Panetierre voices Kairi, and David Gallagher voices Riku. Other popular voices, such as Mandy Moore, Christy Carlson Romano, and Lance Bass, also put in appearances as characters from the developer's other key series, Final Fantasy, that were thrown into the mix as well. Their harsher, Teen-rated edges have been toned down slightly for this particular release, however.

The Bad

While the graphics are stunning, there was one major problem I had with them, one that's bitterly ironic given the theme of the game: They're too dark! There were at least a couple of instances where I literally couldn't see anything BUT Sora and lost my way as a result of the visuals being too dark. I was stuck for at least a couple days on the storm sequence because I couldn't see where I was supposed to go very clearly. That was especially painful because I would have to play from the very beginning of the game due to the lack of save points until past the storm. Getting to Merlin's house was pure torture because I couldn't see the rocks that you were supposed to jump on to get there. Brightening the tv did help, but I wish the developers brightened the darker areas of this game up a little more so that such adjustments wouldn't be necessary.

The cutscenes were not skippable. Although it makes sense as a more story-driven game to force the player to watch the cutscenes, some of them were very long and led to difficult boss fights thereafter, especially near the end of the game. I nearly gave up fighting Riku in Hollow Bastion because the cutscene before hand was about five minutes long and I would keep dying soon after. This would thankfully be rectified in the second game.

Finally, my biggest complaint for the game: It's too hard. it took me five years to beat this game because I gave up at a certain, overly frustrating boss fight near the end of the game. Only after having a friend finish it for me was I able to continue and defeat the final boss. Just about every boss in this game was hard in some way, so only dedicated gamers need apply. Casual fans of Disney and videogames will absolutely struggle to get through this one.

The Bottom Line

This is, to me, the best game in the Kingdom Hearts series to date. Subsequent games would tone down the difficulty of gameplay while ramping up the difficulty of following their storylines. Some of them, like the disappointing "Chain of Memories", would even change the gameplay entirely. But this is the one to play, if you must play any KH game at all. It is an epic, visually stunning journey, through a surprising universe you thought you would never see, and most ages can come along for the ride, which is always a plus in my book. A real PS2 gem.