Square + Disney = High Production Values
With the combined prowess of Square and Disney, it is no surprise that Kingdom Hearts is a highly polished game. This 3rd-person adventure/RPG pits the young protagonist Sora against the armies of the Heartless. In order to stop the heartless, Sora must travel to a number of worlds straight out of the Disney movies. Each world Sora visits, along with his AI controlled companions Donald and Goofy, is well designed and instantly recognizable to anyone with a passing familiarity with the appropriate franchise.
These individual worlds Sora travels to look fantastic. The characters are well voiced and the combat system is entertaining and challenging. The story, while certainly not Square's best (or Disney's for that matter), is interesting enough to keep you playing. In normal Square fashion, there are numerous secrets to find and collections to complete most of which are enjoyable. Overall, the core gameplay is well done and highly polished and is bound to entertain action-RPG fans, Square fans, and Disney fans alike.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the game lies within the 'Gummi' ship levels found when traveling between worlds. These levels take the form of an on-the-rail shooter. In these levels, the player flies through a psychedelic backdrop shooting ships, asteroids, and other obstacles and then picking up various parts that they drop. A significant portion of the treasure and secrets found within the game result in additional parts for this Gummi ship. The player can then use these parts to design additional ships with increase speed, firepower, etc. While this could have been an interesting concept, the Gummi ship levels are entirely unrelated to the game. You can go through all these shooter levels without dying once or even being challenged. This eliminates the need for any such ship modification beyond using the ship design portion of the game as a time sink. While this may appeal to some, It was disappointing to me to have a large amount of the treasure and secrets in the game result in something that has a net effect of zero on the game.
An additional problem encountered stemmed from poor camera control in a number of locations. There were numerous times when the player is forced to make a jump they can not see due to issues with the camera.
While the worlds are well designed graphically, several of them are poorly designed from a gameplay stand point. These worlds (the Tarzan world in particular), suffer from extreme repetition in which the player must visit the same locations within that world over and over. This has a tendency to artificially extend the time the player spends in each world running from location to already visited location.
Finally, like most Square games, there are numerous cutscenes throughout the game. This has a tendency to halt the flow of the game. While this may be forgivable due to the high quality of the cut scenes, the fact that the player can not skip the cutscenes is not.
The Bottom Line
While there are a number of flaws in this title, it is hard to not enjoy the game. The seemingly incongruent mash-up of Final Fantasy and Disney works surprisingly well. The core gameplay is enjoyable and the story, while not up to the usual Square standards, is entertaining as well.