Okay, so when you think of the name “Disney” what do you think of? Magic and wonder? Animated family fun? Giant humanoid rodents who are actually people in outfits that take you into a back room, saying their going to show you something cool when they really take out-… Sorry. Bad summer flashback… Anyway, as for me, I think of all of the above, but also a few other things. Such as a boy with two of Disney’s favorite characters traveling to distant worlds all inspired by their movies. And of course, I’m talking about the surprising success known as Kingdom Hearts. And can you believe that this is also a Square Enix game? (though still Squaresoft back then.) I mean these at the people that created games where slaying monsters and half of the main cast in the game dying, turning JRPGs into the niche it is today. Can something created by these polar opposites really turn out well? The answer: OH DEAR GOD, YES!
But first, for those of you who either never had a PS2 or have been just plain living under a rock for the past 10 years (literally), here’s a little backstory. You play as a young boy named Sora, who lives on the Destiny Islands with his two best friends, Kairi and Riku. The trio are tired of living on their small island, and are building a raft to go off to explore the ocean, hoping that they will come across a new world that way, since Kairi herself was from a different world when she arrived there as a child. The night after they finally finish the raft, an eerie storm engulfs the island and Sora finds himself in possession of a mysterious, key-like blade known as a, comically enough, a Keyblade. Must’ve taken the whole team there at Square to think that up… Anyway, the reason that Sora has obtained this weapon is because darkness has broken down the barriers that protect the hearts of the worlds and devouring them. It does this by becoming incarnate as monsters called Heartless. As Sora fights these creatures, he finds himself sucked up into a mysterious portal and is whisked away from his home. Meanwhile, in another world called Disney Lan-, just kidding. In Disney Castle (though not much better…), the King has gone missing and its up to his trusted friends Donald and Goofy to find him. As fate would have it, the three meet each other in another world called Traverse Town, fight the Heartless and decide to team up to find out what happened to their friends.
Now, to touch on the most important part of any video game, the gameplay. This was one of my favorite things about Kingdom Hearts. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m always up for some turn based gameplay, but some innovation after Final Fantasy 7, thank god. The battles have you free running around the screen, mashing the X button to do combos and pressing L1 with another button to cast certain magic that you equipped to your shortcut menu. You use the circle button to jump, which you need to do for those irritating flying enemies when you’re out of magic, and the square button to dodge roll through attacks. In the start menu, there the usual items section where you can equip yourself and your party with armor, weapons, etc. You can also edit the abilities Sora can use in battle and even outside via attaching abilities to him that use up Ability Points, something you have a limited number on and expands as you level up. Not only do you do this for Sora but for his companions as well. Going to each new world, Sora will gain an ally from that world who fights with you and has their own abilities to edit. It’s simple system, yet has enough depth and planning that keeps it from being a regular hack and slash like God of War.
Now as for the graphics, the games is lovely, even though this was back in the Composite cable era. The intro and ending are both done in CGI and they just look splendid. If you’ve played any of the Final Fantasy games for the Playstation 2, you know what I’m talking about. As for the in-game graphics, the models are surprisingly detailed, especially for the Disney characters. It may have just been me, but seeing them like this brought all of my childhood memories to life. The original characters look fantastic as well, though the cutscenes seem to suffer from the Final Fantasy 10 syndrome. In that they randomly decide whether to animate all the facial features or have the characters flap their lips like South Park characters. The designs of the worlds also carry the wondrous nostalgia that the characters do, be it the Cave of Wonders from the movie Aladdin, Captain Hook’s ship from Peter Pan, even the Hundred Acre Wood from Winnie the Pooh, even though its more of a minigame world. But they have also added in a few custom worlds, yet there is an apparant lack of any Square based worlds, which I found rather odd. And, being a Square game as well, you can’t expect them to have Disney throw in all of their characters. But even so, the characters they chose seemed a bit haphazard, as if they just put all the characters names on a giant billboard and threw darts. In one of the first worlds, Traverse Town, you find Squall from Final Fantasy 8 hanging out with Aerith, Yuffie, and Cid from Final Fantasy 7. You’d think this was because Cloud isn’t in the game, but he is. He’s off in Olympus Coliseum stealing clothes from Vincent. That’s probably why the emo vampire didn’t show up in this game…
Anyway, I’ve gone off topic. This game also offers a plentiful soundtrack, also bringing the nostalgic feel in some worlds, while for others creating new ones that fit in rather well. But if I did have to complain, it would be certain Disney soundtracks they pick. Now I’m not saying they sound bad but while walking through the world, the music is on a constant loop. I love “This is Halloween” and “Under the Sea” to death, but if I have to hear the instrumental version drone on one more time, I’m going to go stark raving mad. I guess it helped that Heartless were plentiful, allowing for the combat soundtracks to start and break the monotony. Speaking of which, the battle soundtrack is also top notch. After turning off the game to continue with my life (or rather lack thereof), I’ve often found myself humming tunes that I heard during battles. That’s always the sign of a good soundtrack in my book, something that sticks with you, even if you do look a bit crazy humming them to yourself in public.
So, the final verdict for this game: I would recommend it to anyone not afraid to play something a bit kiddy. And even then, the message it has is one that even some adults should take into account. The selflessness, the power of friendship, the wanting to help someone who has lost their way, these are all things our lives seem to be lacking nowadays. After playing this game, I actually did think back on all of my past friendships and appreciated those more, thinking of all the people that influenced me and my life. Could be that I just read too much into a simple concept, but hey, don’t take my word for it. Buy the game and experience the wonderful world of Kingdom Hearts for yourself.