Kingdom Hearts
PlayStation 2
Reviewed: 06/07/2003

Unlikely as it sounded to us all, the wonderful world of Disney crossed paths with Squaresoft on PlayStation 2. Perhaps the bigger surprise is just how well the experiment worked.

The story begins with three kids, Sora, Riku, and Kairi living peacefully on their home island. Final Fantasy fans might be delighted to see just who else shares their home. Things take a turn for the ominous, darkness invades their land, and Sora wakes up in another world, traverse town with his two friends gone.

In the world of King Mickey’s castle, Donald and Goofy are set out on a quest ordered to find a “keyblade,” as well as the hero who can wield it. Fate inevitably brings Sora together with the Disney duo, and the journey takes off.

With Final Fantasy and Disney to choose from, the list of possible characters seems almost infinite. While Kingdom Hearts doesn’t pack in every possible face, it does represent an incredible number of names from each roster. Visiting the Disney version of the Hercules Colosseum with Donald and Duck, then running into Cloud Strife, is pretty surreal to say the least. Expect to see plenty of familiar figures throughout. Many FF characters are visually tweaked, but they all work out very well. The Disney characters, meanwhile, all act, look, and sound exactly as we remember them. It’s great to see that Squaresoft didn’t try and “zazz” them up or something ridiculous (Disney’s lawyers may have had something to do with this). These guys were such a big part of our childhood, and it’s easy to see why. Their movements are so inherently comical at times, yet serious at others, that they fit right in as natural heroes and villains in this story. Credit the classic genius of Disney as well as the development prowess of Square for one of the best hybrid casts in gaming today.

Screen Shot
The gang’s all here

The game plays in action RPG style, with enemies appearing and becoming possible targets in real time. Players control only Sora, while the CPU controls all allies. One can, however somewhat modify the A.I. used by other characters — kind of like the Tales series. The system works well overall, with great enemy variety, good-looking effects, and an abilities list that grows at just the perfect rate. Finding oneself just shy of a level-up will never present a burden, as it seems you can always fit in another battle or two.

It is during these battles, however, that the camera becomes problematic. In smaller rooms or near large walls, the camera especially has some weird freakouts that will block important areas/enemies from view. If you play this game, just accept the fact beforehand that you will be hit a number of times, for no other reason than being preoccupied wrestling the camera. I don’t recall ever being finished off by this flaw in my playthrough, though I do remember some blows landing at terrible times. Difficulty is good when it’s by design, but not when it’s by glitch.

The camera will also disrupt smooth platforming. Just as a prospective Kingdom Hearts player must accept taking some extra kicks to the crotch because of the camera, one must accept quite a few unexpected falls off cliffs as well. Should you play this, make that deal with yourself beforehand. It makes things easier when it inevitably happens.

Sceen Shot
Cloud looks like he’s about to turn into a bat and fly away but, well, whatever.

Like most Square RPGs, Kingdom Hearts has some great graphics, made all the better with top-tier art direction. Given the budget and the names behind this game, though, that should come as no surprise. During gameplay and especially during those CG cinemas, your eyes will be treated to some damn fine visuals. Nostalgia and wonder will sweep over older gamers as they go through the Disney worlds especially.

The music compliments the visuals very well, with the majority of the soundtrack being original compositions by Yoko Shimomura (Legend of Mana, Parasite Eve). Whether a reworking of a Disney theme tune or an original piece, virtually all of the tracks feel perfect for their scenes. What’s more, it’s all kicked off by a catchy Japanese pop song — Utada Hikaru performs the main theme over the CG intro. I don’t usually like this kind of music, but heck, Square and Hikaru found a way to make it work, so I’m not complaining. Great stuff.

When Squaresoft announced its collaborative project with Disney, we all knew the potential for a great game was there, but we also took note of potential disaster. Kingdom Hearts ultimately proves a successful combination, and comes recommended to action RPG fans.

-Heath Hindman

Score Breakdown
Out of 10
See our Review Criteria
Gameplay Great
Story Very Good
Graphics Excellent
Sound/Music Excellent
Replay Value Very Good
The Verdict: Great