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Kingdom Hearts
Score: 94%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
When it comes to this review, I'm not sure who is happier. On one hand, I finally played the one game I have wanted more than any other since it was announced at E3 two years ago. On the other, everyone around me finally gets a break from hearing me talk about the game whenever I can work it into a conversation. Some may question the objectivity of this review but if that were the case, that score would read 100 and not the 94 you see above.

The most fitting starting place I can find for this review is the sound. When questioning just how much production value when into this game, you need not look any further than the cast list. When a game has enough draw to it that it can score voice talent like Haley Joel Osment, Sean Astin, Billy Zane, David Boreanaz, and Mandy Moore; voices from the original movies like Scott Weinger, James Woods, Jodi Benson, and Gilbert Godfried, you know you're in for a treat. The voice work is miles beyond anything that has appeared in a video game. Even some of the vocal mismatches such as Lance Bass as Sephiroth and the 'filler' voices sound great.

When it comes to music, let me get one thing out of the way right off the bat. Although this is a Disney production, at no time do any of the game's characters break out in a song and dance number. On that note, the soundtrack is exactly what you would expect from Square. From Utada Hikaru's theme song 'Simple and Clean' to the simplest of victory tunes, everything is fantastic. Disney fans will get a kick out of hearing new versions of old Disney favorites like 'Under the Sea' and 'The Mickey Mouse Club March'.

Graphically, Kingdom Hearts is just as breathtaking. Seeing how Square was able to blend both the Disney and Square characters and worlds is really something to see. Just trying to pick out a favorite level was a real chore. Every level in the game stays very true to the movies - even down to the smallest details. Some Disney purists are sure to point out some minor inconsistencies, but I am convinced those are people you just can't please. The character animation is some of the best I've seen in a game, especially Donald and Goofy. Whereas most characters have a 'computer' like movement, the characters move like they were in a Disney animated feature. If the overall presentation isn't enough to get excited, the visual in-jokes, such as the Fantasia mops cleaning Mickey's castle or the Cactaur Gummi Ship design, are sure to please both Disney and Square fans.

Instead of just going on about what I liked, I thought it better to start with what I didn't like. Yes, even me, Disney fan number one, found problems with the game. First, the camera system needs a lot of work. While not as disorienting as the one found in Super Mario Sunshine, KH's camera will leave you dizzy during some of the game's more intense, free-roaming battles. Even with the ability to rotate the camera anywhere around you, there are times when it is down right impossible to see where you are. As with any camera system, things become a little more manageable as the game progresses and you learn to deal with its nuances.

I was also less than impressed with the whole 'Gummi Ship' system. One of the major turning points of any Final Fantasy game is when your party finally receives the airship, and KH follows in that tradition, only with it's own unique spin. Whereas most Final Fantasies allow you to just fly the airship over the map, KH requires you to pilot, and even build, your own airship. At the start of the game, Donald and Goofy have a very standard ship. As you progress through the game, you can collect blueprints and gummi blocks that enable you to design your very own costume ship. As cool as the feature seems at first, it's very hard to learn and has no noticeable effect on the game. The Starfox-like levels that make up the actual traveling between worlds tedious and not much fun.

Given all the surprises in store for players, I'm not going to talk much about the story. Even if I mentioned just one or two of the game's story elements I'd feel like the guy who just walked out of Empire Strikes Back and yelled to the waiting crowd 'Darth Vader is Luke's father!' Without going into details, there are a few parts of the overall story that are worth mentioning.

For the most part, Kingdom Hearts takes on a very 'Never-ending Story'-like story. After being transported to another world by a magical storm, Sora finds himself lost in another world. He soon runs into Donald and Goofy who are looking for the Keyblade Master - who just happens to be Sora.

As it turns out, a group known as the Heartless are slowly destroying worlds (both Disney and Final Fantasy) and only the Keyblade Master can stop their progression. The three soon set out on an adventure spanning nine Disney worlds including Wonderland, Agrabah (Aladdin), Halloween Town (Nightmare Before Christmas), and Atlantica (The Little Mermaid). After that...well, you'll just have to play the game now won't you. But trust me, some of the surprises in store are unbelievable.

Many detractors of the game questioned just how 'adult' this game could be. How deep could a conversation with Donald Duck or Goofy get anyway? Another point brought up by Disney fans is how much would Square mess with familiar Disney properties. Well - suffice to say both sides should be more than pleased by what Disney and Square have been able to pull off. Sharp-minded FF fans will even pick up on what could be one of the first hints as to how all the games relate to each other.

Kingdom Hearts has a strange way of fluctuating between hard as hell and way too easy. The most difficult thing to get used to is the combat system. Because it is in real-time and everything is happening so fast all at once, things can get hectic. Given that this is a Disney product, many were concerned that the game would be too easy. Having played through over 75 percent of the game, I can assure you this is clearly not the case. From what I've seen, the boss battles in KH easily rival the toughest of FF bosses - including the 'Weapons'. However, KH is able to keep things even and gives you ample time to gain your bearings (and levels) between tough fights, making for a well-balanced game. But when all else fails, there's always the Kingdom Hearts guide from Brady games to help you through some of the game's rockier moments.

Those looking for even more challenge can try finding all 99 Dalmatian puppies, collecting the 'Lost Magic Arts', collecting the Ultimate Weapons, completing all of the cups in the Olympus Coliseum, finding all of the Trinity Marks or trying the game in Expert mode.

Game Mechanics:
Unlike most Square RPGs, Kingdom Hearts takes on a completely new, real-time combat system. For the most part, the game plays very similar to Zelda: OoT. You control Sora while the computer controls the other party members (you can customize their AI in the options menu). On the bottom-left side of the screen is your standard RPG menu. By either pressing up and down on the D-pad or Right analog stick you can choose what you want the action button, X, to do. The first slot is Attack (or talk when near NPCs) and will be your 'default' setting. Second is the Items and Inventory; this is where you choose items and who to use them on. Next is Magic - this is to list all of your spells/summons. You can also hit R1 to bring up a set of 'spell hot keys' which you set in the options menu. Last is the ???? slot. This changes depending on the situation. During battle it becomes your special attack command (Sonic, Throwblade...) depending on what ability you have set, Open when you are near a chest, or Lift when near moveable objects.

You gain EXP after each kill and everyone shares EXP equally, meaning that if a monster gives 2 EXP, everyone gets 2 EXP. You also get EXP by pulling off combos, dodging, or doing other special things in combat. As you fight monsters, they drop orbs that contain mana, health, and money as well as chests. Unlike other RPGs, you aren't rewarded with X amount of money after you beat an enemy. Instead, what you collect is what you get. You can gain abilities like 'Treasure Magnet' and 'Lucky' to get more money and have it attract to you.

In the end, KH is a very strong RPG, even without the Final Fantasy and Disney influences. Even if you would rather take a bullet than sit through anything Disney, KH is an excellent game and worth picking up.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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