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 PLATFORM: PLAYSTATION 2
DISNEY IS HIP TO BE SQUARE

 had my doubts at first, but the wedlock between Disney’s animation heritage and Square Soft’s video game mythos has produced a palpable hit. Whether or not you bask in its brilliance will be based solely on your discernment of the subject matter. Will Final Fantasy enthusiasts be able to accept – let alone comprehend – a heated duel between Final Fantasy VII’s battle-hardened Cloud and Disney’s lanky knucklehead Goofy? I have a feeling that this unique fusion may hit a little too close to home for most, and may even be viewed as a complete and utter mockery of everything role-playing fanatics hold sacred. At the same time, however, a person with a different perspective on the matter may in fact view these very complaints as groundbreaking accomplishments. In such, Kingdom Hearts’ fate truly is in the eye of the beholder.

If you are willing to venture forth into this obscure world, I have a feeling that you’ll find Kingdom Hearts to be just as irresistible as the Final Fantasy games. The first hook comes quickly. Given the age of the characters, the story may initially come across as childish, but rest assured that, as the plot unfolds, you’ll find yourself completely engaged by the conflicts that erupt. Two people seek the affection of another. What lengths will they go to grasp it? Just as you begin to explore this avenue, everything as you know it is flipped upside down and radically changed. At this point, the game basically becomes a race for survival and companionship. All of this happens within the first hour. From here on out, Kingdom Hearts is a white-knuckle, roller coaster ride without relent.

Much like Final Fantasy X, the story breaks are accompanied by spoken dialogue. Square even went out of its way to assemble an all-star cast, including Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense, A.I.) as the main character, Sora. I was a little disappointed to see that only half of the content in the game is actually voiced. It feels a tad awkward at times, especially when it transitions from a voiced segment, to just pantomiming the text, then spoken dialogue again. I was surprised, however, with how smoothly the plot moves between scenes. This is especially impressive when you take into account that you continually warp from one familiar Disney world to the next. The wordsmiths at Square did a phenomenal job blending these elements together. It would be unfair of me to tell you where the journey will take you, and who exactly you will meet, but I will say that almost every Disney character (obscure or not) does make a cameo at some point.

To complement the finely crafted story, Square Soft has concocted a luxurious gameplay package that ditches the traditional turn-based formula for straight-up action. The battles that unfold are as beautiful as they are intense, and as difficult as they are easy to manhandle. You’ll need to master combo strings, leap across platforms, and lock-on and circle for specific attack zones. Breaking the stigma that this is a kid’s game, the attribute system is terribly complex. If you’re not exchanging AP for new spells and moves, you’ll be spending a significant amount of time building and customizing your very own airship.

If this wasn’t enough, some of the puzzles, boss fights, and side quests will also have you scratching your head and cursing the gaming gods as you search feverishly for a solution and a means to victory.

Kingdom Hearts is less about a gimmick, and more about unleashing a journey unlike anything that you’ve ever seen before. Through razor-sharp gameplay, incredible depth, and awe-inspiring originality, Kingdom Hearts truly does deserve the highest of accolades. You just have to be comfortable with the concept to reap the benefits.

  

CHET BARBER   9.5

Kingdom Hearts beautifully blends the dark worlds of Square and the eclectic, happy Disney universe in one seamless adventure that will captivate until the end. Fortunately, while the content allows for everyone to enjoy the semi-dark story, Kingdom Hearts will challenge the most adept of gamers, especially on Expert mode. Each battle presents a challenge where death can, and does occur. Once you grow accustomed to the Zelda-inspired combat system, fighting becomes second nature, which is actually KH’s coolest feature. Combat oozes with technique, myriad spells and special abilities, and a long list of allies to employ (Goofy, Donald, Tarzan, Peter Pan, Aladdin, etc). I do have a few minor gripes (the spaceship minigame can be tedious, and a few puzzles seem too abstract), but they definitely don’t ruin the experience.

9.5
CONCEPT:
The magical world of Disney collides with Square Soft’s legacy in an unforgettable action/RPG
GRAPHICS:
The intricacies of each world are accurately captured, and the character animation is just as impressive as it was in Final Fantasy X
SOUND:
An all-star cast of voice actors and mesmerizing Square Soft melodies
PLAYABILITY:
Engaging battles…responsive combat mechanics…surprisingly deep character customization
ENTERTAINMENT:
The quest is thoroughly amusing in itself, but once you throw in side quests and minigames, forget about it! You’re hooked!
REPLAY:
Moderately High
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