Kingdom Hearts

We're not sure which is more improbable: the fact that Square actually made an action/RPG featuring Disney characters, or the fact that the result is a complete success.

When Square and Disney first announced Kingdom Hearts last year, no one really knew what to make of the project. Why are Donald and Goofy hanging out with Japanese RPG-type characters? What's with all these Final Fantasy stars making cameos? This isn't (spit) edutainment, is it? Fortunately for gamers, Square has taken 75 years of Disney history, added a few pages from its own library, and created what's easily the best action/RPG for the PS2. That deafening roar you hear is the collective sigh of relief coming from diehard Square fans everywhere.

Your alter ego in Kingdom Hearts is Sora, who lives on Destiny Island with rival Riku, love interest Kairi, and a grab bag of Final Fantasy characters. This idyllic life is ruined by both an invasion of the Heartless, a horde of creatures under the control of Maleficent, and a cadre of Disney villains. This group is using the Heartless to search for seven "princesses" (Disney heroines) who are needed to open a cosmic door that's probably best not tampered with. Teaming up with Donald Duck and Goofy, you must use the magical Keyblade to smite the Heartless, restore each Disney world (pun intended) to normal, and give the game the happy ending it deserves.

Every world you visit in Kingdom Hearts is based on a famous Disney movie, from Alice in Wonderland to The Nightmare Before Christmas (Japanese developers have odd tastes in Disney films). Saving each universe from the Heartless entails completing a quest or two, which mostly follow the plot of the original film (such as proving Alice's innocence to the Queen, or helping Ariel defeat Ursula). You're occasionally allowed to have the world's hero (or heroine) join your party during the quest, but only Donald and Goofy stick with you until the end.

The game's battle system is reminiscent of old N64 Zelda games. Besides laying down the law with your Keyblade, you can use MP for magic and summons as well as ability points to equip new battle moves. Although you can't control your two companions, they mostly behave sensibly, healing you in times of need and doing a fairly good job of keeping themselves alive.

As you'd expect, the graphics and sound are gorgeous, easily on par with what Square managed in Final Fantasy X. All the backdrops are spot-on with the original movies, and it's hard to find a single blemish in the animation. The voice-acting, in particular, is positively dreamy: The Disney characters sound exactly like they should, but Haley Joel Osment (playing Sora) steals the show with his cocky but not whiny performance. Old Final Fantasy nutters will love hearing what Cloud and Squall sound like, too. If you can forgive the fact that Square didn't lip-sync all the dialogue, the cut-scenes are among the best the PS2 can manage.

Although not an easy-peasy kids' game at all, Kingdom Hearts? action progresses very smoothly, and most gamers should reach the end without much frustration. The only disappointment is the shoot-em-up sequences where Sora has to navigate Donald's "Gummi Ship" between worlds. There's actually a full-featured Gummi Ship creation system, complete with blueprints and rare parts, but the shooter stages are just plain tiresome, and most players will want to get done with them as soon as possible.

Please don't let the Disney logo scare you away from Kingdom Hearts. Not only is the game a full-fledged Square RPG, but it's also a pretty long one (a good 30 hours, if you try to find all the secrets). The effort is worth it, too?the ending sequence not only blatantly sets up for Kingdom Hearts 2, but also is among the best finales seen in any Square title ever. If you were a Kingdom Hearts skeptic before, consider your fears officially assuaged: Action/RPGs (and Square games) don't get much better than this.

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Rikulover9

The characters and story in Kingdom Hearts definitely make this one of my favorite games. It's AMAZING!! :)

jehudee

Kingdom Hearts is one of those games that gets you totally addicted to it. I'm a Disney nut so I had a blast discovering how they put all the characters together. The story gets confusing at times, but hey it's a SquareEnix game, they all get confusing.

I think what I loved most about this game was how they managed to keep the spirit of each disney character alive while they were totally out of their element.

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