by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
When I first heard that Disney and Squaresoft had collaborated to create a game I couldn't believe it. Without a shadow of a doubt these two entities are the masters of their respective crafts. If the fruit of their collaboration was to be all that it promised to be, we would undoubtedly have the ultimate in gaming pleasure. Of course in a perfect world this would be so but in life, as I'm sure you'll know, what is promised and what actually happens are seldom the same. Unbelievably Kingdom Hearts, whilst not quite managing to be the best game of all time, comes very, very close.
The story revolves around Sora, a 14 year old boy whose world is thrown into disarray after a storm hits his island. Just that very day Sora and his friends Riku and Kairi had planned to set off on an adventure. However, during the storm Sora gets taken from his world and away from his friends. It is not long before Sora meets Donald Duck, the Court Wizard and Captain Goofy who become part of Sora's party. Donald and Goofy have also left their world in search of King Mickey Mouse who is feared to be in terrible danger. Whatever the danger is, Sora, who acquires a weapon known as the Keyblade, is seen as an essential character in solving their problem.
The game may be called Kingdom Hearts but the cast reads like a Who's Who of Disney and the Final Fantasy series of games. You will lose track of all the Disney characters in here. Donald, Goofy, Mickey, Aerial, Winnie the Pooh, Hercules etc., etc. In fact there are simply too many to mention. Squaresoft deserve an award for recreating these characters faithfully. If Walt Disney himself was alive he would be very proud indeed of this game. Indeed it feels as if Walt himself had a hand in it. Final Fantasy fans will also recognise many characters such as Tidus, Wakka, Cloud and Moogles to name but a few. Throughout the game there are sequences that will remind you of both Disney films and Final Fantasy games which is a truly remarkable feat as these sequences seem to fit in with the game and don't feel as though they have been forced into the plot.
Of course in many ways the gameplay is very reminiscent of the Final Fantasy games, particularly Final Fantasy X. However, there is one crucial difference that might upset some gamers, the game has real time combat and does away with the famed Squaresoft turn based combat. Over the years there have been some who have requested that the Final Fantasy games ought to change to real time combat and Kingdom Hearts shows exactly why those people are completely wrong. Unlike the turn based combat of the Final Fantasy games, you never feel in control. Combat is simply hitting the X button. There are some move variations such as jumping and then attacking but it is all very simple, although the battles themselves can be very difficult. To aid you in your attacks a lock on feature has been included which makes things ever so slightly easier. Another problem arises in battles if you are near to a door. When Sora gets close to a door that opens, he automatically opens it. This can lead to you becoming disorientated which again is something that could have so easily been avoided.
Magic can be used but to be honest it doesn't have the impact on the game in the same way that it does in the Final Fantasy games although that's probably due to the fact that you don't get the chance to use it properly as it's simply quicker to bash the enemies than perform a spell. It's also a pain giving a potion to other party members during a real time battle too. At the end of the day this is a game aimed at a younger audience and for the combat to be difficult, although not impossible, is inexcusable. At the beginning of the game you get to answer questions about yourself and Squaresoft ought to have included the option either for turn based combat or a way to dramatically reduce the combat outside of the boss battles. Alternatively an easy difficulty level could have been included to add to the normal and expert ones on offer.
As you can see from the screenshots the whole thing looks absolutely superb. In terms of visuals, it is one of the most beautiful pieces of software ever. The game really captures the look of both Disney and the Final Fantasy games. The whole thing remains wonderfully smooth and the framerate doesn't even drop during a hectic battle which is very impressive indeed. The animation of the characters is just as spectacular. Of course with Squaresoft you just know the cutscenes are going to state of the art and Kingdom Hearts is no exception. What might upset some gamers though is that there is no 60Hz mode so boarders are once again present. The game is also plagued by dodgy camera angles. You have to use the L2 & R2 buttons to rotate the camera whilst pressing them simultaneously will bring the camera behind Sora. The problem here is that you're altering the camera angle far too often, even when the camera movement is set to automatic.
The Final Fantasy games are superb for deaf gamers and Kingdom Hearts is too. Everything is subtitled by default and all information is shown in text. Should you or your party members' health (HP) drop too low then the respective icons will flash to highlight this fact, a very nice touch. All text in the game is very easy to read which is essential. There is even a journal that can be accessed that recaps the story so far and gives you the low-down on the enemies you have encountered.
Giving a verdict on Kingdom Hearts is immensely difficult. On one hand you have the perfect blend of the spirit of Disney and the superb style of the Final Fantasy games but the aforementioned problems mean that it can't be considered perfect. If only Squaresoft had kept the turn based combat, at least as an option; if only the camera angles weren't such a pain in the rear, then we would undoubtedly be looking at a 10/10 game but the real time combat and the random respawning enemies will put off a lot of this games potential audience (children and Final Fantasy fans). Still even with the aforementioned faults (of course if you hate turn based combat you may not see it that way) this is still a truly special game. It's just not quite the game many would have hoped for.
Overall Game Rating: 8.5/10 A truly special game that is marred by a tedious real time combat system and the poor camera angles.
Deaf Gamers comment: Excellent provision for deaf gamers.