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For the Kid in All of Us
Since E3 2001, there has been a great deal of talk about many aspects of Kingdom Hearts. At first, many RPGamers found the idea of Disney and Square joining forces to be fearful. Others felt that it was a cheap gimmick for a child’s game, and the rest of us kept quiet and waited to see what would unfold. After months of development, it was clear both companies were not going the quick route, and instead were trying to make something no one had ever imagined.
Kingdom Hearts’ goal was to combine the multiple worlds of Final Fantasy with the dazzling diversity of the Disney Empire. To do this, some of the characters would have to be changed: either Disney would get older, or Final Fantasy would become younger. Disney has the distinct advantage of being more widely known, so Final Fantasy was altered. Many of the Final Fantasy characters are younger--some appear to be as young as grade-schoolers. For those who know what they used to be, this transformation can be a little disturbing, but it is neccessary for the game to succeed.
And succeed it does. The story is a classic tale of good versus evil, mostly between the Disney cast, but as one moves through the story, the Final Fantasy characters make their presence felt. King Mickey has disappeared, forcing Donald and Goofy to start searching for him. Sora, our hero, is on his own world when it’s attacked by an unknown, superior dark force. After an epic battle, Sora is teleported to a new town, where he finds the Keyblade—-or rather, it finds him. When Donald and Goofy see that Sora is now the Keyblade master, they recruit his help to battle the forces of evil, who have named themselves the Heartless.
Our new band of heroes must travel to different worlds, but to do so, they require a spaceship. Fortunately for all, Donald and Goofy own a Gummi ship. The ship is fairly weak, and lacks many of the key components required to complete the long journey. As a unique and enjoyable task, RPGamers will be able to build their own Gummi ships throughout the game, but first they will have to find Gummi blocks. Most of the generic blocks can be found in transit to other worlds, by destroying enemy ships and various obstacles for parts. Key parts, such as warp drive, or better weapons, are given as gifts for saving many vibrantly colorful worlds from the terrors of darkness.
To save these worlds, Sora must find the magical keyhole hidden in each world. With the Keyblade, he can lock the world from invasion from the Heartless. The Heartless know of Sora and do everything in their power to stop him from locking each world. Each new world is straight from a Disney scene: swing on vines with Tarzan; visit Neverland with Peter Pan; or explore the Cave of Wonders and Agrabah with Aladdin; and more. However, travel carefully. Countless monsters, each with their own attacks and special abilities, are lurking in each world waiting to destroy anything in their path.
Sora, Donald and Goofy are under constant attack, even from worlds already locked. There is no fade-in, fade-out battle mode. The indicators that Sora is in danger are the menu turning red, and the music changing. The player may only control Sora. His companions will fight as they have been told to do in the main menu. Sora wields the Keyblade as his main offensive power. Kingdom Hearts fights in real time with a locking system. The game will lock onto the closest enemy, which Sora will try and attack. The lock by default is soft, and Sora will attack anything remotely close to him. By pressing R1, the lock is more fixed, and the camera will follow that enemy. Sora will not attack anything except that enemy, so be careful about trying to walk by other enemies, or fighting near cliffs.
As the game progresses, Sora will also learn magic spells and eventually summon spells as well. Magic is straight from Final Fantasy: Cure, Firaga, Blizzara, etc. In order to use magic effectively, one should select three spells to be used with the shortcut button (L1). Considering the diverse opponents in each world, being limited to only three magic spells is a hinderance. If you need a fourth spell, you have to use the directional pad to navigate the menu while dodging attacks with the analog stick. It’s not an easy task.
Using magic in battle is the only real problem with how the game system works. The onscreen menu system works very well outside of battle, with the fourth selection changing from "Open" to "Examine" or any special function availible for the object the game has locked on to. The collection of abilities gained during the game don’t seem to affect the characters as much as they should, as the the number of Ability Points (AP) grows rapidly, making almost all the techniques selectable at any time. The customization of your allies’ actions works very well, but even when set to be used sparingly, items and magic disappear in the blink of an eye. It’s easier to not give Sora's allies any items unless you know you need their help.
For anyone who has grown up with Disney, which would be nearly everyone, the music of the movies and the shows was always something to treasure. With this conversion to gaming, the music is done in style. The collection of music and sounds vary from world to world, but the RPGamer is immersed in each individual one. Even in the darker worlds, the exploring music is always uplifting and the battle music engaging. A well done score for Kingdom Hearts.
And finally, the toughest score for a game to excel on when I'm reviewing is localization. Kingdom Hearts’ voice acting is something I am pleased with. The phrases used sound like the characters would say them and the synchronization from lips to words is top-notch. Disney put in a lot of effort to find either the original voice actors, or new voice actors who could fit the characters role in this story. Square chose some big names to debut the voices of many of these characters for the first time. Together, they have created perhaps the best voice-over production to-date.
At first glance, Kingdom Hearts is for the young. Older gamers may feel wary about the younger Final Fantasy characters combined with the vast collection of all that is Disney. For these players, I hope the wave on nostalgia will overcome any apprehension. While many people may avoid this game for that fear of playing something “kiddie,” those that never wanted to grow up in the first place are in for a real treat.
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