Once upon a time, in a tiny island in the middle of the ocean, there was a boy named Sora. He lived a carefree life, and played every day with his little friends (some of whom bear a stunning resemblance to characters from another videogame universe, but more on that later). Then, some bad stuff happened and he was separated from his friends, and whisked away to a distant land and set on a journey to save the world. Thus begins Kingdom Hearts, a story in RPG format about friendship, loyalty, and the power of the heart, with some fun twists thrown in.
The main attraction behind Kingdom Hearts (in case you hadn’t heard already) is its integration of original characters, Disney characters, and Final Fantasy characters into one story. This strategy works rather well if you happen to be a fan of (good) Disney movies (as I am), or the Final Fantasy series (as I feel like I should be), but even if you have no great love for either, Kingdom Hearts is still a great game in its own right.
As the main character, Sora, you travel to many different worlds, most of them from Disney movies such as The Little Mermaid and Peter Pan, searching for your lost pals Riku and Kairi, and accompanied by your new friends Donald and Goofy, who are on their own quest to find King Mickey. On the way, you do battle with your keyblade (it’s a key—and it’s a blade) against the Heartless, a group of dark beings which have mysteriously sprung up everywhere and threaten to engulf the world, as well as various Disney villains who have joined them. In addition to Donald and Goofy, you have the option of adding other Disney characters to your party, each with their own special moves and such, although it is generally a good idea to rely on yourself rather than these fellows when it comes to things like fighting and healing.
The visuals and sound in this game range from stunning to really quite good. Right away, you’re treated to a few introductory cutscenes with amazing graphics and the game’s catchy, pop-y theme song playing in the background. Even when there aren’t any super-high-quality cutscenes to watch, the graphics for the game itself are smooth and colorful. The background music during gameplay is almost always pleasant and hummable, and features some really cool remixes of classic Disney songs. And while it’s not the best videogame music I’ve ever heard, the variety is wide enough and the tunes catchy enough that you don’t find yourself throwing things at the screen or anything like that (although I did get comments from my parents like, “Aren’t you tired of the same music playing over and over again?!”, but that’s nothing new). My only complaint, if I have to have one, is that my favorite bit of music from the whole game—a haunting choral piece during the fight with Sephiroth—does not appear on the game’s official soundtrack. Ah well, I guess I’ll survive somehow. The game also features top-notch voice acting, with many of the Disney characters voiced by their real movie actor counterparts, and some famous people doing the other voices too.
The controls in the game, mainly as they relate to camera angles, seem to have been a major negative point for some people, but personally, I didn’t have too much of a problem with them. I don’t really remember a time in which they detracted greatly from the gameplay, although it could sometimes get annoying when you’re in the middle of a battle and you have to remember which combination of buttons you assigned to healing and which to a fire spell. Other than that, though, the controls are decent enough, and it’s pretty easy to get by with the good “hit the X button a million times and you’re all set” sort of thing, at least for a little while, anyway.
As far as replay value goes, this game has quite a bit of it. There are loads of extra things to do, which you may have missed on your first playthrough. From rescuing the 99 dalmations to beating extra bosses to finding the ultimate weapons—if you ever get tired of the main story, there’s an almost-endless supply of other quest-type things to occupy your time. This even includes various minigames scattered throughout the world, which may not get you anywhere, really, but sure can be addicting if you let them. As an added bonus, if you accomplish a certain list of extra quests, you’re treated to a “secret ending” after the real ending of the game, which consists of a nifty video, most likely footage from the upcoming sequel. Of course, if you happen to do all the extra things before you beat the game, then the replay value drops to roughly 0. It all depends on how thorough you want to be, really, and you don’t get anything special for having beaten the game and starting over again.
So, having said all that, I will leave you with this: Kingdom Hearts is a fun game. It’s lively, entertaining, engaging, has believable (and mostly loveable) characters, and is nice to look at, to boot. No wonder it was GameCola’s game of the year in 2002. Plus, it left itself wide open for a sequel—and I don’t mean Chain of Memories, although that’s a nice enough filler. Kingdom Hearts II, I’m waiting for you.