When I first got hold of a copy of kingdom hearts, months ago now, I was tremendously excited. I was one of those kids who was brought up on the Disney stuff back in the early eighties when video was opening whole new possibilities for parents. My sister and I had tapes and tapes of stuff recorded off TV (in those days the novelty was high so we just recorded everything) and constantly argued about what to put on. I always wanted to watch Knight Rider again (or Buck Rogers or Battlestar Galactica or something like that) and she always wanted cartoons. Inevitably, she had a better scream than I did and consequently I think I’ve seen every Disney short ever. When I heard Square and Disney had teamed up to bring those classic Disney characters into a Final Fantasy style game, I was blown away and knew I had to get hold of this as soon as possible. I guess when you get that excited about something, it’s only ever going to be disappointing, and that’s Kingdom Hearts all over. Bare in mind, now, that Kingdom Hearts isn’t a bad game by any means, it’s actually quite good I suppose, but I guarantee you’ll be playing it thinking it could have been so much better. These days, with the amount of excellent games that are available on the PS2, it’s hard to recommend a game that’s just ‘quite good’, and that’s what this is, sadly nothing more.
What of the plot then, how come Mickey, Donald, Goofy and the rest of the Disney crew are rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cloud, Tidus, Wakka and various other Final Fantasy people? Well, apparently there’s a group of baddies called ‘The Heartless’ who are stealing the life out of a few worlds using mysterious connecting doorways. At the start you control Sora, a stereotypical Final Fantasy character (you know, the cute face and spiky haired kind) whose friends are stolen away and you set out to rescue them, with your first weapon, ‘The KeyBlade’. Along the way you find out that Donald and Goofy are on a similar mission to find Mickey (their King, obviously) and you eventually join forces. This is where the real adventure begins and you spend the rest of the game going from one Disney themed world to the next, battling the Heartless and completing the various challenges the local residents need you to do before you face the boss and move on.
This is where the problems start. You often don’t know where you are going or what you have to do next, but since the individual worlds you go to are too small anyway, you generally find yourself stumbling on the correct route eventually. Along the way you find yourself battling hordes of Heartless, who themselves look like little black liquorice men or jelly babies or something, and this gets very repetitive and very annoying. Yes, it’s even more annoying than the random battles in Final Fantasy X. Like FFX, though, the more Heartless you battle, the more experience you earn and the harder your party become, meaning these irritatingly frequent battles are a necessity to improve your characters stats. Again, like FFX, this also means the more little people you kill the more experience you get and the easier the boss battles get at the end. So boring, it’s even hard to write about it.
What of the combat, how is that played out? Well, you start with basic attacking combos, which you get from hammering X, of course. As the levels progress, you get some spells and summonings and what have you, but even then you still mostly just bash X. There’s a lock on facility which is useful, but it simply means you just hold R1 to get a lock then bash X. Then, the lock reverts to the next available target for you to bash X all over again. You don’t even need to jump in combat because at close range locked-on jumping attacks are triggered by, yes you guessed it, bashing X.
Some attempt has been made to build a party dynamic into the game. When Goofy and Donald first join in it’s quite an amazing sight I have to admit, but soon you realise that they’re just there as cannon fodder while you bash X. You have no control of them in the fights, save a screen where you can sets their combat priorities, and they often just wade in. Sadly, it seems that even the computer-controlled characters just bash X…
Kingdom Hearts will be compared to FFX from last year and this is going to be another bone of contention. The way I see it, the gaming community appeared firmly split over whether FFX was a ground breaking RPG tour de force, or a sadly linear ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ rehash of all the other titles they’ve ever done, and the camp will be similarly split over this title. Initially I liked FFX, I played it most of the way through, got Yojimbo and Magus Sisters for the final battle against Sin and everything, but I still would have to agree that, while it was beautiful, it was sadly linear and had uninspiring, dated game play. Kingdom Hearts is more repetitive because of all the button bashing, so is a further step back rather than forwards for the company. And I’m not even going to talk about the shoddy 3D camera because it’s sickening that years after Mario 64, major software houses still can’t get this right.
Tedious game play aside though, this title looks fantastic, is presented beautifully and will be very popular. Never have the Disney characters looked so good, it’s just a crying shame it’s not as much fun to play as it is to watch.