Kingdom Hearts Review

You'd think that combining a company such as Disney - light hearted, cartoon ridden and cute - with one like Square Enix - the biggest name in RPGs and father of the Final Fantasy series - would turn out to be pretty poor. You couldn't be more wrong if you tried.

KH is one of those games which you'd expect to be something, but it turns out to be something completely different. I mean, you just have to take one look at the graphics and make a huge wild assumption that it has something cutesy and vibrant for you to disregard it as a serious RPG. But beyond its hearty exterior lies something much darker with a depth to it that only some games can match.

As soon as you place the disc in its rightful place and the controller in your hand, you'll realize exactly how deeply involving it is. All this talk of heart, emotions, friendship - it's a genuinely human experience and time and time again, you'll try to put yourself in Sora's cartoon-like, oversized shoes.

Now, having Goofy and Squall (FFVIII) smacking seven bells out of each other in the middle of an arena reminiscent of the Coliseum deserves some explanation. The story is set in a series of parallel worlds, all intertwined by the same evil that faces them - a huge entity of bodies called the Heartless.

These beings devour the hearts of human beings, but they don't exactly look like a bunch of blood sucking monsters. In fact, for all you FF fans, think Vivi without his gear, shaped like Marvin the Martian from Looney Tunes. So despite the fact that the plot has some real edge to it, the younger ones amongst us won't have nightmares over all this.

You play as Sora, the boy caught up in the middle of this drama. After getting sucked into a portal, you end up in Traverse Town, one of the worlds in the parallel universe. The worlds themselves are incredibly detailed and capture Disney's style of work perfectly. You'll love setting foot on a new world, taking in the complete change in theme from the last - whether it's Agrabah to Atlantica, Halloween Town to Hollow Bastion, there's something for everyone in terms of backdrops and detail.

The combat system itself is pretty good too. Armed with a keyblade, Sora can pull off a variety of combat moves ranging from the basic slash combo all the way up to complex strings of Ariel hits and finishing blows. The combat screen is also really is to understand - consisting of a very easy to use, if not slightly time consuming menu, lock on features and an easy button configuration. Using magic, summoning creatures and throwing items are all part of the games abilities, and it provides you with a more diverse choice of approach to battle.

The game itself is very linear indeed - you travel from planet to planet, each of which is pretty small, doing quests that relate directly to either the continuing story or the people in the world you're occupying. For example, in Wonderland, you have to try and free Alice after she is wrongly arrested for attempting to steal the Queen's heart. You have to gather some evidence proving Alice's innocence and set her free, while battling plenty of Heartless, who are gradually getting harder as the game goes on.

This moves me onto another point - the AI. Despite the two difficulty settings, the game on a whole is pretty easy, and that's because of the wide audience it's aimed at. I'm not saying that it doesn't hold its challenges - the optional bosses for one are no pushovers - but the random encounters are a little too easy to be as enjoyable as it could be.

As soon as you get to a certain point in the game, all that changes, but until then, you're really just training for the bosses. Which, might I add, are incredibly enjoyable. Most of the bosses consist of Disney cameos, such as Ursula and Jafar, but that's what makes it more interesting. There's a lot of satisfaction when you finally sock it to Hades or let loose a can of Arcanum onto an unsuspecting Maleficent. Also, the bosses aren't just a case of purely mashing the x button into a fine pulp of black and blue plastic - there's some strategy to be applied in most cases.

For example, do you really want to run into the middle of a three headed dog and hope he'll be nice? Or should you block his fireballs, wait for an opening and jump on his back and slash him from a safe distance? Towards the end of the game, you'll also see some cutscenes more than you'd like too. Why? Because the game makes you sit through the cut scene before a boss. So if, for example you lose out to Riku in Hollow Bastion, as many will find themselves doing, you'll be reciting the cutscene word for word by the time the day is up.

The sound is also good in KH. This game is actually a good example of when lip syncing and voice overs are done with care and attention, they can produce an incredibly professional finish to any game. The score, however, does let it down.

Although the compositions themselves are perfectly reasonable and the music changes as you enter and leave battle mode for a more atmospheric gaming experience, they are far too short, leaving you with a very low tolerance level as you hear the annoying jingle in the Atlantica composition for the millionth time.

As far as little niggles go, I'm struggling to find any serious faults with this game. There are some points that need ironing out - for one, there are a few too many enemy encounters for anyone’s taste. If you think about the fuss that was created over the FF series and their random encounters, there are more of them in KH. Sure enough, they pop out of the floor and there’s no transition – but there’s still too many.

As well as this, trying to use items in battle can be hard. If you're perfectly capable of operating a menu, camera, movement and battling enemies at the same time, it's easy. However, for the most of us who don't have double jointed thumbs, it's difficult to say the least.

Overall, KH is a marvelous game. Certainly playable by everyone and anyone, enjoyable to say the least and deeply involving to boot. It's a shame this game is overlooked by a lot of people - it's a real hidden gem.