Kingdom Hearts is essentially a story about the yin and the yang; the light and the dark. We all have both inside and it's ultimately our choice in what influences us. Even this collaboration between Square and Disney can be applied, in a less dramatic way: Disney provides a counterbalance in their childlike innocence to Square's more mature stance. RPG fans have been waiting to see if this conglomeration of attitudes melds; indeed, it does.
Sora is a young boy on Destiny Island. Along with his friends Riku and Kairi, the group dreams of setting sail to other worlds. One night, however, Sora ventures forth into a horrible storm, which causes him and the island to disappear. Meanwhile at Disney Castle, Black Mage Donald discovers King Mickey is missing. In a letter penned by his majesty, it urges Donald and Goofy to find the "Key Bearer," who is the only hope of saving all the worlds from the Heartless.
The story is nothing deep or groundbreaking, though it is fun. The charisma and endearing quality of the characters, along with the gameplay, is really what makes Kingdom Hearts stand above your average action RPG. Sora is an extremely likable hero and even with a waning fondness for all things Disney, Donald and Goofy can't help but be charming.
Gameplay in Kingdom Hearts is the other highlight. Armed with his keyblade, Sora can perform devastating combos on the Heartless. He can also eventually learn magic spells; however, everything besides Cure and Aero didn't prove to be very useful except in a few situations. Donald and Goofy aid you in battle, or you can switch one of them out for a world-specific Disney character; for example, in Agrabah Aladdin will join your party. Spells can be input into controller shortcuts so they're only two button presses away. You can also select elements to Donald and Goofy's AI, such as having them attack or use items more frequently. Players will most certainly have to adjust this, as the default settings are kind of off. Sora and party can also equip Attributes to themselves, which provide anything from the ability to glide through the air to making rare items appear more frequently.
Platforming elements are also common in the game. When traversing through the worlds, your skill at making Sora jump, climb, and swim accurately will be tested. The biggest obstacle to overcome in this is the camera, which was my biggest problem in playing. The camera swings around very wildly, most likely to stay focused on the action, but the results usually involve having to reposition it. Also in situations where you have to jump and usually glide to a specific spot, the camera shifts to focus towards you, not away from you. This makes it almost impossible to land accurately. Other than the camera though, the control is smooth and responsive.
Kingdom Hearts leaves you very handicapped at the beginning of the game. Traverse Town is the only world that sells items until Agrabah, and you don't get the first Cure spell until a few worlds in. This means a lot of backtracking especially before bosses. Luckily, you can go back to the Gummi Ship from the Save Points scattered through the world, and then warp back to them.
The Gummi Ship is your main transportation to and from the worlds. Until you find the warp mechanism, you have to participate in a shooter sequence as you make the jouney; this is an excellent way to find parts to upgrade your Gummi. Once you do find the warp option, you can just bypass the shooting sequence. You can also upgrade or even build new Gummi Ships to pilot. This doesn't really add much to the game, but it's a fun diversion.
While not quite as pretty as Final Fantasy X, Kingdom Hearts is bright and colorful without seeming overtly cartoony. All the character models have their own mannerisms; the Disney characters even move and gesture in the same way we remember. Most of the backgrounds are flat, with certain pieces you can interact with. The FMV looks great and is plentiful throughout. The spell effects are barely noticeable, though the Summons are flashy and well-animated.
Yoko Shimomura's well suited compositions come across clean and unfettered. I even enjoyed her versions of classic Disney tunes. The real showstopper is the English version of Hikaru Utada's "Hikaru," retitled for the U.S. release as "Simple & Clean." Hikky's new lyrics fit the story well; the opening remix of the song is my personal favorite over the acoustic. All voice acting seemed to be in place; most of the characters seemed to have either their original voices or the ones used for TV series adaptations. Nothing seemed over the top…rather, everything felt natural.
Kingdom Hearts is one of those experiences that, despite its inherent flaws, you can't help but fall in love with. Those who are too quick to judge it on Disney's involvement will definitely miss out on a fun experience. Really guys, chicks dig cute things. Kingdom Hearts may be a way to get that special girl to get involved in your interests.