This isn’t the first time Square Enix took another franchise (Square also took Nintendo’s beloved plumber to new heights in Super Mario RPG) and made a really good game out of it. Taking Disney’s characters and making a role playing game (RPG) was a huge step not only for Square Enix, but for Disney as well. Disney was never really successful at making games, yeah…there were a few “hidden” gems, but notice the emphasis on the word hidden, you had to search long and hard (ha ha…that’s what she said, now get over it) to find a good Disney game. The team up with Square Enix and Disney however, paid off and it was all thanks to its first collaboration game, Kingdom Hearts. It was released on the PS2 on March 28, 2002.
Kingdom Hearts wasn’t your average RPG, it was set on a third-person perspective and played more like an action game with some elements of an RPG and you controlled one character named Sora. You had other characters in your party like Goofy and Donald Duck, but they were computer controlled. There was another section of the game where you controlled a “Gummi Ship” (where do these names come from!?!) where it was like a rail shooter (like Raiden), but was pointless and very boring, easily the worst part of the game and whoever thought to implement this idea in this game should have been fired. The RPG elements were mostly about leveling your character and upgrading his stats and nothing really more. This game was a new direction for Square Enix at the time and it worked really well.
The story is about Sora who obtains a weapon called the Keyblade, after his world is attacked by the evil Heartless. Sora meets up with Donald Duck and Goofy, who were sent by Mickey Mouse to sought out the Keyblade user and help him beat the Heartless. Sora and the gang go through various Disney worlds and sometimes you were able to partner up with different Disney characters to help you beat the Heartless out of each world. What was also cool was the various Square Enix characters that were scattered throughout the world of Kingdom Hearts. The combination of Disney and Square Enix characters really livened the atmosphere of each world.
The voice acting was led by a group of celebrities as Haley Joel Osment, David Gallagher, Billy Zane, and Hayden Panettiere. The voice acting was done pretty well, especially for games back in the early 2000s, because voice acting by celebrities was a new thing for gaming.
The graphics were great for the PS2. Many of the levels had the look and feel of the various Disney worlds the characters visit. It was a great homage to past Disney greats. The character animations were fluid and each character design was done masterfully by the guys at Square Enix. The CG scenes were artfully done as well. The level design had its ups and downs, like when you go into the world of The Nightmare Before Christmas, it had a great level design that stuck with the movie and had great details and everything, but other levels as Hercules‘ arena was just a bland color of brown mostly and very little details.
Gameplay was different from many Square games played. Like I said earlier, it was a new direction Square Enix was going in when making a RPG. The action and RPG elements blended well. The fighting was interesting, not the best third-person action, but worked well enough for the gamer to continue on through the game. You had to collect your experience points by some yellow balls (enough of the “that’s what she said”, yah?) and you would slowly increase your level and stats. There was no real upgrades as when it came to armor or weapons strangely enough, as Square Enix is known for its RPG savvyness. I easily topped the level 99 cap before I finished the game and made the game a little (ok, ok, a lot) easier to beat. However (!!!), there was one son of a bitch that being level 99 didn’t matter. Sephiroth is his name, (yes, the Final Fantasy VII villian) and he was literally impossible to beat. If there were achievements on the PS2, he would be worth at least a Platinum Trophy (should be on a whole new level with this bastard). He seriously had infinite life, or so it seemed to me. I never, EVER, beat him and probably never will. Sephiroth is not part of the main story, so he is a skippable boss, but man…the thought of losing to him endlessly was so depressing. If you ever beat him, well…congrats you crazy ass gamer you.
I had a lot of fun playing this game. Yeah, there are some cheesy moments during cutscenes and the music (by Utada Hikaru) felt sometimes over the top, but you can tell Square Enix wanted to push the boundaries from every direction. Kingdom Hearts wasn’t perfect, but it was a great breather from the typical RPGs you got from Square Enix and other RPG savvy developers. Thanks for bringing Disney characters into a different light for once.