Kingdom Hearts is an action role-playing game developed and published by Squaresoft for the PlayStation 2. It is the result of a collaboration between Square and The Walt Disney Company. The game combines characters and settings from Disney's animated features with those from the Final Fantasy series, developed by Square.
Kingdom Hearts was a departure from Square's standard role-playing games by introducing a substantial action-adventure element. In addition, it has an all-star voice cast which included many of the Disney characters' official voice actors. Kingdom Hearts was longtime Square character designer Tetsuya Nomura's first time in a directorial position.
The game uses an experience based progression system, with experience gained by defeating foes. Experience gained rises in relation to the strength of the foe, and is consistent for each enemy over the course of the game. Levels are gained with experience, and provide increases to stat attributes in strength, defence, magic, hit points, magic points and ability points, with a new, predetermined ability unlocked approximately every four levels.
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In it's attempts to combine the lengthy story and battle system of Final Fantasy VII with the fully real-time movement and exploration of Super Mario 64, Kingdom Hearts is a slam dunk. Everything from the subtleties in Sora's movement to the smooth integration of context-sensative actions in the game world is handled with a level of care and precision that you wouldn't expect from a game that's seemingly being pulled in so many different directions. It's not necessarily the best at the many things it attempts, even at release, but it's admirable just how cohesive the entire package feels. Kingdom Hearts has a lot of meat on it's bones, and it feels pretty evenly-spread across the whole game.
In much the same way that it's gameplay derivatives form something greater than the sum of their parts, the story utilizes it's oddball premise and several disparate IPs to create an unforgettable atmosphere and tone. The nostalgic whimsy combined with somber melancholy and an abstract presentation lend the game a distinct, bittersweet feel. If you played this game at the right time in your life, you know what I felt.
Kingdom Hearts II is an outstanding action game and a great sequel, but outside of that I feel completely indifferent towards all the sequels and spin-off games. Putting aside the fact that I think a couple of them are just straight up bad, they generally just don't understand what made the series special in the first place. Somewhere in it's quest to become... whatever the hell it is now, it lost much of it's identity in the first place. I won't hammer on about this since there are people who enjoy these other games, but frankly they are the furthest thing from what Kingdom Hearts represents to me and their existence cheapens the original game.
So, ahem, this is when I give a whole-hearted recommendation to this game and say that it's a great and awesome and super fun and unique and every other positive descriptor. If you'll forgive me for going for such low-hanging fruit, this game has a whole lot of heart.
Is this story ridiculous? Is the gameplay occasionally a greater torture than a slow death? Is it sometimes impossible to understand what the hell is even going on? Yes, to all of these things. And yet, it's one of my favorite games I've ever played. It's nonsensical, an utterly ridiculous concept that sounds pretty much preposterous even on paper, and yet, it has so much charm and life breathed into it that I can't help but adore it. It's not a game that's intended to be taken all that seriously, and I think if you understand that going in, you'll have an amazing time. The messages it does impart are sweet, the characters are a lot of fun, the overall story is a rollercoaster ride that'll constantly leave you vaguely confused but somehow in a way that isn't frustrating and is more amusing than anything. I genuinely love this game. It's a mess of writing, but one with a lot of spirit and heart to it. I also feel the incorporation of the Disney side of things was best handled in this game compared to future installments, and the weaving together of what seem like completely inane and childish Disney character plotlines with the actual plotline of the game is actually really fun and pretty well done. This game put me through hell, but I loved every second of it, and it'll probably always be my favorite out of the main installments in the series.