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Kingdom Hearts: Let’s Play in Disneyland!

Kingdom Hearts:  Let’s Play in Disneyland!

Box-Art-kingdom-hearts-58021_307_435Kingdom Hearts
Developed and Produced by Square-Enix
Licensed by Disney
PS2

Everyone has heard the famous phrase “I’m going to Disneyland” uttered by sports heroes and other famous people. Kingdom Hearts, however, has you experience the full ride throughout the Disney animated universe. There are no lines and no waiting as you run through abridged versions of childhood favorites such as Tarzan and The Little Mermaid.

Before the plot even takes off, a beautiful opening cinematic raises gaming hopes to a hopelessly cheesy J-pop song. Immediately after, you are thrust into a series of tutorials atop stained glass platforms: The Station of Awakening. As Sora, a spiky-haired anime protagonist, it is your job to make a multitude of choices and participate in simple combat. The amazing thing is that the choices of weapons and the questionnaire will change the game-play for each unique result. For instance, choosing the sword will allow you to earn more combat-oriented level up skills, while choosing to ditch the wand will save the magic skill for later levels. The questionnaire will also influence what rate you gain experience points at. Your journey can begin at “Dawn, noon, or in the dead of night”. This means that you will gain levels quickly or slowly until level 50, and then it switches if at dawn or dead of night. Noon allows for even leveling throughout the adventure.

As far as original story is concerned, Sora spends time on an island with his friends. Riku is his rival, having far superior fighting ability. Kairi acts as a balanced character, making sure Sora and Riku keep from butting heads too often. The other three children are familiar to fans of the Final Fantasy series. Tidus and Wakka make their way over from FFX, and Selphie comes from FFVIII. You can fight everyone except for Kairi, and the game teaches you through quick screenshots on how to parry attacks to get “tech” EXP. After grinding a few levels, two relatively easy fetch quests, and a storm hits the island. Sora runs out to make sure their raft is OK, Riku disapears into a void of darkness, and you get the Keyblade, Sora’s weapon for the game. The Keyblade allows you to damage the Heartless, the manifestation of darkness within one’s heart. After a boss fight and a hopeless cinematic, Sora winds up in Traverse Town, and begins looking for his friends.

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Meanwhile, Donald and Goofy are tasked with finding the king. They head to Traverse Town to begin their search and eventually get overpowered atop a balcony, falling to the ground–right on top of Sora, the key bearer that their king told them to look for so that they may begin their quest. After this point, it becomes your job, as well as Sora’s, to journey across the worlds and locate the king, all while eradicating the Heartless.

The combat is a 3D beat-em-up system. You move with the left control stick, control the camera with L2 and R2, and Lock-On to targets with R1. For the face buttons, X is the attack button, Circle allows you to jump, Square performs special actions, and Triangle calls your allies to attack a locked on enemy. The right stick allows you to scroll through your combat menu, allowing you to use selected items, cast magic and eventually summon powerful characters, or use powerful attacks. HP can be seen in the HUD in the bottom-right corner of the screen as a green bar, and the blue segments along the outside represent you MP. Early spells such as Fire and Blizzard use up ½ of a bar, and later-game magic and special attacks consume many more bars of MP. You can assign spells to a quick-cast system, where you hold down L1 and press Triangle, Circle, or X. Attacking enemies refills MP, so you will never be too short of magic during a fight. You can also equip yourself and your allies with different weapons and accessories to boost your stats to gain an edge during the game. Goofy wields shield and acts as an offensive tank. Donald is a wand-waving spell-caster and gains access to powerful spells alongside Sora. Sora himself cannot swing anything other than his Keyblade, but he can attach different Keychains to the end of the weapon to change its appearance and abilities, as well as buffs that he receives from his weapon, much like his compatriots. Combat is much more simple in this game, as you will most likely have a four or five hit combo attack on the ground and in the air, as well as a handy guard to avoid damage and gain tech points and a roll for some evasive maneuvers. Hitting certain foes with specific magic also gains you bonus experience, so finding inventive ways to dispatch foes are never stale.

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The world-building is never irritating. Each Disney world never feels too out of place in their abridged formats, and recognizable landmarks can be explored most of the time. For instance, Tarzan‘s world, Deep Jungle, starts Sora off inside the hulking ship/tree-house from the cartoon. The music, done by Yoko Shimomura and the New Japan and Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestras, pulls people into the world of Disney and Square Enix. Each world has a set of combat and exploring music, both of which play off of each other in their themes. Traverse Town, the first new world you explore, runs a wonderful slow jazz led by a clarinet-piano duet, bringing out the welcoming qualities of a world people go to when they have no where else to turn. The battle theme, on the other hand is fun and energetic, lively and upbeat. This is but one example, as every world puts their own flair to the music. Wonderland contains an incredibly tidy main theme, but lets the madness roam free during its scuffles. Deep Jungle has a unique duality of a grand adventure and trouble on an expedition rolled into one. The art style combines Final Fantasy‘s and Disney’s styles into unified visuals that are not hard on the eyes.

If I have complaints with this game, its that the in-engine cut-scenes look shoddy compared to the fully-rendered ones. This gets fixed in later games, but it is painful to see character models jump between high and normal resolution so suddenly the other main complaint is that the story is full of so many holes that Swiss cheese would be a bit bashful. Why does Sora get the Keyblade? How exactly do the summons work? Why was the king called away? Admittedly, these and more get answered by the end of the game, but are never completely explained until sequel titles, which create more questions than they answer. But, its hard to hate the first title where two independent franchises come together in a somewhat cohesive manner.

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