An interesting combination of two universes.
Kingdom Hearts was Square's first big hit since Final Fantasy X. It brought together two popular universes--Disney and Final Fantasy, and melded them into a unique role playing game. Disney movies and Final Fantasy games contain vastly different stories, but they often have themes of light versus dark, or good versus evil, so you could say that this unique pairing makes sense. There is a division among fans on whether Disney characters belong in a Square game, so how much you like the game may depend on your feelings towards Disney. Personally, I am not a huge Disney fan, but I did grow up watching many of the films whose characters are featured in Kingdom Hearts, so I can appreciate many of the voices and songs in the game.
Besides the combination of Disney and Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts doesn't have much else going for it. The combat is a large part of the game and is repetitive and sloppy. It is an Action-RPG style of combat, with no random battles or warping to different screens to fight enemies. Instead, you have an even worse system where you mash on the x button to defeat enemies. Occasionally you can use special moves and magic, but these have little bearing on your success. For the duration of the game, you control Sora, the main character. Your two allies, Donald and Goofy, of Disney fame are controlled by the AI, so you will have to put up with their sometimes stupid decisions. During your quest, you'll fight what seems like countless enemies, so make sure to take a break occasionally from all the button mashing.
Repetitive combat is not the only issue that decreases the enjoyment you'll get out of Kingdom Hearts. The camera is even worse, and spirals out of control more often than the most drunk, obnoxious college student. Not only does it make you dizzy, but the camera makes it really hard to keep track of enemies, and can cause you to fall off ledges. During a portion of the game in which you have to swim and fight a boss with magic, the camera was so bad that it brought me to the game over screen.
Kingdom Hearts also fails to create a smooth difficulty curve. Some parts of the game are extremely easy, while others will have you fighting four bosses in a row, or an enemy in which it is difficult to use items, since you are constantly being attacked. The difficulty level of the worlds is not always clear either, with some 3 star levels being more difficult than a 2 star. This may create frustration during certain parts of the game for some players, so make sure to spend enough time gaining levels.
Although Kingdom Hearts contains a significant amount of problems, it does some things right too. The Disney characters are superbly rendered and animated. Many of them have the actual voice actors from the movies. The Hercules segment of the game was a bit disappointing, since Herc didn't have his movie voice, but for the most part, the voice acting for the Disney characters was excellent. The Final Fantasy characters on the other hand, leave much to be desired. Many of the actors just didn't seem to fit, or felt uninspired. Still, it was fun running into characters from recent Final Fantasy games and traversing amazing Disney worlds. In the next installment, I hope they add characters from the SNES Final Fantasies.
The music in Kingdom Hearts fits the action perfectly. This beautiful score by Yoko Shimomura contains many original pieces, but also classic Disney songs. Older gamers will remember the songs from classic Disney flicks, and will likely appreciate the new songs, including the tragic title piece.
Square did an excellent job merging the Disney and Final Fantasy worlds, but I would have liked to see a more involved story. What was there felt basic and disjointed. The Disney worlds were familiar and will likely please fans, but the original content doesn't feel up to par with the Final Fantasy games. This tale contains many themes seen in old Final Fantasy titles such as light versus dark, so it is fairly simple content compared to modern games. In the inevitable sequel it would be nice to see a more cohesive story.
Kingdom Hearts is one of Square's first original franchises for the PS2, and it is nice to see them break new ground. Still, the game had many flaws that were overlooked by gamers eager to see some of their favorite characters from Disney flicks and Final Fantasy games. I would hope that Square fixes the camera and combat issues in the sequel, and it would be nice if more depth was added to the story. It will be interesting to see what Square does with the franchise.