Kingdom Hearts

Final Fantasy meets Disney in this seemingly impossible cross-over-turned smash hit
Casey Covel - Guest Reviewer
Content at a glance:

Positive Content--Biblical themes of good and evil, the dangers of becoming involved with "the wrong crowd," the power of teamwork, and the importance of friendship, and self-sacrifice Spiritual Content--theme of a "universal heart," the use of magical spells (fire, ice, thunder, etc.) to attack, Disney-like creatures (such as Chernabog), an entire level deticated to Halloween, a case of possession Violent Content--tame gameplay violence where enemies show starbursts when attacked and "poof" into nothingness when defeated. Characters are thrown about. Two characters are stabbed in the chest with Keyblades. Bosses sometimes thrash and scream as they die. Language--a couple of "hecks" in the text. Nothing beyond tame name-calling Sexual Content--some form-fitting outfits and revealing tops. Disney characters such as Ariel, Jasmine, and Yuffie make appearances in typical regalia. Two male characters go shirtless for certain portions of the game.

Introduction

It all started when Disney wanted to make a “Mickey Mouse RPG”…

…then Square Enix came along and decided to offer its talents to the project.

At first, speculation reigned supreme and many fans-to-be thought the concept of the game was ridiculous. Some were certain that the series would bomb, but thoughts quickly changed after the game’s release. Miraculously, the idea of Donald Duck fighting black-hearted evil with Cloud Strife did not come across as odd to players once they began to get into the game. In fact, fans quickly demanded a sequel. Since the release of the first Kingdom Hearts game, the franchise has become one of the most popular in the history of gaming. For us Christians, though, it isn’t the popularity of the series, but the messages and content that count. By the Bible’s standards, is Kingdom Hearts a smash hit or a big bomb?

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Storyline
Our hero, Sora, is a naïve, justice-loving, loyal teenager with a bit of a goofy side. Ever the adventurer, Sora dreams of traveling far across the vast ocean in search of new islands. Sharing this vision are his two friends Kairi, his unofficial girlfriend, and Riku, his childhood B.F.F. These three buddies reside on the tropical paradise of Destiny Island–a location that could not be more properly named; it is from this island that each of them will embark on a journey and discover their destinies.

Sora begins to have weird dreams and finds himself the target of a mysterious, hooded figure who claims he has come to see the “door to this world.” On a stormy night, Sora finds himself separated from Kairi and Riku whilst a mysterious weapon, a giant key, unexplainably appears in his hand. Distraught, Sora finds himself sucked into a vortex as his islands is destroyed. Awaking in an unfamiliar town, Sora quickly meets Donald and Goofy, the royal wizard and captain of the guard at the Disney Castle, who are on a quest to find their missing king, Mickey. As Sora journeys to various Disney worlds and meets a host of Disney and Final Fantasy characters, he must seal away the worlds to protect them from the creatures of darkness known as the Heartless. Not only that, but Sora must rescue his friend Kairi, and stop his friend Riku from losing his heart to the darkness, before it is too late.

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Positive Elements
The lines of good and evil are so clearly drawn in this game that it’s frighteningly allegorical to the Bible. While Kingdom Hearts is not at all designed to be a Christian game, it is possible to make Biblical-like ties to it. The evil, known as darkness, is an ever-present threat to the light, though the light (or good) is shown to be much more powerful. Each heart contains darkness of some kind, but this darkness can be overcome with the light. If a heart chooses to follow darkness, it will fade and turn its occupant into a creature known as a Heartless. The consequences of following evil are powerfully presented. The player is given an in-depth look at how one character’s slight dabbling in darkness eventually leads to his complete surrender to it. This further leads to his realization of what he has done and causes him to repent of his actions. Even after this character is warned that darkness will destroy his heart, he brags that his heart is too strong to be devoured and that he can still utilize the power of darkness without worrying. This is similar to sin and its effects on those who think that they are “strong enough” to take part in it without any “side effects.” The Bible gives clear warning otherwise. Also in the game, the player will get to hear Sora fearlessly tell a menacing boss that though the enemy can destroy his body, it will never destroy his heart. This, again, reminded me of a verse in the Bible which says, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul…” (Matthew 10:28).

Sora is a self-sacrificial and loyal hero. Even after his best friend appears to be siding with the wrong, Sora continues to try and redeem him and is ultimately rewarded. On his journey, Sora will come to the aid of countless characters. When he becomes angry with one of his friends, he later apologizes and makes up. *SPOILER WARNING* Sora also chooses to give up his own heart in exchange for the return of Kairi’s. *END OF SPOILERS*

One of the most dominant themes carried throughout Kingdom Hearts is friendship, and, as a sub-theme, teamwork. The player will depend quite heavily on his team in order to succeed in a battle. During sections of the game in which Sora has no partners, players will long for their return because the game becomes much more difficult without help. While themes of friendship sometimes venture into the cheesy area, Kingdom Hearts does positively support it and does a lot to magnify its power. Sora really does show what it means to “go the distance” to be a true friend.

Spiritual Content
Kingdom Hearts centers around the human heart and the light and darkness that effects it. While not all of its ideas concerning the heart are Biblically-based, Kingdom Hearts’ concepts of good and evil are nicely executed. It appears that the heart takes the place of the “soul” as we Christians would identify it. As I said, a few concepts concerning the heart are more-or-less true to what the Bible teaches. However, these iffy topics aren’t touched on too heavily and may even be overlooked in the game.

Typical to Disney is the magic involved. Sora will learn various spells that use up his magic power, such as fire, lightening, and healing. In certain conditions, Sora can also summon a Disney character to help him in battle. Several characters, some good and some evil, use various and unexplained types of magic. One character in the game is Merlin, a sorcerer who offers to help improve Sora’s magic skills. Donald Duck also acts as a mage throughout the game. Certain rings and amulets protect Sora from various types of magic or increase his magic abilities. Though “dark magic” is not mentioned at all in the story of Kingdom Hearts, certain amulets and rings are designed to protect Sora from “Dark Magic.”

Some enemies are a bit dark in appearance. Towards the end of the game, the player will fight a huge gargoyle-like, demon-looking creature. Smaller versions of this creature also attack Sora and use dark-looking magic attacks. Some enemies come in the forms of ghosts, cartoony mummies, and other monsters. A human boss transforms into a black dragon. One world is based off of The Nightmare Before Christmas and has a dark-looking, Halloween-like atmosphere.

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*SPOILER WARNING* At the end of the game, the main antagonist possesses Riku (who has surrendered to darkness) in order to gain a physical body. On a positive note, this could be easily applied to the dangers of becoming involved with evil and the occult. *END OF SPOILERS*

Violence
Cutscene Violence. All cutscene violence is kept rather tame and completely bloodless. Typical cutscene violence involves characters being thrown about or knocked down. One character is stepped on by an over-sized beast (and later shown to be perfectly okay). Two characters are shown stabbed in the chest by a dangerous-looking Keyblade, and, in one of these two cases, the character stabs himself with it (not at all a suicidal action however). A leopard enemy from Tarzan dies on-screen and the camera later zooms in on its body. One boss in killed when a giant chameleon falls on him (much tamer than his actual death in the Disney movie). Bosses, like Ursula for example, tend to have very dramatic deaths and scream and thrash about as they die.
Gameplay Violence. Gameplay violence is also bloodless and tasteful. Enemies show a starburst when whacked and “poof” into nothingness when defeated. Some enemies can be whacked across the area if Sora connects a triple-swinging combination. If Sora is killed, the camera pans in on him as he falls backwards and groans whilst light envelopes him. A “do you want to continue?” screen show Sora floating limply on his back in a black void. Overall, the violence feels tame and light-hearted, deserving the E for Everyone rating.

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Language/Crude Humor
Language is practically non-existent, and actual swear words certainly don’t exist. Even Cid Highwind manages to keep a kiddie-safe lock on his tongue and merely says two “hecks” during his voiceless text. “Stupid” is used twice in reference to individuals. “Shut up” is exclaimed once. The terms “brat” and “rat” are thrown around a few times and, yes, Hook is called codfish. Language should create absolutely no cause for concern!

Sexual Content
Yuffie makes an appearance in the game and wears her typical midriff-revealing, skin-tight outfit. A few Disney icons, like Jasmine and the Ariel also make appearances in their typical outfits which include revealing tops. Kairi wears rather high shorts.

A few characters appear to have love interests in each other, particularly Kairi and Sora. These relationships never go beyond mere mentions or scenes in which an interest is subtly hinted at, however. We do see Kairi and Sora embrace once in the game, but it’s not even worth mentioning.

When in Atlantica, Sora takes on a merman look with a shirtless top and dolphin tail. One boss fights shirtless whilst his body is attached to a huge beast. There’s nothing wrong with either of these scenarios but some parents do like to know this stuff…

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Drug/Alcohol Reference
In Traverse Town, there is an area that appears to be a sort of candle-lit tavern. No other alcoholic ties are made to this location, however.

Other Negative Content
On occasion, Sora will get a bit cocky or talk a bit smartly. However, his loyal and self-sacrificing sides outshine these faults.

Graphics
Disney and Square Enix have done a really amazing job with the graphics. Landscapes are one of the most remarkable features in the graphics department, and it is truly amazing how accurately the designers were able to imitate the real Disney cartoons. Halloween Town takes on a drab and lifeless appearance, whilst Wonderland is bright and colorful and clean.

Character models are equally as impressive. They are well-shaped, cleanly-colored, and carry accurate appearances for their respective movies or games. Character expressions are very realistic and show excellent emotion. Occasionally, characters will resort to a pre-rendered mouth movement (instead of carefully animated expression) which is not at all lip-synched. This looks a bit strange and almost seems like laziness on the part of the game designers, which is somewhat unfortunate.

CGI is breath-taking. The opening cinematic is gorgeous and quickly grabs your attention with its realistic water, light, and hair-blowing effects. The CGI literally screams “the Final Fantasy people animated this!” Unfortunately, only two CGI sequences exist in the whole game–one at the beginning and one at the end.

Gameplay
Kingdom Hearts plays a lot like a Zelda game. All levels are free-roaming areas in which Sora can search for hidden valuables (in treasure chests, I might add), fight enemies to gain experience, complete side-quests, and generally explore and solve puzzles to progress.

Kingdom Hearts has a very true RPG side. Gaining “level-ups” is an important feature, meaning that players will have to plow through hundreds of enemies to improve Sora’s abilities. Fortunately, the game does not force players to “improve their level” if they don’t wish to focus on that aspect of the game. Sora gains levels quite steadily and is usually at a compatible level to whatever enemy types and bosses that he is fighting. Sora is also very customizable. Players can choose to equip him with a myriad of various items that protect and improve his abilities and defense, as well as choose from many different types of Keyblades for Sora to wield, each with its own abilities.

Using items can prove a bit tricky whilst Sora is in a heated battle because the player cannot “pause” the screen when they want to use an item (such as a healing potion) on Sora. Instead, the player must scroll through a list of items and try to keep Sora alive at the same time. Fortunately, there are item and magic shortcuts which make using beneficial items much easier and effective.

Sora is not the only one who can be customized. Donald and Goofy (and occasionally others) are almost always with Sora. Likewise, they also can be upgraded, equipped, and given special powers. In Kingdom Hearts, the CPU allies are actually quite helpful, especially after some upgrading. In fact, during the few parts that Sora has no CPU help, the players will groan for a relief.

The battle system is very similar to Zelda, in which Sora can unleash a series of combination and special attacks along with a good helping of magic (if desired). Players can choose to not use any magic (with the exception of the “Cure” spell) in order to beat the game (with the exception of using a spell to occasionally light something, etc.). Because of this, the player has a lot of flexibility in his choice of fighting styles. A lock-on system, reminiscent of Zelda, plays a large role in the fighting. Players will automatically lock onto an enemy, or can lock-on to a single specific enemy in a group, during a battle. This system has its beneficial uses, but can also be a bit of a hindrance when you need to focus on a certain target. For example, Sora may be trying to attack a boss’s weak spot, but a group of enemies pull his attention away from the boss, making it difficult to strike it. Of course, the source of the combat-lock can be shifted to the desired target, but it can still be an annoyance if improperly handled.

Kingdom Hearts has a lot to offer. With some extensive side-quests that span the whole game, and a main story that spans many worlds, Kingdom Hearts will easily take around thirty or forty hours to beat. Players who desire to find every secret and beat every side quest will likely be playing around fifty hours.

Kingdom Hearts appeals to a wide range of age groups. Though many brand the game a “tween” adventure, it is actually quite inviting to an older, teenage group who will get much more out of the story. The kiddos will love the bright colors, action, and familiar Disney characters. The older audience will enjoy the exciting plot, Final Fantasy characters, nostalgia, and challenge. One thing that definitely makes me scratch my head over the E for Everyone rating is the difficulty of this game. I’m not sure that I have ever gotten so frustrated over a game as I did during certain parts of Kingdom Hearts. The enemy swarm that you hit right before the end of the game is, to put it softly, brutal… and this swarm feels like a walk in the park compared to the final boss. Basically, a seven-year-old is going to have a lot of difficulty playing this game. The kid-friendly Disney look my be deceiving, but, inside, Kingdom Hearts contains all of the difficulty of a fight with Final Fantasy’s Sephiroth.

Adding to the difficulty factor is the fact that cutscenes can’t be skipped in Kingdom Hearts. This means that each time the player dies on a boss, he will have to re-watch the pre-boss cutscene… every time. Not only that, but some of the boss cutscenes are quite long. This is the one major annoyance about Kingdom Hearts.

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Sound/Music
Music is incredible. Some tunes have a full, orchestrated sound while others seem to be synthesized. Regardless, the music is excellent and appropriate to the various worlds. Not all tunes that play in the Disney worlds are necessarily themes from the movies themselves, but there are some exceptions. For example, “This is Halloween” plays throughout the Nightmare Before Christmas world and “Under the Sea” plays throughout the Little Mermaid world. Other music, while equally as appropriate, is not actually from any particular Disney movie. A live choir provides vocal intensity to the final boss fight, making it feel pulse-pounding and powerful. Sora’s theme “Dearly Beloved” and the orchestrated version of “Simple and Clean” are both beautifully written pieces that have a powerful and relaxing sound. Sound effects are just as well-done as the musical score.

Voice work is amazing and authentic. Disney has hired an all-star cast to voice the main characters, and familiar Disney characters sound just like their movie counterparts… whether the voice actor is the original or not. Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) stars as Sora, actress Hayden Panettiere voices Kairi, and David Gallagher voices the mysteriously-motivated Riku. Many original voices return to the game, including Hades (James Woods) and Aladdin (Scott Weinger). These actors do a wonderful job. The only voice that sadly didn’t work out was that of Hercules who is voiced by Sean Austin (the same actor who played a certain “fat hobbit”). Unfortunately, Sean doesn’t quite have the right sound for Hercules’ character, and he certainly doesn’t even sound close to the original Tate Donovan voice.

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Glitches
I didn’t notice any glitches in Kingdom Hearts.

Final Word
Sometimes I look back at this game, shake my head, and say, “How on earth did that game ever work?!” The idea of Squall Leonhart working with Goofy, and Cloud Strife being rescued by Hercules all seems extremely weird before entering Sora’s little adventure… Once you’re involved in the plot, however, the characters seem to merge and flow right into it. While you know in the back of your head that Donald and Goofy are Disney icons, they eventually cease to be icons and suddenly come alive as you’ve never experienced them before–as a part of a brand new franchise. Even the Final Fantasy characters are handled well. Wisely, Square Enix kept the involvement of the Final Fantasy characters rather minimal, with just enough cameos and starring sequences to keep fans satisfied. While the Disney characters are interesting, it is actually the original characters that make the story exciting and causes the player to want to know what happens next.

Needless to say, fans of Disney, and probably a lot from Final Fantasy too, will want to pick up Kingdom Hearts and play it through. It truly is a one-of-a-kind game, as well as the king of crossovers. The plot is surprisingly involved and the difficulty is surprisingly… well… difficult. That being said, I don’t recommend Kingdom Hearts to young players merely because of its difficulty.

From a Christian point-of-view, Kingdom Hearts is one of the cleanest fantasy games on the market right now. The violence is very tame and language, suggestive content, and other negative themes are not an issue. In fact, the game does a lot to promote positive messages of teamwork, love, friendship, and sacrifice, and even gives some severe warnings about the consequences of becoming involved with the wrong crowd. At times, Kingdom Hearts can grow a bit dark, and Christians will probably find some statements about the theme of the universal heart to be different from what the Bible really says. Older players will be able to discern fantasy from fact in regards to Biblical truth, but the entire concept of the heart’s role in the game will probably go straight over younger players’ heads.

Even if you are questioning whether a Disney adventure is worth your time, I recommend giving Kingdom Hearts a shot. I was also speculative at first, but I quickly found myself deeply immersed in Sora’s adventure, even though I was rather unfamiliar with most of the Disney worlds I visited. For a lengthy challenge reminiscent of Zelda, I highly recommend this game. If your Playstation 2 collection doesn’t already contain Kingdom Hearts, then it is not a complete collection.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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