The teaming of Square and Disney is a strange one to comprehend, considering that the two companies are quite literally aiming at two different age groups usually. It wouldn't be ludicrous to think that once a young boy or girl is out of the Disney age, they might enter right into the "Square" age, thanks in part to the RPG genres growing acceptance in gaming culture.

Kingdom Hearts could be best described as a 3D adventure with some RPG trappings and it's fair to say that may scare off some diehard RPG fans, if the Disney tie in didn't accomplish that already. After playing Kingdom Hearts for the last few days, thanks to StewXX who was kind enough to send me his early review copy, I came to the conclusion that gamers will be polarized when it comes to a final opinion.

On one hand, the cool factor of playing a game with Disney characters that isn't out to insult your intelligence is worth the price of admission alone. Simply put, Kingdom Hearts is a grand epic, filled with emotion and pathos that at times, comes close to the ambience of some Final Fantasy games. On the other hand, some gamers may find it more difficult to ignore that they are having to communicate with Winnie the Pooh and other cutesy characters they no longer identify with. Just remember that you'll also run into some of your favorite Square characters too.

Once the story gets underway, I was surprised at just how long it took to actually meet up with Donald and Goofy, who accompany you on your quest. Younger gamers might want to take note that there is a lot of gametime before Disney shows up. Being an older gamer with kids who love everything Disney, the gimmick of meeting up with these characters in their respective worlds, never got tiring, but I can't say the same for the gameplay.

After playing a few worlds, it becomes obvious that most of what you have to accomplish isn't all that dissimilar than what you've been doing all along. The random appearances of "The Heartless", who comprise the random battle/level up quotient throughout the game, become downright annoying, often materializing immediately after defeating a squad of them. As well, the storyline, tries hard to stay true to the overall "plot" but in some cases, becomes convoluted by trying to adhere itself to the various Disney worlds that weave in and out throughout the game. Sometimes it just doesn't work, or at the very least, doesn't work all that well Personally I can see where having to tie in a meeting with Winnie the Pooh in the middle of a cosmic battle could get a little dicey. In that sense, Square should be commended for actually running with an idea that some maniac suggested during an elevator ride (that's how the concept of Kingdom Hearts began).

My biggest, heartiest complaint regarding KH is the slap together shooting stages between levels. They are so out of place and so frustratingly poorly executed that they should have not only been left on the cutting room floor, but they should have been peed on while being left on the cutting room floor. You'll know what I mean when you play it for yourself.

Although the game sports magic and other surprises, the basic form of fighting really never progresses much past advanced button mashing, with a side order of Mental Camera Disorder. Make that a main course of MCD. I was thinking Super Mario Sunshine had a rotten camera, but I think a new contender just walked on the scene. At times the camera angles are so terrible, it's almost impossible to do anything right and I'm not kidding. I certainly wasn't expecting that. The game is NOT a walk in the park, so if you are expecting to traipse through Kingdom Hearts, you will be devastated at the level of difficulty that awaits. As well, parents who are rushing out to purchase KH for their kids under 8, better 1) be prepared to sit and play it with them and 2) be damn good gamers themselves.

The difficulty and annoying camera control can almost be forgiven when you start experiencing the various Disney worlds. Without giving them all away, expect to visit Tarzan's jungle, Peter Pan's Neverland, Ariel's Under the Sea Kingdom, Winnie's 100 Hundred Acre Woods and my favorite, Jack Skellington's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Each level has been given the utmost attention to be as true a representation as it would be on the big screen. That goes for each characters movements and animations, from the lumbering slowpoke walk of Winnie The Pooh to the Genie's manic delivery, every nuance has been captured, effectively bringing Disney to life in a fantastic interactive adventure.

The voices are quite good as well, even though many are not voiced by their Hollywood movie star counterparts, but certainly still more than passable. The music is epic in it's approach and the swells and pitches of the orchestral movements suit the game wonderfully.

Without a doubt I have to fully recommend Kingdom Hearts to anyone who loves Disney. True, it's not meant for younger kids as they will have much difficulty with it, but to play along with their parents like mine did, will delight them as no other video game has before. And I can say that from experience; my kids adored this game. Sure they wished that Buzz Lightyear, Shrek, Mike and Sully were in it, but I explained patiently that Shrek wasn't part of the Disney line up and they should start paying more ***ing attention to those kinds of details. Although Kingdom Hearts isn't perfect, it's still worth much more than a rental.

System: PS2
Dev: Square/Disney
Pub: Square
Released: Sept. 2002
Players: 1
Review by Vaughn