Who wins in a fight between Pikachu and Darth Vader? Does a 50 foot-tall gorilla weigh more than a robot that transforms into an 18-wheeler? If Goku from Dragon Ball Z teamed up with the Hulk, could they out-eat Pac-man?
Oh, one more. What if cartoon super-power Disney teamed up with Squaresoft, creators of the Final Fantasy role-playing games, to make a new game? What if they made something that mixed classic Disney characters and worlds with new, Square-created cast members and Action RPG gameplay?
Most of these questions will never be answered - the impermeable boundaries between fantasy universes just won't give - but those last two actually have an answer. The game would appear on PlayStation 2, and it would be completely bizarre, totally captivating, and ultimately rockin'.
Kingdom Hearts is the story of Sora, a young boy separated from his best friends Kairi and Riku when their island home is attacked by world-gobbling darkness and shadowy creatures called Heartless. Simultaneously, King Mickey Mouse is missing, and the many worlds of Disney are being eaten by the darkness one by one.
Things get rolling when Sora, Goofy, and Donald Duck meet up and join forces against the roiling evil. It seems that Sora's magical weapon, the keyblade - literally a giant key that he uses to clobber enemies over the head - can banish the Heartless.
Thus, the three set off in their Gummi spaceship - which looks like it's made of LEGOs and which you can upgrade over time - and battle across most of the Disney galaxy, meeting the Square/Disney all-stars along the way. Hercules, Pinocchio, Squall Lionheart, Simba, Belle and Beast, Jack Skellington, Cloud Strife, Hades, Winnie the Pooh, Aerith, Peter Pan ... you can even find Sephiroth in here.
The amazing thing is, although there's certainly a sense of the surreal hovering about, the combination of the Disney and Square universes also manages to feel simply right. Seriously, re-read those two paragraphs above. Does it make any sense at all that this works beautifully? Of course not. But it does.
Part of the credit has to go to the art design, which recreates every personality from every world wonderfully. Square has captured the essence of each character with loving care, if not necessarily an eye for exact replication. The worlds you'll explore, from Alice's Wonderland and Peter Pan's Neverland and Aladdin's Agrabah, are all rendered with something approaching reverence, even if too much of the scenery is simply painted on the walls.
It's a good thing this journey is so captivating, because in many ways, Kingdom Hearts plays more like an average action game than a cutting-edge Action/RPG hybrid. It feels a little too jerky and heavy when lead character Sora jumps, and the camera is often too close or out of position - those are quibbles you usually hear about a hack-and-slasher. And the combat, which happens in real-time instead of using RPG-style turns or meters, amounts mostly to locking on to an enemy and pumping the single attack button till he pops, exploding in a piñata-like rain of cash, health or magic orbs, and other items.
Oh, you've got some magic fireballs, ice shards, and some fancy combo moves that make your keyblade a formidable weapon indeed. And you mostly fight with two CPU-controlled partners - usually in the form of Goofy the knight and Donald Duck the wizard, but sometimes a Disney character like Peter Pan or The Little Mermaid's Ariel. But the magic system and strategy requirements are still far less robust than those of a typical RPG.
In fact, combat can even get a little monotonous; new enemies are introduced just frequently enough to keep the tedium tide from rising too high, though some challenging and revered bosses from both sides of the Square/Disney divide will keep you glued tightly to your controller.
The Gummi Ship leaves one with a sour taste too, even with collectible rare ship parts and blueprints. Its rudimentary graphics and half-baked space shootouts make the trips from one planet to the next something of a chore. And to be completely honest, the story premise is wonderful - a boy searching for his lost girlfriend and best buddy, saving the galaxy en route - but the actual story boasts lots of other confusing, random threads that make little sense.
All that said, such shortcomings were largely forgiven by legions of fans when Kingdom Hearts was originally released, and are equally tolerable today. As frustrating as its flaws can be, the magic at its core always keeps Kingdom Hearts' whole aloft in the imagination, if shy of the heights it should reach. This enchanted kingdom certainly has its flaws, but it's still well worth a visit.