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Review – Kingdom Hearts

posted on July 11th, 2006 by christian

Why couldn’t she be the other kind of Mermaid? With the fish part on top and the lady part on the bottom!

I’m not sure why Jay asked me to review Kingdom Hearts. The game is fairly old by now, and just about everyone who wanted to play it already has. Then there’s the fact that the sequel has been out for months. Looks like I’m a little late to the party, but I still intend to crash it.

Kingdom Hearts is a perfectly mediocre game. At its best it was a lighthearted diversion, one that I could play while enjoying my then-girlfriend’s company while not having to think too hard about it. At its worst it was a mess of poorly implemented design choices based on typical Square drudgery and messy, stolen scraps from the Book of Miyamoto. If I had any care for in game stories, I probably wouldn’t have finished, as the game takes Disney characters and plots and compresses them into dull, mediocre shells of their former selves that are more offensive than enjoyable. The whole thing is just a cold, sterile little action RPG that aspires to be something huge, but will have to be content with being merely playable.

Only the most stubborn KH fans will tell you that the combat is in any way spectacular, but even those who acknowledge that it isn’t terribly good will pull the “RPGs are for the story” card in order to sidestep the issue. For those of us who still play games in order to derive entertainment from the whole playing aspect, battles are a pretty critical piece of the puzzle, and KH is the ultimate exercise in repetition.

It has been said before, yet I cannot stress it enough; there is absolutely no excuse for Square giving a real time combat system a menu driven interface. None at all. I know that they’ve built their empire on menu driven games, but that does not mean that every single title they make has to be that way. In the middle of being pounded from all sides by enemies, why in the world must the player navigate through a menu to select “Item,” and then find the right potion, and then pick the proper target, all before someone in the party is killed? The attack command is also separate from the special move command, leading to many instances where a context sensitive special attack will pop up, and you end up missing out on it because you had to fumble around with the right analogue stick.

Don’t forget to move the cursor back to attack, otherwise you won’t be able to fight. Seriously, how many real time games put “attack” as an option rather than mapping it to its own unique button? I’ve actually heard fans say that this system makes the game “more challenging”, and thus is good. It’s one thing to have a difference of opinion, but never, ever try to apologize for a developer being stupid.

X, X, X, X, X, X, X, X…

Of course, this horrible set up leads to KH being exactly like most other Square games; you mash X repeatedly until someone dies. Since the menu system is pointless, you’ll almost always find yourself sticking with attack and repeating the same combos ad-infinitum until you’ve won a battle. Interesting? Not a bit, but at the very least it isn’t any worse than other games in the genre.

The only kind words I can say about the combat is that it doesn’t require much strategy or thought of any kind, thus you can meander through battles while you pay attention to something else. During my play I did everything from reading a textbook to solving calculus problems while my steady thumb caused Sora to flail his Keyblade around like a maniac. This is not much of a compliment.

Magic in Kingdom Hearts is usually in the form of a projectile. That means you have to aim your spell, and hope it hits. If it does, you’ll frown when you see that your measly fireball dealt a tiny fraction of damage. The fact that spells aren’t guaranteed to connect is reason enough to ignore them, but the fact that they are weaker than anything else in the game makes magic utterly worthless, outside of healing that is.

I almost get the feeling that no one wanted to include the magic system in the first place, so half assed is its implementation (the amount of spells you can actually use is paltry). But Square knows their audience, knows what people expect from their games, and so here it is. Magic. Sometimes I think the only reason fans expect and demand these things from Square is because they have rehashed the same ideas for so many years that no one seems to know anything different. Better get back to mashing that X button….

There’s more Square Brandâ„¢ flavor than just the combat. If you wish, you can go on plenty of sidequests, each more ridiculous than the last. The easiest involves collecting all 101 Dalmatians. You open the box, a few jump out, and you’re done. It’s just an excuse for the developers to make you hunt for useless treasure.

Which leads me to an even worse treasure hunt: the quest for item synthesis. If you find the right items, you can have the Moogles synthesize new gear for you, with the big goal being the Ultima Keyblade. It seems simple enough when you’re making potions out of random junk you find in every battle. But eventually you will be required to find, say Frost Shards. Or was it Frost Gems? Maybe Frost Crystals?

All I see are shades of mud.

It turns out that all three of these things are actual items in the game, the only difference being their names and rarity. And of course, there is no way to refine one into the other. When you spend an hour jumping through Tarzan’s jungle trying to get two measly Frost Crystals and failing, all the while you’re staring at 20 plus Frost Shards in your inventory, you give up on the Ultima Keyblade pretty damn quickly. This isn’t the first time Square has forced players on wild goose chases for the sake of artificially lengthening a game, but few are quite as annoying as in Kingdom Hearts.

9 Comments

  1. Tim said on July 11, 2006:

    Amen, brother. Amen. Square is a tired company, and has long since been so.

  2. Dan said on July 13, 2006:

    All I’ve ever wanted was a good real time RPG. Alas, Kingdom Hearts failed to live up to my dream.

  3. Staticneuron said on July 16, 2006:

    I agree with alot of the points in your review. Even though I still love KH. The game had platforming which wasn’t needed, to many usless side quests, and even though I think they used the disney villians correctly each world story was way to long. For the most part for more of an action based game and seeing as how this game is aimed for a younger crowd, even though I cannot imagine a kid beating “death” or “sephiroth”, I think square put forth a pretty strong showing. I would normally award the enix side for better action RPG mash-ups. Even as such IMHO, KH2 makes up for all the misses of the first game and surpasses it by a mile.

  4. Staticneuron said on July 16, 2006:

    “typical Square drudgery and messy, stolen scraps from the Book of Miyamoto”

    I saw that and couldn’t help but laugh. Square has ben around just as long as nintendo and derived thier own way of telling stories and ideas about gameplay. Just because Square and nintendo were bedmates in its thier early life does not mean that one particularly influenced or stole from another.

    I know square, I’ve been in love with them ever since Rad Racer for the NES. I love enix as well. I know for a fact that Square is the type of company that would love to bring about character mixups and mashups into thier story but you must understand a couple of things.

    Disney had the last say in everything involved in the game. I was suprised at how dark and edgy disney allowed square-enix to become while touching thier beloved franchises. But now that I think about it thier live action movies crossed over into the PG-13 realm and started dealing with adult subject matter and violence. No one bats an eye nor decries disney for thier latest ventures.

    The second and ultimate reason why you wouldn’t see a character mixup ,even if disney allowed it, is respect. Respect for the original creators stories design and intent. Square-enix went off the board with thier characters… altering age, stories,intent and even (in KH2) personalities. You also have to keep in mind this game is intended for kids. In america, if you throw a disney character in a video game or film and it turns out to be mature, there is going to be hell to pay. The typical yackers will claim that some evil company is trying to get kids to by thier games.

    As I am typing this I still do not now how I derived all this content from one comment….. god, I need to go play more video games.

    Peace!

  5. jay said on July 17, 2006:

    Psh, Rad Racer was basically an Out Run clone. Come to think of it, World Runner was basically a Space Harrier clone. Hironobu Sakaguchisure did love taking ideas from Yu Suzuki. I never played it but wouldn’t be surprised if Tobal No. 1 was a Virtua Fighter clone.

  6. Christian said on July 17, 2006:

    Static Neuron: You misunderstand my quote about the Book of Miyamoto. It isn’t about the company’s history. What I mean is that Kingdom Hearts is in many ways a Square attempt at emulating the formula of the 3d Zeldas. I didn’t elaborate on this in my review, mostly due to length. The realtime combat system, the layout of some of the levels. I mean shit, don’t tell me you went into Monstro and didn’t have flashbacks of Lord Jabu Jabu. It isn’t identical, no, but I got this vibe that they wanted to take the Zelda formula, add that Square drudgery, and somehow make a better game. It didn’t.

    I don’t expect you to agree with me on that, but that’s how I feel.

    “I saw that and couldn’t help but laugh”

    I love feedback of all kinds, but that’s probably not the best way to get someone to reply to you.

  7. Staticneuron said on July 17, 2006:

    “Psh, Rad Racer was basically an Out Run clone. Come to think of it, World Runner was basically a Space Harrier clone. Hironobu Sakaguchi sure did love taking ideas from Yu Suzuki. I never played it but wouldn’t be surprised if Tobal No. 1 was a Virtua Fighter clone.”

    Touché

    “I love feedback of all kinds, but that’s probably not the best way to get someone to reply to you.”

    I didn’t mean anything negative by that, I just was reflect on a conversation I have had with my one of my other friends about that same issue. You are not the only one that feels that way. But as far as I can remember ,maybe because I play way to many games, I have never been able to draw a sharp comparison between certain video game series…. with the excaption of GTA clones of course. As far as elements of a game being picked up by another series… it is one of those progressive things that is hard to derive a source from. Camera angles, mood and ambiance I always assume comes from film insperations.

    The long winded point that I am trying to get at is that I see that KH was Squares attempt to try something different. More along the lines of a faster moving element of “The bouncer”. Instead of a action game with RPG elements, KH was a RPG with action elements. Square has tried many genres and continuously changed the way and form of how the game is played in thier most popular franchises as well. KH to me seems more like an evolution of thier own wierd thought process than something that was derived from an outside source.

  8. Christian said on July 17, 2006:

    Thanks for the reply man. I didn’t think anything real negative was meant by the remark, I just wanted to make sure I understood you. Looks like we’re both pretty square now!

    As for Square taking a different approach… I’m intrigued. It is a different way of looking at things, but I do think its a legitimate opinion. I’ve heard rumblings that KH, was somewhat low budget and unguided, at least relative to other Square projects. I wonder if they really knew what they were doing with it. That would perhaps explain some of the awkwardness in the gameplay.

    This has been real great talking to you about this game. I do think you’re right in that it was intended to be aimed for kids more than anyone. And it is very possible that this was an honest attempt by them to branch out and try something new that used the Zelda style as a template.

    I think a lot of my opinions on the game have been clouded by the strong views of some of the more “dedicated” Squaresoft fans out there. I’ve always looked at the game as an RPG Juggernaut that everyone and their mother, people of all ages, seemed to be hailing as the best thing ever, which is exactly the kind of coverage it gets. There was a point where I changed my mind and looked at it as a kid-friendly game with an almost “indie” feel (again, relative to other Square games), and really that’s the perspective the review should have come from. A lot of recent arguments with Square fanboys caused me to revert back to a somewhat defensive, and perhaps overly harsh view of the game.

    I still stand by the issues I have with the game, but I think this is a good lesson in keeping cool when it comes to reviewing a game, especially when it is against a majority opinion. You need to stick around more man :)

  9. Travis said on July 21, 2008:

    You are a stupid face! I love that game! It is so awesome.
    lol, actually, I really do love the game and think you were way to hard on it.

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