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Review – Kingdom Hearts

posted on July 11th, 2006 by christian

“No one here but us gals!”

And yet this still isn’t even the stupidest of the sidequests. There is another one in which you can fight waves of enemies in Hercules’ Coliseum. This in and of itself isn’t too bad; not fun mind you. Nothing can be much fun with this combat system, but you can pound through it if you wish. No, the problem is your reward for getting to the end.

You get to fight an insanely overpowered, kick your ass before you begin version of Sephiroth. I’ve played against the schmuck with a maxed out, level 99 Sora, went 15 minutes with the guy just dodging and attacking, and still couldn’t defeat him. Your ultimate reward for doing so (if you can)?

The pride of beating him.

There are a few things I have to give the game props for. The first is Donald and Goofy. People complain about your two party members all the time, but they’re really a godsend. Sure, I rarely know what it is that they’re doing at any given time. But when I turn around and see enemies being splattered on Goofy’s shield, I really don’t care. They’re getting the job done. The thing about your party members is that they don’t die; they just get knocked out for a minute. That means you can let them fight, never heal them, and let them polish off any straggling enemies. Tired of them using potions randomly? Then stop giving them any. Neither of your pals is entirely smart, but seeing as you can theoretically beat the game with just Sora, a couple free kills and some cannon fodder is welcome.

I also won’t begrudge the platforming. Really, there isn’t as much as some people will complain about. That isn’t to say that Sora doesn’t have a horrible, floaty jump and that his big ol’ clown shoes aren’t outfitted with horrible collision detection. But if you have any experience with platformers you should be able to make most jumps without hassle. And if you still can’t, it might be that you can’t get to that platform until later in the game. Actually, wait, that’s a few more points knocked off for confusing level design. And here I thought I could give them some sort of bonus.

Kingdom Hearts has often been praised for having a terrific portrayal of Disney license. With the exception of your party members and a handful of other folk, the Disney characters are mainly relegated to their own little planets which make up the game’s levels. Their plights are near identical to the ones they faced in their films, except they aren’t as interesting since there is no time to develop their conflicts. You’ll run around fighting villains and bosses, watching your favorite plots become distilled into mindless drudgery in some of the worst excuses for levels I have seen on the Playstation 2.

Remember the forest of Alice and the Cheshire Cat? In Kingdom Hearts it is a square room with a bunch of trees and mushrooms, with the walls painted to look like a forest. Remember the wide road that Prince Ali entered as he returned to Agrabah? The same bazaar is the size of an alley here. I felt like I was going to get mugged. Who the hell is Square trying to kid?

Sora is only slightly less manly than Richard Simmons.

You know what would have been cool? To make some original conflicts. Have Disney and Final Fantasy characters interact more. Have Beast fight Hercules. Make Jack Skellington stumble upon some other world. Do something interesting with these characters. Instead we have them placed into these brain dead environments, tying them into a main story arc that is both pathetically unoriginal and overambitious to boot. At my last count, Sora and pals have the following tasks to complete (um, spoiler warning maybe?):

1) Find friend Kairi
2) Find King Mickey
3) Find Ansem
4) Figure out what’s up with Rikku
5) Fight the Heartless
6) Seal the keyholes on each planet
7) Save the Disney Princesses

Somehow this all ties together in the end. Really, it’s just way too many plot threads, and most of them are resolved in the most minimal way possible. Honestly, they could have cut numbers six and seven out entirely, changed the goals of the enemies around, and you wouldn’t be missing out on much. Even then the plot would still unravel like a chicken with its head cut off.

The game is so eager to tell you its tale with another stupid cutscene that at one point it plays one, lets you take three steps forward, and plays another. And you can’t skip any of them. Honestly, I should have turned off the console the moment I heard Sora say in “I want to go explore other worlds.” ten minutes into the game. You can’t get much more unoriginal than that.

Yet why am I the only one who thinks this story is such a joke? Why is this plot considered so deep? Why the hell was Ansem voted as one of the best villains ever by Gamefaqs (OMG with the spoiler) when he gets ten minutes of screen time? Why am I called a Disney hater because I care about the effective use of such classic stories? Why do people wrestle with building a Gummi Ship, using the worst interface ever created by man, so they can use it in levels that look like early Playstation 1 tech demos, and say they had fun doing so?

To paraphrase the insightful and infamous Tim Rogers, people like it because they think they’re supposed to. Just as mommy Disney sat you down to watch what she told you was your favorite movie countless times, now mommy Square has given you Kingdom Hearts to love and worship. You don’t want to let mommy down, do you?

Fun, fun, fun till you gouge your eyes out with a controller.

We’ve all seen Kingdom Hearts a hundred times before, in countless other games, but fans will still go to it, will still cling to it, because they don’t want to disappoint. This is a cold, heartless (no pun intended), low budget cash-in made by two companies who really love money, and know just what to do to squeeze fans out of it time and again.

And so I played Kingdom Hearts, fully well knowing what mommy Square was trying to do, and not happy in the slightest about it. There were a few charming spots in Traverse Town and Hollow Bastion, the only two original levels of the game, and Donald and Goofy were at least competent compared to the other Disney folk.

Ultimately, however, I don’t think I would have finished the game if I were not playing it in good company. I still remember the final area of the game. My then-girlfriend told me that level 45 was not enough. I should seriously go back and gain at least five levels, and the Ultima Keyblade to boot. I stomped in there, waded through the Heartless, and beat the final boss on my first try around level 46 with the Keyblade the game gives you in a treasure box shortly before the end. I even got the good ending with the KH2 preview. First try. Done.

Good Riddance.

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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