Saturday, 12 July 2014

Kingdom Hearts (PS2)

Kingdom Hearts PAL title screen
Today's 'K' game is... Kingdom Hearts, obviously. It's not exactly an obscure series, but it's pretty much slipped right by me so I'm coming into this one almost entirely clueless. I have absolutely zero nostalgia for the game.

I do know that it's an epic collaboration between Square and Disney, bringing characters from both their franchises together in an attempt to come up with a third person action game with enough star power to rival Super Mario 64. This would've been back when Square still had that feud with Nintendo going on, so Super Mario RPG 2 was way off the table.

Okay I admit that a few years back I did give Kingdom Hearts half an hour or so to win me over, but I didn't exactly come away from it with a deeper understand of what I'd been playing. All I remember of it now is running around a desert island looking for fish to eat. Forever.

Hang on, is that a dead fish sticking out of the protagonist's mouth right now? I just assumed that it must be a bit of plant, but now that I'm looking at it properly...


Yeah, that's definitely fish bones sticking out of his mouth. Gross.

I started a new game, chose normal difficulty, and got taken to this very Final Fantasy VIII style unskippable pre-rendered intro video, with words materialising on screen as we drift along the ocean. Except this time they have a voice attached to them! Plus there's j-pop!
"I've been having these weird thoughts lately. Like, is any of this for real, or not?"
Seeing as the guy starts by falling through down through water, finds that he's actually standing up on an island beach, gets washed away by a wave, and then picks himself back up again just in time to notice that he's now falling from the sky... I think personally I'm leaning towards 'not real'.

Also there's this. His surreal descent has landed him on a massive Snow White themed stained glass window floating in an endless void.

The Final Fantasy games typically start off relatively down to earth and then work their way up to batshit insanity, but this time Square have jumped straight to the point where I stop even trying to figure out why I'm looking at what I'm looking at.

I think I've figured out why our hero is barefoot on the title screen at least. From his head to his ankles he's a typical Tetsuya Nomura designed character, with his spiky hair, hood and chain etc. but he's also given him giant yellow clown shoes!

Okay I get what he was going for, with the black hoodie, red shorts and white gloves he's dressed to look halfway between an FF8 character and Mickey Mouse, but still... Nomura didn't have to give him clown shoes.

But anyway, a mysterious silent voice has given me the choice one of these three items, signifying the power of the warrior, the guardian or the mystic. He's got no interest in explaining what impact this will have on gameplay though, so I'm playing it safe and going with the sword. I also have to give a power up, so I'm getting rid of my magic (somehow giving up defence seems like something that could bite me in my unarmoured ass later).

Now I've been dropped into the Cinderella arena to fight off shadow monsters!

Despite that menu on the left, I'm actually controlling this in real time, running around and slashing up enemies by tapping 'X' like in any other third person action RPG. It's even got that three slash combo that they're all really fond of. Smack, smack, SMACK... smack, smack, SMACK...

I can lock onto enemies with R1, but otherwise he just automatically targets the nearest person anyway so it's not all that essential. They make an effort to move around and fight back, but being hurt stuns them for a split second, so once I've got them with one hit, I've pretty much got them.

And I'm suddenly teleported back to the desert island in the intro, where young versions of FF heroes Selphie, Wakka and Tidus start asking me a bunch of personal questions without giving any hint of how it benefits me to answer them. It's like a disturbing glimpse of what would've happened if Square had teamed up with Facebook instead of the mouse.

Oh crap I'm not done with the dreamlike Disney window dimension yet! I got teleported right back again to fight this giant shadow monster in the Beauty and the Beast arena.

Hitting 'lock on' painted a target on his wrist so I'm just going to keep on slashing away at it until I get a better idea. There's more of those little shadow monsters around as well, but that's working to my advantage as they've been getting caught in my swipes and exploding, which showers me with green health balls and 1Ps experience bonus.


DESTINY ISLAND.


I won! But it doesn't matter because it was all a dream! Well, everything except for those shoes anyway. Though I really am trapped here on a desert island.

I've learned that the hero is called Sora and his friend is Kairi, and they don't plan to be stuck here much longer as they're working on a raft to escape. It's not made clear how long they've been here or how they got here, but those Final Fantasy characters from his dream are here too along with some pretty impressive wooden structures. If they built all this themselves, I'm sure they can handle a raft no problem.

I mean look at this, they've even built a save point! They haven't gotten around to making furniture yet though, but to be fair they can only work with what they've got. If a freighter full of nails wrecked nearby they'd be set, but it seems that all they've been able to scavenge lately are baggy shorts and belts.

Kairi wants me to find raft supplies though, so I'm out searching the beach for logs, cloth and rope. It's surprising how much fun this is really... because it's not, and they're making me do it anyway. It wouldn't be so bad if I had to do something to reach the things, a bit of platforming perhaps, but nope all I have to do is walk everywhere and keep my eyes open.

I suppose the idea is that it gives players a chance to go chat to the NPCs they meet along the way, but if I did that it'd just slow me down even more! Plus why would I care about anything Wakka has to say if he's not voiced by John DiMaggio any more?


MEANWHILE.


Collecting all the supplies earned me an interlude at a giant Disney castle where Donald Duck (who's apparently a court magician) freaks out when he finds King Mickey has disappeared, leaving only a letter revealing that that there's some kind of problem which he can't tell anyone about.

By the way it's cool to see that Donald's doing well with those broomstick assistants. I've never seen Fantasia, but I believe that Mickey had a bit of trouble with the things while working as a sorcerer's apprentice.


LATER, BACK ON DESTINY ISLAND.


Seriously? My next job after scavenging for raft materials is to scavenge in the exact same places for food? I'm suddenly beginning to remember why I quit this game the first time around: I got bored waiting for it to start.


SOON.


Oh crap I accidentally got into a conversation with Wakka. It's not my fault that the 'attack' command turns into a 'talk' command when I get close to an NPC!

No Wakka, I don't want coaching. Wait, where's the 'no' option? They haven't given me a 'no' option!


LATER.


Wakka's 'coaching' involved him throwing a ball at me five times while laughing, but once that humiliation was over I managed to find myself some fresh water, some mushrooms and some coconuts, and now I'm wading down the beach trying to hit fish with a wooden sword.

I had a bit of trouble with the coconuts actually, as Sora refused to pick any of them up. I thought I was being clever by hitting the palm trees and catching them as they dropped, but the guy just wasn't interested. It turned out in the end that he would only accept special golden coconuts that drop occasionally if you keep smacking a tree around long enough.


LATER THAT NIGHT.


Well look who's back from Sora's nightmares. The forces of darkness began terrorising Destiny Island before the heroes were able to get their raft launched, with Sora was powerless to stop them as his puny wooden sword passed right through the creatures. But then this giant key appeared in his hand, and now he's able to smack them around. With the key.

This boss fight seems like the same deal as earlier: I run up to his wrist and keep tapping the 'attack' button until he dies...

... or I get sucked through a wormhole onto another world. Well crap, it seems like Destiny Island and everyone on it has been annihilated by the shadow monsters. I still don't even know what the deal with that place was. I just assumed that they'd all washed up there along with the FF teens, (which is why they needed a raft) but at one point I heard Sora's mother calling out to him that dinner was ready, so maybe he'd just moved there at some point and wanted to escape his family.

Anyway they're all gone now so it's not worth worrying about. On the plus side, there's a lil' moogle over there! I'm going to go chat to him.

Oh hang on, this isn't good. The shadow monsters are here too and they're ripping people's hearts out of their bodies! Well, more like their soul actually by the look of it, but it seems to have much the same effect (except without all the mess).

Anyway it looks like I'm going to have to tap that 'attack' button some more!


SEVERAL WAVES OF MONSTERS LATER.


Okay I'm struggle to remember now if anyone's mentioned where I should go next, as I'm kind of struggling to reconnect with the plot. Groups of monsters kept respawning outside so I ducked into this hotel, but all the doors in here are locked and there doesn't seem to be any point to the place. It's just a corridor full of nothing.

Huh, after I left the hotel and ducked inside a gizmo shop, this cutscene played showing Donald and Goofy appearing out of the same door and yelling for someone called Leon. So I'm definitely going the right way then, even if I have no idea where I'm headed.

These two are still very much true to their source by the way, so it's like a Who Framed Roger Rabbit thing going on when they're around. They bring their own tone of comedy and follow cartoon rules, though they're still stuck in the same plot as everyone else.

Great, the gizmo shop is infested with shadow monsters, and they keep respawning like their buddies outside.

Jumping around on everything in the shop didn't help much, so I tried hacking away at the monsters for a bit to see if there was an end to them and there really isn't. They drop health and XP so it wasn't a total waste of time, but after a while I stopped trying to dodge them and just kept tapping the 'attack' button... and it worked. In the interests of science I decided to stop looking at the screen entirely and found that as long as I kept hitting 'attack', Sora was doing just fine without me. Any health lost was immediately recovered by the green balls they dropped. You can literally play this blindfolded at this point.

Also this may be an action RPG, but there's no way to choose how to improve my character on level up. I just get told I've been given a bonus to one of my stats occasionally, so there's no decisions I have to pay attention to either.


LATER.


This isn't where the game wants me to be either is it?

Wow, that's a pretty bleak message. The world of 101 Dalmatians has been utterly obliterated, which I guess must mean the entire parallel Earth that the story took place on is now gone, swallowed up by darkness. It seems that there were some survivors at least... though of course most of the population were likely stalked by shadow creatures and had their hearts torn out.

I'm guessing the actual follow up to the Disney animated film probably took things in a slightly different, less apocalyptic direction... which is a shame really as the sequel to the original novel involved the dogs being contacted by aliens who wanted to save them from a nuclear war. Seriously, look it up.


LATER.


Okay I think I have a plan. I've gone up one street and back down the other, trying every door along the way with no luck, but I think I can get up over these crates with a little bit of careful stacking. I've already trying this once already, throwing the barrel at the crate and smashing it into splinters, but I left and came back in to reset it and I think I know what I'm doing now.

Oh crap, they shattered when I jump on them too! Way to get my hopes up Kingdom Hearts (you bastard). Fine, I give up. The game has won. I have absolutely no idea what I am supposed to do here, so I'm going to reluctantly check a walkthrough and if this gives me a stupid answer I'm deducting 500 points.


TWO MINUTES LATER.


Right, it turns out that what I have to do is... return to the start of this world and go back to a shop that I already visited the first time I got here. Apparently the second visit triggers a cutscene which continues the plot. -500 points it is then.


BUT THEN, AFTER LEAVING THE SHOP.


Oh shit, it's Squall from Final Fantasy VIII! And he's being played by TV's David Boreanaz! And he wants to beat the shit out of Sora! This is awesome!

I guess this must be after FF8 as he's still got the scar across his eye but he's let his hair grow a bit, so he's going to be ridiculous high level right now. But all I have to do is dodge his attacks and summons that could deal 9999 to a final boss, and I'll be fine.

Oh did I mention that the camera's a bit awkward? It does whatever it feels like and I have to use L2 or R2 to swing it around occasionally when it decides it doesn't much care for showing me where I'm going. Even out of combat it makes the occasional platforming much more of a pain that it needs to be.

Squall here is the toughest fight I've had yet by far, as little green health balls aren't dropping out of him when I hit him with my key! I've been having to use the 'item' command to drink potions, and it turns out that the game doesn't pause when I switch commands so it's a miracle that he didn't fire off some magic at me while I was busy.

There was plenty of dodging ranged attacks in this battle by the way, so there's no chance I could've done this one with my eyes closed. But I did actually manage to win in the end! Squall's too stubborn to drop though and in the post-fight cutscene it's Sora who passes out. I know how he feels.

Kingdom Hearts item shop screen
When Sora woke up, Squall and Yuffie (from FF7) explained that the Heartless are after him because they fear the Keyblade and as long as he's holding it they'll come after him no matter what. But I figured I'd show this picture of one of Donald Duck's triplet nephews running the item shop instead because I love his expression. Don't ask me which one he is, I have no idea.

Guess what Squall and Yuffie didn't explain though. Yep that's right, they completely forgot to mention what it is I'm meant to do next. I was just thrown right back on to the streets of Traverse Town again to repeat the same thing I did last time, except with tougher enemies spawning in.


MUCH LATER.


I did it! I finally found the next place I was supposed to visit! I have no idea what's going on in this boss fight right now, but as long as Donald or Goofy keeps healing me, I'll keep hammering 'attack'. Now I get why the lock on feature's so important: it gives me something to focus on.

The two cartoon characters dropped in on me along the way and it doesn't seem like I get any say in what they're doing. Though I can use a health potion up on them using the 'item' command so I'm worried I may end up being the one stuck babysitting them.


SOON, AFTER THE BOSS FIGHT.


Well I beat the guy, but now I've come across a problem. Donald and Goofy are willing to take Sora with them, but their ship "runs on happy faces" so he's got to be cheerful or they won't let him on. Me, I'm happy enough, I just defeated another boss and it didn't even take me a dozen retries to do it, but Sora... he's lost his friends, his girlfriend, his entire world. I don't think he could even fake a smile right now in the state he's in.

Sora Kingdom Hearts fake smile screenshot
Well I stand corrected. Goofy and Donald are satisfied and invite him on board.

Oh, before I leave, you remember that they were yelling out for 'Leon' earlier? Well we found him too.

It turns out that Squall is going by the name Leon these days. Well he's trying to at least, but no one's playing along. Squall's eager to remind Sora that those 99 dalmatians need rescuing, as the poor guy can't stop worrying about them. He's not all that eager to do a damn thing about it himself, but he'd sure appreciate it if I'd go find them for him.

Oh plus it seems that Aeris from FF7 has found her way to Traverse Town as well, only she's had a name change too and is going by the name 'Aerith'. Square have really been retconning the hell out of that one.

Kingdom Hearts select world screen
Walking to the town's main gates brought me to this star map where I get to choose my next destination. I can either go to the mysterious easy world at the top, or the mysterious slightly harder world below. All I want to know is whether one of them is a proper Disney planet this time around. I'm not much of a fan of their cartoons, but it'd be nice to finally visit somewhere that hasn't been made up by Square in this crossover game.

Kingdom Hearts 1 Gummi Ship garage editor
While I'm still wrestling with my starmap dilemma I've got something else to keep me occupied: the game comes with a ship editor! I can move these little bricks around, spin them and connect them up into something entirely new. Donald is surprisingly okay with me doing this to his starship.

The interface is a bit more awkward than it has to be and it doesn't seem to matter where you put a block as you get the stat bonus as long as you're using it at all, but I don't think anyone would want this to turn into Kerbal Space Program anyway. The editor does its job and it's bearable.

And now I can fly my new custom gummi ship through a mediocre Star Fox-style minigame on my way to the next world! It's not a great sign when I have to check online to make sure that the graphics are really supposed to look like this, but this is apparently running as intended right now.

Shooting the enemy ships gets me new blocks to add to my own, so it's very much in my interest to do that. Plus shooting down enemies is rarely a bad idea in general, especially when they're a bunch of heart stealing shadow monsters out to destroy all worlds. I bet they're not even running their ships on happy faces.


WONDERLAND.


Oh cool, I've ended up in Alice in Wonderland world! That's an actual Disney movie! I even had to drink a thing that made me go small and everything!

Before arriving, Donald and Goofy augmented by abilities with a ranged fire magic and a dodge roll move and so far they're making... absolutely zero difference to combat. I'll get the hang of them eventually though I'm sure. Hitting enemies recharges my MP, so I can practice with my new fireballs all I want.


Man they've really taken the painted background thing literally. Not that I'd know what it's supposed to look like, I've never seen the film.

It seems that my purpose in this world is to gather up evidence that proves that Alice is innocent, and I'm suddenly getting flashbacks to all those times I had to gather up logs and coconuts so I'm not all that hyped at the idea. Though hey, at least I've been explicitly told to do something for once, instead of just being left to wander around blindly.


SOME BLIND WANDERING LATER.


Well it's not evidence, but three dogs in a box will cheer Squall up a bit at least. The puppies use the power of whimsy to teleport themselves straight home so I don't even need to look after them!

I'm getting a bit sick of beating up monsters in this cardboard diorama world though so I think I'll quit here. If this isn't what the game's going to be like from here on out, then Square took way too long to get to the good bit.


CONCLUSION

It always annoys me when I end up disagreeing with the majority on a popular game, because it makes me feel like I'm missing out on something, but I'm just not finding the fun in Kingdom Hearts.

Take the crossover characters, the fantastic presentation, and the bizarre dreamlike story out of it and what's left has been 'collect 4 items', 'go back and collect 7 items this time', 'press lock on and then tap attack', and 'wander around blindly until a cutscene starts'. Not that you even can skip the cutscenes. Plus after making me go through all that trouble they didn't even use the bloody raft! Honestly my favourite part of the game so far has been the awkward gummi ship editor, because at least I felt like I was in some kind of control of what was happening there.

Gameplay aside though, this is a fantastic looking PlayStation 2 game and the voice cast is as authentic as you could hope for, which many Disney characters voiced by their original actors. I think the guy who plays Donald Duck deserves a medal for reading out all those lines in that voice. Plus they even got Haley Joel Osment to play the leading role of 'a young boy', which is about as perfect as casting gets!

But speaking from the perspective who has no real nostalgia for Disney animated movies, there wasn't enough else in this to win me over at all.


Like always you're welcome to leave a comment about the game, my writing, the site in general or whatever. The line to disagree with me starts here.

10 comments:

  1. This is precisely how I think I'd react to playing Kingdom Hearts. And I actually do have nostalgia for some Disney, just not so much that it could carry a game.

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  2. You're not the only one.
    I never liked Kingdom Hearts... the idea of mixing Disney with Final Fantasy was too weird for my tastes, and the execution of said idea wasn't any better.
    And here's the thing: I do have nostalgia for Disney movies, and I liked the old school Final Fantasy games. I just think they have no business being mixed, or being all crumbled together in this videogame.

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  3. I managed to get past alice's world and the hades do, but by the time I got to tarzans jungle I just could not stand it anymore. This game bores the hell out of me. And I'm like you in that I hate it when everyobe else likes a game and I just....don't. Feels off like I'm missing something. This game, though. It's just hard to find the fun.

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  4. where i douwnload kingdom hearts?

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    1. There's something very wrong with search engines these days if my site is coming up top of the list of places to download ps2 isos from. Sorry man, I got the game from a genuine second hand PlayStation 2 Platinum budget re-release DVD, and I'd recommend you do the same if that option's available to you.

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    2. aww come on, im showing respect for your site
      and if you re playing te original game, why would you [check online to make sure that the graphics are really supposed to look like this]

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    3. You've never had a game glitch out on you before? Once I played a first person shooter where all the hills ended up with the texture from... actually I have no idea, but it made them look like they'd been wallpapered over with giant cereal boxes. So when I see untextured ships flying through blue asteroids covered in sprinkles it makes me wonder.

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  5. I have Disney nostalgia and (childhood) Final Fantasy nostalgia (I say that because I pick up an FF game now and put it back down 10 minutes later). It's as if it is focused totally on that instead of making an engaging game.
    Boring. Very, very, boring. Good casting and marketing does not a good game make.
    Agree completely.

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  6. Interestingly enough, as a fan of Kingdom hearts, I always *hated* the beginning.

    Destiny Island. Traverse Town. Both of your first two worlds - Tarzan's Jungle and Alice in Wonderland. They're not good, they're boring, the gameplay is simple and uninteresting.

    AFTER THAT, the story starts to get a little interesting, you start fighting more dynamic enemies, the worlds get more fun, the gameplay gets more complicated, and it's overall a much better game.

    I'll never understand why they had it start off so, so slow...

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    1. After having played KH and KH2, I can confidently say that they learned from their mistakes. Even near the end game, KH had very little battle options other than various spells and summons. KH2 starts you with just blocking until the end of the tutorial but quickly makes the battles more dynamic by adding reaction commands (a lot of them) and drive forms.

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