Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Final Thoughts on Kingdom Hearts

I didn't get around to mentioning this in yesterday's post (went off on a little rant there, sorry folks), but I wrapped up Boxing Day by finishing Kingdom Hearts!  That was an excellent, excellent way to finish up the holiday weekend, let me tell you.  Today I am going to dive right into Kingdom Hearts II, but before I get that underway, I thought I would share a few of my final thoughts on the first KH with you guys.

Be warned, today's posts will contain spoilers for the story of the game.

First off, I know I griped about this game a lot while I was playing.  I am sure many of you wondered why I even kept it up.  Well, those of you that don't have first-hand experience of my stubborn nature, at any rate.  But I think the primary reason that this game was so frustrating for me was that at its basic core, the concept of this game is truly awesome.  The execution of that concept, however, was frequently flawed.  Running into those flaws so often managed to just take me right out of the joy of the game, and those were the moments I tended to focus on afterward when I was thinking and talking about KH.  The secondary reason was that I had played most of the game (poorly) before this attempt.  So I was running over old ground.  While my real-life game playing ability has leveled up considerably since my last stab at KH, that actually only presented a new crop of problems for me this time around.  Certainly, some of the things I had issues with previously were no longer an issue and I was able to deal with the in-game challenges much more easily.  But the flip-side of that coin is those flaws in execution that I was talking about earlier.  They stand out so much more obviously to me now that I actually have some idea of what I am doing, and have also played some really, truly, excellently designed and executed games (*cough* Bioware *cough*).  Once I hit new territory, however, and got to the points in the game that I had never played, I will admit that I started having a lot more fun playing.  My obsession was no longer a drive to conquer this challenge that has beaten me for so long, but simply excitement to play the game and find out what happens next.

I wish I could say I was able to make 100 % completion of the game, but that would be a lie, and a laughable one at that.  I did find all 99 of the dalmatian puppies though, as well as complete the other two requirements to unlock the secret "ending" after the game credits.  I am fairly certain I will not be playing the game again though.  I have finished it, finally, and I am done.  I am glad I played it, but it is not the kind of game, for me, that drives me to seek out more.  Perhaps it once did, because that is definitely why I own KH II, but no more.  My own playing style and choices have certainly evolved.  I'm not saying I am better than KH, but it is no longer the kind of game that gets in my brain and stays there, begging for a replay or the next installment of the franchise.  It is not a true RPG to me, and I think that seems to be more what I lean toward these days. 

Despite this, I am kind of excited about jumping in to the sequel.  I was reading the game booklet yesterday a little bit on my way to visit our family and some of what I read gives me hope that a lot of the issues that drove me nuts in the first game were addressed in the second.  I'll have to get in and actually start playing to find out, but my fingers are crossed.

There are three final things about KH I want to address.

First, while the story driving the game was actually a pretty interesting one, I felt that the way it was wrapped up at the end of the game made no sense whatsoever.  I don't know if this was me being so tired I didn't pay close enough attention during the cut scenes and so missed some vital piece of information, or if it was a bad translation from the original concept script (the game was largely designed in Japan), or if it was just a poorly executed story finale.  Okay, this is the part that is about to get all spoilery.  Highlight the blocked text to read if you aren't concerned about spoilers, otherwise, you can just skip it.

Once the princesses and Kairi have been saved, the story kind of seemed to go off the rails.  At this point the keyholes to all of the worlds we have visited have been closed.  What did make sense:  Sora still wants/needs to find Riku, and hopefully save him from the darkness; Donald and Goofy still need to find King Mickey; now that we know from all of the assembled reports that Ansem is actually the bad guy, we should probably find him and stop him from destroying more worlds; stopping Ansem might actually restore all of the worlds that have already been destroyed.  Okay, good.  All of that seems like proper motivation to move forward, certainly.  So, we track down Ansem at "the end of the world," and beat him down, along with the weird crazy Heartless beast he rode in on.  Cool.  Then, there's one big final door, that seems to lead into...some weird darkness that has a whole bunch of Heartless spawning inside?   Okay, um, I guess that makes sense.  This is Ansem's handiwork after all.  But we're having a hard time shutting the door, and we aren't trying to use the keyblade.  I guess it doesn't work in this scenario?  Then, oh hey, it's Riku!  He's there behind the door, helping us!  And so is King Mickey!  WTF?  Where did he come from?  Where has he been all freaking game long to just suddenly pop up out of the middle of the Heartless, spouting about light, and it's okay to leave him and Riku behind the door.  It seems to me the only real reason to leave Riku and Mickey behind this door is to give us a plot for the sequel.  Because Riku, Sora, and Mickey have a big long conversation through the wide open door that at any point Riku and Mickey could have run through and then everyone could have shut it from the outside.  But whatever.  No, we're just gonna leave them in there to fight all of the Heartless, even though we have been looking for them both all game long.  Now there's a door to the light we're supposed to find.  Apparently, Ansem thought Kingdom Hearts were darkness, because all hearts start in the darkness or something, but Sora says he knows Kingdom Hearts are light.  Wait, what?  Sigh.  Oh, and there's Kairi, suddenly at the end of the world, even though we left her back in Traverse Town, without a Gummi Ship, so how did she get here?  And why, if she is here, does she get sent back to Destiny Islands when the worlds are restored and Sora doesn't?  I am so so so confused.  Sigh. 

I guess my point here is that I feel like either I totally missed some fundamental groundwork that explained all of those things that happened at the end, or nothing was actually set up throughout the game to explain why those things happened the way they did.  If that is the case, then that is a huge flaw in the game design.  That's all I am saying.  Hopefully, some of these questions get answered in KH II, but I am not actually holding my breath.

The second thing I want to address is the system of magic.  I was talking this over with my husband last night and I am actually glad I picked magic as my focus in the game, rather than strength, even though I still proceeded to hack and slash my way through most of the battles.  This is because it allowed me to use the iterations of "cure" to heal myself and my party.  I also really liked the gravity and fire spells, and those are the three I had equipped to my magic shortcuts.  But.  I feel like the system of magic for this game had so much potential that was just wasted.  For instance, the summons.  I chose magic as my focus this time around planning to use the summons a lot more, but I used them maybe twice in the whole game.  Why?  Because the process of summoning a character is so clunky it is almost counter-intuitive.  While in the middle of battle, you have to stop and stand still (while remaining completely vulnerable to your enemies) and scroll down to the "magic" menu listing, then scroll down that listing to "summon," and then scroll down yet another listing to choose the character you want to summon.  It makes my head hurt just thinking about it.  I mentioned that you get three shortcut buttons for magic, but you learn a whole lot of spells, some of which are pretty useful, or, in some cases, required in certain battles.  You can still use them even if they aren't set up for a shortcut, but you have to go through that scroll and choose thing every time you want to use that spell.  It just takes too long and is too many buttons to press for a game where the combat is in real-time.  You can change your shortcut items whenever you want, of course, except for when you are in the middle of a battle and have just figured out which particular spells you need for said battle, at which point you cannot access the menu at all.

I have some hopes that this is a little better in the next game, from the booklet it seems like it might be.  Fingers crossed.  I am just sad that such a potentially cool system got in the way of itself so easily and made itself too big a pain to actually use while playing.

The third and final thing I want to address is the items.  As I mentioned, you can't access your menu, and therefore your item inventory, when you are in the middle of a battle.  That means you've only got access to what is in your personal stock, which is, at most, six or seven items.  Those items can be accessed during battle, but only by stopping what you are doing, standing still (while remaining vulnerable) and scrolling the command list to items, then scrolling the items list to choose the one you want to use, and then usually scrolling a third list to choose which member of your party you want to use the item for.  It is just crazy.  Thankfully, as I mentioned before, I had enough magic points by the end of the game that I could just cure myself (or other party members) magically with a shortcut button, rather than have to scroll around trying to select a potion.  Also, while Donald and Goofy can hold more items than you can, they use them automatically and run out much more frequently, which means as soon as any battle is over, you need to be sure to restock them so they can help you out the next time you get into a tight jam.  You could have 30 Megalixirs (the instant complete-cure potion) in your stock, but if all of your party is out, then you are still gonna die.  Also, the really useful items like Tents and Cottages can only be used from the menu, and usually, where I would have wanted to (and been able to) use one, I had found a save point, which automatically restored my full health and magic points.  So those items, while awesome, were kind of redundant.  But once again, the tidbits I have gleamed from the KH II booklet give me hope that this has been improved in the next game.

So really, that's it, my thoughts on the first KH game.  I am glad I played it.  I am glad it's over.  I am glad I found all of the puppies.  I mean really, those poor puppies, crammed three into a chest and left strewn all over multiple worlds.  I am looking forward to the new game because it is just that, new.  To me at least.  I am hoping it will be a lot more fun.  We shall see though, we shall see.

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