Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Bit Disappointing

I have known since I eagerly purchased my copy of Kingdom Hearts II years ago that this game featured a level based on Pirates of the Caribbean.  The creators, it seemed, decided to upgrade their pirates from those found in Peter Pan to those found sailing aboard the Black Pearl.  Being a huge fan of that particular franchise, I was pretty excited about this level.  When a Gummi course opened up to the level that was clearly the PoC world, I was doing a little happy dance in anticipation.

That joy lasted for all of about five minutes after I started the level.  The whole thing was just a huge letdown, except for the game play element itself, actually.  Normally, I would say nothing else but the game play really matters, but there is so precious little of it in this game, and it is so broken up by cut scenes, that any enjoyment I got out of it was quickly and effectively rendered moot as soon as a "scene" had been played through.

The cut scenes in this level (named Port Royal, even though it is only one of three locations you visit in this world) are particularly tortuous.  Because PoC was a live-action movie rather than a cartoon or CG film, the game designers chose to change up the graphic style of the game for that level--but just for the environment and the characters belonging in that level.  This was just jarring all around.  Sora and his pals, as well as Pete (the assistant to the Big Bad of the game) and the heartless are all still very cartoony, while running around in CG surroundings that look like nothing so much as a bad attempt at CG claymation.  The cursed pirates looked pretty cool, I will grant them that, but the models of the characters from the film (Jack, Will, Elizabeth, and Barbossa) were just close enough to be distracting in their inaccuracy.  If they got the appearance mostly down, they didn't get the body language right, or the manners of speech (and don't get me started on the terrible job the voice-actors did trying to impersonate the original actors).  Everything was just off in a way that I found extremely annoying.

I will take a brief aside to say that this is actually the second level where the game designers decided to change up the graphics style.  The first is a sub-level of the Disney Castle called Timeless River, which is a level set back in the original Steamboat Willie cartoon.  The level was all in black and white and they explained the different graphic style by pointing out that the characters had actually gone back in time and that's why everything looked different.  Sora, Donald, and Goofy even got redesigns to fit into the old-timey look and feel of the place.  It was weird, but the annoyance factor was only mild, and was greatly mitigated by the fact that the change was mandated (or at least explained) by the game's story.  Also, for sitting through the level you are awarded the most awesome keyblade I've yet come across in the game.  That goes a long way toward making it better.  Port Royal has none of that.

The bad models and voice-acting were only exacerbated by the numerous and very very long cut scenes littered throughout the level.  Many of them were straight up reenactments of scenes out of the movie.  But the timing and tone and the way in which people said their lines was all just off and it was so frustrating!  Also, the designers clearly failed to secure the rights to the score to the PoC movie, which is understandable, I am sure that would have been costly, but the music they put in its place was just horribly chosen.  None of it fit what was going on in the scenes at the time.  None of it.  If they couldn't have gotten the original actors to voice some of the characters, or at least secured the original audio track from the film to use for the dialogue in the cut scenes, I feel the game would have been much better served for them to limit the amount of dialogue and just use word balloons when there was a lot of talking to be done.  Word balloons are just as common as actual spoken dialogue throughout this game, and it wouldn't have stood out had they gone that route.

Sigh.  All in all, I have to say that this whole game has just been a big disappointment so far.  I mentioned earlier that the story itself is actually pretty interesting, and I stand by that, but it is not enough to carry the whole game.  I feel like the design team was told, "Kingdom Hearts was a smash!  The games for the portable systems went over well too, make a sequel for the console, quick!"  Only, they didn't want to make more of the same, so they tried out a bunch of different things and tried to shoehorn them all into one game under the guise of being part of the franchise, and it just doesn't fit well together.

The more I play this game, the less I want to play it.  I am going to finish it, because when I stopped working full time I made a deal with myself that I would get better about finishing projects that I start, be they video games, craft projects, writing projects, or what have you.  There are bits of it that are truly enjoyable--some of them are the bits that clearly follow through from the first game and are just basic improvements upon the original system, others are interesting new characters or story elements they've added.  I am trying to cling to those bits to get me through to the end.  Maybe if I treat it like a treasure hunt (much like my character is hunting for treasure chests in each of the worlds he visits) it will look a little brighter.

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