#508 Kingdom Hearts

Posted: 20th November 2014 by Jeroen in Games
Tags: , , , , ,

380th played so far

5115412WYQL._SY300_Genre: Action/Role-Playing
Platform: Playstation 2
Year of Release: 2002
Developer: Square
Publisher: Square/SCEE

Here’s a game that has been long coming. I’ve been curious about Kingdom Hearts since soon after I heard of it, but never really had a chance to play it. I got close to having a chance to play it around the time we started this project, but its absorption into the big pile of games we need to play stopped us going further with it. After that, we got distracted enough it took us a while to get back to it.

This time, however, having obtained the game’s more recent Playstation 3 remake, we decided it was time and thought we should actually play it, and then see how well it works for us.

This is a game that I either owned or rented (I can not remember which one) and I got stuck pretty early on since I was not able to trigger certain events to happen as I roamed around. Now that I have more experience with games like this I am glad to say that this was not a problem…

Our Thoughts

Come on, the short description of the game sounds interesting already. A game that combines the Final Fantasy and Disney universes, an action RPG where you control a fairly standard Final Fantasy protagonist while having Donald Duck and Goofy as your support characters.

That Disney section is really what gives this game its unique charm. For the most part, you travel to different Disney ‘worlds’, based on the different movies and other Disney properties. The Final Fantasy characters are there, but are secondary to the plot of finding Mickey, and are often less interesting than the main story.

This is just as much helped by the choice of companions. Sure, Mickey might be more popular with some, but Donald’s anger and Goofy’s…. goofiness create far more human companions (despite being, you know…) and more interesting interactions with the world. Then again, it’s telling that (at least in the part of the woods where I grew up) the Disney magazine is named after Donald Duck, not Mickey, and features the angry bird more often. He’s funnier and more interesting.

The levels can feel a bit constrained at times – the impassable walls of inexplicably dense trees are common – but they’re lush and fairly varied. The cities especially have many secrets and there’s several nice touches. What helps is how there are bits that unlock only as you gain more characters and powers to explore the area, in part through small Mickeys dotted around that require them to proceed.

The battles are a bit more troublesome. Ni No Kuni‘s system seems to have been inspired by it, with its separate arena, having most of your helpers attacking as AI against some enemies (including some pretty big ones) and healing through orbs dropped during the fight. Once you get more in depth, the differences become more obvious. First, the game is far more action-based: there are no automatic attacks, instead you have to get close to specific attack points like in Shadow of the ColossusLess climbing is usually involved, but there can be a lot of waiting for the right enemy attack to strike yourself.

The second issue – usually simplifying the game, but frustrating in certain tough battles – is that you don’t control your allies directly. You can give them some vague AI hints, but they mostly do their own thing. It’s easy at times, when they do the right thing and you can focus on what you need, while at other times it makes them useless (Donald especially can be suicidal). In the occasional battle, however, they can make the game clearly more difficult. And place where this clearly stood out was against one of the bosses in the Alice in Wonderland world called the Trickmaster. One of the ways to keep it under control is to keep it away from the fire in one corner of the room, as when he reaches it he starts throwing fireballs. It’s tough but possible on your own, but when your allies lure him to that corner while fighting, it actually makes the fight far more difficult.

The one annoyance, really, is related to that. As many other eastern RPGs, this game asks for a lot of grinding, starting even after the first quest when you’re joined by your allies. The next suggested worlds feel difficult from the start and if you haven’t done your exploring and leveling beforehand, you can get stuck there quite easily.

Still, battling systems are subjective enough that it’s not the reason we’re discussing the game here. The characters, worlds and story stand out as magical – the type of magic you associate with Disney, its movies and theme parks. The graphics and sounds match, from the introduction’s glorious stained glass windows to all the different large worlds. It seems worth it for that alone.

Being the one of us that is more into Disney the majority of the Kingdom Hearts playthrough fell to me (and I am also transferring it to my personal gaming pile for times when we are not blog gaming). The thing that I love most about the game (which is not the battling system since the Cerberus boss battle is just ridiculous if you come at it too early) is the sheer amount of references that are made. It is almost a pity that these games started to be made at the end of the Disney Renaissance since any sequels really didn’t have any decent material to work with.

The characterization of the Disney characters are spot on. Donald is mercurial and hard to understand. Goofy is adorably, well, goofy. Minnie is… okay let’s be honest Disney never created her as a strong female so Square didn’t have much to work with. This leads me to something that bugs me, where is the strong ‘good’ female character? Maleficent is strong but she’s evil so it doesn’t really count. Once again it’s three men off to save the day and the Princess of Heart. I hope when we see  Kingdom Hearts III we’ll see the inclusion of Anna and Elsa of Frozen as something more than damsels in distress.

Finally, there is the Gummi Ship. Cute idea but the having to play a shoot ’em up every time you want to double back on yourself and buy potions is just grating after a while. I know you can make new ships and do lots of customizing but it feels like game padding that did not need to be there.

Final Thoughts

I know I was fairly negative about this at the end but this is a game made for people who like Final Fantasy and Disney which means it does feel like it was meant for me and when it’s very Disneyfied this game is absolutely brilliant. The moment it delves into Final Fantasy territory it begins to weaken. I also which they went with a battle system more akin to Final Fantasy X because that would have really solved the boss battle issues.