I’m not sure why Jay asked me to review Kingdom Hearts. The game is fairly old by now, and just about everyone who wanted to play it already has. Then there’s the fact that the sequel has been out for months. Looks like I’m a little late to the party, but I still intend to crash it.
Kingdom Hearts is a perfectly mediocre game. At its best it was a lighthearted diversion, one that I could play while enjoying my then-girlfriend’s company while not having to think too hard about it. At its worst it was a mess of poorly implemented design choices based on typical Square drudgery and messy, stolen scraps from the Book of Miyamoto. If I had any care for in game stories, I probably wouldn’t have finished, as the game takes Disney characters and plots and compresses them into dull, mediocre shells of their former selves that are more offensive than enjoyable. The whole thing is just a cold, sterile little action RPG that aspires to be something huge, but will have to be content with being merely playable.
Only the most stubborn KH fans will tell you that the combat is in any way spectacular, but even those who acknowledge that it isn’t terribly good will pull the “RPGs are for the story” card in order to sidestep the issue. For those of us who still play games in order to derive entertainment from the whole playing aspect, battles are a pretty critical piece of the puzzle, and KH is the ultimate exercise in repetition.
It has been said before, yet I cannot stress it enough; there is absolutely no excuse for Square giving a real time combat system a menu driven interface. None at all. I know that they’ve built their empire on menu driven games, but that does not mean that every single title they make has to be that way. In the middle of being pounded from all sides by enemies, why in the world must the player navigate through a menu to select “Item,” and then find the right potion, and then pick the proper target, all before someone in the party is killed? The attack command is also separate from the special move command, leading to many instances where a context sensitive special attack will pop up, and you end up missing out on it because you had to fumble around with the right analogue stick.
Don’t forget to move the cursor back to attack, otherwise you won’t be able to fight. Seriously, how many real time games put “attack” as an option rather than mapping it to its own unique button? I’ve actually heard fans say that this system makes the game “more challenging”, and thus is good. It’s one thing to have a difference of opinion, but never, ever try to apologize for a developer being stupid.
Of course, this horrible set up leads to KH being exactly like most other Square games; you mash X repeatedly until someone dies. Since the menu system is pointless, you’ll almost always find yourself sticking with attack and repeating the same combos ad-infinitum until you’ve won a battle. Interesting? Not a bit, but at the very least it isn’t any worse than other games in the genre.
The only kind words I can say about the combat is that it doesn’t require much strategy or thought of any kind, thus you can meander through battles while you pay attention to something else. During my play I did everything from reading a textbook to solving calculus problems while my steady thumb caused Sora to flail his Keyblade around like a maniac. This is not much of a compliment.
Magic in Kingdom Hearts is usually in the form of a projectile. That means you have to aim your spell, and hope it hits. If it does, you’ll frown when you see that your measly fireball dealt a tiny fraction of damage. The fact that spells aren’t guaranteed to connect is reason enough to ignore them, but the fact that they are weaker than anything else in the game makes magic utterly worthless, outside of healing that is.
I almost get the feeling that no one wanted to include the magic system in the first place, so half assed is its implementation (the amount of spells you can actually use is paltry). But Square knows their audience, knows what people expect from their games, and so here it is. Magic. Sometimes I think the only reason fans expect and demand these things from Square is because they have rehashed the same ideas for so many years that no one seems to know anything different. Better get back to mashing that X button….
There’s more Square Brandâ„¢ flavor than just the combat. If you wish, you can go on plenty of sidequests, each more ridiculous than the last. The easiest involves collecting all 101 Dalmatians. You open the box, a few jump out, and you’re done. It’s just an excuse for the developers to make you hunt for useless treasure.
Which leads me to an even worse treasure hunt: the quest for item synthesis. If you find the right items, you can have the Moogles synthesize new gear for you, with the big goal being the Ultima Keyblade. It seems simple enough when you’re making potions out of random junk you find in every battle. But eventually you will be required to find, say Frost Shards. Or was it Frost Gems? Maybe Frost Crystals?
It turns out that all three of these things are actual items in the game, the only difference being their names and rarity. And of course, there is no way to refine one into the other. When you spend an hour jumping through Tarzan’s jungle trying to get two measly Frost Crystals and failing, all the while you’re staring at 20 plus Frost Shards in your inventory, you give up on the Ultima Keyblade pretty damn quickly. This isn’t the first time Square has forced players on wild goose chases for the sake of artificially lengthening a game, but few are quite as annoying as in Kingdom Hearts.