Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Looking Back: A Kingdom Hearts Tribute

From my posts on here, it should be obviously given that I am not RPG savvy and never really have been. Besides a select few games, I've never really been "into" any RPG game or anything not requiring mashing a button or blasting something in the face violently. I've tried to play through Final Fantasy VII, which gamers cite as one of the best games ever made. While I can see that it has its charm, a memorable cast of characters and locations, I just can't get over the fact that my stats are everything, and that I must plan my next battles knowing what equipment and spells to use, and who to have in my party... It's a mental hangup of mine and thus ruins any chance for me to enjoy these games.

I said there were a few select games that I've played and thoroughly enjoyed, one of them being the Zelda games of course, and Breath of Fire II. You can argue that Zelda isn't a "deep" RPG, but it is none the less. Breath of Fire II wasn't nearly as complicated as playing Final Fantasy. I've played most of the FF games, III on the SNES being the most tolerable because the story is absolutely amazing to me and overall it's much easier to battle without too much strategy. I've also played FF3 on the NES, and almost beat it. That's quite the accomplishment for me, seeing as how it's regarded as one of the hardest FF games ever made.

But I'm not here to talk about that. Sure my hate for RPG games still lives on, but one strikes me particular today as it did when it first came out...

The first game, not the 5 other tie-ins...

Not technically a turn based RPG, but more on the action RPG side, Kingdom Hearts represents a lot of things for me. The biggest one being that Square characters are in the same game as Disney characters. The second is the soundtrack. I can listen to the main menu music forever. It's touching in a tender way. The first time I ever played this, the main menu music instilled in me that something powerful would be gained from playing this game, and for the most part, it's true.

From the menacing Heartless, the game's main enemies, to the epic and often gigantic boss battles, this game gets nearly everything right. You play as Sora, a boy who lives on an island with his friends, Riku and Kairi. Riku is the mentor figure, being Sora's rival. Kairi is the love interest of both, and plays an important role in the paths the two friends choose later on in the game. Anyway, darkness engulfs the happy island, and Sora is surprised with the ability to slay the Heartless creatures with a keyblade, which leads him to ally with Goofy and Donald Duck. Later on in the game, we find out why Sora is able to wield it, and why it has chosen him, which leads to the combat.

Sora, Donald and Goofy fighting Yuffie and Squall in one of the many Olympus Coliseum battles.
The combat is real-time in this game, and you have full movement over Sora as he hacks and slashes away at enemies. My favorite feature of this game is that you do have stats to keep track of, but it's simplified. You have your standard magic: Fire, Ice, Thunder, which can all be upgraded through side quests in Disney worlds like 100 Acre Wood, and finding all 101 dalmations scattered throughout the worlds. You have your defensive magic, Aero, which acts as a shield. You have your healing in the form of potions, hi-potions, elixers and the Cure spell. Then there is the other magics that can be used offensively and to effect events in the game; Gravity and Stop. Stop freezes enemies to allow you to pound them, or later on in the game, to stop the clock in Neverland to save your party members from one hit kills. Gravity lowers platforms and chests, and breaks shields and does damage. It's all simple to use. What bothered me about other RPG games was the variety of attacks. You could take dark damage, light damage, poison damage, have certain illnesses such as paralysis and blindness, and I hated that. You are forced to strategize ways around these, while simultaneously keeping all 4 party members alive, turn by turn, WHILE ALSO finding a way to slay your enemies. And even then, sometimes you need to grind on lower level enemies to level up high enough to combat enemies further along. Combine this with the fact that you need to boast an inventory larger than the game itself to defend against these many attacks, and you have something that I hate. You spend more time in menus than in the actual game, and to me, that isn't fun.

While KH does have this system, it's nowhere near as glorified as that. You have 4 attributes that are automatically maintained by the game depending on the choices you make at the start: Strength, Defense, HP, and MP. Easy. Sora doesn't have and never will have a 4 digit HP bar. It's as basic as it gets. The most HP I've ever had in this game was around level 70, with about 85 HP. That's basically like having a character in FF7 or something with the same level, but only you have 8500 HP. So it's the same concept, just simplified. Your MP is even more simplified, being between 8-9 bars around level 70, and each spell costing about 1 to 2 MP.

Another cool thing about this game is the abilities. As you level up, your characters learn abilities they can equip that do certain things. You can equip as many as you want, as long as you have Ability Points. Each ability can cost 2 or 3 AP to equip, but they make the combat dynamic in many ways.  For example, early on, Sora has the ability to do a simple 3 hit combo. Afterwards, he eventually learns Combo Plus, and Air Combo Plus, letting him add more hits and letting him take to the air in the form of juggle combos that really punish enemies. Sora also learns defensive moves, like Dodge Roll, which lets him roll out of the way of nasty attacks and magics, and Guard, which allows physical attacks to be deflected and parried. It allows for skill to reside, and thus awards the player with progress only if they master these techniques instead of relying on button mashing. One battle involves almost no physical attacks, instead relying on Guard to reflect projectiles back to cause the damage. There are also shared abilities, such as High Jump, which affects all party characters and cost nothing to equip. Those are main abilities that are required to progress through the game.

Another thing I like is during battles, Donald and Goofy help you not only with physical attacks, but provide healing and MP restoration, which is achieved by equipping potions and other items to them, and also through certain abilities such as MP Gift, which when equipped on either Donald or Goofy or both, they give 3 MP to anyone in the party that needs it. This is awesome to me, because it's automated strategy. I don't have to worry about having to spam magic attacks and using ethers to refill my MP gauge because Donald blasts enemies away with powerful magic, and heals me when I need it, and Goofy assists in my combos, offering potions and ethers should I tell him to. These options are all customizable as well. You can set your party members to do nothing when you're about to die, or tell them to frantically protect you and use items at your leisure. Also, hearing their taunts and battle cries, it makes the fights more intense.

Then there are the worlds, mostly modeled after Disney movies, such as Wonderland from Alice in Wonderland, Halloween Town from the Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Monstro from Pinochio. You'll gain Summons such as Tinkerbell, Bambi, and Dumbo to aid you in battles from finding them in these worlds, and you'll gain party members as well, such as Beast, Tarzan, Peter Pan, and Ariel. They really help out a lot, but can only be used in their corresponding worlds, which really limits their use. Every world has a main boss. These battles all require a bit of strategy, and later on, quick fingers as you'll be constantly figuring out patterns and weaknesses, whether it be physical damage or magical. The bosses are also impressive, and the best parts of the game. From Oogie Boogie, to Ursula, you'll find an abundance of challenging and extremely fun boss battles.

Facing off against Cerberus, one of the larger bosses this game offers.
The game really needs to be played to be appreciated. I consider my childhood to be hit and miss, but gaming has always had a place in it. I think the reason this game resonates so deeply with me is the simple premise: the power of the heart. It's no doubt this game tells a powerful story. It hits home to the child within all of us, but leaves us pondering as adults. I'm sure you might be laughing because I find a game with Disney characters to be engrossing, but it is. The story is absolutely amazing, and is complimented by an epic score and passable voice acting as well. The FMVs are also gorgeous.

I played this game when I was about 14 years old, and I just beat it again yesterday. It's still just as great as before. It captivates me the same way it did when I was younger. Also, it's just good, simple fun. I don't need to waste time grinding in battles or trial and erroring my way through. It's amazing how an idea like this came together this good. The evil Disney characters such as Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Hades from Hercules, and even Jafar from Aladdin are shown in a much more menacing way. They make you want to pummel them. It's just so damn good. And from Squaresoft none the less. It's high quality gaming at its finest. I honestly can't describe how an RPG has developed into one of my favorite franchises of all time. Cheers to Squaresoft, for crafting a game that I can understand and play, without being too technical, and for telling a truly touching story from start to finish.

And that's coming from a guy who blasts demons all day in Doom.

I realize this post contains almost no humor. Sue me. Have a nice day. :)


  1. Agreed. Probably why PS2 is one of the best systems ever made.