Fair Warning: Spoilers for Kingdom Hearts 1, possibly Chain Of Memories and probably 2. Also this is fairly long.
Ah, Kingdom Hearts. One of the more popular franchises that spawned in the previous generation, its games have sold millions globally and captured the hearts of many an odd-smelling, yaoi-loving teenage girl. It came more or less completely out of the left field (Square and Disney suddenly working together? No-one saw that coming, and if you did you probably wrote some eerily similar fanfiction or you're lying. Please be lying) to become one of Square Enix's major franchises. It's no Final Fantasy (even if it does lift characters, names and ideas from Final Fantasy) or Dragon Quest in terms of popularity, but it's getting there. The latest game in the series, the ridiculously named Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (oh Square, you and your really long videogame names), came out this year, and it's did fairly well for itself (from what I've heard).
I'll admit; I'm a fan of the series. Well, sort of. As you may have guessed from the blog's title, my relationship with the Kingdom Hearts series has been kind of...well, rocky. I only really got into it when I gave Kingdom Hearts II a go a year back, having not bothered with it at the time of its release because I was seriously put off by the first two (the original and the GBA spinoff Chain Of Memories). In this blog, I'm going to elaborate why I didn't really like it in the first place. If you're a big fan of Kingdom Hearts, and cannot bare to see anyone tarnish the original game, you'd do well to stop reading right about here, because I have a lot of negativity to spew onto Kingdom Hearts 1.
I didn't get Kingdom Hearts 1 until about Christmas 2004, when I actually got my PS2. I was really excited for it because it was a brand new game for a brand new console that had a lot of cool stuff on it. After trying all the other games I got with the PS2 (I can recall Final Fantasy X, another game I really did not like, being amongst them), I finally decided to boot up Kingdom Hearts and see what I was missing out on (a few friends of mine who didn't dedicate themselves to a GameCube had been talking about it for like a year). After a few hours of playing, I switched it off and didn't touch it for a few months. Kingdom Hearts 1 had not only failed to impress, it was the first PS2 game I outright hated (I didn't really hate FFX until a good while later). All the complaints I had about it then I still have today, only now I can actually word those complaints properly.
The game just failed to impress in all areas. It didn't look at all good compared to other games on the system when I got it (except for the CG cutscenes; those still look awesome to this day), and I still say it looked worse than some other games that were out around the same time (to name two: Ratchet & Clank and Final Fantasy X). While at the time I really did not care for videogame music, looking back at it now, the music was mostly forgettable. I can't recall a single track from Kingdom Hearts 1's soundtrack, except maybe that really weird song that played during the intro movie. But the major problem I had with the game was that it didn't control at all well. It felt so clunky and awkward, combat was slow and a bit of a pain and attempting to jump over things was aggravating because the jumping just wasn't good. The lock-on wasn't much of a team player most of the time either, for some reason (this may have just been my incompetence, I admit).
Basically, I didn't like it. It just didn't work for me, and when I came back to it in the summer of 2005, I ploughed on through it and found several other things I didn't like about it. First things first, the Gummi Ship sections. Pretty much pointless, as the enemies didn't try to shoot you or try to fly into you. The game just seemed to be doing its best to bore the shit out of me. And then there was the story...
The story was simply boring. Some kid turns out to be the chosen one after his home island gets destroyed by evil shadow monsters, he can use a massive key as a weapon and it's the only thing that can truly kill the monsters or something. I stopped caring about what was going on fairly early into the game, and I ended forgetting about a few things. The main character, Sora, was an annoying little git. His voice was annoying, and I didn't like the way he got on. In fact, when he (HERE BE SPOILERS
) stabbed himself with the evil Keyblade thing belonging to Riku (who I guessed was evil the second I looked at the box. Seriously, he has that weird sword and is looking in the opposite direction of the heroes), I was genuinely pleased. I thought I was free from the twat, and that I wouldn't have to bother with him. "The game's finally doing something right!" I thought. All throughout my time with it, the game seemed like it was trying to piss me off, only for this. I imagined it to be the reward for putting up with the game for so long.
Sure enough, this joy proved to be short-lived just a few minutes later.
Basically, Kingdom Hearts 1 was not a good game in my book. It had that Disney nostalgia factor, but that wasn't enough. I hated it, and I decided to have nothing to do with the series after that. And then came along Chain Of Memories, one birthday morning.
Oh dear lord, Chain Of Memories. I think I had this game for all of one day before I brought it back to the shop and used the money to get something good (Wario Land 4, I believe. I know it was a Nintendo platformer for the GBA). Chain Of Memories didn't do anything right. The card combat system just seemed overly complicated and pointless (they could just let you run around and hit things with the B button, for Christ's sake), I once again did not care for the plot (though Axel was a pretty cool guy), and the rest of the game was forgettable. I got as far as Olympus Coliseum and gave up after having to fight Cloud again. Not only did the game have yet another poor combat system, it was also essentially a retread of Kingdom Hearts 1.
I'll not say much more on the game, because I never actually beat it. Or got that far into it, I would think.
So, with two Kingdom Hearts games failing to impress, I stayed clear of Kingdom Hearts II, avoiding it like the plague. In the meantime my older brother acquired the God Of War and Devil May Cry games, and I had an absolute blast with those because they were so awesome to play. I remember thinking "Why couldn't Kingdom Hearts play like this?" at the very least once, still believing Kingdom Hearts II to be another terrible game just like the first two ones.
How wrong I was.
Kingdom Hearts II pretty much fixed every problem I had with the series up to this point. Combat was much faster and much more engaging; sure you were just mashing the X button and occasionally Triangle, but it at least looked really cool. Jumping didn't feel clunky anymore, Sora moved much more nicely than before, the game actually looked decent, and the soundtrack had a good number of memorable tracks (mostly the battle themes, you'll hear those a lot). The story was at least a bit more interesting this time around, and the voice-acting had improved considerably, to the point where I did something of a double-take when I first heard Sora's voice in the game, and noticed how much more mature it was than the whiny kid voice in Kingdom Hearts 1. It seemed that Sora just needed to grow a pair before he became likable.
Another major, and I mean MAJOR, improvement to the combat was the addition of the forms. These were essentially super forms Sora could change into in the midst of combat, should the conditions be right (you need Goofy in the party to access one form, Donald in the party to activate another, and the other three use 'em both. Also, there's a gauge that needs fillin' before you can use the forms), and good god did they make everything a hell of a lot more entertaining. Especially the first form you get, the Valour Form. Sora gets a swanky new set of clothes, and with them he gets the ability to use the forms. His clothes change colour to match the selected form. Valour Form, the form based around sheer ass-kicking, gives an awesome set of red clothes for example. Another cool feature of these Forms is that, with the exception of two, Sora now dual-wields Keyblades. When I first saw this, my first thought was "KICKASS!".
But even though it fixed all my problems with the previous games, Kingdom Hearts II had some new problems. The first, and the most glaring, as the two hour long tutorial
. The prologue of the game is just one long, boring tutorial that stars an uninteresting character who, important to the plot of the game as he is, I did not miss when he got knocked off at the end of the prologue to make way for Sora (and that's not much of a spoiler; the box features Sora, he's obviously the star of the game). The tutorial was needlessly long and rather unentertaining, but if you stick through it, there's an absolutely wonderful game beyond it.
Another problem was the way Square tried to balance the Forms. Namely, the Anti-Form, a shadow version of Sora that runs about on all fours really fast and pulls off insane combos and attacks. However, Anti-Form is rather crappy. It has pathetic defense and can't heal, meaning you're likely to die with it. It can't be levelled like the other Forms, so any enemies you kill are just wasted experience. It also appears randomly when you try to access a Form, its chance of appearing being determined by some hidden point system. The thing is, the Form system didn't really need balancing. Levelling up several of the Forms is time-consuming and awkward enough, and Anti-Form would be an awespome Form to use if it could be levelled for abilities. It feels like a wasted opportunity, to be honest. To be fair, in the right hands Anti-Form's pretty deadly, and it feels really awesome to kill a boss in it because you know you just murdered a boss with the crappiest Form in the game that's probably a good bit weaker than regular Sora.
Also, the less said about Atlantica, the better. I'm not going to bother with it.
But yeah, Kingdom Hearts II was what made me a Kingdom Hearts fan. It made up for all the mistakes of the previous games. 358/2 Days, the DS Kingdom Hearts, seems pretty good from the little I've played of it (a friend's copy, don't you know), so I guess Square Enix finally learned from their mistakes.
(Whew, that's that done. I'm hoping I did this Monthly Muse thing right, this is my first one.)