Release Date: September 10 2013
Developer: Square Enix
Metacrtic Score: 77
With “Kingdom Hearts 3” on the horizon I thought now would be a good time to look back over the franchise. And with Square Enix recent re-releases I (or should I say my sibling) got most of the main games for around $40 (“Dream Drop Distance” and mobile games not included). So how was this trip down memory lane? In a word: bumpy.
You play as Sora, a young man living on an island with his friends Riku and Kairi. The three of you dream of getting off the island and even make a raft in order to leave the mundane world behind you. Unfortunately your island is attacked by creatures called “the heartless” the nigh before your trip and the three of you get separated. Sora winds up in “Traverse Town” and learns that he has been chosen to whiled “The Keyblade”, a magic weapon that can lock and unlock the hearts of the worlds you’ll travel too in order to stop the heartless from getting through to them. At the same time all this is happening, Donald and Goofy have learned that King Mickie has disappeared and the two of them set off in search of him.
Sora, Donald and Goofy meet in Travers Town, and decide after beating a boss that they should team up and look of their friends together. And so your off to see different Disney themed worlds to help them deal with the floods of Heartless that have been pledging them as you search for your friends. But unbeknownst to the three of you, dark figures watch your every move and they have plan to use the Heartless for their own ends.
If you know anything about the “Kingdom Hearts” games then you already know how odd the story and set up are, but for the uninitiated the main thing you need to know is that the game mixes Disney and Final Fantasy together. Most of the worlds you play in are based on Disney movies, most of the recurring cast in made up of Final Fantasy characters. Cid, Aerith and Yuffie from FF7 and Leon from FF8 all live in Travers Town and you talk to them pretty frequently, and Cloud even functions as something of an optional boss. However, that’s not the only thing that makes the games story…odd.
No, the writing has a big part to do with that as well. See, while the game is definitely aimed at a younger audience, the games writing has a strange “maturity curve”. See, in the beginning the games writing is childish and some what sickening from it’s sweetness. But that makes sense, this is act one, we are supposed to see the cast at their happiest before we case them up a tree and throw stones at them. But in the middle things get a bit heavy, as you watch one character slowly turn into a villein as they try to save some one they care about. While the writing and story here still remembers that children are the main audience, the game also remembers that you don’t have to talk down to kids. But in the final act things get childish again. Constant monologues about how people are good and how the heart is strong and filled with light, all repeated ad noiseam make it feel as if the developers thought the idea that “people may give in to darkness but that doesn’t mean they’re bad” was so complicated that it would just fly over the heads of everyone playing the game, so they really hammer the point home.
In the end, in mixing both Disney and Final Fantasy, they ended up mixing the worst parts of both. At it’s best the story is still only as good as a childhood cartoon you feel embarrassed re-watching, but not enough to change the channel, and to be fair, the game stays on this level for the bulk of its run time.
Another oddity about the game: the late game difficulty curve. Throughout most of the game the poor camera and crappy lock on didn’t make the game easy, but it was tolerable for the most part. But once you’re on the last world and are on the last stretch of the game things become controller breakingly difficult. Enemies I had no issue with before started killing me in two hits and even the little runts you fight from the start of the game took noticeably longer to kill. I get that this is meant to be the big climatic ending, but when i’ve been over powered until this point, I don’t understand how I could be so weak in the final stretch.
While that was the biggest issue with the game play it’s not the only one. While to can control the camera, I found that it was often more work than it should have been to get it pointed where I wanted. Even worse is that the camera doesn’t always do the same thing when you lock on to an enemy.
When fighting big groups I would always try to take out the big guys first. Unfortunately me and the lock on system had vastly different ideas on who to attack first. As I was charging towards a big guy that could do massive damage, i’d hit the lock on button only for the camera to swing around and i’d be looking at some little guy on the other side of the room. While you can switch who you’re locked on to, the fact is the game hardly ever locked on to who I wanted it too. Because of this I was always having to readjust my self in the middle of battle, trying to lock on to the right guy and forcing the camera to look where I wanted it too. But even when the game didn’t pull this crap it still didn’t act right. At lest half the time when fighting flying enemies i’d hit lock on only to be told I was locked on, but not shown the enemy. It almost feels like Square Enix knew that the fights weren’t very difficult so they created these systems as poorly as possible to artificially ramp up the challenge.
Platforming is another pain. Donald and Goofy are always in the way and the controls seem to loosen up whenever the game knows you’ll be doing a lot of jumping. In almost every platforming section I spent twice as long as needed to get through it due to characters not doing what I wanted. And with a game as short as this (I beat the game in about 15/16 hours) these constant annoyances really add up.
Combat….is actually really fun, but only once you’re a ways in. The battles are in real time, but the combat is menu based. Because of this a lot of the early game is spent simply hits “X” repeatedly. But as you learn more magic and special attacks things get more exciting. Both those use mana, so you can’t just spam them, and if you do you can find yourself with any MP to heal yourself with. But you regain MP by landing hits. So while the combat isn’t the most in dept system ever created, i’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it. Simple but effective is the best way to put it.
How the game handles your “party” is another oddity. Donald and Goofy are always with you, but every world you go to has one character from the movie you can have team up with you by switching them with either Donald or Goofy. What makes this strange is that there’s no real reason to do so. These characters are only usable on their world, and you need Donald and Goofy to be leveled up for the final boss fights, so there is no reason to switch out characters. The only time it became necessary to use another character I didn’t have a chose as Donald and Goofy weren’t with me. You don’t gain any bonuses by using world specific characters, so really, what’s the point? Other than adding “battle along side your favorite Disney characters” to the box blurbs.
And then there are the gummi ship sections. Between each world you have to get there first, and you do so in these rail shooter like sections in Donald and Goofy’s ship. And these are the most boring sections in the game. You do end up getting the ability to skip these sections when heading to planets you’ve already been too, but you have to play through them the first time you go to a new world.
These sections are slow and easy and just not fun at all. What’s worse is how much the game wants you to like these sections. You can customize your ship with new pieces, make new ships either from blue prints or by just making your own. And I just ignored all of this for the most part. All in all, the combat holds up the other, weaker parts of the game pretty well, but it’s hard to justify some of the more obnoxious missteps made here.
This remastering also comes with the PS2 remake of “Chain of Memories”, but I haven’t gotten very far into it. I can say that i’m not digging the card based battles, but i’ve only been playing for a short time. In the end though, the remastering of the first game was the selling point of this collection so that’s what i’m judging. And in the end, I had fun, but that fun came with more frustrations than I would have liked. I almost want to try and ignore these issues, given the fact that this was originally a PS2 game and all, but bad design is bad design.
Game Play 2.5/5
Music and Sound:
Each worlds music reflects the world itself, so you’re enjoyment for most of it is going to be based on how much you liked the music for each of the movies. The main themes is some disposable pop garbage that works well in context but exactly what i’d call a “good” song. But I do have to say I did enjoy hearing the games version of “this is Halloween”. The hard part to talk about is the voice acting. See, it’s all really well done, with most characters sounding like they should or like the did in there movies but….have you ever heard Donald or Goofy talk? Now imagine hearing that for around 15 hours. Yeah, no matter how well done their voices are, it doesn’t stop their voices from being…well…their voices. So the question is, do I mark the game down for annoying me or mark it up for being true to form? In the end, I didn’t turn the volume off to avoid any of it, so i’ll give it a pass. But know going in you may want to do that.
Music and Sound: 3/5
Overall Score: 2.5/5
Who is this game for:
The only people I can wholeheartedly recommend this game too are those who were fans and want a trip down memory lane. Just know before hand that the game simply has not aged as well as you may have hoped and that nostalgia may be clouding your judgment. For every body else, this isn’t a bad game, just not one that’s any where near as good as hardcore fans will tell you it is. But if you have a soft spot of Disney and want to see the oddest collaboration in gaming history, then give it a try.