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Critical Hit: A Closer Look at Kingdom Hearts

Posted by Sarah LeBoeuf On April - 28 - 2011

We all have our favorites. They’re the games we’ve blindly loved for years. We turn a deaf ear to complaints and criticism, unwilling to believe or accept that they could possibly have noteworthy flaws. It’s time to take a more critical look at our own sacred cows and see if, just maybe, they’re not quite as perfect as we remember.

When I first heard about Kingdom Hearts, it seemed like there had never been a game more made for me. The combination of Disney princesses, Final Fantasy characters, and action-RPG gameplay nearly made my head explode, and I instantly loved the goofy (no pun intended!) characters unique to Kingdom Hearts. Naturally, I was a big fan of the game almost immediately, and it’s been one of my favorites for nearly a decade. After a recent Disney Blu-ray binge of Beauty and the Beast and Pinocchio back-to-back, I was struck by the urge to play through Kingdom Hearts once again, for the first time in over six years. This time around, though, I found myself facing a lot of issues that I simply couldn’t ignore.

It’s hard to explain the plotline of Kingdom Hearts even going back to a time when the story hadn’t become completely convoluted by a sequel and approximately thirty thousand spin-offs. Basically, a bunch of Disney-themed worlds come together, and only a young Keyblade wielder can protect them from the darkness threatening to take the hearts of all who inhibit them. The themes of Kingdom Hearts make themselves known pretty early, and at their core, they’re pretty understandable: light versus darkness; the importance of friendship; how fear or the thirst for power can destroy one’s heart. However, these basic ideas get pretty heavy-handed the longer the game goes on, until the narrative is pretty much beating you over the head with them. Hearts! Darkness! Friendship! Love! Keys! I know that the protagonist of the game is young, but that doesn’t mean that all of the dialogue should sound like teenage poetry composed in second-period study hall. Even worse, if you look past the core ideas being shoved down your throat, you might see that a lot of the actions taken by Sora and his entourage just don’t make a whole lot of sense. I’ve been defending this game’s plot for years, but even I have to admit that it’s a lot flimsier than I remember.

Despite these issues, I could still suspend my disbelief and grow to enjoy these characters and the worlds to which they travel. I love RPGs, and that means I have a high threshold for fantasy silliness. How they travel from world to world, though, is not something I have ever enjoyed. The Gummi Ship has always been my least favorite part of Kingdom Hearts, and it’s still the worst. I can’t imagine how this gameplay mechanic—basically an extremely dull, very simple rail shooter that takes at least five minutes in real time—made its way into the game to begin with. Didn’t they have QA testers? Wasn’t there anyone in development that said, “Hey, this is actually really stupid”? Sure, there’s an upgrade system, but there are few things worse than the feeling you get after you open a hard-to-find treasure chest to get an item for that stupid Gummi Ship. You can easily go through the game without ever wasting any time changing around your ship, which makes it feel like even more of an afterthought. Thankfully, the option to fast travel opens up after visiting a world for the first time, so your time with the cursed Gummi Ship becomes less frequent as the game progresses.

I’m not going to complain about cheap boss fights—there are a few, that’s for sure, but they’re really not worth fussing about. If I have to die a few times before I get it right, I can accept that. Of course, the fact that these major battles are often preceded by lengthy cut scenes—unskippable cut scenes—is an issue. Sure, watching the same scenes over and over again gave me time to check my email, update my Twitter, do the laundry, and make a sandwich, but would it really have been so hard to include an option to skip the damn things?

Are all of these issues nitpicky so far? Maybe. After all, besides the story, the heart of any RPG is the combat. While the fighting system in Kingdom Hearts is fun and, a lot of the time, very satisfying, it’s not exactly deep. Most of the time, it boils down to a lot of button mashing as Sora locks on to the nearest enemy and hacks away with his Keyblade. Magic spells sometimes come into play, but most of the time it’s not worth wasting the MP that could be used to heal Sora. As for Donald and Goofy, who accompany him into almost every fight, those guys are pretty unreliable. They’re good for healing Sora and themselves, but they often use up their potions and MP right away, and before you know it they’ll both be knocked out. Kingdom Hearts also has a summoning system that’s clever in theory and useless in execution. The summons, various Disney characters who don’t have worlds of their own, don’t add much to the battle system, and you’re likely to go through the whole game without ever calling them to action.

I’m sure die-hard Kingdom Hearts fans will have a lot to say in defense of this game, and I can’t blame them. I still love Kingdom Hearts, I’m going to replay Kingdom Hearts II, and if Kingdom Hearts III was announced tomorrow I would probably shed tears of joy. I still adore this game and I probably always will, but I can no longer blindly defend or ignore its most glaring flaws.

[Image sources: Header, 1, 2]

2 Responses so far
  1. ultraelectro Said,

    well, I for one enjoy the playing and customizing the gummi ship.. :P

    Posted on April 30th, 2011 at 1:24 PM

  2. Sarah LeBoeuf Said,

    Hey, to each his or her own! I guess enough people got enjoyment out of the Gummi Ship in the first game that it came back in the second…

    Posted on May 1st, 2011 at 8:20 AM

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