Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We Game To Please: Kingdom Hearts

GENRE: Action RPG.

THE HOOK: Disney favourites meet Square-Enix's finest.

THE WORLD: Right, this will take some explaining.  There's this thing called Kingdom Hearts, which is the heart of a world, or sometimes an amalgamation of other hearts...  I think.  And in short, any of the various bad guys want it, and the good guys use something called a Keyblade, which is a sword shaped like a key, to hit them repeatedly until they stop wanting Kingdom Hearts, or indeed living.  Seriously - "Killer7" was easier to explain than this.

Pictured: Kingdom Hearts...  Possibly.
The action takes place across a number of different worlds, almost all of which feature characters and situations from Disney films.  You'll run into all your House of Mouse favourites, from Ariel to Tron and Jack Skellington to Jack Sparrow - except, ironically, Mickey Mouse, whose disappearance is a plot device in the first game - plus a liberal smattering of characters from the "Final Fantasy" series, such as Cloud, Squall and Jader (“JOKER made this biological weapon to jump on BATMAN"...  Oh all right, maybe not him).

GAMEPLAY: Far more action oriented than the usual JRPG, with direct real time control of the running, jumping and swashbuckling.  Upgrades to character movement and abilities such as extra jumping power allow the gradual unlocking of greater awards and previously inaccessible areas, and there's also a shoot-'em-up section as you fly your ship between worlds.

You also get followed around by Donald Duck and Goofy the entire time, as they attempt to help you out in combat, but mainly spend the entire time hollering in their bloody annoying stupid voices and using all your healing items on each other.  For a brief respite you can often replace one of them with a Disney hero from the world you're visiting, such as Beast or Peter Pan.  Finally, as is par for the course in Square-Enix games, there's a whole bunch of minigames, superbosses and optional stuff to keep your quest going past its actual end.

SERIES: Oof.  Well, there's two core games, with a third to come soon.  On top of that, there's a bunch of other games that add to the dizzying narrative, and you sort of do have to play them or at least read their stories to get the full picture of why you're doing what you're doing.

HIGHLIGHTS: The story, if you can get your head around it, is actually very involving and intricate, but the main mark-out moments come when exploring a new world for the first time, and seeing the familiar characters interacting with your party; Halloween Town and Wonderland are particularly well thought out, with Space Paranoids and the Pride Lands in the second game adding some very different and beautifully constructed locales.

LOWLIGHTS: Having to listen to Donald and Goofy all the damn time.  Also, "Kingdom Hearts: Chain Of Memories", which has a trading card element to it which basically ruins the gameplay by removing any potential for the kind of hassle-free enjoyment that the core games trade in so well.  I'm still picking my way through that one after the best part of a decade.

IF YOU LIKE IT: Whilst there's nothing exactly like it, the newer "Final Fantasy" games are starting to incorporate more action elements, and the "Valkyrie Profile" games are also along similar lines.

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