Sunday, July 17, 2011

Video Game Assessment: Kingdom Hearts (2002)

Have you ever wanted to play an anime boy in a video game? How about if your partners were Donald Duck and Goofy throughout the entire game? Okay, what if there were also a ton of original Disney characters from some great movies like Aladdin, Alice in Wonderland, Sleeping Beauty, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Little Mermaid, and many more? What if there were also a ton of popular Final Fantasy characters there as well? It seems like the cartoon lover and old school JRPG video gamer's wet dream. And it is.

Now, I don't like cartoons very much (Although I love most Disney cartoons, because Hell Yeah, but that's not the point.) and I was never into Final Fantasy and I really love horror, so this game already seems to have about a billion strikes against it to a guy like me, a twenty-something jaded male who dislikes cutesy things on pure principle. So, this game doesn't seem like my type of thing.

BUT... and confound it all, I don't quite understand it myself, this game is great. I mean, there are stupid design decisions, insipid characters at points, and the dialogue can be cheesy and corny at points, but this game won me over despite all of that, easily becoming one of the better games I've ever played. Maybe I'm less jaded and cynical than I thought, or maybe I just needed to see a cutesy anime adventure for once in my life, but this game was great, dark in all the right spots, easy to have fun with, comic when it needed to be, and serious in the exact right way. The characters, despite being cartoons, feel real, and that's always a plus for me.

The gameplay is the first thing I'll talk about and it's good, really good. The dodge roll makes up for everything else in this game. I could dodge roll around for hours and it always feels so satisfying to watch the player character, Sora, rolling around for hours. The controls are well done and fun, with a few rage inducing exceptions which I'll get to shortly, and it responds very well and feels intuitive. The gummi ship mini-game which makes the whole thing into a spaceship rail shooter, is probably the best part of the whole game and just makes me happy thinking about it. I spent hours perfecting the PERFECT gummi ship and it was good, really good to see that terrible looking thing get off the ground and murder everything in its path.

Now for the bad. Camera controls. Oh, camera controls. This is where the game confounds me, and make me rage like a baby throwing a fit. The camera is legitimately different from all other games of this type that I've played, requiring the shoulder buttons to adjust it rather than the right analog stick like EVERY SINGLE OTHER GAME OF THIS TYPE I HAVE EVER PLAYED. What the Hell? Why would a person ever think doing that is a good idea? Sure, it works, but since it is so different from everything else, it confuses me after playing other games or before playing those games or whatever, and you have to adjust the camera since the camera is just so bad. Probably the worst camera in video-gaming history. Wow. It was fixed for Kingdom Hearts II, but it still sucks for this first game.

Also, the game can be hard at times, really hard. It can be frustrating enough for you to want to throw your controller at your television, so remember to keep calm and try to enjoy it. Some of the boss fights are awful and miserable, full of failure upon failure, and annoyance built upon equal annoyance. Ursula, from The Little Mermaid, and the dude from Tarzan really stick out for me as being miserable fights in the game. The whole game is difficult though, and I have a hard time seeing kids being able to really beat this game effectively. I don't mind hard games, but sometimes it feels almost impossible without leveling up a little, which I actually hate. I don't like grinding, not being a JRPG fan myself.

Altogether though, the story and characters mostly make up for the bad things. The story is one of darkness versus light, with shadow enemies called the Heartless comprising the main bad force against you and the light. And it makes for fairly epic and engaging story. Sora, the hero, is trying to find his friends, Kairi and Riku, but Riku, at least, does not really care to be found, instead engaging in his own story apart from Sora, trying to fix Kairi, and losing himself to the darkness in his own heart. Sora becomes a hero of the light in his own right, fighting the darkness back and having one of the most gut-wrenching sacrifices I have ever seen in a video game. It was well done and jaw-dropping, a ballsy move for a game made for Everyone.

There is darkness in this game. It's not a light little kid's video game. It is a mature look at what kid's like, taking the maturity from each Disney film and their themes of darkness and light, good and evil, and putting them at odds with conventional thinking, making this game something else, something different and wonderful to behold. And fighting Disney villains and evil in general is always a cool thing to do.

The art style is fantastic, especially towards the end of the game, where it is basically breathtaking imagery. I can't even explain it, so go look at it yourself and understand. The music is great, and feels suitably sweet and epic for this game, making it feel both more like a personal journey, and a journey through odd and somewhat terrifying environments at times. It's fun to be a part of and to hear in the background. The voice acting is mostly well done as well, with some people reprising their Disney roles, like freaking Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings) voicing Hercules and James Freaking Woods voicing Hades, and man, I love James Woods. I wish he could be in everything, games, movies, and otherwise. Hell, I'd be happy if the man read books to me. Why can't James Woods play every character in everything ever? The world would be a better place then.

I guess my ultimate point is that this is a great game for kids (although it may be too difficult for some) and adults (like me). It creates a great story and really does some amazing things. I just started playing the second game and it continues doing much of the same. Anyway, check it out if you can put aside being an adult for a while and just enjoy the childish things and some fun gameplay for a while.

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