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May 9, 2012

The Final Mix: A Kingdom Hearts Retrospective (Part 2)

(Part 1 is posted here.)

I’m almost done with Kingdom Hearts 1…again.

I would be finishing it up right about now if I hadn’t quit early to watch How I Met Your Mother -- which, to my surprise, wouldn’t even be on this week in exchange for everything else on CBS Mondays.  Blast.  Such a miserable fate…but oh well.  Here I am, writing a bit on that whole retrospective thing.  Kinda weird, since I know by the time I finish this segment I WILL have re-finished the game (and it probably won’t be primetime Monday anymore), but that’s how it goes.


I’m on the last level -- the last savepoint before facing off with the baddie with a darkness fetish, Ansem.  Once I walk through it, I’ll be facing off with him and all the power at his command.  Will I survive the Expert playthrough?  Will Donald and Goofy use up all my items?  Will my X button survive another round of boss-bashing?

In order, probably, definitely, and only if I forget how to properly apply pressure to my controller.  Anyway, let’s get on with the retrospective.  Ready, set, dive.


Part 2: Worlds

You know, I’m starting to wonder if “worlds” is the right word to describe the KH locales.  When you hear that word, you think huge, expansive areas.  Lots of sights to see and explore; a living, breathing ecosystem with at least something in the way of interactivity. 

That’s a lot to expect from a game made not too long after people started getting boybands out of their system.  It’d be almost cruel to examine KH1 in comparison to, say, Xenoblade Chronicles or Skyrim; in light of those games, KH1 is an utter failure.  Compared to games from its era (and those just a year or two before it), it fares much better.  For example, Final Fantasy X.  A lot of people put that game on blast for being too linear, forgoing a world map, and shuffling you from one less-than-grandiose area to the next.  Fair points, but I’d argue it doesn’t matter.  Like I’ve said before, FFX is linear, but you’d be hard-pressed to deny that it wasn’t a living, breathing world with a unique character and plenty of variation. 


KH1 is on the same wavelength, give or take.  Sometimes the locales look and/or feel massive in scope, and other times feel rather small.  It’s not always about how big the areas are, but what’s in them.  FFX had you go to a city under siege, then a semi-submerged ruin, then undersea wreckage, and a coastal hamlet in the first couple of hours (and before you were done you’d be transported from the requisite ice world to the requisite desert world because…because).  With KH1, at least there’s some justification -- these are literally different dimensions you’re heading to, and what applies in one area -- like trippy houses that make you violate the Square/Cube Law -- don’t carry over to another -- like the mermaid king’s front lawn.  It’s like making a dinner.  You could take one route and load up a plate with lots of spaghetti -- one big experience with lots of little flourishes that make it tasty on top of the main course.  Or you could take another route (the “Thanksgiving at Voltech’s grandma’s house” option) and Pack your plate to capacity with a number of sides.    Different, but viable options that try to answer the question “How do you fill up a hungry, hungry gamer?”

And as an ancillary question, can KH1, with its Thanksgiving Bonanza Style, hold up without making gamers spew all over the place twenty-nine times in a row?  Let’s have a look at these worlds, one by one, and see how they hold up.

Except Hundred Acre Wood.  Since it’s not part of the game’s story, it doesn’t seem right to judge it in accordance with the rest of the levels.  Also, I hate that place and everyone in it, just as I did as a child.

World 0: “Dive into the Heart”

Technically this isn’t a full world, but I want to include it anyway because it’s the first area we explore.  It’s here that we hear the series’ famous “Dive into the Heart” track for the first time -- and I can see why they’d continue to use it.  The area here lends itself to darkness and mystery -- confusion that both Sora and the player are no doubt feeling.  Moreover, outside of the music playing and cursory sound effects, we don’t get to hear Sora (or his host) speak.  That silence and coldness only hammers home the ominous nature of the area.

As for the visuals themselves, we get lots of stained glass -- much of it depicting (foreshadowing) the Princesses of Heart that become much more important later on.  While the area’s nothing too complex -- just a few platforms you traverse through the tutorial level -- there are still some good moments.  The oppressive darkness that surrounds you.  The stretching staircases that lead you deeper into this suffocating world.  Your first, and ultimately futile encounter with the Darkside Heartless.  Sora getting absorbed by shadows, and the fear in his eyes as he realizes his adventuring days are over before they’ve even started.  It’s a strong start to the game, and one that I think has withstood the test of time.

World Ranking: 5 Shadows out of 5.
The Best Part: Seriously, did you listen to that song?
The Worst Part: Are you seriously asking me to screw with boxes and barrels?  Yeah, this is gonna be a real magical adventure.

World 1: Destiny Islands

If the point of the tutorial level is to emphasize the idea that “it’s gonna hit the fan,” then the point of Destiny Islands is to emphasize the idea that “you’re a kid on an island, so go nuts before it gets wrecked as 84% of all starting JRPG areas do.”

Destiny Islands is probably one of my favorite areas in the game.  It just so effortlessly captures that vibe of a children’s paradise, at least in the area you explore in-game.  The sun, the sand, the splashing waves, the balconies, obstacle course, palm trees and coconuts and springs…to be honest, it made me wonder just why the hell Sora, Riku and Kairi were so eager to bail on their raft.  Come to think of it, just where were they going to go?  Other islands, maybe?  And what about their parents?  Does Sora just not give a shit about abandoning his mom for potentially life-threatening high-seas adventure?  That always bugged me…

But I digress.  What’s important is that Destiny Islands is incredibly pleasing to the eye, as well as vital in establishing the tone and themes of the game.  Friendship!  Courage!  Exploring new worlds with wide-eyed, youthful optimism!  Putting Riku in his place!  Abandoning old worlds so you can go gaga over the next area, only to repeat the process ten more times!  An- wait…

World Ranking: 4 Seagull Children Killed Before Birth out of 5.
The Best Part: Stunning Wakka by hitting his own blitzball back at him. 
The Worst Part: Are we ever going to see Sora’s mom, or any of the other parts of Destiny Island?  What kind of society do they have there?  I know they have one thanks to KH2, so why can’t we see even a glimpse of it?  Also, cheap-ass Riku and that reversal ukemi that kills you almost instantly.

World 2: Traverse Town

 Let’s get the Tyrannosaurus Rex out of the room: whose bright idea was it to have Traverse Town be the ONLY place in the entire game where you can buy items?  In a game where your party members will use an Elixir the moment they get a pea-sized boo-boo?  And in a game where you have to manually travel back to that world one slow-ass Gummi Ship run at a time?  And even after you gain the ability to warp and skip those levels, you still have to exit a world, go back and buy items, exit that world, warp back, and head BACK to the world you were in just so you could have your party members blow your items all over again?  I know I shouldn’t, but I’d like to blame Tetsuya Nomura for that.

Anyway, Traverse Town.  It’s the first new world you visit, and keeping in line with the theme of “Let’s kick Sora’s emotional shit in,” he’s left alone against hordes of Heartless.  It keeps the humble veneer of the first RPG town, but with several twists; the safety you’d expect only lasts up to the doorways to the First District.  And even then that’s a stretch, because there’s the nasty business of the town’s inhabitants being similarly-exiled from their home worlds.  Step outside the town’s hub, and you’re bombarded by Heartless from one end of the district to another.  It certainly doesn’t help that Squall’s around to shoot your teeth in, and you’re still as alone as you were when Destiny Islands was destroyed.

It’s easy to write off Traverse Town as being just three districts, but there’s still a bit more to it than that.  There’s a hotel with several rooms, a back alley, a waterway, Merlin’s crib, a gizmo shop, and the Dalmatians’ house.  Pretty snazzy…and then you realize that the Third District is pretty much just a boss arena.  Even if that area’s pretty much a wash, Traverse Town’s First Distrct has a very warm, Disney-esque feel to it; the Second District is fairly successful in marrying the old-timey nature of Disney with modern design.  So all in all, a likable hub.  Good thing, too; you’ll be going back there a few times.

World Ranking: 3 Inexplicable Resurrections of Aerith out of 5.
The Best Part: Finally putting Donald and Goofy in your party -- the signal that the real adventure’s about to begin.
The Worst Part: Having to go through every area to get Donald and Goofy, going through a certain order and having to go back to trigger the Leon cutscene…seriously, that sequence stalls me for like two hours every time.

World 3: Wonderland

The first world you visit with your new wreckin’ crew.   Wonderland captures the spirit of the movie fairly well, as it should; the infamous falling scene, the Queen’s courtyard, the forest, the Mad Hatter’s house, they’re all there.  There’s also a house for some reason, but that’s where things get really interesting; it’s the level’s central hub, but in a different way than Traverse Town.  You’ll find out that items that just seemed like decoration at first are actually the keys to saving Alice from imprisonment and beheading.  The multiple points of entry lead to the room getting flipped around, like the Death Egg Zone from Sonic and Knuckles, and how you’d flip gravity around.  But you don’t just go on the ceiling; the other walls are fair game, to say nothing of the fact that you see the room while big and small.  It’s a way for the developers to get some real mileage out of their assets -- it’s one area, but it has multiple viewpoints and multiple areas to cover as a result.

Though, again, this does bring up a question I’ve always had.  If Sora, Donald, and Goofy are (presumably) normal-sized when they enter Wonderland, does that mean they spend almost the whole level, from the courtyard entry to bashing the Trickmaster Heartless, as micro-sized versions of themselves?  You’d think that Sora could just take the potion and go back to normal size to crush the boss, or even the Queen (a complaint I leveraged against the recent Alice in Wonderland movie), but does that mean that the gang remained small throughout the rest of the game?  They left without drinking the potion -- and it WOULD explain why he barely comes up to the hip of other characters...

World Ranking: 4 Sentient Card Soldiers Who Hopefully Don’t Feel Pain out of 5.
The Best Part: Using the terrain to jump up and smack the Trickmaster’s head.  Or, alternatively, resisting the urge to yell “Objection!” when you’re standing before the Queen.
The Worst Part: Knowing that if you’re luck’s particularly crappy, that evidence you collected won’t mean anything.    

World 4: Olympus Coliseum

What can I say about Olympus Coliseum?

Well, there are three areas to it.  One is a big box with an entrance and exit.  Another is a small room where you can talk to the satyr Phil and enter tournaments.  There’s also an arena, surrounded by…completely empty stands.

Can I get a mulligan?

...Please?

World Ranking: 2 Show-Stealing Scenes with James Woods out of 5.
The Best Part: The swell of the world’s theme when you win a match, and seeing Goofy do one of his victory dances.  Wonder where they came up with that…?
The Worst Part: The “return” of Cloud -- an appearance that beckoned dark days for the future of Final Fantasy VII.

World 5: Deep Jungle

The Deep Jungle…boy, you’re in Tarzan’s house now! 

This level has some really strong moments and some really weak ones.  On one hand, you can explore some caves behind a waterfall, meet gorillas, and you get to fight a damn leopard.  On the other, you go through a particularly unimpressive tree-surfing segment (multiple times!), have to navigate through some jungle vines, and search a camp for some unremarkable items.  Because it’s not Disney magic without a mostly-pointless scavenger hunt.

On the plus side, the level itself is pretty expansive.  Lots of varied areas, from Tarzan’s treehouse to a hippo lagoon to a bamboo forest…it’s a surprisingly large area, all in all.  It’s got color and intricacies; its verdant nature conveys life, but the solitude and isolation from other talking characters (even from Donald and Goofy for a bit) emphasizes the natural inhospitality of the world.  Also, monkey Heartless.

World Ranking: 4 Feet that Jane Apparently Has on Sora out of 5.
The Best Part: Seeing the Keyhole for the Deep Jungle, appearing amidst a storm of swirling, glowing butterflies.  Several steps above being the mouth of a talking door.

World 6: Agrabah

Confession time: Aladdin is probably one of my favorite movies in the Disney Animated Canon.  Not THE favorite (that honor goes to The Great Mouse Detective), but I have some pretty fond memories of it.  So were my expectations met when I entered the world?  Well…yeah, eventually.

The “Agrabah” part of Agrabah is a little more underwhelming than I’d prefer.  On the plus side, it has a vertical element to it that I thought was cool; being able to traverse the rooftops and fight Heartless pots up there has to be a pretty marked highlight.  On the minus side, the areas are unusually cramped and few in number; I know building up instead of building out is an architectural thing, but come on.  Can’t you give me a little bit more to work with?

Once you head out of the city, though, the party starts getting crazy.  For one thing, you actually FIGHT the Cave of Wonders’ entrance -- which, need I remind you, is a giant tiger head.  Then you go into it and have to navigate a sprawling labyrinth, full of traps, deep chasms, rolling boulders, and of course gold.  (Bonus points for sending Abu to touch “anything but the lamp” to trigger events.)  And it all comes to a head when you fight against Jafar -- first in his spindly warlock form, and again in his pumped-up genie form while surrounded by lava while he throws hundreds of tons of molten rock at you.

Aladdin.  It’s more metal than you think.

Rating: 4 Squawking Gilbert Gottfrieds out of 5.
The Best Part: Stealing from Aladdin’s house.  Don’t give me that look; it’s an RPG, you’re supposed to raid the houses of strangers.
The Worst Part: The magic carpet ride to escape the cave.  It seems to help solidify the trend of “half-baked ideas” running through the game; I appreciate the variety, but if you’re going to dabble in creating a Star Fox clone at least make it so I can steer properly.

“World” 7: Monstro

Oh, hell.

Everything starts out promisingly.  It’s Pinocchio!  And Gepetto!  Even Cleo!  And a ship graveyard inside Monstro’s mouth!  And hey, Riku’s back!  Oh yeah, time for some serious plot development! 

And then you start the level, and…what the shit?  Why do his insides look like smashed-together crayons, jellybeans, and vomit?  Why do all these areas look exactly the same outside of a few ledges?  Why do I have to go to Chamber 5 to go to Chamber 2, then back to Chamber 3 to go to Chamber 6, but not that exit or it leads back to Chamber 1, and when you get back to Chamber 4 you get knocked off the ledge and have to start over?  Also, why are they called Chambers?  They might as well have used “Generic Enemy Arena B” or “unfinished_area04.gtg.” 

Last I checked, the goal of the game was to have players whisked away to a dream world of magic.  Apparently, the idea for invoking memories of Pinocchio involved taking players to places to areas that not only have nothing to do with the movie they’re based on, but would sooner appear in the fever dreams of Gary Busey than any part of the Disney canon.

World Ranking: 1 Distinct Lack of Italy out of 5.
The Best Part: Firmly planting Riku in “from now on, we’re enemies” territory.  Alternatively, finishing the level.
The Worst Part: Getting confused as to just how Monstro’s anatomy works.  Do whales work that way, or are things just different in Japan?

World 8: Atlantica

Let’s be real here: Kingdom Hearts 1’s camera is 1.35 gigabytes of shit.  It’s zoomed way too close on Sora, meaning that you can only see so much of the battlefield at any given point.  Kind of a problem when there can be a dozen enemies on the screen with unique attack patterns.  When you rotate the camera, it does so at a sluggish pace; it clings to walls; if you’re locked on to any enemy that moves at a fast pace, you’re going to have to deal with a camera that struggles to keep up, and gets shakier than action scenes in The Hunger Games.

You would think that Squaresoft would do its best to avoid putting any more stress on an already finicky camera -- that it would decide not to put you in a situation where you’d have to examine not just one finite plane of exploration, but an infinite number of others via a full 3D range of motion.

You’d think wrong.  I know I shouldn’t, but -- again -- I’d like to blame Nomura for this.

Atlantica is problematic.  Not just because of the camera, or the reduced pace in which you move through the water.  No, it actually makes the gameplay aspect suffer; because you have no legs, you can’t jump or dodge roll.  You can’t guard, either.  Your special attacks, like Strike Raid and Sonic Blade, are forbidden.  In exchange, you get the ability to ascend and descend through the water very slowly -- oh, and a boost that you’ll make use of exactly one time.  Riveting.

Even though it’s a slog getting through this area, at least it looks great.  With the full range of motion, you feel as if this world is the largest one you’ve visited yet; you go up and down to explore, and bash clams open to get items.  The area may be overwhelmingly blue (in the same sense that modern games are overwhelmingly brown), but there are still colorful flourishes abound, and plenty of variety.  There’s a sunken ship to investigate, Ariel’s grotto full of lost goodies, and the shot leading up to Triton’s palace is a pretty impressive image.  I also like how Ursula’s lair is decidedly more menacing -- proof that you should never trust fat purple octopus women.   

So what else can I say?  As Bob from ReBoot would put it, “It’s nice to visit, but I sure wouldn’t want to live there.”  And then he’d go brush his silver 3D dreadlocks or...whatever computer people do all day.

World Ranking: 3 Instances of Scurvy out of 5.
The Best Part: Finding the Search Ghost Heartless underwater.  A copypasta job from Monstro’s world?  At face value, yes…until you realize the implication that they’re standing in for the abandoned, long-submerged corpses of innocent sailors.  (The same applies for them appearing in Monstro’s belly, but I’d like to pretend that place doesn’t exist.  Because it sucks.)
The Worst Part: Again, fighting with a gimped skill set.  Foreshadowing for Square-Enix’s distaste for good combat in place of billion-dollar cutscenes?  You be the judge.

World 9: Halloween Town

Oh YEAH.

Now, I’ll admit that I don’t have very fond memories of The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I never saw it as a child, and I wouldn’t even see the movie -- and less than half of it, at that -- until visiting a distant relative and watching TV until it was time to leave.  So I know about Jack Skellington and Sally, and that…weird…tentacle thing in the ground, but not much else.  I barely even knew who Oogie Boogie was until KH1 came out.  So you’ll forgive me if certain images are lost on me.

That said, this level is damn awesome.  Creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky, it has a twisted layout and warped architecture.  Fog permeates the area, and there are plenty of ludicrous locales like the doctor’s lab and the graveyard -- all of which have an undeniable charm to them.  The characters (and the Heartless, too) all have a delightfully macabre air about them.  Oogie’s manor is surprisingly expansive, and marries the abstract machinations of a blind construction agency with the doodles in Tim Burton’s high school notebook -- at least, the ones between pictures of unicorns and breasts.

It’s a world that reaches its horizontal and vertical limits.  It’s visually appealing, with lots of surprises.  You get a spiffy costume -- one that successfully makes Donald Duck look threatening.

Greatest world of all worlds?  It just might be.

World Ranking: 5 Bolted Bodies out of 5.   
The Best Part: Oogie’s boss arena.  It’s a torture machine/board game.  Somebody sell the rights to Hasbro or Milton Bradley.
The Worst Part: Falling off the manor after the long climb. On the other hand, you get to spend more time in Halloween Town, so…yeah, not much of a weakness.

World 10: Neverland

I feel like calling this place “Neverland” is a bit of a misnomer.  Yeah, you’re in (around? Next to?) Neverland, but you spend so much time in Hook’s pirate ship that you hardly see any of it.  Even the world’s Keyhole isn’t on the mainland; you head to London and lock up one of Big Ben’s faces.  Which, I admit, is a pretty cool event.  Though does that mean that for a brief instant, Sora visited the real world, or at least some facsimile of it? 

But I digress.  As for the world itself, there’s actually not much to say about it.  It’s on a pirate ship, so you see pirate-y stuff.  Masts, cabins, lots of…wood.  Oh, and boxes and barrels.  You do get to slug it out on the main deck with Hook and some Heartless, but the area surrounding you is less than impressive in terms of visuals.  Fortunately, there are enough story developments here to keep you from thinking about how the area looks for TOO long.

Also, late in the world (as in just before the final battle) you earn the ability to fly at your leisure.  Mechanically, the controls and idea remain similar to Atlantica -- hold circle to ascend, square to descend, and you can fly about as high up or far out as you deem necessary.  What makes it different, however, is that A) the flying is almost entirely optional, B) since you can land on the ground at any time, meaning your skills AREN’T useless, and C)being able to fly gives you a slight tactical advantage.  Take to the air, and you can bash flying enemies that give you so much trouble on the ground.  Or better yet, use it to avoid Hook’s storm of attacks.  Theoretically, you can trick him into falling into the water, jumping up, and then knocking him back into the water in an endless loop until he’s dead -- but since I was busy flying away for my life, I didn’t get the chance to try it out.

So bottom line: not the best level, but nothing too offensive.  Kind of weird about that whole flying thing so late; did the developers just figure that the inside areas were too small to fly in?  Whatever the case, it’s a marked improvement over Atlantica; it’s like that level was just practice, and this level was ironing out the concept.  It makes me wonder why BOTH levels couldn’t work, but I suppose that’s just how it goes…at least, if you have less foresight than Miss Cleo with a head injury.

World Ranking: 3 Swaggering Shadow Soras out of 5.
The Best Part: Again, Big Ben.  You just get to fly around for a while, taking in the sights and chilling to some cheery music.
The Worst Part: Seriously, where’s the rest of Neverland?

World 11: Hollow Bastion

Hollow Bastion.  Playtime’s over.

Ignoring the fact that there are some hefty plot twists and reveals (and FIVE boss battles), Hollow Bastion is just an all-around fantastic world.  It’s a massive, oppressive world, with no shortage of scale provided by the view of the castle from the front gates.  You navigate around its outsides from a series of lifts and elevators, observing the Heartless’ stronghold with an oppressive tune hovering about you  You’ll visit sprawling waterways, stretching libraries, and spectral halls that threaten to suck the life out of you.  It combines the mystic décor you’d expect from Maleficent or a slew of Disney productions with a mechanical aesthetic that threatens to scald you if you so much as look at it.  So basically, it’s a great place to spend an afternoon.

And if that wasn’t enough for you, the idea of loneliness, isolation, and “you’re boned, little boy” gets hammered in when you spend most of the level separated from Donald and Goofy.  On the minus side, you’re left completely alone and stripped of nearly all your combat prowess.  On the plus side, you get to travel with the goddamned Beast.

World Ranking: 5 Behemoth Stomps out of 5.
The Best Part: Seriously, that shot of the castle before you enter.  If you ever play the game, just go stand in front of the entrance, hit Select to go into first-person mode, stare at it for a while, and just try not thinking “That’s it.  The universe is doomed.”
The Worst Part: Those damn flying enemies attacking you in the castle’s exterior.  If you get too willy-nilly, you might end up falling off and having to slog back to that point…only to have the enemies you dispatched respawn.    

World 12: End of the World

Damn.  Just…damn.  Guess they were saving the best for last, huh?

First, you emerge from a cave and stare down a swirling nexus of energy in the distance.(Side note: can you imagine the terror Sora must have felt, staring into that gaping abyss for the first time?)  But before you can make it there, you have to prove yourself -- namely, by fighting some of the toughest Heartless the game has to offer.  Then if you make it that far, you have to push back against Behemoths and navigate a series of portals -- many of which warp you to arenas from past levels (symbolizing the Heartless’ mindless spread throughout the universe, I’d argue).  Then while exploring the Hollow Bastion remake, you come across a mysterious room that wasn’t there before, detailing parts of Ansem’s ultimate goal.  Then you fight on and go up against FUCKING CHERNABOG.  Then you head into a series of sprawling subterranean caves with crystals and lights and glowy bits.  And THEN you fight your way down to a green-floored arena, where you test your skills against an onslaught of Heartless, doing your best to hold out until the door unlocks.  And THEN you get to see a shattered version of Destiny Islands.

The visuals, the scope, the fact that you don’t have to hold a button up or down to navigate it…they’re all airtight, even after all these years.  Moreover, it’s a smorgasbord of subtleties ad implications.  This is the final world; Sora’s journey is about to come to an end.  More importantly, it’s the dark side to his desire to explore; his childlike wish comes with responsibilities and duties he has to carry out.  He has to be willing to venture into the darkness, much like Riku was, but succeed where his rival failed.  There’s a majesty to it that sucks you in, but at the same time makes you wish to leave immediately, and return to the safety -- the familiarity, and the light -- of your home.

It’s just an all-around amazing area, and the perfect climax to Sora’s adventure.

World Ranking: 5 Screams of “DARKNESS!” out of 5.
The Best Part: That the “Dive into the Heart” theme is used -- a symbol of how far Sora’s come, and how much work still lies ahead.
The Worst Part: That it ends. 

Conclusion

If you crunch the numbers, then by my measure KH1’s levels only score a paltry 73% -- a C minus score, at best.  Given that, you’d think that I’d say that all in all, the worlds that are supposed to be magical are overall harmless at best, or worse than the original sin at worst.

And yet, I can’t bring myself to say that.

Yes, the worlds have their fair share of low points, but what did you expect?  The franchise was new, the technology hadn’t been fully cracked yet, and I’d argue that this was just a “testing ground” of sorts.  If (when) Squaresoft made a sequel, they could use what they learned about KH1 -- through player feedback and their own development trials and experiences -- to make the next product even better.  Learning from mistakes, as it were.  Considering that Atlantica in KH1 would be replaced by…that in KH2 (which I’ll get to eventually), I’d say they at least tried.

But I wonder, just as I did earlier.  Do the places you visit in KH1 deserve to be called worlds?  In terms of base definitions, yes.  But considering the average, overall scope -- considering places like Neverland  and Monstro -- they’re less of worlds in the traditional RPG sense and more along the lines of a stage in a platformer.  Challenges to overcome, and promptly forget about later on when you’re making your next perilous jump.  It certainly doesn’t help that KH1’s average playthrough time is about 30 hours -- anywhere from ten to twenty hours less than JRPGs that came out as much as five years prior.

That said, it doesn’t feel right to shortchange the levels so quickly.  They’re sometimes not as big as one would hope, but they deliver the spectacle and wonder inherent in a lot of RPGs.  It’s enough to make you stop and look at the scenery, rather than plow on to the next cutscene.  In the same sense that Sora’s on a mission to find his pals and explore the universe, so are you.  Are there annoyances?  Yes.  Oh lordy yes.  But do you also get to tag along with Sora, Donald, and Goofy as the phantom fourth member of the group?  Absolutely.  Are there ideas that aren’t even one-eighth-baked?  Yes.  Are there times where you thank Squaresoft for the chance to explore these worlds?  Sure are.

All in all, the worlds come out positively in my book.  They’re not perfect, but they serve their purpose well.

And with that, another installment in the Kingdom Hearts Retrospective comes to a close.  Tune in next time when we get to the heart (herp derp) of the game: the game itself.  Hope your X buttons are al oiled up, folks.   

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