RPG Club Plays Kingdom Hearts: Week Three

kh3_headGood belated Friday, everyone! I know, I know, Sunday is the day most opposite Friday, but what can you do?

The RPG Club’s playthrough of Kingdom Hearts has hit something of a snag: some of us are super busy, while others (hint: it’s me) beat the game long ago now, letting the sting of the game’s abysmal ending sequence wear off a little bit. However, we’ve got some fresh thoughts for you this week. Hit the jump to give ‘em a read.

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Jason Rice:

It’s a real pity that Hollow Bastion comes so late in Kingdom Hearts, because it’s easily my favorite zone in the game thus far.

Up until then, the mobility you have is never really necessary, with most fights requiring little more than a berserker rush to handle. Sure, you could dodge their attacks, but when they do so little damage and healing is so plentiful, why waste the effort? Running headlong into battle is just the more economic choice, even if it turns the entire game into a amorphous button mash.

Then you fight Maleficent, whose infamous black dragon form sets the battlefield alight with green fire and demands that you manage multiple deadly homing projectiles while whittling away at her massive health bar. All that running, jumping, and dodging you haven’t been doing up until this point suddenly comes into focus.

It’s only a precursor to a much better fight though, one which carries story implications befitting its complexity. After beating Disney’s Archfiend, you face off with your once friend and polar opposite, Riku.

I like to describe bosses like Riku as “brawler bosses”: fights where there’s no gimmick or trick. They’re just down and out battles between two equally powerful forces. Ridley in the Metroid series has always existed as one of them, demanding that players stay on their toes and push the offensive rather than solve an elaborate puzzle while getting shot at. They’re the pinnacle of a game’s systems, asking players to use their entire toolset creatively with no clear guidance.

After all the history between Sora and Riku, it only makes sense that the inevitable confrontation between them would descend into the dirtiest kind of fight. Nothing about it matches the clean simplicity of earlier bosses, with their obvious openings and puzzle like weaknesses. There’s only one rule: kill him before he kills you.

It’s the kind of thing that’s effortlessly cinematic. We circled around each other, trading blows like we were in the opening scene of Ninja Gaiden. I parried his charges, punishing him each time, knowing that even one mistake could mean my death. As the fight dragged on and my MP bar emptied out, I grew desperate and reckless, trying to make openings where there were none. Each time he repaid my hubris in blood, our contest looking more like a Street Fighter match than a RPG battle.

Had it been tuned just a bit easier, it would’ve lost all its impact. There’s something to be said about difficulty in games, something that drives the passionate fanbases of everything from Dark Souls to Super Meat Boy. When you’re pushed to your limit, when everything is on the line and you’re out of options, you have to reach down deep for the fortitude it takes to win. You wake up, scoot forward in your chair, and adjust your hands on the control. You start to care, even if for only a moment.

Until Hollow Bastion, I didn’t really care about Kingdom Hearts. I had nothing invested in it, its colorful array of references and god-awful gummis washing over me like a soundless grey wave. I could care less about its fiction, its characters, or even its mechanics.

That battle with Riku though, it grabbed me by the collar and shouted in my face. It was time to care about Kingdom Hearts.

Let’s hope the endgame doesn’t let me down.

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Mike Barrett:

Square Enix is a company that has always felt the need to pack more content into rereleases. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix is no exception, offering new cutscenes, items, and features in an attempt to update the RPG classic.

Unfortunately, not all of the additions have earned a warm welcome (at least from me). Extra cutscenes to strengthen plot connections and camera options from Kingdom Hearts 2 are nice, but for the love of Mickey, why did they have to mess with the synthesis system?

Like many RPGs, battling monsters in Kingdom Hearts will sometimes net the player magic stones and ores, which, with the help of some adorable moogles, can become a plethora of medicines, weapons, and accessories. You don’t need to find recipes or anything like that, either; new item possibilities become available after you’ve created a certain number of things, with later recipes requiring rarer ingredients. Eventually, after mixing together a few dozen concoctions, you can create Sora’s best keyblade—the aptly-named Ultima Weapon.

But getting there has become even more of a pain in the ass than it already was. And trust me, it was an ordeal before. A long, boring ordeal.

The synthesis list has been expanded by a couple items, meaning you’ve got to plow through even more junk to get to the stuff you actually care about. Plus, many of the recipes have been reworked from the original, adding in a variety of new requirements. These new ingredients match up with new monsters, the so called Rare Heartless.

Each world has one new type of monster that only appears in a specific area…sometimes. Yeah, you’ll have to run back and forth a bunch of times just to get the rare monsters to spawn. Each Rare Heartless then acts as a puzzle, requiring a specific strategy to defeat. For example, one of them splits into five and becomes a shell game to figure out which one is the “real” one. Another comes in a massive wave but disappears if they touch Sora, demanding a perfect fight. One is simply invisible. And another, most frustrating of all, must be hidden from lest it summon an infinite wave of reinforcements, each pelting Sora with unavoidable missiles until you escape the area.

Oh, defeating a Rare Heartless in no way guarantees getting their unique synthesis item, by the way. Ugh.

Suffice to say, I will be going to the final boss next week with some keyblade besides the Ultima Weapon. In what seems an effort to flesh out the item creation feature and sneak in a handful of combat mini games, Square Enix has put an ugly blemish on a system that, frankly, already worked just fine. At least Donald and Goofy’s best weapons were left safely behind their original, more fun barriers.