Kingdom Hearts: a Deeply Desultory Description
Updated: Oct 20, 2019
I imagine the title, and the caption have probably made it clear on my feelings for this game. But before I get into why I found this game to be a waste of space and time I think it only fair to explain where I'm coming from; then we'll dive into specific complaints.
First, I'm not one of those KH fanboys that has followed every installment of the series, probably waiting for hours at store fronts on release night. I played the first, and really only enjoyed it because it had real time combat, a rarity in that day. I found the story to be simple and a bit juvenile. Nothing bad, but nothing to write home about. The second was better, although the writing in the individual worlds was clearly hurried.
And that's it. I had no plans to play three. I saw all the other KH games as Disney/Square Enix milking the franchise for all its worth. And if it hadn't been for a fanboy friend who insisted on showing me every single trailer for a game 13 years in progress that's where things would have remained. But, alas, that last trailer showed me something I thought I'd enjoy. But that meant I now had to go through all those other games I'd dismissed.
For the most part I'd say I was wrong in my initial dismissal. After having played them I'd say the writers hit upon a story they really wanted to tell in KH3, but lacked the filler to make it work. These later games seemed more likely to be ret-cons of the original series in an attempt to set up this 3rd game.
And then there's Dream Drop Distance (hardly worthy of the capital letters). To say that the KH universe would have been better off without this game is an incredible understatement. Literally, the only use for this game is that it provides you with quick synopses of the previous games, catching you up on what you missed. But in every other way it is an affront to what I'd only considered to be a decent gaming world to begin with. It's writing is juvenile and contradictory. The game mechanics are boring and ridiculous. The combat system gives you a choice between extreme aggravation and unbelievable boredom. The enemies are unimaginative rehashes.
Oh, and it completely ignores even the main 2 titles of the series. I mean, there's ret-conning, and then there's shitting all over cannon.
We'll take these failures one at a time:
The Writing. Characters bulldoze through their necessary plot points with gay abandon. They offer information not sought after, and not intuitive to what's being said. Villains monologue about their evil master plans with a consistency and verbosity that would have any Bond villain screaming 'STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AND PUSH THE DAMNED BUTTON!' And the overall plot is that of a haphazard drunken dream. As we go, we discover that the quest Riku and Sora were given was immediately hijacked by apparently omniscient enemies. Apparently they know of this plan because of the X the three 'kind' fairies wove into Sora's uniform. I guess we can remove the 'kind' descriptor from them; I mean, how good are you if your weaving tracking devices for your patron's enemies into their clothes? They guide Sora on, apparently, the quest he was supposed to be on, through the entirety of the game. But never fear, Riku has somehow sniffed this diabolical master plan out subconsciously, and dove into Sora's dreams to save him. But he doesn't know he's in Sora's dreams, and he doesn't even realize he's supposed to save him until told by a monologuing villain.
This villain then claims to be a Xehanort from the past that's in the present. He's apparently the younger version of the evil villain that had been apprenticing under Ansem and whom fell to the darkside. And he claims that one cannot travel in time to any point unless they were there in one form or another. Hold onto that, its important. Now we see that Radiant Gardens is fine in Birth By Sleep (roughly ten years before the first game), and gone by the time Sora starts his questing. Which means he fell to the darkness within the last ten years.
But wait, he's the younger self of the old Xehanort that tries to replace his failing body at the end of Birth By Sleep. Keep in mind that this Xehanort is an accomplished keyblade master that Master Eraqus has known for some time. This is established in BBS. Now the only way this would work is if Xehanort had traveled back before he was born to establish himself as a keyblade master. Only then could he have taken Ventus as an apprentice and betrayed him in an experiment, something that apparently happened years before.
The Game Mechanics. Firstly I admit that I'm not a fan of Pokemon. Personally I always saw that show as nothing more than fantasy dog fighting. Not a fan. Not sure why anyone is. I've only seen a few episodes (courtesy of my niece and nephew) and played none of the games. So be not surprised if I didn't appreciate the blatant copying of Pokemon into DDD. We'll call them square pokemon.
I will admit some of the games you played with them were pretty fun. Then again they were simple adaptations of tried and true games, so that's not surprising. But why anyone would enjoy petting a graphic avatar is beyond me. Oh yeah, and you can fight them in an arena.
But no matter how hard you try they seem to be rarely useful. Their damage is minimal. Their priorities are random. And most of the time they wander about whilst you're enmeshed in combat. That is, when they're not needing you to rescue them.
Then there's the deliberate appropriation of the Link command from BBS. Only instead of linking with your peers to gain their abilities you gain a random ability based on the square pokemon (or square pokemons) you're currently using. And how this effects game play is different for Sora and Riku. Sora will team up with the square pokemon for a powerful attack, kind of like limits, or overdrives in Final Fantasy. Riku absorbs them to power himself up, KH summons style. This makes each main character better at some things, worse at others. Personally I preferred Sora's version here; it has far less chance of getting you killed whilst you use it. But either way you go, its clearly a poor attempt to make your square pokemon matter.
Of course, you can only use this ability when your square pokemon's link gauge is filled. What's that? How does one fill that gauge? I'm honestly not entirely sure. The game claims you'll gain link points when fighting alongside your square pokemon. I've only noted this when I'm attacking the same creature they are, but even then its completely random. Obviously, this requires that your square pokemon isn't wandering around over yonder whilst your fighting for your life. Not a good bet to begin with.
Besides that, the game copied the ability menu of BBS, but removed the ability to choose between abilities with the triggers. That meant you had to take your left thumb off of the stick (leaving your character motionless) in order to navigate to the cure ability you need RIGHT NOW. How that was in BBS but failed the cut in DDD is beyond me. If I didn't know better I'd swear this game was developed by Apple.
And then there's the drop mechanic the game is apparently named for. On the surface this seems inconsequential. Simply a timer that kept you from playing one character all the way to completion. But sadly, this drop would happen right in the middle of battle. Even boss fights. And as we all know, boss fights in KH can take ten or more minutes. There is nothing so frustrating as finally getting a handle on a boss, almost defeating them, and then dropping. Yep, you can start that whole fight over after you've spent some time unlearning what you've learned.
Oh, and it gets worse. Since you spent nearly that entire drop fighting a boss you gained no droplets. That means that you've just lost all the bonuses your last drop paid for on this drop. And next drop? Well, you were fighting a boss; you earned no drops, you get nothing!
Yes there is a consumable item that will stop a drop for a certain amount of time, but guess what; you can't use it when your in combat! Not unless your willing to give up one of your command deck slots to it. I can't be sure but I think that will work. Course later game (you know, where the longer boss fights are found) that means giving up one of the few useful abilities (such as cure or gravity) you've obtained just to stop the game from executing a foolish mechanic to begin with.
The Combat System. Here I will admit that I played the game on Proud mode. I always start games on the hardest level; I like a challenge. But there's a challenge and then there's DDD. No that's not a good thing. I'll explain:
As I stated above, the game gives you two choices on how to play: irritated, or bored. Here's what I mean; nearly every creature you run into can stun lock you to death. From full health. Not bosses, or the more powerful enemies. Anyone. Even an attack that does minimal damage with a slow recharge (for instance the ranged attacks of the owl-like square pokemon) will disable your character while they try to regain their feet. But, before they can they get hit again. This wouldn't bother me if I had the option to have the character roll with the blow, but no, they have to regain their feet.
But never fear, Flow Motion is here! Yep, apparently the developers were even able to see how ridiculous this was so they gave you an easy button. All you have to do is jump at a wall, post, tree branch, or even large enemy and you'll enter flow motion. Here you can suck enemies in, deal AOE damage, or deal significant damage to one creature. As a bonus you move fast enough that most attacks won't hit, and the ones that do almost never knock you out of it.
Which reminds me, you can get any ability disrupted, often before you even get it off. Of course, you'll still be waiting to try it again. Did you use it? No. Is it on cool down? You betcha. Why? (Spoiler Alert: there is no good answer)
So, you can simply do the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over and . . . well, I hope you get the point, or you can get disrupted, lose access to abilities you didn't use, or just get stun locked to death. Because there's nothing I love more than watching my character take damage from one creature for ten seconds or more until dead whilst I hammer at my controller trying to get him to do . . . something other than die.
Later on you do get stronger abilities allowing you to mix flow motion with . . . not flow motion. But then you get to the string of increasingly ridiculous boss fights at the end of the game. Flow motion will avail you none here! And no, those more powerful abilities will NOT make up the difference.
Despite having to continually fight characters that can kill you with one hit, when they aren't stun locking you to death, I actually made it to the third of four boss fights Riku gets to tackle in quick succession. There aren't even save points between them all.
The first fight will not only hit you with an ability that will take nearly your entire health bar, but it will heal from it as well! That's when its not stun locking you to death. But I got past that.
The second fight is actually a two parter with the version of Xehanort that Sora killed at the end of the first game! Now, I know what you're thinking; maybe he traveled in time too! Problem: if Riku killed him here who did Sora fight at the end of KH1?
This fight was actually enraging. Not only does he have about ten times as much health as Riku (at LVL 40) but he can kill you in one hit from any of a shotgun blast of little purple balls, take half your life with lasers after pushing you about a quarter mile away, send a wave of black tracking spheres that are more than enough to stun lock you to death, kill you with 4 punches (if your midair you are stun locked; shocker, that) or suck you into a bubble that reduces you to 1 hp. Proof that the developers knew the fight was bullshit: they made that ability so it couldn't kill you. It would simply drop you from wherever you were to 1HP. How generous!
But I got through that torturous fight too. It took something like six hours. I had to remove almost all reaction abilities except dodge, roll, and air dash to do it. Anything else (like say aeiral recovery) would leave you motionless long enough to enable stun lock.
But now its time to fight young Xehanort. Remember him? The guy who goes back to before he's born to set himself on the path of darkness, when your not supposed to be able to time travel back to any point in space time that you aren't? Yep. He's a master of the stun lock. I tried several approaches to defeating this bullshit such as: Play offensively: Once in a great while you can get a few hits on him. Then he stun locks you to death.
Block, Block, Block: Sounds good. I still had the counter aura. Sadly his attacks outlast your block. Not only do they outlast it, but they can still stun lock you from full health to dead, after your block goes away. Oh, and often times he simply ignores that you're blocking and hits you anyway. Roll, Roll, Roll: Saw online people saying this would work. They were wrong, or very very lucky. He'd teleport to me mid-roll, and hit me, mid-roll. You know what happens then.
Jump, Magic Jump: Yep, you guessed it; he teleported to me mid-jump and stun locked me to death.
Oh yeah, and each time you try these fights after the first, all of your abilities are on cooldown. Not sure why. I had them up the first time. But now they are down. And you guessed it, I'd often die before I could get to use curaga once. Why? Yep, THE FUCKING STUN LOCK!
Needless to say I quit. I did read that if you had balloon magic you could cheese the fight. Not sure how that works because, despite the fact that I'd made sure not to sell all of any one magic whilst selling to the moogles it seemed to have disappeared. Personally I think they stole it while I wasn't looking. Shifty moogle things . . . Oh well, it would have been on cooldown at the start of the fight anyway.
And if all that wasn't enough there's still:
Shitting All Over Cannon: Not just once, but several times.
At the end, Yen Sid claims that both Sora and Riku acquitted themselves well, but then intimates that he can only name one keyblade master. A cute fiction for why Sora can't be one yet. But wait, I can think of at least one other time when there was more than one keyblade master; At the beginning of Birth By Sleep when Aqua was named a keyblade master. Not only was her master (Eraqus) also a master, but so was Xehanort! In fact the game steps on this concept immediately when Lea (the female spelling I'd point out) states his goal to become a master of the bladed key. Is he planning on challenging Riku to the death or something?
Then there's the absurd notion that Sora's keyblade was originally Riku's. According to an organisation thug, Riku was the chosen wielder, but lost the blade when he succumbed to the darkness.
Now, setting aside the fact that Riku hadn't succumbed to the darkness until the end of KH why didn't he have it before entering the darkness at the beginning of the game? That, after all, was when Sora obtained the keyblade. And if that was the point when Riku had defaulted then why was he able to take the keyblade from Sora, not once but twice throughout the game that I can think of, off of the top of my head?
They also couldn't keep Sora and Riku's age's accurate. The game starts with them as they were at the end of KH2. But in the dreamscape they are their ages from the beginning of the first game. Yet several times they each state that they must be awake. THEN WHY DO YOU STILL LOOK LIKE YOU'RE ELEVEN YEARS OLD?!
This game honestly felt as if the writer had played through some random KH games (probably blender style) while high on marijuana and Nyquil, finally passed out and had a warped dream. Then they waited until the dream was half gone before writing any of it down. It made little sense, was clearly coded in a hurry (I'm certain no one tested it on Proud mode) and jammed out. And unlike the other entries, it adds nothing to the series, instead detracting by adding confusion. I considered giving this game a 0% (or worse) but, in all honestly, I'd have never played it to the end if it were that bad, no matter how much I wanted to experience the full story up to date. So I give it a 25%. After all, no matter what else Riku was still a bad ass. P.S. I still saw all the relevant cut scenes. Thank God for Youtube right?