Kingdom Hearts is rice krispy treats!

(Okay, whoever decided there would be a maximum text limit here did it just to SPITE ME! >:( So this is two posts. Grrr.)

A Normal Rice Krispy

You heard right. One really good marsmellowy part (Disney animation) mixed with a good ingredient (Square’s artistic creativity) makes for copious yummy. However, have you noticed that even though rice krispy treats can be made any old way, the really good ones have just the right mixture of marshmellow and rice krispy to make a lovely goo take over your mouth with the copious yummy?

The original Kingdom Hearts was like a less tactfully made batch rice of krispy treats, though I seem to rather backward on what made it that way. Though I did note that some of the worlds had design elements that seemed surprisingly amateurish for Square (but not so when you hear Tetsuya Nomura’s name invoked) it didn’t bother me. I thought the mostly brainless hacking combat was refreshing, made more so by the spazzy camera. I liked the hyperactivity and never found it hard to keep track of what was going on. Since I enjoyed tackling legions of Heartless, the unimaginative fetch quests and backtracking never got old either.

The Gummi Ship, however, I think everyone can agree was 100%, pure, homegrown suck.

My griefs were that as well as Square integrated so many of the Disney elements, other, like Huey, Dewey and Louie, or the Chipmunks lacked the polish and joy of life that they imbued in the rest of the cameos. Parts of the plot were also typical Final Fantasy silly. And there were so many small niggles that could be fixed with a little loving care, like the pointlessness of Trinity Marks, or the totally uninspired implementation of finding 101 dalmations in chests. Puppies in chests, people. Yeah, um, no. If they really tried, those would have all been great little puzzles involving puppies being puppies and scattered across varied Disney environments.

The game overall surprised me. I love Disney movies and cartoons (especially Pinocchio) but I wasn’t looking forward to Kingdom Hearts. When I played a demo, I was shocked at how good the control was and the excellent use of color. Often you get insincerely colorful games that seem to be following some cartoon color requirement, but the hues and tones here felt more sincerely realized. It was way beyond the shoddy licensed crud you usually see in Disney games. When I played through, it was scenes like when Donald finds the king missing, or when they first charge off in the gummi ship or the roundtable of silhouetted villains that further delighted. Then there were worlds like Agrabah (that boss with the thing that storms through the city walls with Jasmine was AWESOME, as was fighting the Cave of Wonders mouth), The Nightmare Before Christmas and Hollow Bastion that further cemented the deal.

But most of all what I liked was the light action RPG dungeon-hacking flavor lightly dashed with some platforming. This wasn’t a whack-a-troll where you trade blows in dank repeating stone hallways wearing a loincloth, Peter Pants or a robe (or in some cases, mid-riff -baring hero costumes). Your hacking had this element of attracting you magnetically to the enemy to do flashy combos, rise up in the air and generally light the screen with fireworks, while Goofy ran around causing silly havoc with his silly shield and Donald got all pissed off and quacked out magic spells inside of whales, flying on pirate decks, walking on the walls and ceilings, inside the Cave of Wonders, fighting atop an enormous living demon hacky sack, riding dolphins underwater, sliding through jungles and bouncing around colorful clock gear rooms. And never forget you used a friggin’ human-sized key to whack them with!

This feel was further augmented with DMC-like baubles that would careen out of the enemy for you to collect and an environments that were a good deal less flat then your usual dungeon hacks. In practive, things that are repetitive aren’t necessarily bad (hello, Dynasty Warriors or Diablo!) it is all in how one handles the repetition.

A lot of that went down to the animation of the characters and the Heartless. I think the Heartless and the bosses were what made me like Kingdom Hearts. Their design kept a cohesion to a game that would see you flipping through such entirely different settings every few hours and even the most basic heartless had a freshness to their activities and movements, to the point where one of the highlights would be seeing all the different kinds.

So even though I was prepared to like the sequel, I didn’t buy it until this February, owing my time to other things.

Kingdom Hearts 2 is definitely gooey rice krispy treat with the just right amount of marshmellow to make for copious yummy. Much more so than the original.

They took every criticism and augmented weaknesses to strengths. Thus, Kingdom Hearts 2 often shakes with convulsive fits of awesome.

To just give you a few ideas of improvements, remember how you could equip party members with items to use in battle and how it could get to be very tedious to re-equip all their items once they’ve used them (and how much they’d waste them)? Now you can tell the computer if you want them automatically restocked after battle and can set each item to one of three settings for how much you want it used. When you tell them you only want it used in a pinch, they actually listen to you now. Same with every ability.

Remember how your magic points would recover by whacking around with the keyblade? Now you have 100 MP (most of the time) and once its all gone, it recharges and then you get a full bar back. You can no longer just keep casting cure over and over, then earn the points back by whacking away. Cure also takes away the entire bar, so you’re forced to play a little more cautiously and ethers which can instantly restore the bar are much more dear. It makes a combat feel a good deal less like they that old Attack, Heal, Attack, Heal rhythm seen in so many RPGs, action or otherwise.

Remember the Hundred Acre Wood? That charming and cute place with quite a few extremely annoying mini games? Now its more like a charming and cute place, with extremely awesome mini games. Good lord, but its inspired this time around, even though Square’s depiction of Pooh’s honey habit kind of paints the whole thing in the light of a children’s euphemism for heroin addiction, his Japanese voice acting no longer makes him come off like scary demonspawn as in the original Kingdom Hearts, where he sounded like the root of all evil. There are many, many mini games here and this time around, they are all much more likely to invite you to play again rather than swear them off. Better yet, most of them DON’T carry considerable rewards, which I’ve always thought should be balanced in games with lots of diversions and mini games, since if you don’t like to play them, you end up getting penalized, which isn’t very fair to people who came for and are attracted the main game. The only I think people will be non-plussed with is the Atlantica musical, which I greatly enjoyed but will probably be in the minority. :P

Yes, its improvements all around for Kingdom Hearts 2, but the more important improvements really make the difference.

-Kitsune

A Gooey Rice Krispy Treat with Copious Yummy

Yes, the Heartless were varied and had awesome designs and animations, but 80% of them could be beaten with the same course of steamy mashed button-o. Now there’s so much gravy to give more variety to essentially, even more frantic button bashing. Every character and guest character has link attacks that you can activate with by expending all your MP and these links attacks give you access to super special attacks that you can operate for a limited time. Every summon is now useful and doesn’t deplete your MP, but your drive gauge, they level up and become even more useful the more you use them, as do your various drive forms, which give you even more satisfying hacky-hacky moves.

On top of that a great deal of enemies and situations call for the context sensitive triangle button which lets you do all sorts of awesome things. They range from riding on a pegasus, to throwing hulking brutes into chandeliers and swinging them around, to grabbing on to the enemy and careening through the air to crash back down in a damaging explosion, to sliding around behind the enemy to get a back attack, to twirling around in air streams creating cyclones attacks, to jumping on top of cannon towers making each cannon spray and stun the enemies, to grabbing onto an enemy’s head and swinging them around you to whip other enemies, to using an enemy’s beam laser to twist around in a deadly spray. Truly its like Square harvested fun and squeezed much of the concentrate into the triangle button.

Combined with the drives, summons and link attacks, not to mention the configurable custom combos and magic spells (which are much easier to control now), there’s great variety to the mashing. It really feels much more like the complete randomness of a cartoon is blasting out of your TV screen. Still, people who want a really deep system and tactical combat are still most likely going to be disappointed. This game would probably Mr. Realism, our lovely Brian Rucker, twitch and vomit. :P I, however, I like having a break from all with a lighter game every now and then.

The best two additions, however, are the bosses and the pacing.

The bosses, of course, aren’t an addition, as even the original Kingdom Hearts had well-thought-out epic boss battles. The fact that they are some of the best and most unique boss encounters out there via the use of that lovely context sensitive triangle button is the addition. It just so happens that Kingdom Hearts 2 has so many bosses and unique encounters that it tends to make other action RPGs seem rather tame. These are typically Final Fantasy-esque, over the top, holy anatole, “Someone pinch me, did I just SEE that?” pieces. They are frequent (like almost every twenty minutes) and all awesome, all the time. The very first boss battle will make your jaw drop so far that if you live in an apartment tower, then, it will drop through all the floors, annoy your neighbors, fly underground and lay there sizzling at the earth’s core.

The pacing is excellent, because while its about the same length as the original, you DO a lot more in that time. There’s very little dead time and a lot of special situations and missions. And while the small scope of the original’s world didn’t bother me because I thought of them more as dungeons, they are considerably larger now, yet somehow involve a lot less backtracking.

You won’t believe this unless you play it yourself, but the completely revamped Gummi Ship sections now play like some super hyper version of Panzer Dragoon lite. Customizing, building and using different ships is no longer extremely painful, frustrating and unsatisifying. I actually spent quite a lot of time doing just Gummi Ship missions.

While a lot of the game is still typical Square storytelling momentarily enlightened by the presence of faithfully reproduced Disney material in smaller bite-size stories, there are a few moments where the two meet together to produce something much more extraordinary and memorable. This is particularly notable in the members of the mysterious Organization XIII, who make a great impression as stellar villains, especially Axel. Also excellent is the entire part of the plot that deals with a place known as Twilight Town. These parts have a kind of down-to-earth loveliness and charm that revolves more around wistfulness than pretentiousness and it would be nice if this type of storytelling was more predominant in Square’s Final Fantasy-esque games.

In fact, those who played Kingdom Hearts will remember playing through quite an unusual opening and Kingdom Hearts 2 begins with something even less predictable and more unusual at aforementioned Twilight Town. It is rather unfortunate that nothing else in the game can equal this long, long (several hours worth) opening. Its not exactly downhill, it just doesn’t keep the momentum. If could I have an entire game based around the characters and situations conveyed in the opening, I’d very much like that game. In fact, a real Disney movie, in the manner of the classics, based around the idea of the opening story, but obviously rejiggered, would probably be really nice.

There are two places I think that equal these Twilight Town sequences, and that would be the way Tron is initially integrated into the plot (very unexpectedly) and likewise the black-and-white Steamboat Willie world (again, very unexpectedly). I still very much wanted to be in control of the characters in the opening throughout the game a lot more (with the noted exception of course, Donald and Goofy, who are always welcome anywhere). Whenever the game came back to it, it was better for it.

That said, the game is altogether both darker and more light-hearted than the original.

More light-hearted in that Sora doesn’t have moments of despondency when searching for Riku and Kairi. Its like “Aw shucks! Oh well, next time!” A perfect example is when the three manage to lock a baddie behind a big door, they all turn around before they slam it to make silly faces at the creature. Putting good ol’ Pete in the game was a great idea as he really helps to augment the cartoony silliness. It hues much closer to Skies of Arcadia feel than a Xenosaga feel, which is A-OKAY with me.

On the other hand, there are those archetypally dark Disney scenes that strike a lasting impression on kids, me included, like when Snow White’s queen changes into a hag or the absolutely frightening kids-turning-into-donkeys scene in Pinocchio. Of course, Square isn’t going to match such artistry in a video game, but you can’t fault them for trying and they got a lot closer than in the grave material in the original. Anything having to do with the previously mentioned opening stuff tends to be a lot more sublime. The Nobodies are an even neater idea than the Heartless and designed just as well.

As in the original, both sides are balanced rather well, but various parts and the ending still have ridiculous amount of corn sprouting out of the villain’s and Sora’s mouth. Will someone please tell these people that we get it and we don’t need the character to flat out directly point this out to us?

I think Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack in the original game is perhaps underrated, but I would surprised if people went through Kingdom Hearts 2 without noticing how excellent it is this time around.

I liked the original Kingdom Hearts (I even bought it twice, as Final Mix has English voice acting). I didn’t think it was excellent, but it was an enjoyable, good game. Kingdom Hearts 2, on the other hand, is excellent. They matched everything they were going for and there’s nothing crude left in their formula. Its a game I’m going to welcome replay much more. No, years from now its not going to have the lasting depth (it doesn’t even have much now) of Cadash, Secret of Mana or Dark Chronicle, but I imagine I’ll still rank it with those games for the sheer amount of smiles it provokes when playing it. There’s something to be said for an action RPG that can take 40 hours to finish, yet remain engaging. And something more to be said of the refreshing lack of barrels, crates, giant spiders and broad swords. In the sequel, Square shows a much more expert blend of elements and I suspect those who are inclined to like marshmellows and rice krispies will find that the action is a good deal more refreshing, compelling and attention-keeping.

After all, the mental picture I got from walking through Disney Castle fighting cartoon shadows, Minnie in a pink dress casting her frighteningly powerful Holy spells by my side, is one that’s going to last a long time.

One warning though, playing through Chain of Memories makes it a lot easier to appreciate the, um, appreciable features of the Square side of the story. So if you’re interested in that at least read a synopsis. These plots are intricately connected. Its not so bad since Chain of Memories alone has an interesting card-based system.

-Kitsune

(Grrr…)

Okay, who got their Koontz in my Kitsune?

You do realize the most important ingredient in a rice crispy treat is the butter, right?

I thought it was the elves.

Rice Krispy treats taste like ass, and the entire concept of Kingdom Hearts exemplifies the fall of Square. Not as much as Final Fantasy: The Movie, but as much as, say, Goofy swinging a giant six-shooter sword-blade.

P.S. I’ve heard reputable people say it’s a great game, but then again, I’ve heard reputable people say Bush is not stupid.

Do you know what I think the Games forum needs? Political sniping.

Apologies, that was a low blow. If it makes you feel any better, Gore is also pretty dumb. I’ll try to stick to the approved anti-member sniping in the future.

I’ll point out that no-one would take umbrage at anyone taking a metaphorical swipe at a crappy game in P&R.

Actually, I’m not a Republican, and agree with you that Bush is a tard. That said, P&R is so incredibly virulent on this site, I always kinda wince when I see something like that because I don’t want some of the, uhh, intelligent discussions from that board spilling over to the games board, which I think has some of the better discussions on games on the web. That said, it’s all just my opinion and I shouldn’t take it upon myself to be lord guardian of the boards defending the platonic qt3 that I personally like in my mind :P

It was arrogant of me, sorry.

Heh I was going to make a kingdom hearts 2 thread a few days ago. So how are the controls when it comes to quickly selecting items and spells while fighting?

You can map items to the quick buttons and all four face buttons can be used this time around, so its really rare to not have an item or magic spell you want to use at the ready. There’s two sides to the menu system, as there are new entries for changing party members, summons, drive and link attacks, but since three of these are just activation moves that bring forth additional commands to the face buttons, a lot of the menu movement has been pared down and de-emphasized. Its pretty much the same, but easier to manage because it plays a smaller role.

The right analog stick handles the camera normally, but it can also handle the menu if you hold on a button.

-Kitsune

No, keep the wall of sepraration between games & P&R. There’s value there.

Sorry to bring back this thread, but the game should be out tomorrow. So who is getting it tomorrow? I think I might, but so far I’ve seen a 9 review on 1up,8 ign, 8.75 from gamespot. The biggest complaint I’ve heard is that the game is really easy compared to the first one. So I’m still not sure if I’m going to get it tomorrow.

I would pick this up in a heartbeat if I still had my PS2.

Well I bought it, and I made a mistake about the scoring, ign gave it a 7.5 . I’m about an hour in on hard mode (proud mode). And I have to say to myself, did he play the right game? I’m getting my ass kicked at the first boss. The camera feels a bit improved, but it’s hard to get the depth between you and the enemy down. The graphics look amazing, and so far the voice acting is decent. Hopefully once I start lvling, things should balance out. If anyone is playing it on normal diff, is it really that easy?

Anyone who writes that much should be gettin’ paid for it!

Kitsune = Tim Rogers?

well I’m up to 5 hours now, so far I’m enjoying the game, the new voice actors for aeris and squall aren’t as good as in the first game. I’m still having trouble using the new camera when fighting alot of enemies or in small areas. The voice overs however for the disney characters seem to be spot on.

Can’t be. Kitsune has never ever written about what he was eating while playing this-or-that, or riding a train to somewhere to meet someone, etc…