Tests of Heart: How Being A Fan Of Kingdom Hearts Has Tested My Patience - cerpintaxman Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Tests of Heart: How Being A Fan Of Kingdom Hearts Has Tested My Patience

*SPOILERS FOR THE KINGDOM HEARTS SERIES FOLLOW*

I was never that interested in Kingdom Hearts the first few times I saw the game.  Okay, so maybe the first few hundred times I saw it due to the commercial for the first game constantly repeating where I live.  Point is whenever I saw that commercial with the goofy looking protagonist alongside a who's who of Disney characters, I more than anything got annoyed.  It was a time where the Disney fan in me was practically non-existent, and I was more into sports games than anything, so the combination of rpg with the brand's characters wasn't very appealing to me.  As I'm certain some of you can attest to though, sometimes you wind up trying something you thought you would hate and wind up loving it.  This was the case with me and Kingdom Hearts, which my brother and I rented one day, him trying to keep my sister in mind (she had been wanting to play it) since we almost always rented for ourselves.  I protested the choice, but my brother told me a friend of his told him that the game was actually pretty good.  So I took the wait and see approach, still doubtful the game would be worth the rent.  Much to my surprise, and I'm certain to the surprise of my siblings too, the game had an immediate charm.  Cliche as it is to say it, the rest was history.

I'm still a Kingdom Hearts fan even now.  Have been since 2003, and I've experienced the good and bad that comes with being a fan of any series.  The first game, Kingdom Hearts II, 358/2 Days's story, how surprisingly good Birth By Sleep turned out being, all the more positive marks the series has produced.  Counterbalancing these are the long waits between titles, the glut of spinoffs,  the Japan-only attitude Square Enix has put forth in regards to extra series content, and most importantly, the moment in which my patience with the series was REALLY tested, the travesty (strong word, I know) Dream Drop Distance was.  As much as I've tried to give the Kingdom Hearts series the benefit of the doubt, my general attitude towards it has become largely negative, or to be more precise, indifferent. I'm at a point where the third title, whenever it's released, will probably be my last ride with the franchise.  It's not so much that I no longer like the series, as it is my patience is finally at a very thin point with it.  These are some of the reasons why.

Atlantica In Kingdom Hearts II

I was never much of a fan of Atlantica in the first Kingdom Hearts.  The swimming sometimes made it a little hard to get around, and having revisited the game with the HD remake that came out last year, the world never really gives you a decent picture of what to do next, at least compared to the other destinations in Kingdom Hearts.  I've also never really been a fan of The Little Mermaid, so at a point I just got annoyed with Atlantica (the background music never helped either).  But I won't say I hated the place, it was simply one of the weaker worlds to me.  Atlantica had a major strength in being a good area to grind, and you even got a decently strong keyblade after beating the world, too.  So again, while it was far from the best world in the first KH, it had some redeeming qualities.

Did any of you know what to expect from Atlantica in Kingdom Hearts II?  I remember seeing Japanese footage of the musical aspect and having a laugh at it, simply because of how ridiculous it was.  However, I thought it was merely a gimmick, and didn't think it was supposed to encompass EVERYTHING you did in Atlantica.  I really wish I had known better and wasn't a completionist, as I would just skip the world entirely today.  Instead of the decent grind offered in the first Atlantica, we were treated to Haley Joel Osment's bad singing.  Rather than get an interesting back story to the darker side of the keyblade, as given in the first game, we got an off "Part of Your World" and memorably crappy classics such as...well screw it, every song!  There were plenty of cheesy and embarrassing moments in Kingdom Hearts II.  Hell, the series has been known for this kind of stuff since that game.  But it still stumps me how Tetsuya Nomura (series creator) and crew sat down, thought a musical world was a good idea, and didn't expect it to be the joke it became.  I can only hope this type of nonsense doesn't show up in Kingdom Hearts III, but with Fantasia being a world in Dream Drop Distance (which I'll be having a little fun with shortly), I honestly wouldn't be surprised if another music heavy world wound up becoming a reality.

Spinoff After Spinoff After Spinoff

What tended to be my reaction each time a new side game was revealed.

I'll be the first to say that the multiple titles that have been released in the Kingdom Hearts series aren't entirely a bad thing.  Birth By Sleep had probably the best or second best combat in the series, while also serving as a decent prelude to the events of the series; Chain of Memories also has a good story; last but not least, 358/2 Days was the series high point story-wise and has an underrated gameplay element in its grid system.  I'm certain I'll like Re:Coded whenever I play it, and intend to do so eventually.  Now, while I can respect those titles for what they did right, having waited almost ten years now for the third title hasn't helped me welcome them with open arms as far as I can recall.  Chain of Memories and Coded, to an extent, are the exceptions here, as the former takes place and was released between KHs one and two, and the latter was originally released only in Japan on mobile phones, the Nintendo DS remake coming a few years after.  358/2 Days, Birth By Sleep, and Dream Drop Distance however, I was never that excited about them when they were first revealed.  While I know they each bring something to the series narrative, even by the time 358/2 Days came out, I just wanted to see the third installment.  Now that need was held off for a time, as I enjoyed 358/2 Days and BBS.  But then...then the biggest stain on the Kingdom Hearts series got released.

About The Entirety of Dream Drop Distance

Me anytime I think about Dream Drop Distance

I honestly didn't know what to expect out of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance.  As much as I liked Birth By Sleep, I'd be lying if I told you series fatigue wasn't setting in.  Not the kind of fatigue where you have to take a break from whatever, but the kind losing patience brings.  When Dream Drop Distance was revealed I had, more than anything, a frustrated, vague interest it.  Eventually though, once it was said that it was going to be the last sidestory/spinoff/whatever you like to call it before Kingdom Hearts III, my interest in the title perked up a little, and the more I saw of the game, the more excited for it I was.  In due time a demo came out for it on the 3DS e-shop, and eager to actually be able to see what to expect, I downloaded it immediately.  There were a few concerns I had with the demo, most notably trying to get used to the new Traverse Town and adjusting to the new combat features, but I tried not to think too much of them and figured a demo is nothing to render a complete verdict of a game on.  When I eventually I did get the game and started it I was enjoying it well enough, but something...something just felt off.  It didn't help that that feeling persisted and got worse the more time I gave Dream Drop Distance.  Perhaps it would be best to break down some of my issues with it.

1. Gameplay-  On the surface, Dream Drop Distance plays almost exactly like the titles that came before it.  However, this familiarity is soon brought down by almost every new gameplay element introduced.  First off, the Dream Eaters, creatures which served as the replacements for Donald and Goofy in Dream Drop, were about as dumb as the series typical partner AI, maybe slightly worse.  Not that big a deal, I suppose, especially considering that as a longtime fan of the series, I'm pretty f****** used to dumb as dirt AI.  While I did try to go out of my way to attain new monsters and use them in my party, their uselessness eventually sapped my enthusiasm to do anything with them, including maybe the only enjoyable aspect that came with them, which was the ability to nurture them.  This took you completely out of the action, but let you interact with the Dream Eaters and build affinity with them, normally through minigames, thus making them stronger or more "useful" party members.  My frustration with the monsters soon even made that an absolute chore and the only reason I ever stuck with the feature was the music that played during it (titled "Sweet Spirits"). 

Even worse than the Dream Eaters were the Drop and Flowmotion systems.  The first, with the game starring both Sora and Riku as playable characters, was necessary.  You needed to switch between the two characters to get the whole story.  Unfortunately, this had the nasty side effect of preventing me from truly being able to settle down with the game without being on my toes and looking out for the time limit placed on each character.  You can extend the time by collecting orbs and whatnot, and you even get to a point where you can buy time increasing items, which, if you stock right, could probably allow you to circumvent the need to be on your lookout for the timer.  The latter considered, I still very much disliked, if not outright hated the Drop system.  Though I'm well aware some people can deal with it just fine, I'm of the opinion that no game (more so open games) should ever place the constraints of a timer on the player.  I feel they don't allow me to get comfortable and enjoy a game, and if there's anything I value from any piece of media, it's the ability to enjoy it.  Having to constantly switch between Sora and Riku took that away, and while I was able to deal with it for the thirty or so hours I played the game before dropping it, it was one of the biggest reasons I never had a good time playing Dream Drop Distance.  As for Flowmotion, well there really isn't much to it besides adding a needless environmental flair to combat.  Flowmotion felt slightly better used simply for going to and from places in levels, but it felt stiff, and became downright detracting from combat once you actually tried to integrate it.  Out of all the new gameplay elements introduced in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, I stopped using Flowmotion the earliest.  It was honestly a feature that really didn't need to be included in the game.

I could go on, but I think you get that I thought Dream Drop Distance's gameplay fell flat for me.

2.  World Selection-  The choice of worlds you go to in the Kingdom Hearts series has always been hit or miss.  Some liked worlds like Port Royal in KH II, while others (myself included) look back at it as one of the weaker levels of that game.  I loved Space Paranoids, but the general sentiment I've seen towards the TRON world has been largely negative.  Just about everybody seems to dislike Agrabah in any way, shape, or form.  Regardless of preferences, most of the worlds selected in the series (barring Atlantica in the second game) have generally been decent choices and are fun in their own way. 

So, with that analysis and the section of this Dream Drop Distance hate in mind, do I really have to tell you that the world choice was yet another aspect I didn't like?  To be fair, I didn't hate all of the worlds.  I thought the Pinnochio level felt very close to something that could've appeared in Kingdom Hearts II, and the Three Musketeers world was surprisingly good.  However, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, TRON, Fantasia worlds, and to an extent, Dream Drop's rendition of Traverse Town, were the weakest worlds I've seen in the series.  To be frank about the first two, they were just boring.  I don't really remember much about the plot of the former, and I just thought The Grid was dull and a step down from Space Paranoids in Kingdom Hearts II.  In regards to Traverse Town, I was too used to it as it was, and the fact that Flowmotion is pushed pretty heavily in the level doesn't help.  I also found the inclusion of the cast of The World Ends With You, something I had actually REALLY been looking forward to, disappointing and out of place.  The whole friendship plot prevalent with them and just in Traverse Town altogether was horribly cheesy (though I'm very interested in a potential TWEWY world in the third game).  Finally, besides KH II Atlantica, I'd be hard pressed to name worse world in the series than Symphony of Sorcery, or put simply, the Fantasia one.  I can see how the idea might've sounded neat on paper, but the execution was terrible.  The only audio that plays is the music, which I suppose was pleasant enough, but then you start fighting enemies and doing certain environmental actions, and the clash of noise they create grated on my nerves very quickly.  You also get to fight Chernabog again, but it's through the largely annoying Dive system (which lets you unlock the worlds in the first place), and much like the other boss fight in the level, is completely forgettable.  Never, even the crappy Atlantica in the second game, has a world in the Kingdom Hearts series tested my patience like Symphony of Sorcery did.  It was a decent idea at best and an irritating mess at worst, and quite simply put a little bow of disappointment on the locations available in Dream Drop Distance.

3.  The Story-  There's a reason why the Kingdom Hearts series is infamous for its narrative.  Each game convolutes the plot further, and this trend started all the way back in Chain of Memories.  From the memory loss quest of that game, to the plot revelations in Dream Drop Distance (which...well, you'll see how I felt about them soon enough...), I wouldn't blame anybody for thinking Tetsuya Nomura is just winging it and sh****** out the plot as he goes.  Now obviously that's not the case, as if you look hard enough and use the internet to help you along the way, you'll see that number of things have been foreshadowed.  Doesn't stop the story of the series from being ridiculous.  To its credit though, despite how cheesy it's been, how unintentionally yaoi-ish the series has gotten since KH II, and cringeworthy certain moments (i.e. "Who will I have ice cream with!?" as said by Roxas in 358/2 Days) have been, at the end of the day much of it has been endearing, as well as touching.  This is once again a place where Dream Drop Distance fails utterly, and very nearly got me to start hating the series altogether.

I'll get right to the point here.  Clones, time travel, and about one of the most overused, cliched villain tactics known to man essentially cemented my hate for Dream Drop Distance.  Explaining everything in detail would take too long, and as it is, this section on Dream Drop is long enough to be its own feature, so I'll be giving you a rather streamlined version of what happens.  To start, guess what?  Everything that has ever happened in the Kingdom Hearts series has all gone to Xehanort's plans, some form of him informing young Xehanort of what is to come, with the plot of the 3DS entry serving to show how the many Xehanorts decided to counter Sora and crew's actions, and ultimately detailing their big plan (CLONES, but more on that shortly).  Not only is this cliched, it essentially puts a bag over the series story's head, takes out its trusty baseball bat, and beats the ever loving sh** out of the series right in front of you.  Harsh way to say "it cheapened the story" admittedly, but why limit unbridled fury when Dream Drop Distance did absolutely nothing to earn that mercy?  It only gets worse, as we also learn Organization XIII's true purpose was for each member to serve as a vessel of Xehanort, or put simply, clones of Xehanort.  And to drive the point home, they even have Xigbar, number two of the Organization, formerly known as Braig in Birth By Sleep, declare to Sora's disbelieving protestations, "I'm already half-Xehanort!"  I can't make this up!  Almost fittingly, Sora exclaims in reaction "That's nuts!"  But it's not nuts in a funny, so bad it's good way, or tongue-in-cheek way like some of the other series moments.  It's painfully stupid, and Xigbar's line itself just demonstrates how awful the narrative side of Kingdom Hearts has become. 

Some of you fellow KH fans probably think I'm overreacting and more than likely thought Dream Drop Distance was a fine game.  That's alright and I honestly envy those who can still forgive the series for its faults.  I simply couldn't do that anymore after Dream Drop Distance, this huge section demonstrating that.  It almost ruined the entire franchise for me, and even now, recovered from that and looking forward to Kingdom Hearts III, Dream Drop Distance completely sapped my willingness to stay beyond (what seems like) the final chapter of the current saga. 

The Lack of Final Mix Releases In The West

How I felt at the lack of you know what anywhere else besides Japan.

Being the last section could have been its own separate feature, I'm going to try to wrap up these last two in as short a way as I can.  So....

I don't even remember the first time I heard about the first Kingdom Hearts Final Mix.  I might've been browsing various KH fan sites and stumbled upon it completely by accident, in the process learning of the extra boss fight against the Mysterious Figure (or Xemnas/Xehanort/whatever you care to refer to him as), as well as the extra enemies and a few extra scenes.  There might have been some envy there, but by and large I was fine with Kingdom Hearts as we got it in the West.  Still, part of me wondered about the me only attitude of it releasing solely in Japan.  The thought perished with the eventual release of Kingdom Hearts II, and once again, I was content with just being able to play more of the series I'd become a big fan of.  It was when KH II's Final Mix came out, once again Japan exclusive, that I thought to myself, "Well, hold the phone!"  It got even more content than the first one, with additional enemies, and the biggest annoyance to me, extra boss fights against the Organization XIII members that were defeated in Chain of Memories.  Not only that, you could also face the members you fought in Kingdom Hearts II again, and they even added an additional level called the Cavern of Remembrance, which lead up to a hub where you could face all members again.  Even more, there was also another secret boss after that.  Kingdom Hearts Final Mix+ also contained a PS2 remake of Chain of Memories, but we got that by itself in due time anyway.  Everything included in Final Mix+ really began to make me jealous of Japan, and I couldn't abandon the line of thought that given the popularity of the series, why weren't these editions of the game being released elsewhere?  When eventually the Final Mix for Birth By Sleep was announced, I couldn't help but feel the same way.  Fast forward a little bit, and some time leading up to the release the first HD collection, the question of why the Final Mixes were never released anywhere else was posed to someone (for all I remember, Tetsuya Nomura himself), and they answered that they were never aware of the demand for them anywhere else.  This got me to roll my eyes as hard as I ever have, as if you looked at the comments section any video of someone playing the Final Mixes, or went to the various series fan forums, you could see the majority of fans wanted to play them.  I'll be the first to admit that there was probably more to it than simply releasing the expanded editions everywhere else.  Square Enix would obviously have profit in mind, and thus acted the way the way they saw fit.  But to be ignorant of what was the general sentiment of fans outside of Japan as far I've seen?  It was yet another blow to what had become a passive at best investment in the series.

A Pin

Anybody who has paid any attention to Kingdom Hearts news in the last month or so should know about this already.  Anyone who pre-ordered Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD Remix gets a limited edition pin with Sora and Mickey Mouse.  Not a bad looking pin by any means, and I think any fan of a series would take a collectible when it's given to them.  Too bad I had already seen this Japan-only HD Remix collector's edition that comes with both games, and depending on the version you get comes with a soundtrack sampler, art book, and one or two other things.  Seeing the article on Game Informer about the limited edition pin for the rest of the world?  All I wanted to do was be a jerk and sarcastically comment "WOW, A PIN!"  I....I'm honestly having a hard time expressing how it felt to see the difference between the two editions.  It both lights a fire under my ass, but at the same time I tell myself I shouldn't have expected anything different.

Funniest thing about this?  I'd had the second HD collection on reserve/pre-order for some time before the announcement.  Yep, I'll complain about it, but at the end of the day I'll take the sh** being a Kingdom Hearts fan throws at you.  Seriously, why don't I full on hate this series yet? 

The look of a veteran Kingdom Hearts fan, at least in my head. That and I felt bad leaving Goofy out of the mix.

Well, I'm certain you've endured enough of my whining for months to come, and I imagine there will be a few of you who will knock me for my reasons for losing patience with Kingdom Hearts.  But it's your opinion and I respect that, just like I expect you to be able to see eye to eye with a few of my beefs.  Anyway, let me know how you feel below, and if you're a longtime fan like me, do you feel the same way I do?

Take care and thanks for reading!

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