kingdom hearts 3

Opinion: Kingdom Hearts 3 Has a Nostalgia Problem

Posted by | Feature, Opinion, PlayStation 4, Xbox One | No Comments

A YA-friendly, easy-to-play action-adventure that explores and celebrates Disney animated movies should be a winning formula. It certainly was in 2002 when the original Kingdom Hearts launched on the PlayStation 2. The popularity of the series and decade plus drought of a main-line game created a huge amount of anticipation for Kingdom Hearts 3.

Unfortunately, Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like a PS2 game in all the worst ways.

Seventeen years feels like forever ago, but I played and enjoyed the original Kingdom Hearts. The hack and slash combat was fast and fun, and the use of Disney and Final Fantasy characters as NPCs and party members was something truly special. The story rested on whimsical light against darkness tropes, which is perfectly fine when you’re battling alongside Goofy and Donald. When the sequel came out in 2005 I jumped all over it, only to be left with a vastly more convoluted story involving virtual world copies, soul-merging heroes, and impostor villains.

Several spin-off games, prequels, and side stories were released in the years between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3, which I ignored. I fully expected to be completely lost in Kingdom Hearts 3’s story. But I did not expect the series’ defiant refusal to evolve beyond its PS2-era interface, combat, and level design.

kingdom hearts 3

Kingdom Hearts 3 is a grim reminder of how far gaming has come in the last decade and a half. I was frustrated from the very opening level in the Disney Hercules world of Thebes and Mt. Olympus. Every area is mostly a series of walled, linear hallways, with a few larger rooms for bigger combat sequences. A minimap in the upper right corner is mostly useless, and the game lacks a proper world map. Countless times I got completely turned around, doubling back for awhile before I realized I was going the wrong way.

Exploration in most worlds is extremely limited and not very rewarding. The exception early on is the Toy Story world, which primarily takes place inside a three story toy store, granting a bit of freedom to explore different areas. Even then I got completely lost when I was told to go to one location, only to finally look it up online where exactly I needed to go. Never have I ached for a proper quest marker or just any kind of journal. At the very least a standard map would’ve saved so much of my frustration, even with the mostly boring level designs.

Don’t even get me started on the Gummi ship sequences. They managed to make the weakest part of the original games and make it even worse in Kingdom Hearts 3.

To travel to each new world you have to pilot an ugly, blocky, customizable ship in a pseudo free-roaming space sequence. Controlling the Gummi ship is abysmally frustrating. Worse still the game forces you into retro shoot ’em up boss battles between worlds. These boss fights weren’t difficult but took forever to complete, all while doing nothing but mildly moving the ship around and holding down the attack button.

kingdom hearts 3

On-foot combat isn’t much better. Fighting the heartless and the nobodies mostly boils down to mashing the attack button as quickly as possible while Sora vaults through the air with colorful keyblade attacks. Occasionally a special attack is available, such as uniting with your allies or summoning a neon-colored Disney attraction, like the teacups or carousel.

The attraction attacks are a neat idea but given their resource-less cost you never pass them up, and it turns the already dull combat into an even duller shooting gallery or rhythm game. The first time you unleash the teacups or the splash run is a blast. Not so much the 20th time.

Gaining a new keyblade after completing a world is the one piece of fun loot you’ll ever get. Each keyblade has slightly different stats and different special attacks they can unleash, including transforming into entirely different weapons like a warhammer, dual pistols, or a magical staff. Visually it’s fun transforming the Frozen keyblade into a pair of lighting fast dual blades, but the actual combat doesn’t change. I’m still mostly mashing the attack button.

kingdom hearts 3

Elemental spells can be thrown around, but feel sluggish and weak compared to the much quicker basic attack combos, and selecting a spell using the d-pad is a nasty UI holdover from the PS2 era. Equipping abilities is also needlessly fiddly. Sora and friends level up and gain new abilities, which must be actively equipped. Each ability takes up a certain AP cost, and a character can only equip so many. If you equip an accessory which grants additional AP, you’ll need to first de-equip a number of abilities in order to shuffle your items around. It’s exactly as annoying as it sounds.

I’m not going to comment too much on the story itself, given that I fell out of the Kingdom Hearts loop long ago. But I was disappointed in how the story approaches the Disney worlds. The worlds of Frozen and Tangled simply recreate the movies, beat for beat, including drawing cutscenes directly from the films (yes, they do the entire “Let it Go” number).

In the Frozen world I was hoping to actually adventure with Queen Elsa. She has superhero-style ice powers – how do you not include her as a party member! But no, we have to tell the entire Frozen story again and follow everyone around, at one point getting thrown into an annoying, bland ice labyrinth for no reason other than to pad out the adventure.

kingdom hearts 3

The Pixar worlds fare much better. Both Toy Story and Monsters Inc take place AFTER their respective films (first films anyway). The stories and level designs are much better served when they’re not beholden to retelling stories that were clearly not built for video game adventuring. Tangled’s world consists of running through a forest to the castle, then running back through the exact same forest. Whereas in Toy Story Sora and company are shrunk down and explore a toy store with giant robots. The Pixar worlds are far more interesting (to a point) and make the actual Disney animated worlds that much more disappointing.

I had fond memories of the original Kingdom Hearts. And I still think a high-concept RPG using Disney’s deep roster of worlds and characters is a wonderful thing to explore in a video game. But Kingdom Hearts 3’s shocking refusal to evolve beyond its aging level designs and simplistic combat create an experience that only the most nostalgia-blinded fans can enjoy.

playstation classic

The 15 Games We Want on the PlayStation Classic

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When Sony announced the PlayStation Classic, they teased only five of the 20 included games: Final Fantasy 7, Jumping Flash, Ridge Racer Type 4, Tekken 3, and Wild Arms. The original PlayStation has plenty of great classics to get excited about, so we’re listing the 15 other games we’d like to see on the mini emulator. Some of these games face an uphill battle given licensing and company restrictions, so consider this our dream list representing multiple genres and gameplay styles.

The PlayStation Classic is launching December 3.

Final Fantasy 8

playstation classic

The Final Fantasy series was on a roll throughout the 90s. Final Fantasy 7 gets a lot of love and attention as one of the first big 3D JRPGs, but 8 is beloved by many as a worthy followup. It portrayed characters in a more realistic art style and featured a complex battle system that involved ‘drawing’ magic instead of using MP. Even with Final Fantasy 7 already announced for the PlayStation Classic, few PS1 fans could complain about including FF8 as well.

 

Final Fantasy Tactics

playstation classic

While the main series put out some of the greatest RPGs of all time, Final Fantasy also enjoyed an excellent strategy spinoff in Final Fantasy Tactics. The 3D chessboard-like battlefields provided fun tactical opportunities. Each character could switch between 20 different classes, creating endless combinations and replay value. It also introduced the world to Ivalice, a popular Final Fantasy universe that would later be utilized in the later Final Fantasy MMOs.

 

Metal Gear Solid

playstation classic

A relative late-comer to the PlayStation One, the action series Metal Gear Solid became renowned for its excellent stealth mechanics, practically inventing an entirely new subgenre of stealth games. The series went on to spawn bigger and better sequels through multiple generations of PlayStation consoles, making series director Hideo Kojima a household name for many gamers.

 

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

playstation classic

Speaking of inventing genres, Symphony of the Night reinvented the platforming of classic Castlevania games into something else entirely. It, along with Super Metroid (featured on the SNES Classic), are considered the progenitors of the ‘metroidvania’ genre, creating an open 2D world full of secrets, hidden paths, extra bosses, and numerous abilities, weapons, and spells to unlock.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

playstation classic

Skater culture was all the rage in the 90s. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the perfect confluence of tight controls and great game design that took full advantage of popular culture. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the Madden Football of its day, and the sequel is often considered one of the best sports games of all time.

 

Resident Evil 2

playstation classic

The original PlayStation era witnessed the birth of the now classic horror series Resident Evil. The original was memorable but rough around the edges. The sequel opened up the action from beyond the mansion into the surrounding city in the grips of a zombie apocalypse. It remains a masterclass in creating uneasy tension through graphics, sound, and pacing.

 

Gran Turismo

playstation classic

The emergence of 3D was rough for many genres, yet racing games made an excellent transition thanks in large part to Gran Turismo. The racing simulator quickly became one of best-selling games on the console, featuring a staggering 140 licensed cars and cementing the genre’s popularity for years.

 

PaRappa the Rapper

playstation classic

Without the dance pad there’s not a good way to include Dance Dance Revolution but that doesn’t mean the PlayStation Classic should turn a blind eye to the then-emerging rhythm game genre. PaRappa fills that requirement nicely, as the titular anthropomorphic dog matches symbols flying across the screen to right beats.

 

Tomb Raider

playstation classic

With the success of the recently rebooted trilogy, it would be more than appropriate to revisit the game that started it all. Tomb Raider was one of the best 3D action-adventure games of its time, spawning a host of sequels and immortalizing beloved heroine Lara Croft for decades to come.

 

Chrono Cross

playstation classic

Chrono Cross was the highly anticipated sequel to one of the best RPGs on the SNES (and best RPGs period). The time-traveling adventure explored alternate dimensions with a ridiculously huge cast of characters and a highly customizable spell system. It also features one of the best soundtracks ever produced.

 

Crash Bandicoot

playstation classic

Some may only know Crash Bandicoot from Skylanders, or maybe from that certain sequence in Uncharted 4. But back in the day, Crash was considered the Mario of the Sony PlayStation. He never quite achieved the popularity of the mustachioed plumber, but he still starred in some solid 3D platformers, spawning several sequels and spinoffs.

 

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

playstation classic

Hack and slash action games were still in their infancy in the early days of 3D gaming. Legacy of Kain helped pave the way by putting you in the shoes of a powerful vampire. Raziel could employ a large variety of weapons, glide with his wings, and use the environment to defeat his enemies.

 

Medal of Honor

playstation classic

One of the biggest and most popular shooter franchises today, Call of Duty, can be traced all the way back to the PS1 with the original Medal of Honor. Originally developed as a video game version of the seminal World War 2 Steven Spielburg film Saving Private Ryan, the series really took off thanks to its split-screen multiplayer mode.

 

Metal Slug X

playstation classic

Our dream list is woefully short on cooperative games. Thankfully the perfect series exists for couch co-op. The Metal Slug games were 2D, arcade-like shoot ’em ups that reveled in over-the-top 80s and 90s era action movies. Players could find different weapons as power-ups and even command vehicles against gigantic bosses.

 

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysse

playstation classic

True to its name, Oddworld was a 2D platformer in a bizarre alien world. At a time when many games were experiencing the technical woes of early 3D design, Oddworld gave us refreshingly beautiful 2D art and animations, with a great balance of action and puzzles.

Nintendo Switch

Opinion: Why Should You Get a Switch If You Own a Wii U?

Posted by | Opinion, Switch, Wii U | One Comment

The dust has begun to settle from the big Nintendo Switch Presentation. We now know the big main talking points. The price ($299), the date (March 3), and the launch titles (not much). There wasn’t anything very shocking, and the conference did a good job focusing on new games. But right now I’m not seeing a very good incentive to purchase a Nintendo Switch at launch, especially if you already own a Wii U.

At launch the Nintendo Switch will have five titles: 1-2 Switch, Skylanders, Just Dance, Zelda, and Bomberman. Skylanders released last year. 1-2 Switch and Just Dance are motion-control mini-games. Bomberman is a top-down party game. Only Zelda represents what we would call a core game – a true system seller.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks absolutely incredible. Nintendo has already shown quite a bit, and claimed it’s the most complete Zelda game they’ve ever produced. It’s been in development for several years, and been pushed back from being a Wii U exclusive into a Nintendo Switch launch title.

Now it represents an awkward transition between the Wii U and Switch, just as Twilight Princess did in the Gamecube/Wii transition. As impressive as it looks, it was developed for the Wii U, and doesn’t necessarily properly show off the Nintendo Switch’s capabilities (though to be fair, no version differences if any have been revealed).

The problem is, if you can already purchase Zelda on Wii U, why should you get a Switch? Ultimately Nintendo will sell more copies of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but they would’ve sold far more Switch consoles if Zelda had been exclusive to the Switch. Sure people would complain about buying a $300 device just to play Zelda, but they still would have done it. These are Nintendo fans, arguably the most feverish fan in all of geekdom.

Launch titles aren’t everything. If we were to judge a console purely on the games that launched on the same day, history would treat most of them unkindly. Many smaller developers don’t even have proper dev kits yet. And to Nintendo’s credit, they did introduce and tease many exciting titles coming later in the year and beyond. Most notably, a grand new 3D Mario title called Super Mario Odyssey, which launches this holiday.

By the time Mario launches, the Nintendo Switch will have a Zelda, a Mario Kart, Splatoon 2, and a few older but popular titles you may have heard of, like Skyrim and Minecraft. Assuming no delays, we may even see a few of the teased JRPGs, such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2. The Switch will have a healthy, robust library of games that proves Nintendo still knows how to make incredibly solid, family-friendly gaming experiences.

But jaded Nintendo fans that lived through the Wii and Wii U eras are justifiably skeptical. The Wii was marketed and treated more like a motion control kid’s toy than a gaming console. The problem is that the Wii made a lot of money. It sold over 100 million units over a relatively brief lifespan, so Nintendo doubled down.

But their follow-up, the Wii U, was never able to take off, despite some really incredible games. Nintendo had all but lost 3rd party support, relying on a few loyal Japanese 2nd party developers and their own stellar lineup of classic franchises. The Wii U was a complete flop, and Nintendo needs to re-earn that trust with its gaming audience.

nintendo switch

I’ve had a Nintendo console in my home since 1991. Like many folks of my generation, I have been playing Nintendo games since grade school. I remember when the word “Nintendo” was synonymous with “video games” or “gaming.” That is no longer the case for Western audiences. Everyone knows about Nintendo and their properties, but they’re increasingly alienating the core gaming demographic that grew up with them. Instead they continue to chase the gimmicky console and the motion control crowd.

It’s okay that Nintendo doesn’t want to fully compete with Microsoft and Sony when it comes to pure console power and 3rd party support. It’s less okay that a large chunk of the Nintendo Switch Presentation was showing off a silly motion control punching game called ARMS that everyone will play for two seconds and forget about. Mainstream audiences already went through the Wii and see the motion control concept as a faded toy fad. Core gamers and Nintendo geeks are the ones purchasing the console at launch, and all they really have to play is the new Zelda. And they don’t even need a Switch to play it.

losing

Learning the Importance of Losing

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“I already know how to lose! I need you to teach me to win!” my older brother exclaimed after losing a game of chess to my father for what seemed like the thousandth time. My brother was still in elementary school at the time. It was frustrating for a child that young to hear yet again from a parent that losing was a crucial part of learning to win. It’s a lesson that we all have to learn at some point. The sooner in life we learn to accept and work through our failures, the happier and healthier we are.

Video games are an increasingly large part of childhood. Just as games like chess or sports always have been, video games today are how many kids learn to process success and failure. Games can teach anyone how to learn from mistakes and be gracious in victory. Read More