Monday, November 27, 2006

Kingdom Hearts 2's Atlantica

I bet I know what you're all expecting. You read the title of this rant, and think, "Oh, right, Arpy's gonna flame the hell out of Ariel's crappy world. It was a huge disappointment." Because, hey, if anyone's gonna hate a minigame world, it's gonna be me--and everyone else does, too. Ornery old Arp is gonna yell and scream and holler about it and give you all some good hearty laughs.

Well, you're all WRONG!

Now, don't misunderstand. I'm NOT a fan KH2's Atlantica. It's not much fun. You listen to a bunch of songs, most of which are grating and stupid, and play semi-DDR as you mash buttons in time with the music--well, sometimes in time, other times it's just there and you mash the X button for no real rhythmic reason.

While this is happening, a scene plays out, for reasons I can't quite figure out--it's not like you can take the time to watch and enjoy it when you're waiting for each little "PUSH X NOW BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE" icon to pop up. My theory is that SquareEnix actually spent a fortune on each song's visual sequence out of spite alone--FF10-2 has made it abundantly clear that they secretly loathe and detest the people who buy their games. Seeking to frustrate KH2 players, SquareEnix made these elaborate, cheerful sequences during a minigame where watching them means total failure. To add to the distraction value of these things, they decided to set this minigame in Atlantica, where players will continue to have their eyes stray from their objectives, lured away by Ariel and/or a shirtless Sora. No way can this just be a case of poor design; they're LAUGHING at you as you miss the cues because your fangirl instincts to drool at shirtless 14-year-olds cannot be denied.

"Wait a second," you're saying. "If you're saying that the minigame is stupid and annoying, along with badly-designed, then why was I wrong before?"

The reason is this: I don't hate KH2's Atlantica, even given its exceptionally annoying nature. Why not? Because it is so, so, so much better than it was in the original Kingdom Hearts. Look, as stupid and simplistic as the singing minigame might be, it's a helluva lot better than trying to navigate that stupid underwater battle system in KH1. You couldn't just move with the direction stick, no, you had to use that to steer while you held down a button to actually get there--it was annoying enough just to move regularly, let alone while trying to fight enemies that were above and below and all around you. You're trying to swim up and down to get at something and meanwhile there are Heartless smacking your face and electrocuting you with poorly-named Thunder spells and Donald and Goofy are floundering around doing just about nothing except absorbing damage as usual while Ariel's trying to make up for your incompetence at swimming and their incompetence at life and you start swearing because the Little Mermaid is more badass than you...

I'm supposed to be upset that a stupid but harmless little minigame replaced that nightmare of bad gameplay design? Not having to dick around with Heartless jellyfish and whales and whatnot was the greatest improvement they could have possibly made to the sequel. And hell, KH2's take on the world isn't too terrible at times--I mean, they actually made ERIC cool, rather than just the same kind of "Looks nice but has a mind as empty as Quina Quen's (Final Fantasy 9) refrigerator the day after Thanksgiving" character type that I so often criticize RPG heroes for being. KH2 shows HIM being willing to work to be with HER, rather than Ariel having to do and give up everything. I mean, the line:

Eric: "And to think...all this time..."
Ariel: ~LE SAD~
Eric: "...I could've practicing my swimming." ~Splash~

Adds a TON of depth to his character, and makes him pretty damn cool. Sure, it took several rounds of agonizingly dumb musical button-mashing to get to it, but it IS something good about the whole thing, at least, and more rewarding than any of the plot that you're given after the hours of underwater battle torment in KH1. All in all, KH2's Atlantica was a huge improvement, in my opinion.

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