My sources embedded deep within the Japanese gaming industry have gleaned some shocking information from a recent ninja-press-conference: by December 31st, 2002, Squaresoft plans to sell two copies of Kingdom Hearts to every person on the face of the earth.
I cringe when I hear this, because I already own one copy. If I were to buy another copy, I would be spending even more money that I didn't have.
I recall the precise moment I began to question my spending habits: I was in the Monstro level. One second, I was sailing around the blocky innerspace of Kingdom Hearts' Disney World; the next, I was being swallowed by the whale from Pinocchio. I gritted my teeth.
"Holy hell!" I thought. "A Pinocchio level?"
That's when I felt like something was missing from the inside of my head: a vampire named Tetsuya Nomura had sucked fifty dollars out of my soul.
The inside of Monstro is all blocky-looking, much like the gummies that make up the Gummi Ship. It is bright, and multicolored. Unlike the Gummi Ship levels, the Monstro level requires you to jump toward wooden platforms. The solution of the eventual, cavernous, lonely dungeon is to step backward accidentally into a room cleverly called "chamber 6," and to get annoyed enough to attempt a jump from atop a barrel.
This dungeon comes after several cut scenes. The first cut scene occurs only moments after we step into Monstro's quiet, empty space. We're in control, though briefly, and only as a tease -- because when we take three steps forward, the screen fades out, and we see Pinocchio! And then we see Gepetto! Sora, Donald, and Goofy talk to Gepetto without our telling them to do so. And then Pinocchio runs off.
Gepetto turns to us, and says, "You seem to know Pinocchio pretty well -- why don't you go find him?"
Fade-out, fade-in, we're in control.
We're angered, somewhere deep inside we can't quite put our fingers on, that Gepetto assumes we know Pinocchio after being in his presence for thirty computer-animated seconds. We don't let his presumptuousness get to us, though: we have a mission, and we take to it.
Not even thirty seconds away from Gepetto, as we're approaching a door, there it is: another fade-out, fade-in, cut scene. It's Riku, the Squaresoft Patented Menacing Girl-Boy from the Beginning of the Game! I just knew he was going to show up at a Pivotal Moment . . . with Pinocchio under his arm?
And he's challenging me to a . . . race?
I try to avoid using the F-word when reviewing a game. So just place it into the blank in the following question:
What the ____?!
For months, I've been going around telling people about how Shinji Mikami is the second coming of Miyamoto. He got into games because he loved games, he created a new genre (albeit a new genre I don't like), and if him and Yuzo Koshiro got together, they'd create the Rockingest Game Ever. I keep telling people: in twenty years, Shinji Mikami is going to make a game that will change games. It will be the Super Mario Bros. of a new generation. This is the guy who's giving us Steel Battalion in a matter of weeks. This is the ponytailed guy who freaked out onstage at E3 when describing Devil May Cry.
This is the guy that violently dissed Kingdom Hearts on Japanese radio. I imagine him leaning back in his chair, wearing sunglasses, while he did that dissing.
If this guy is truly the second coming of Miyamoto, and if we really should be preparing him a golden throne with forty working plastic buttons, why the hell didn't I listen to him?
Why the hell did I buy Kingdom Hearts?
I had ample warning. I had more-than-ample warning. I had extra-more-than-ample warning. I had a story on Insert Credit and a buzz in my IRC channel.
"Mikami dissed Kingdom Hearts!"
When I knew the details, it all started to make sense. Mikami is the kind of guy to do something like this, I thought: he apologized at the end of the interview, saying that he's just pissed that Kingdom Hearts sold more than Biohazard for GameCube, which he believes is a better game, anyway. He pressed on: he didn't mean everything he said.
Well, there you go, I thought. I can still buy Kingdom Hearts. I played the first hour of it some months ago at my friend's place in Tokyo. I've been recommending it to people for the greater part of this year. I'm pretty much obligated to buy it.
One of the friends I strongly recommended it to was going up to Funcoland on the release day. He dragged me away from writing my Animal Crossing feature, and we headed on up there.
"They might all be sold out!" he said in the car, and I believed him for a minute.
At Funcoland, they had about 300 copies of the game, and twice as many strategy guides. I was asked, four times, by the regional manager, no less, if I wanted a guidebook.
"No, that's alright," I said.
Two days later, I finally cracked the game open. I had set Animal Crossing aside, and still had something of a tingly, peaceful feeling. I was free to ravish Kingdom Hearts.
Two hours later, I was beyond the point I'd reached all those months ago, back in Tokyo. Now, I was no longer in Tokyo: I was in Indianapolis, and, at the same time, in Wonderland.
Rather . . . I was in a series of green-walled rooms that looked something like Wonderland.
Minutes later, I was grinding around mushrooms in blind defiance of collision detection that didn't exist.
Basically, the rule of platforming in Kingdom Hearts is this: the platform you have to reach is always as far away from your current platform as possible. You're to jump, push forward all the way on the stick, and let go of the jump button just in time to catch the edge of the platform you're supposed to reach.
Only four times out of eight-thousand-two-hundred-sixteen in this game is the platform one that you can directly plant Sora's big yellow clown shoes on. Every other time, you're going to be holding on with one hand, and dangling the Keyblade with the other. Don't ask me why this is. Don't even ask me why I stopped playing Kingdom Hearts for a week to get back to Bangai-O!
Ahh, Bangai-O! There's nothing like playing a perfectly polished game of noble aspirations and in-jokey localization, with spot-on-perfect collision detection, after spending a few hours on a game that pretends to have collision detection when, in fact, it doesn't.
People were telling me:
1. "Oh, Kingdom Hearts is great!"
2. "Oh, it's so original!"
3. "Oh, the battles are so fun!"
4. "Oh, making your own Gummi Ship is so fun!"
5. "Oh, the story is so much deeper than you'd imagine!"
6. "Oh, it's so . . . beautiful!"
I didn't doubt these people. I let them talk, keeping my own judgment of the game silent.
Now that I've kicked this game's sorry ass and filed it under "Never-wanna-play-again" in my bookshelf of games, I speak. Hopefully, I have your attention.
Let's address each point in turn, shall we?
[Next: great? original? fun?]