Completionism. That far-off dream of many a player of several video games in recent history. It takes time. It takes a whole lot of patience. Heck, it may even take a cheat code or two to accomplish. One game series whose entries I wanted so badly to 100% complete, yet could never make myself slog through beyond just doing enough to complete the campaign just for that “100% complete” status, was Kingdom Hearts. If my track record with the past main titles of the series is predictive of how I and probably most people will play Kingdom Hearts 3, then 100% completing the game will be next to impossible.
I don’t know how many of you out there reading this know the pains of trying to fully complete any of the entries of the series, but I just could not get the perfect balance. Balance of what, you ask? Progressing in the story and leveling/powering up enough to be able to win mano a mano with the Heartless (or the Nobodies, in KH2), as well as the tougher boss battles of the two main entries of the series. This is the question which nearly all open-world games present to players, which developers hope we find a satisfactory and addicting answer to in the game: with so many possible things to do, how do you most-efficiently prioritize what to do while enjoying the game?
Let’s put aside difficulty setting (I know, hard, right?) for a while and focus on gameplay itself. All of the iterations in the Kingdom Hearts series follow a common simple blueprint: visit a world; explore it; do something there until you complete the story of that world while learning stronger skills/magic and getting new and better equipment and items; then visit the next world; and rinse and repeat — save for boss battles and the finale, as well as returning to known worlds to complete further side-quests and story tie-ins.
Now, let’s put Kingdom Hearts 2 under the investigative/analytical spotlight. (SOME MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.) Twilight Town was introduced first to acquaint players with who Roxas really is versus who he thinks he is until the switch to Sora’s story. Sora’s heart makes numerous connections with other character’s hearts — a common theme in the series, including those of Roxas’ digital friends who never were through being one again with his Nobody. I only ever finished the original American version of the game on Playstation 2, so I haven’t yet played the full Roxas-Sora duel included in the Final Mix Playstation 3 version. After watching videos of the battle, however, I don’t think I would ever get past it without dropping dead of stress and frustration, especially taking into account how many times I’ve needed to spam the King Mickey “I won’t give up” option after dying, or, much more frequently, either the continue button or load saved data.
Perhaps that is what I have always lacked: the patience enough to level up and get stronger to even stand a chance against the next set of enemies (Heartless, Nobodies and boss battles). I always wanted to see what happened next in the main story arc of each world, especially after failing miserably the first couple of times. I tried the Hollow Bastion/Radiant Gardens giant Heartless battle, even if that meant spamming Curaga and potions while trying different strategies just to make sure I only use the Kingdom Key (the default and weakest keyblade form) — something I always wanted to do to stay with the true keyblade form and power.
Sometimes, I’d run through an area and avoid battles altogether, until I ran into one I couldn’t escape from. That certainly is not the best way to keep getting stronger, especially when the only way I’d ever level up was in battles. I know I did that even in the final world (The World that Never Was), which led to struggling a long time with the final Xemnas boss battle sequences until I finally hit that sweet spot.
Strangely, KH: reChain of Memories (reCoM), the direct sequel to KH1 — and the title I’ve just recently started really digging into in the KH HD 1.5 Remix compilation I am loving so far — is extremely satisfying. Even with playing only on the standard/normal difficulty mode, the card-based gameplay of reCoM removes the pressure of the need to continue to get stronger, minus the need to get better cards and only loading the best of them into your deck. (3 total deck arrangements possible.)
Unfortunately, the card system also has a major drawback. While trial-and-error is the most direct solution to the problem, sometimes you won’t have the right cards for the specific situation you find yourself in, especially in some boss battles. This leads to stocking and using up the best of your cards to no avail, eventually sticking you with only a handful of cards that can’t do a lot at all, and leaving you between a rock and a hard place you can’t escape from, save for resetting the game and continuing from a save point or dying then pressing continue.
But given all of these game mechanics, I still haven’t mentioned the most important and crucial to the phenomenon that KH has become; I’m talking about story, folks. I felt an initial pull to the first KH game that made me really want to sink my teeth deep into KH2, which I did with great gusto. The fates of Sora and company never felt too stereotypical or over-dramatized the first time I played through it. Speaking from personal experience, I get an adrenaline rush when an emotionally-charged cutscene leads directly into a battle, often leading to mistakes and frantically trying to make my remaining HP work until I can use Curaga again. This scenario ended up playing out, more often that not, nearly every battle.
Hey, don’t laugh at me. I’ve already said that I got into the habit of not level-grinding enough in between boss battles to stand a chance against them.
So why did I mention story at all if I’ve not been successful yet at convincing you that it’s so central to the experience? What I’m been trying to convey to you is that a good story drives a player towards wanting to keep going to find out what happens to the characters. With KH2, so many characters and their relationships with Sora and company just absolutely tugged at my heartstrings, especially Winnie the Pooh in The Hundred Acre Wood. Not gonna lie, I nearly cried while playing the finale cutscene of that world.
Square Enix integrated into the story-side of the design of KH2 a cutscene teasing Birth by Sleep. Unfortunately, it doesn’t play at the end of the game until you reach a certain completion percentage (the exact requirement I’m not sure of, but I never reached 100% on normal and got to see it).
Other than that, extra story tidbits that more-completely tie together everything with a nice little bow are mostly what you get out of going for all the side-missions and optional battles. This includes quite possibly the toughest boss battle in the game, where Sora and company does battle with a character from BBS, as well as another where you take on Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7.
But, I don’t think I’ll ever try a my hand at any of those. I don’t have the time or the patience to get strong enough to clear them. What I focused on when I first played and whenever I played through it again for fun was just to get by. Sure, I would’ve liked the battles to have been easier had I invested a large enough amount of time and effort into leveling-up enough, but I wanted to know what happened next, even if it was my nth time playing through the game.
All of these things tie into the ultimate impending, albeit currently-unannounced, release of Kingdom Hearts 3. With the upcoming January release of KH HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, we’ll get the final pieces to the puzzle of what the heck is happening in the story and why. I’ve never gotten to play BBS yet still, but I’m really excited to get BBS: A Fragmentary Passage and finally understand what role Aqua has in all of this.
I’ll sure that I’ll never 100% complete KH3, and that’s ok. As long as the story grips me well enough, the characters remain as epic as ever (I’m talking about you, Mickey Mouse in King Mickey form) but still believable, the music sets the right tone, and the gameplay has a good mix of FF XV and classic KH2 (as Square Enix has said in the past it would), then I’m also sure I’ll love it even more beyond my passion for the series already.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t get too bumpy of a ride in terms of how convoluted the story may seem. I mean, seriously, how many Xehanorts are there? Probably more than you can shake a Keyblade at.
And I’m certain I’ll love it however much they may twist it.
The opinions in this editorial are the author’s and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.