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Gamer Tuesday

March 6, 2012

Pap the Disney Gamer Presents A Year Long Celebration...

Ten Years of Hearts, Keyblades, and Disney Magic: A Kingdom Hearts 10th Anniversary Celebration

Last time on the Kingdom Hearts retrospective...

'This game will be for kids! Heck no, let's make it into a big RPG for older fans! Who said that?? OH MY GOSH IT'S HIRONOBU SAKAGUCHI! Who's going to direct it? TETSUYA NOMURA OH MY GOSH!'

And now...

Part 3: Getting ready for battle...

The decision was made. The Disney RPG would no longer be a title dedicated to the youngest of Disney fans, it would be a game that the Final Fantasy/RPG fans would really enjoy. With that idea firmly planted on Square Enix's mind, it came time to design the battle system that would please this new gaming audience. If you were to ask an RPG (Role Playing Game) fan what is the most important thing in an RPG, a likely answer would be the battle system. Japanese RPGs often make their battle systems different from Western RPGs (Role Playing Games developed in North America and other countries outside of Japan), putting far more emphasis on character development than on an expansive combat system. Kingdom Hearts, however, would do things different by creating a system that would be the best of two worlds. In order to fully understand the meaning behind the battle engine, let's take a look at some of the games that had an indirect hand in its creation.

     
Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy: The stepping stones for Kingdom Hearts to follow

The first, and most obvious, point of inspiration in the inception of Kingdom Hearts' battle engine is Square's own RPGs, most notably Final Fantasy. The first Final Fantasy game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was actually inspired by Enix's Dragon Quest game, also for the NES. The Dragon Quest franchise would become Final Fantasy's rival for many years until Square bought Enix, making Dragon Quest one of their premiere franchises. The idea behind the two games is that the characters take turns battling the enemy. On each turn, a character picks an action like 'Attack' or defend themselves or the other characters using either their own special skills or magical spells.

As simple as that may sound, there is a layer of complexity in both Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy's design. First, when a player starts a new adventure, he/she will always be under-developed. This means that they need to gain experience and level up their character so they can become stronger and thus win more battles. This is where the concept of 'grinding' comes in. Grinding is the practice of partaking in random battles in order to gain levels and obtain the strongest armor and weapons. This yields the following idea: persistence will often lead to numerous rewards and successful completion of the game.

Despite this method of gameplay being popular, however, some of the concepts presented in this classic RPG design tend to alienate many players, especially those that just want to go on an adventure rather than spending hours just working on making a character stronger. That's where a popular Nintendo franchise comes in. The Legend of Zelda does away with the complexity of the RPG system and focuses more on creating an exploration and battle heavy design. This means that while you won't be making Link into a stronger character, you will gain new attacks and items that will help you in the completion of dungeons.

In 1998, Zelda made its 3D debut with Ocarina of Time. For years, the Zelda series used an overhead concept while the levels remained in 2D. Ocarina of Time did things differently by placing the camera behind Link while giving him a better view of his surroundings thanks to the camera system. They also made Link automatically jump whenever he approached a ledge in order to make platform jumping in 3D easier to endure. As previously stated, real time battles are the reason of being for the Zelda series. Placing the classic Zelda gameplay in 3D would bring many obstacles and challenges for the development team to endure. In order to make the combat easier to handle in the new dimension, the designers came up with a simple yet very innovative idea: a lock-on system dubbed the Z-lock.


Link has now locked onto his target

When the Z button on the Nintendo 64 controller is pressed down, Link would then be focused on the nearest enemy. This means that Link would lock on combat with the enemy and just the enemy he is facing. Link would also be able to dodge attacks and quickly block and parry enemy blows. It was a very easy to learn system that made Ocarina of Time very engaging. The lock-on system was so unique when it was first seen on Ocarina of Time that many other games started to borrow this concept. It made battles in a 3D game that much manageable, and developers quickly put their own spin on things.

Here we have two different gameplay systems. One focuses on character development and player dedication in updating their stats. The other celebrates the freedom of 3D while implementing a simple yet complex real time battle engine. Square Enix decided that Kingdom Hearts would have the satisfying notion of Final Fantasy's character development without the grinding and the random monster encounters while making it a real time action RPG.


As you can see, much like in Ocarina of Time, Sora has locked onto his enemy... And who are those guys with him? They look familiar...

Much like in Ocarina of Time, the camera stands behind the main character, Sora. On the left corner of the screen is a small menu. The menu contains the basics of a turn based RPG, such as 'Attack,' 'Magic,' and 'Items.' On the left joystick of the PlayStation 2 controller, you move the character around. The right joystick or D-Pad makes the menu selection. The character's actions depends on what was chosen on the menu. 'Attack' would be the neutral option, but with the battles becoming more and more complex as the story went on, players would be required to make many decisions in the heat of battle. Add to this character development and Kingdom Hearts' system would be an almost perfect marriage of classic and modern ideas.

Kingdom Hearts also borrowed many ideas from the Final Fantasy series. The magic system included classic spells such as 'Fire' and 'Cure,' along with their upgraded form such as 'Cura' and 'Fira.' Speaking of magic, on the right side of the screen are two bars. The green bar represents the character's health while the blue bar represents magic. These bars are important in Kingdom Hearts. At the beginning of the game, through a cryptic yet epic scene, you get to choose what kind of warrior the character will be by choosing three different weapons. Choosing the sword meant that he will be more powerful but compromises magic and defense. The staff allows the character to be a magician. Finally, the shield creates a more defensive character with his magic and attack strength being equal.

One other element that was common in the classic Final Fantasy battle system was multiple party members. Kingdom Hearts adds two more characters to the system (who they are exactly I will leave for another time). These characters are controlled by the AI (Artificial Intelligence). The beauty in Kingdom Hearts' design is that you can tweak how they behave in battle, such as when you heal the character and themselves and how to properly use magic and special attacks.

And even after everything that I explained, I barely scratched the surface regarding Kingdom Hearts' battle system. It was indeed a great mix of two game mentalities. You had the freedom to move around the game world and even skip many battles, and the idea to make it into an action RPG with a lock-on system made character development much more fun and engaging. The system would remain part of the whole franchise, each entry adding more ideas onto the system. Kingdom Hearts battle system may not have been perfect but was well received enough that it quickly became a part of the franchise.

The signature gameplay was designed, polished and implemented onto the game. How is the game going to look? Come back next month as I detail a very fun aspect of the Kingdom Hearts experience: animation and design.

 

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