Kingdom Hearts 1 – An Evil Gourd

kh1-2015-06-19-22h08m18s168

BOW BEFORE GRODD!

Jane is furious at Clayton once you get back to the camp.  …That is, when you go back to camp unprompted. Yet again, the game gives you no instructions at all in a level as labyrinthine as this. She orders him out, and he leaves all brooding, only for something to approach him from the trees. He’s startled into firing his gun, and when Sora and the others go to investigate, he’s vanished. Worse still, it seems the Heartless have come to Deep Jungle. And they’re attacking the gorillas!

kh1-2015-06-19-22h08m39s319Naturally, Deep Jungle’s Heartless are monkey-themed. First, there are Powerwilds (above), which are the strongest hitters you’ve seen in the game so far, but are so offence-focused that they don’t protect themselves, so you’ll probably find them easy to deal with. Next, there are the Bouncywilds, monkeys with pink bows on their heads that run around dropping bananas for you to trip over. Somehow, the bananas cause you to lose Munny if you slip on them. Lastly, you might encounter White Mushrooms using new pantomimes. This is typical of nearly every world, so I’m not going to mention it again. You have to take a few trips to find gestures for every spell.

I have to respect KH1’s early difficulty curve. We’ve gone from cowardly Shadows up to fragile bell wizards and only now do we come to an enemy that uses the “charge and attack” strategy you’d expect from the goombas of other games. It helps ease players into Sora’s leaden clown shoes at just the right rate so that you’re ready for trouble when it finally shows. It helps that you probably have Blizzard and Thunder now, too!

Defending the gorillas earns you Gummies for your Gummi Ship, probably meant to expand on the idea that the King’s ship came here, but they’re not very impressive Gummies. Still, the gratitude is appreciated. You now have to run around, saving gorillas from evil monkeys at five locations, which just seems like padding, especially in how you have to climb to the Treehouse a second time. There is no sign of Clayton. Once the hunt is called off (at your own discretion, as you have no way of knowing how many gorillas you need to rescue), you’ll speak to Jane only to hear Clayton’s gun go off a second time. The party heads towards the cliff-sides near the camp in hopes of helping him, but you’re cut off by Sabor, who’s here for one last showdown.

kh1-2015-06-20-03h47m36s598

So stupid.

Sabor spends this showdown doing little more than she ever did in previous fights, except that now she has the ability to dart into the thicket surrounding the arena. Too bad for her: Sora’s lock-on stays pinned to her when she does this, defeating the whole purpose of her hiding (indeed, I wonder why the devs didn’t adjust that). Once she’s defeated here, Sabor is killed, dropping a powerful accessory like several of the early-game bosses.

But the Heartless steal the advantage. While you’re off fighting wildlife, they storm the camp and kidnap Jane and Terk, forcing you to track them down as well. And remember what Leon said: if the Heartless are behaving intelligently, that means someone or something else is calling the shots. Once you climb Deep Jungle a third time to find Jane and Terk, you’ll eventually run into them in a round room just above the vines: a room dominated by a large tree, and the most surreal fight in the series. Essentially (…how do I put this…) you have to fight an evil gourd.

kh1-2015-06-20-03h58m23s657This would be one thing if it were an evil Heartless gourd. Like with eyes, or teeth, or attacks. A miniboss, you know? But no. It’s just a gourd the size of a station wagon, apparently natural. Why do you have to hit it? Jane and Terk are trapped by vines, but it’s not as though the vines are attached to the gourd. No, the vines seem to be attached to some flowers, which you can “activate” by setting Fire to them (other spells work too, but Sora has a silly habit of missing the low-to-the-ground flowers with Blizzard, so you may as well use the homing spell no matter how stupid it sounds in summary). But igniting the flowers don’t do anything to the cage. They just stop the Powerwilds in this room from respawning so that you can attack the Gourd… not that the game explains that. I’ve just read this paragraph over several times, and I’m convinced it doesn’t make any sense while simultaneously being a 100% accurate description of events. I can’t put the weirdness of this sequence into words.  Even the series’ wiki barely acknowledges the event. You’d think any wiki in the world would be thrilled to have an entry for “Holy Shit, An Evil Gourd!”

This completed, it’s boss time. Prompted by Jane, you have to go a cliff side that you’ve been ignoring up until now, which is just off the thicket where you fought Sabor. Why? I don’t even remember, or care anymore. The game just took one of the hardest areas in the series to navigate and forced you to jog up and down it three times. Let’s just… let it die.

kh1-2015-06-20-04h04m23s027You’ve probably worked out by now that Clayton’s the one responsible for the Heartless, as it seems humans can command them, not just other Heartless! He’s waiting for you at the cliff side with a pack of Powerwilds, and also his elephant gun. Holy shit! Kingdom Hearts II would go out of its way to censor firearms, but Clayton gets to bounce around here with Mario-like jumping abilities and a twelve-gauge? He’s about to shoot Kerchak and Kala, but your arrival distracts him… slowly… and Kerchak gets to give his unemotional walk-off animation one more time. From a firefight! You’re stone cold boring, Kerchak, but I’ve got to respect your cool. Ignoring his father, Tarzan suddenly declares that the person in front of them is “Not Clayton!” followed by the same Mangani word he’s been using to address Riku and Kairi’s location.

kh1-2015-06-20-04h04m15s375

Ah yes, my greatest foe: the empty hall!

A fight breaks out between you and Clayton, with the camera pointing away from the fight. I cannot believe I’m saying that. This is the most amateur design mistake in the entire product! Once you’re facing the right way, there’s not much to this fight: it’s in a compressed area and you’ll want to take out the Powerwilds, but Clayton is nothing impressive. But that changes once Clayton’s lost enough of his health. The wall behind him explodes to reveal his trump card… and yet when you look, nothing is visible.

It turns out Clayton has found himself a giant chameleon Heartless – jungles, you know – and he immediately chooses to ride it, because wouldn’t you? So now it’s you against a visible man firing a shotgun from atop an invisible monster, plus any Powerwilds you let slip by you during the opening phase of the fight. You can even things out a bit by clobbering the “Stealth Sneak” to the point where it throws Clayton off its back and becomes visible. At this point, you can ignore the lizard and go after Clayton. And you might want to.

kh1-2015-06-20-04h15m42s445I’ve found it’s all too easy to go from full health to dead in just a few seconds during this fight, and I still can’t explain why. Even with Tarzan healing me, there’s something about the cramped arena that makes it dangerous to fight this boss. It doesn’t help that Clayton’s bullets are raytraced (meaning: there’s no visible projectile, the game just calculates a line and deals the damage, limiting your opportunity to dodge), so you never know when his attacks are coming. Killing the Stealth Sneak only nets you a paltry 40 EXP, so maybe it’s in your better interests to ignore it in favour of beating Clayton, though don’t forget that his pet is chasing you around the arena at all times! The fight ends when Clayton runs out of health, but watch out: he has at least one Potion that he’ll use to recover, which is more any other boss in the series can say.

One of the most obnoxious things about this fight is so odd, I’m going to call it a glitch: the Stealth Sneak sometimes just stops taking damage for long stretches of time. Not only was it not fixed in Final Mix and 1.5, but the problem is so pervasive that I’ve seen walkthrough writers take this invincibility into consideration when writing their strategies! I’m not sure what triggers it. It often seems to happen as the Stealth Sneak runs out of health, so I have wondered if it might be a skill of some sort, but there’s no consistency to it. The worst part is that the Stealth Sneak (and its recolour in FM) appears in Olympus Coliseum four times, and they all suffer from this problem. And have I mentioned that Olympus Coliseum has optional time trial modes? I haven’t? Well it does! Time trials you have to run against a boss that will stop taking damage, for no reason whatsoever!

kh1-2015-06-20-04h18m45s226No matter how you handle the fight, it ends with the Stealth Sneak keeling over on top of Clayton’s head, killing him far less gruesomely than in the real film, even if this death is still surprising as the first of only a handful of deaths in the entire franchise. Kerchak shows up, and in a shocking display of… having-a-second-animation… he chucks Sora up onto a nearby cliff side. Sora and friends can only assume that this is the way to the gorilla nesting grounds.

This is also the place where Sora and Donald get Cure, aka the happiest place on earth. Cure isn’t just great because it allows you to heal yourself: it’s great because sort of like Dodge Roll and Guard, the game is designed around you having it and you just spent four and a half hours without a fundamental component of gameplay. Now that you’ve got it, the game not only flows better, but the developers can release a whole bevy of more complicated monsters than the “dawdle-or-attack” variety we’ve been seeing across the board. Unfortunately Cure is a little inconvenient: this game is so menu-driven, that even if you cast Cure with the shortcut button, it will still just bring up a menu. This menu is used so that you can select a target for the spell, and yes: that means the spell you need in an emergency is one of the hardest to use in an emergency. Genius. You’ll quickly build up a habit of double-tapping the button whenever you cast Cure so that you can cast it on yourself. Donald will just have to keep the rest of the party alive on his own, thanks. The devs recognized the problem in the end, thankfully. Pretty much every healing spell in the series works differently as a result of KH1’s failure.

(Donald’s honestly great at keeping the party together if his AI settings are right. Yes, he does fail to heal you at key points, but if everything is set up right, it’s only because he’s been keeping you alive every second up to that point.  You might not appreciate him at first, but you’ll learn to miss him if you kick him out for a Guest with no healing spells at all!)

kh1-2015-06-20-04h17m37s711Following the path at the top of the cliff, Sora and the gang end up in a strange, pointless segment behind a waterfall. It completely breaks the worlds’ pacing (by all rights, Kerchak should have tossed you straight to the end cinematic) and besides, this segment is strangely two-dimensional? It’s hard to explain, but imagine if you were walking through a 2D Mario stage in 3D, as happens from time to time in the modern Mario games. There would never be any reason to turn anywhere but left and right, and you’d wonder why the sequence wasn’t just played as a side-scroller in the first place! Oh, there’s a patch of vines you have to climb, god forbid we leave Deep Jungle without another of those, but the rest is more-or-less flat, and it’s just weird to experience.

Once you finally make it to the far end (and trip past an easily missed White Trinity, no doubt), Sora and the others discover a group of butterflies crowding around a glowing knot in a tree that’s… growing inside a cave, why not. When the butterflies disperse, they reveal another of those strange keyholes, like the one seen in Wonderland. Seeing this, everyone realizes there’s been a misunderstanding. This isn’t the gorilla nesting ground (in fact, the nesting grounds don’t appear in the game at all): Jane concludes that this is “the heart” of Deep Jungle. Tarzan’s mysterious Mangani phrase was him trying to say, “Your friends are in your heart.”  Incidentally, this seems to imply that when Tarzan was saying “Not Clayton!” that Clayton’s heart had become overwhelmed, or maybe that he had become some kind of Heartless!

kh1-2015-06-20-04h19m52s552Sora’s reaction to this platitude is priceless. He just says: “…Oh.” Haley Joel Osmet had a perfect, disappointed, bored delivery. It’s a winner. It’s fantastic to think a series with a reputation for pointless friendship speeches reacted to its first friendship speech with “…Oh.” And I think that’s important to note in the long run. We’ll get back to this.

As on Wonderland, the Keyblade wants that weird magic lock shut, so Sora does so, still not quite knowing what’s going on with that.


Wrap-Up

kh1-2015-06-20-04h24m50s450

Spazbo4 sticks with the Kingdom Key for the vast majority of the longplay, perhaps for its iconic status, so I won’t be able to show you other Keyblades.

Clearing the world gets you another half of the Navi Gummi, indicating you should go back to Traverse Town to have Cid check it out. Or, if you happen to have skipped Olympus Coliseum, you could wrap that up. Whatever you’re into. You also get a strange new prize: a vine-hooked, butterfly-shaped “keychain.” This keychain allows Sora to transform his Keyblade, the silver-and-gold Kingdom Key, into some other form. This particular keychain can transform his Keyblade into the wood-and-bone Jungle King. The keychains essentially let Sora change his weapon without actually replacing his super-special magic weapon, something other games (like Zelda and Castlevania) have had troubles with in the past.

The keychains themselves are a little wobbly in-narrative. Is Sora’s blade actually transforming, considering it often just shows up as the Kingdom Key in cutscenes? The short answer is yes, KH:DDD confirmed it, but a lot of details are still unclear behind that blanket “Yes.” Hell it’s not even clear at this point in the series if there’s a real tangible keychain, or if Sora can just change the form of his Keyblade at will. What is clear is that the keychains represent Sora’s connection to the worlds and people he gets them from, and my personal guess is that they really do exist as separate objects. Maybe they manifest magically when he makes a friend: you have to leave Tarzan behind, but you take a little bit of him with you?  It’s narrative in mechanics, and most games don’t even bother. Good job KH1.

kh1-2015-06-20-04h28m47s863The Jungle King is harder-hitting than the Kingdom Key, and is one of the few Keyblades that’s actually longer than the others, which helps a lot more than it might sound. On the downside, it doesn’t land critical hits as often, and has shitty recoil, meaning any time you catch an enemy attack with your swing, or strike an invincible part of a foe, you’re going to be reeling so long the bad guys just might clip you while you’re exposed. It’s still a pretty good blade early on – +5 points of strength is never negligible in KH1 – but all the Keyblades have some downside you should be aware of if you want the upsides. It’s one mechanic that works in KH1’s favour almost across the board.

Clearing this world also gives you the ability to use Red Trinities (“Trinity Charge”), which helps you break certain obstacles. It’s hard to get excited about this Trinity during replays. Most of the other Trinities lead you to hidden, bonus treasure, but most of the Reds just don’t feel like they “count” to me. There are three Red Trinities activated as part of the plot, and there’s a fourth that’s such a hassle that it stands on its own (the infamous “Lost” Trinity). Once you’ve taken those four out of consideration, there are only two left, making this the least impressive Trinity in the game! Trinity Charge is essentially a fancy doorknob, and it’s hard to be impressed by a doorknob. That said: its animation is hilarious, as Sora, Donald and Goofy slam into a wall one after another. Classic

All right, there’s nowhere else to go. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the stupid tree slide mini-game.

kh1-2015-06-20-04h33m54s746I want to start by repeating how weird it is that the game forces you to play this during the story when the “game” itself isn’t enabled. You can’t actually lose this game – you just fall short of a high score. And so as a result, the sequence where you slide down the branches during the story is really just an interactive video? Where the rules are made up and the point don’t… exist?

Once you’re finally playing the game, your objective is to track down all the fruits on the course.  You aren’t allowed to miss any if you want a prize. The fruits are hard to see and the game doesn’t indicate very clearly whether or not you’ve picked them up. Tarzan also gets his face and gigantic spear in the way of the camera all the times. It’s almost as though it wasn’t meant to be a fruit collection mini-game. In fact, check some of these elements out. There’s a timer in the top that doesn’t matter. There are obstacles on the path that slow you down, serving no impediment to your fruit collection. Tarzan’s health bar appears in the corner even though his stats are irrelevant (though that may just be an oversight carried over from the main GUI).  There are what look like alternate paths you can’t take in section 3. I’d bet that this wasn’t supposed to be a collecting game, but sort of racing game: Sora vs Tarzan. The shoddy fruit game seems like a desperate attempt to salvage their failed racing game attempt. Kingdom Hearts wouldn’t get a proper racing minigame until Birth By Sleep.

That was all I wrote during my initial first draft, but I was gathering achievements between drafts, and felt the need to expand this section. Something is wrong with this mini-game.  It’s awful.  My central complaint lies in the controls and interface, but there are other niggling issues.  For example, as you get 100% on the fruit, you unlock whole new sections of racetrack. You can actually use the alternate tracks to get around to different parts of the Deep Jungle. Hey, a fast travel system! That makes sense: the world is a pain to navigate, and Tarzan uses these slides for transport all the time in the film, right? The trouble is, the alternate paths aren’t unlocked until, say it with me: after you’ve cleared the entire world. Maybe this is because the last track leads straight to the “heart” room, but the rest just lead to rooms you can reach at the opening, so they could have unlocked most of the tracks…?

kh1-2015-06-20-04h36m24s055 Finally, we’re done with Deep Jungle. Now, before you go rushing off to Leon, there’s one last major cut scene to check out, again with Maleficent and her crew. The baddies seem to have decided that the Heartless came to Deep Jungle because of “the darkness” in Clayton’s heart, and Maleficent concludes that he let the darkness consume him. Darkness consumed him… giant lizard fell on his head… one of those two. A very familiar voice in the dark expresses concern that Sora found “one of the keyholes.” They say “one” even though you might have two, which is a weasely way for the devs to cover all eventualities, but I like it. Maleficent says it’s no worry, since Sora won’t have time to find all the keyholes, and he knows nothing about her central plans, which involve “the Princesses.”  We also get a good look at another member of her evil organization, Jafar from Disney’s Aladdin!  Actually, in the HD release you can make out a third, but that’s more a problem with the higher quality graphics.

kh1-2015-06-20-04h22m19s328Maleficent then reveals her prize: she’s the one who kidnapped Alice from Wonderland! And in a clever bit, if you haven’t been to Wonderland, she has Snow White, instead! Good coverage, even if it does confuse the question of why Alice disappeared until later in the game. There’s also a tiny little plot quibble here on top of that but… it’s not important right now. This is still a job more-or-less well done.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 1 – I thought we LEFT the Maze World?
Next: Kingdom Hearts 1 – Narrative-Critical UPS Cosplay


This retrospective’s screenshots come from Spazbo4’s longplay of the PS3, 1.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix at World of Longplays (YouTube).

Advertisements

2 comments

  1. The reason the sneak ,and glut, become invincible is just because of the attack animation they use. For stealth sneak, it seems to be while using its eye beam attacks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s