Friday, February 28, 2014

Kingdom Hearts: Early Blind Choices

At the very beginning of the tutorial level of Kingdom Hearts you get asked to pick an item and reject an item between the trio of sword, shield, and staff. Presumably the sword lets you beatdown more, the staff lets you cast spells, and the shield makes you tankier. But you don't know what those things actually do. The first time I played the game I believe I was living with Byung and Tom and we all picked different items to start. I took the shield and the difference was insane. The shield seemed to us to be by far the best, and for one key reason: Second Chance.

Second Chance is an ability that converts any attack that would kill you into an attack that lowers you to one health. An attack that hits you when you're already at one will actually kill you, but if you're at two or more you're invincible. If you start with the shield you get that ability at level 18. If you start with the staff you get it at level 48 and if you start with the sword you get it at level 51. I don't remember what level you're expected to be at when you beat the game, but by the time I was fighting the boss of the third world I could have been level 18 easily. That boss was able to kill me when I was at around 40% health, so I was stuck healing myself with a potion and an awkward menu every two attacks. I wasn't even falling into the 'low health beep beep beep' window. The boss could just burst me over that window. I actually ended up running out of potions and had to fly around a bunch to go buy more before I could win.

There's also a second blind choice section where you choose your experience progression by answering inane questions from young Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka. You can either have tougher levels early, late, or always have average progression. Early with the shield feels like it's by far the best for the early game and it's unclear if the actual game would even end before it peters out in power. I ended up taking the staff and going for the late game progression. I'll get to level 48 fastest this way! Assuming I don't get frustrated by not having Second Chance, anyway.

Having the staff means my magic is better and my attacks are worse. This feels wrong for me since I normally like to beat down in games, but I'm giving something new a try. It also turns out the staff significantly increases your spells (you get 25% more max mana and 25% more spell damage and deal 5% less physical damage). Will the extra max mana be worth losing a couple points of strength? I don't know!

I've now completed Alice in Wonderland, the first part of Hercules, and Tarzan. I'm a little sad that I don't have Second Chance since I've died a _lot_ so far. But you generally respawn in the same room where you died without losing any progress except for the fight that killed you, so it's only a little sad and not the absolute end of the world. I suspect I won't end up restarting to pick up the shield. Heck, if worse comes to worse I can just grind my way up to level 48, right? Right!

I think this is a terrible game mechanic though. I'm fine with different difficulty settings (the game actually has one of those as well!) but I don't like obfuscated difficulty settings. No one who just picked up the game would know that the shield is the best by far. And no one would know what answer combo to give the FF kids to get the right experience progression either. I like that there's this level of customization for difficulty, but I don't like that you wouldn't have a clue how to play the game you want to play without turning to the internet. Especially back in 2002, where turning to the internet was less of an expected thing, I think.


pounder said...

I viewed the sword/shield/staff blind choice as "pick your class", which is typical in an RPG even though the classes are unbalanced and the choice is always made blind/with the internet.

Not a good design though.

Talcon said...

A few thoughts here. Should every decision in a game be made with knowledge of the meta? If games are supposed to invest us, probablisitc mechanics are fine. In fact it breaths a longer life into the game as players will think, "Oh, I wonder what happens if I try combo X" and when they get a different game play experience they'll be happy.

When people get -too- hung up on meta details they can lose sight of a game's fantasy. I don't think this is a good thing to lose sight of as you're essentially losing 1/3 of the game. I don't tihnk players -need- to know all the details going in. Part of the reason that the shield route is considered the best is due to second chance's much earlier access. A new player might not even immeaditely see it as beneficial as compared to some other AP ability. I'd argue insead that the problem isn't that there's probablistic mechanics to stat growth/experience gain, but instead that they balanced combat for second chance, but withhold it so long.