Friday, July 18, 2008

Kingdom Hearts II: Drive System limitations

I started a second play-through of Kingdom Hearts II for the PS2 yesterday. I am intending to do try a few new things on this second play-through, such as finally watching the bonus ending movie. In particular, I am hoping to utilize Kingdom Hearts II's drive system a lot more than I did my first time through the game. So far, it is working out for me pretty well. I have already gotten used to to activating Valor Drive a lot more than I ever did before.

In my first go-through of Kingdom Hearts II, I used the various Drive transformations quite sparingly, and for good reason. The Drive gauge builds up fairly slowly, even if the player is collecting many Drive Gauge restoration orbs. Therefore, it is impossible to use a Drive transformation in every battle. At best, it can only be done every two to three battles, and is likely to require more battles than that. Now then, if the player uses up his Drive Gauge fighting a minor battle just before a major fight or boss fight, than the player can't use one of his best weapons when he needs it the most. Since it is really hard to estimate when one is going to fight a major battle, the player is encouraged to use Drive transformations conservatively. In addition, Summon commands also use up the Drive Gauge, forcing the player to make opportunity cost decisions between his strongest powers. This time though, I am discovering that I can use Drive a lot more than I originally expected. However, I do have some fore-knowledge of the game's events this time around, which is helping my ability to estimate how much I can use the Drive command a lot.

If it was just the Drive Gauge limiting the use of Drive transformations, I would have no problem with the system. Unfortunately, there are a few more factors limiting the players use of it. First off, Drive transformations require either 1 specific party member or both party members to be absorbed in order to activate, depending on the individual Drive command. What this means is that Sora cannot use Drive if he is the only character currently fighting. However, I am quickly being reminded that this is a fairly common occurrence. Many of the major scripted battles in the game involve Sora fighting alone or alongside a single ally (who is not one of the two characters involved in 1-ally Drives). So, in many of the battles where the player could get the most advantage out of Drive commands, the battles that the player saves his Drive Gauge for, he can't actually use it. This even includes most of the multi-part final boss battle.

The other limitation of the Drive command comes in the form of Anti-Sora. Every time Sora transforms, there is a certain chance that he will accidentally transform into Anti-Sora, a form with little real combat power and half the defense of base Sora. Since the factor that determines the chance of becoming Anti-Sora increases every time the Drive command is used, Anti-Sora encourages the player to use Drive forms sparingly. However, Drive forms can only be leveled up by using them consistently, which encourages the player to use Drive forms as often as possible. Obviously, this means the game design is working at cross-purposes, which only serves to frustrate the player. On top of that, Anti-Sora's chance of appearing increases dramatically during major boss fights. This means that the player is likely to end up a dead Anti-Sora if he uses one of his coolest abilities during a boss fight. I can't really say that does anything to increase the fun-factor of the game at all.

I would probably have used Drive abilities a lot more on my first play-through if the game developers had relied solely on the Drive Gauge to restrict use of the Drive command, instead of adding on several more layers of limitation. The Anti-Sora form in particular only makes the game experience more frustrating. A special power really only needs one controlling factor and some opportunity costs to balance it out. Throwing on too many limiting factors only frustrates the player.

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