I will be streaming Kingdom Hearts 3 tonight at the usual place (http://twitch.tv/gogglebobblog). It will be a very special stream with very special guests… or… something. Check the twitter (it’s over there at the right) for further details. Please look forward to it!
So God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 are basically the same game.
Venture with me now back to the early days of the Playstation 2. Many forget such an important fact, but the PS2 (and the consoles of its era, but PS2 was first) was the first system that could really “do everything”. And, no, I’m not talking about being a DVD player while hopping online and eventually supporting a hard drive for one game; no, I’m talking about actually displaying “reality” and “cartoons” as easily as network television. The Atari was squares fighting other squares. The NES was a little better, but still relied heavily on a healthy imagination to call that pile of rectangles an elfish warrior. And the Playstation 1 and Nintendo 64 both generally created characters that were more block than man. The 16-bit generation came the closest to making “cartoon graphics” that actually looked like a controllable Disney movie, but it couldn’t render a “real” looking human for all the coins in the Mushroom Kingdom. The Playstation 2 was the first system that could really pull off that kind of rendering, and, if you look at the PS2 launch lineup, it’s obvious that the creators of the era knew that well. Unless you want to claim there’s some other excuse for The Bouncer…
And it was in this “anything is possible” era that both God of War and Kingdom Hearts were born. To the credit of everyone involved, you do have to acknowledge that either franchise would have made much less of an impact on earlier systems. In the case of Kingdom Hearts, you absolutely need the voice acting and deliberate mishmash of “animation styles” to really sell the idea of a universe made of random Disney feature films. And over in the God of War corner, Kratos could easily have been another generic videogame action hero, but the raw, visceral rage that permeates his every movement and action could only make its premiere on the Playstation 2. And it was the advantage of the Playstation 2 that no one would confuse these two games for each other. Happy lil’ boy with a keyblade that palled around with Aeris was never going to be mistaken for the Ghost of Sparta that successfully beat Ares to death with some manner of chain blades.
But there is one place where both Kingdom Hearts and God of War were very similar: they were both games with stories that were clearly intended to be finite. Sora saves the universe, Kratos becomes the God of War, let’s all hit the pub.
Now, to be clear, this is not to imply that both games were never intended to start franchises. Quite the contrary, as both titles end with trailers for multiple potential sequels. Kingdom Hearts has not only its dangling thread of Sora and Kairi being separated, but also a teaser that included the coolest keyblade fight in the franchise’s history. And God of War managed to squeeze three separate teasers into its bonus features, with a glimpse of not only Kratos’s future, but also a potential adventure wherein modern archeologists come upon an ancient dungeon on the back of a humongous skeleton. Pretty much any videogame made… ever has expected a cavalcade of sequels, and it’s kind of naïve that two titles that helped start the AAA trend would ever ignore such an obvious payday.
But don’t tell that to the writers of both of those original hits. In both cases, our protagonists are dealing with antagonists with clear goals and origins. Ansem is a mad scientist/king that went a little too mad, and wound up becoming more Kefka than Galuf. Ares is the God of War that has been using Kratos as a pawn for decades, and he’s bound to get what’s coming to him. In both cases, the big bad gets too full of himself, and winds up vaporized by his opponent. But don’t forget about the journey! Both Kratos and Sora go from nobody to somebody, and learn a thing or two about not plunging into sorrow along the way. Sora saves the universe and gains his own private Excalibur, and Kratos becomes a literal god. Nowhere to go but up from there, folks.
And then we got the inevitable sequels. And… they maybe didn’t come together all that great.
From a story perspective, Kratos gets to make a little more sense, but just barely. Now, instead of being spurned by one dick god (er, to be clear, that’s a god that is a dick, not Penilicus, God of Dicks), he must defend himself against… one dick god. But he happens to be his dad! Oh, wait, sorry, was that a twist? Did I just ruin the complex mythology of every Greek tragedy ever? So Kratos winds up battling against Zeus through the exact same arc as the first title, just in a slightly different order: stripped of powers, killed by god, go to Hell, go to a magical dungeon land, murder a few mythological figures, and then fight Zeus in a final battle that… can’t go anywhere. Sorry! Turns out that this story is now firmly entrenched in trilogy land, so you’ll have to wait for God of War 3 to see the thrilling end of Zeus and his brand new band of surly gods. At least Kratos made a new friend along the way!
Kingdom Hearts 2 meanwhile… does the exact same thing. The title retreads much of the adventure of the first quest, introduces a villain that is somehow bigger and badder, but still exactly the same, and, in the finale, ends with Sora scoring some new allies, but failing to banish the big bad from the universe. In Kingdom Hearts 2’s case, it seems a little more definitive than Kratos’s lack of a victory, but, come on, half the game was laying the very bread crumbs that would lead to a certain someone’s complete resurrection. And it’s not like that franchise could ever suffer a different villain anyway.
But it’s not just about the plot! Both games started with slightly upgraded beat ‘em up gameplay, and gussied up “press attack a lot and dodge roll all the time” with a leveling system that superficially added JRPG elements to very basic gameplay. But both Kingdom Hearts 1 and God of War 1 built levels around their dopey (but fun!) combat. In some cases (like GoW’s Hell or KH’s Oogie Tower) these levels didn’t work, but they were certainly a break from the monotony, and Kratos or Sora coud showcase their acrobatic prowess to maybe find some treasures. Well, the world(s) got a lot flatter in an effort to please the fans, as God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 both vastly cut down on exploration potential in favor of hammering that attack button over and over again. Hey, sometimes there’s a block to push, or a switch to pull. That’s kind of like variety, right?
And don’t get me started on how both franchises decided to treat quick time events and canned dialogue like they were the best thing since sliced Spartans.
God of War 2 and Kingdom Hearts 2 are different games. One has a dude beating up random monsters from the myths of Greece, and the other already burned through its hydra in the first game. But, once you get into the details, it’s easy to see how both titles come from much the same place, and amount to a pair of parallel products.
GOW2 and KH2 are two games cut from the same cloth.
… And then Kratos killed Clotho. Dude does not take criticism well.
FGC #385 God of War 2
- System: Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and Vita, though the PS2 version is obviously the source of all this mess.
- Number of players: This former god of war works alone.
- Other similarities: Oh yeah, then both franchises went on to crank out a prequel on the PSP, and follow that up with a third “concluding chapter” on a totally different system. Well, I have to assume the latter on the part of Kingdom Hearts, as I’m pretty sure Kingdom Hearts 3 won’t be a PS2 release.
- Favorite Relic: Remember when time manipulation was all the rage during that console generation? Prince of Persia and… uh… Blinx? Well, it happened again here, and Kratos can slow time with the Amulet of the Fates, because… why not? I mean, if you’ve got dominion over time, may as well use it to beat some random undead soldiers to death.
- Favorite Game Moment: This is the God of War title wherein the entirety of the Spartan army is wiped out by Zeus (because, again, giant dick), but one lone Spartan warrior survives! Then Kratos kills him. By accident. Because the sun was in his eyes. Look, I’m no stranger to accidental murder, but I feel like Kratos should maybe look where he’s swinging those blades.
- Did you know? Like God of War (1), there was a novel released based on God of War 2. It was written by Robert E. Vardeman, who was also responsible for a number of Star Trek and Magic: The Gathering tie-in novels I have never read this God of War 2 work, however, because I have to assume half the text is just some variation on the phrase “angry growling”.
- Would I play again: Nah. Unlike Kingdom Hearts 2, I have a hard time with Kratos’s whole… thing. He’s so irritated all the time! And murderous! I find it off putting. I want my murderous heroes to at least make a quip every once in a while. Is that too much to ask?
What’s next? Looks like it’s Valentine’s Day next week, and you know what that means!
Love and harmony Wankery Week! Come back on Monday for a look at one of the best most passable examples of sheer wankery of 2017.
Q. Hey, Goggle Bob, there’s that new Kingdom Hearts 2.8 game out. What’s the deal?
A. Well, uh, “new” might not be the right term here.
Q. Explain Yourself!
A. So we’ve got Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and, basically, it’s a HD remake of a 3DS game from nearly five years ago. Dream Drop Distance was itself a kind of “soft” Kingdom Hearts 3 (Dream Drop Distance = D D D = 3D), or, at the very least, the first true continuation of the Kingdom Hearts plot since Kingdom Hearts 2, a game that was released seven years before 3D. For the record, in the real world time between the release of Kingdom Hearts 2 (2005) and Kingdom Hearts 3 (TBA), there have been 12,000 Hyperdimension Neptunia games released. EDITOR’S NOTE: 12,012 since I started this post.
Q. So, is Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD any good?
A. KH3D was a fun little jaunt that featured Sora and Riku working together in a big adventure for the first time. Given Sonic and Shadow were established early in the KH mythos, it’s amazing it took over a decade to get a KH game going where there’s an official team-up. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing Tetsuya Nomura, director of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, loves more than zippers, it’s corrupting the good and true wishes of his loyal audience of children/mouth breathers. So Sora and Riku are working together for this game, but there’s a timer involved, and you can only play as Sora or Riku for a limited time before being forced to switch back to the other hero. I think this was intended as some sort of “hey kids, don’t spend so long staring at a tiny screen” concession for the portable system of the game’s origin, but that doesn’t make much sense in HD land. At least there is a plot excuse for the switching.
Q. What’s the plot this time?
A. Nomura must have watched a lot of Inception before writing this game, because… well.. it’s exactly that. The conceit of the game is that there are a few worlds that are just resting their eyes before returning to the Kingdom Hearts universe, and, rather than hearing “just five more minutes, mom” from Hunchback of Notre Dame Planet again, Yen Sid decides to send Sora and Riku into the dreams of the sleeping worlds to wake ‘em up. Unfortunately, something goes wrong immediately, so, while Sora is in the sleeping dreams of the worlds, Riku is actually in Sora’s dream (of the sleeping worlds). Or maybe it’s the other way around? Whatever. What’s important is that one character can only operate when the other is asleep, and they can’t actually both be in the same place at the same time, just simulations of the same place and… ugh… Never mind, trying to parse all the little “clues” in this game will give you a headache. What’s important is that Riku and Sora can’t kiss until the ending. Oh, and Ansem is back.
Q. Ansem? Don’t you mean Xehanort?
A. Well, technically, I mean both. Ansem and Xehanort and all the other big bads are back, because you can only die so many times before you come back to life citation needed. At the end of 3D, it is revealed that Ansem/Xehanort’s plan all along, bwa ha ha ha, has been to assemble a council of thirteen versions of him, so that way he can take the most outrageous selfie the universe has ever seen. Included in the new council of Ansems are Heartless Ansem, Nobody Xemnas, Old Man Xehanort, Young Man Xehanort who has control over time for some reason, Xigbar, Lab Coat Xehanort, Lil’ Xehanort with keyblade pacifier action, and Clarabelle Cow. Xehanort (one of ‘em, does it really matter which?) attempted to infect Sora with darkness, so that way he’d have a Xehanort-Sora on the team, but that failed when Riku, Mickey, and Lea saved Sora from almost certain identity crises.
Q. Lea? Who dat?
A. Oh, that’s Axel. Every member of Organization 13 from Kingdom Hearts 2/Chain of Memories appears to be back and alive now. Sora went to all the effort of murdering half of that group, and now they’re all just fine. Boo.
“Lea” is the “uncorrupted” version of Axel. Despite the fact that Axel… let’s see if I can get everything here… betrayed/murdered teammate Vexen, betrayed Organization 13: The New Kids after claiming to betray Organization 13: Original Flavor, betrayed best friend Roxas, kidnapped Kairi, attempted to kill Sora, and then finally betrayed Organization 13 again while dying, he is now a keyblade wielder, and is apparently going to be a permanent fixture of team good guy. Just goes to show, if you’re an absolute heel to everyone and everything you’ve ever encountered, including your best friends, worst enemies, and women you just met, then eventually you’ll be rewarded with the most powerful, coveted weapon in the galaxy. It’s probably because he has cool hair.
Anyway, as you can likely tell, the basic purpose of Dream Drop Distance was to move all the pieces (Sora, Riku, Axel, Ansems) into their proper spots for Kingdom Hearts 3. Given they already used “2.5” for the KH2 rerelease, 2.8 kind of makes sense for a title for this compilation.
Q. Compilation? You just got done saying this was one old game.
A. Oh, right, there’s also Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, an Aqua story in there.
A. Aqua was one of the three stars of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, the designated prequel of the Kingdom Hearts universe. Ten years before Kingdom Hearts 1, Aqua screwed up royally, and her best friends wound up either possessed by unending evil or asleep forever. Aqua herself was sucked into the Realm of Darkness, which is basically Kingdom Hearts Hell.
Q. You mean Anime Expo?
A. No. I mean a barren, dark universe where time has no meaning and heartless creatures feed on the discarded remains of lifeless fantasy worlds.
Q. So you do mean Anime Expo?
A. No, dammit. Look, Aqua is trapped in a universe where she is the lone human among the ruins of scattered forgotten worlds. It actually makes for a really interesting Kingdom Hearts experience, as Aqua is totally alone: there are no shops, friendly moogles, NPCs, crowing villains, nothing. All Aqua has to keep her company are armies of mute heartless, and her keyblade, which she uses to slay those armies of mute heartless. Occasionally, she hallucinates her friends, but even they’re pretty silent, and Aqua seems to be well aware that they’re just illusions. If Kingdom Hearts were at all capable of subtlety, I might say this entire adventure is a metaphor for loneliness and/or depression, but it’s a Nomura game, so the dude can’t help but kill the mood.
Q. How does Kingdom Hearts inevitably kill the tone of A Fragmentary Passage?
A. Remember how you could play dress up with Lightning in Lightning Returns, and with the monsters in Final Fantasy 13-2? Well, you can accessorize Aqua with pretty items you earn for completing random tasks in AFP. Yes, it’s sad that Aqua is completely alone while fighting unending hordes of evil in a waking hell universe, but she’s wearing cat ears, magical translucent wings, and a kicky dress while doing it. Right around the time that Aqua finds out she’s been trapped in this everlasting limbo for ten years, she also earns a Minnie Mouse hat, so, ya know, kind of hard to maintain the mood.
Q. So A Fragmentary Passage sucks?
A. Quite the opposite, really. It’s short (maybe three hours if you’re not trying to find all the “secrets”), but it feels like a legit test run/demo for Kingdom Hearts 3. All of the worlds are recycled, “sad” versions of locales from Birth by Sleep, but they’re completely new maps with new challenges. While it’s not very large, the first area (a ruined town from Cinderella) is so open and interesting that it gives me hope that there will be more than boring hallways in KH3. Additionally, there’s a rail section toward the end of the third world that, with encroaching heartless all around, actually feels like a Disney Land ride, which, whether intentional or not, proves there may be some innovation in those old Kingdom Hearts bones yet. Aside from the fact that the same boss is reused three nebulously different ways, A Fragmentary Passage actually gives me hope that Kingdom Hearts 3 might not just be a long delayed more of the same.
Q. Hey, come to think of it, Aqua is the first starring woman in a Kingdom Hearts adventure that doesn’t have to share the spotlight with more important male leads. Does this improve Kingdom Hearts’ feminism rating?
A. On one hand, the entire point of this story is that Aqua is a badass that is not going to give up in the face of impossible odds. There’s one amazing scene where Aqua struggles to defeat a Darkside Heartless (a creature that is roughly as tall as a house), wins, and then moves forward to find her next challenge is ten Darkside Heartless. Her response is simply, “Okay then,” and then gets to work. Bad. Ass.
And, incidentally, Willa Holland, Aqua’s voice actress (who is probably best known for her role as the occasionally sword-wielding Speedy/Thea on CW’s Arrow) should probably win an award or something for carrying the entirety of this story on her vaguely-defeated-but-still-trying inflections. It’s really noticeable given she’s the only one talking for, oh, 75% of the game, and it’s quite good.
That said, unfortunately, Aqua is still defined by the men in her life, and she spends roughly the entire game either worrying about “her boys” or then, eventually, sacrificing herself for two other men, one of which has prominent, circular ears. Sorry, even with a female lead, this story does not pass the Bechdel Test, because there aren’t any other women at all. Even when Aqua fights a mirror version of herself, she spends the whole time worrying about what that means in the face of not fighting mirror boy creatures. That’s sad.
Oh well, at least there’s the implied promise that Aqua will return for Kingdom Hearts 3, so maybe we’ll see some actual girl power in that game.
Q. Oh yeah, how does A Fragmentary Passage fit into the Kingdom Hearts mythos?
A. Basically, the whole thing is a prequel to Kingdom Hearts 1, with this story ending at the exact same time as Kingdom Hearts 1’s finale. AFP finally provides an explanation on why Mickey Mouse wasn’t wearing a shirt at the end of KH1. Yes, I’m being completely serious.
Q. So what happens to Aqua, the heroine of this whole story?
A. Oh, she’s still stuck in Hell, but at least now she has DiZ (Ducks Intuiting Zaffer) to keep her company. And, again, there are good odds she’ll be rescued by the real (incidentally male) heroes later.
Q. Anything else on Kingdom Hearts 2.8?
A. There are also HD cutscenes from the browser/cell phone based Kingdom Hearts (Unchained) χ. It’s the story of how a bunch of wannabe furries attempt to save the world from a global war by creating factions that are forbidden from cooperating with each other. It doesn’t work out. I’d get into it more, but I find cell phone games to be repugnant, useless, and they take up my Pokémon Go time, so screw that noise. Even I have limits.
This is Wankery Week, and, while masturbation in general has something of a male-connotation, let’s not forget that women have needs, too. Sexy needs. I want to be clear that I’m not talking about shoes or showers or other things that the fairer sex seems to believe are essential. Ladies, I’ve got a good musk going here, I don’t need some random water shooter to relieve me of this funk.
Errr, anyway, in the interest of fair and balanced wankery reporting, I decided to speak to a few real life, no-exploding-clothes women. In particular, I decided to speak to a handful of people that had been playing videogames since childhood, and, of course, puberty. It’s one thing to talk to someone that has gotten into gaming as an adult, but it’s quite another to dig someone out that may have been attracted to 8-bit graphics when they were contemporary. And besides, it’s only fair as, as previously mentioned, I may have had a crush or two on Playstation heroines.
So, while I’m not going to get into names and specific fetishes (ATTENTION PEOPLE THAT ACTUALLY KNOW ME: Ruth has a thing for centaurs. Thank you), a number of women responded with fairly expected answers. Nobody seemed to go for the obviously half naked men (sorry, Mayor Haggar), and, sorry, albino Grecian war gods don’t do anything for the local ladies. What seemed to stick to the memories of these women was predominantly a number of JRPG heroes. King Edgar Figaro might not be the ladies’ man he claims, as Final Fantasy contemporary fugging Squall was named as a crush. Similarly, I’m fascinated that someone named a character from Final Fantasy Tactics (she actually asked me to not even name the character, even if she is anonymous in the article, because, thinking about it as an adult, she was that embarrassed by it), because those guys are barely more than poorly translated chess pieces. And Wild Arms’ Rudy was named, which actually reminded me of my own crush, and I can basically see where this is all coming from.
I mentioned at the start of the week that I had a crush on Princess Cecilia of Wild Arms. See, I was fourteen, and I want to say that I didn’t acknowledge that women were actual people until around when I was sixteen. Before I had my first “real” girlfriend, I pretty much interpreted women as unknowable, ascended creatures that had this whole sex thing figured out and were the eternal gatekeepers of me ever getting to see real, live nudity. In short, I hadn’t yet discovered that everybody poops. And, really, video games didn’t do much to divorce me of this notion, as “developed” video game women were magic warriors (Terra/Celes, FF6), manic pixie dream girls (Marle, Chrono Trigger), or cats (Kat, Breath of Fire 2). Cecilia, literally from her introduction, is a magical princess, yes, but she also falls asleep in class and is known as the gluttonous “burger queen” by her classmates. In other words, in a weird way, she’s “one of the guys”, and… well, I’m just saying if we ever hung out, I’m pretty sure she’d be in to me.
And it’s fascinating to think about that line of thinking from the other side of the sexual seesaw. Videogame women were generally warrior queens or male accessories, but the men in these stories were supposed to be player-inserts. Revisiting Rudy Roughknight of Wild Arms, we’re talking about a guy that literally has maybe three lines of dialogue. He’s almost an entirely mute protagonist in his starring adventure, and, spoilers, he’s not even a damn human. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s well developed enough to have a general personality and life, but you’re allowed to fill in the blanks on the finer points. For boys, this means that you too can imagine yourself as a heroic adventurer, and for girls, you too can imagine Rudy as your ideal boyfriend. What? You want to be an adventurer, too, girl? No, we already have a woman filling that blank. Please move along.
I’m going to give the designers of any number of JRPGs the benefit of the doubt on this one, because it (theoretically) wasn’t misogyny that made Rudy the ideal boy, it was simply a need to appeal to a boy-based market. JRPGs often follow the same tropes as shonen manga because they’re both trying to garner that same audience, and half the tropes there go back thousands of years as “boy stories”. In modern times, we may have gotten past “Princess Peach needs rescuing” but it’s still hard to ignore the glut of fictional women that appear to exist exclusively to entertain the male protagonist. But since those male protagonists are supposed to be audience inserts, it’s easy for the audience to ascribe any traits they’d like to Male Hero #3,214. Rudy would totally hang out with you and talk about One Direction all night long. He’s a huge fan!
That is something I, a heterosexual male, understand. What I don’t understand is how this kid popped up in a number of responses…