Tag Archives: ansem

FGC #385 God of War 2

Oh godsSo 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…

ZapAnd 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.

URGHBut 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!

Keep your eye on the prizeKingdom 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.

Doomed!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.
  • Whip it goodFavorite 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.

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Kingdom Hearts FAQ #13.8

The gang's all hereQ. 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?

DARKNESS!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. ARGHXehanort (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.

Q. Aqua?

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?

Welcome to HELLA. 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?

Nya?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?

Twilight Sparkle BladeA. 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.

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #13.1: It All Goes Wrong

Run, child, runQ. Where did it all go wrong?
OR
Q. What is your favorite Kingdom Hearts moment?

A. Two questions, same answer!

I will always maintain that Kingdom Hearts 1 was a straightforward game with a straightforward plot. Well, straightforward for a JRPG’s descendant, at least. In a nutshell, the universe is in danger, and it appears the Disney Council of Evil, with Maleficent at its head, is to blame. Honest, noble, and fairly mundane Sora, his best friend and rival Riku, and Kairi, his makeshift girlfriend, are all caught up in the crossfire when their world (hometown) is destroyed. Sora answers the call of the hero, Riku is seduced by the darkside, and Kairi flops around like a fish. At about the same time the trio finally works through their issues, the true evil is revealed: a scientist king who gazed into the darkness too long, and sacrificed his kingdom, people, and sanity for the sake of learning more about an unspeakable horror. In his final moments, the evil king is defeated not because of Sora’s strength, but ultimately because he believed the core of the universe, the core of humanity, was darkness, but, no, it was light, and he was obliterated mentally and physically by the revelation. The worlds are restored, but the trio is still separated in the final moments, because adventures are always to be continued; so the last we see of Sora is a boy who just saved the universe exploring a whole new world joyously with his new (duck ‘n dog) friends. Fade to black, let’s call it a day.

And then it all goes straight to Hell.

In North America, if you played Kingdom Hearts 1 with some dedication (saved all the worlds and saved all the puppies… not certain which one is more important…), you would receive a bonus movie that acted as a teaser for (presumably) Kingdom Hearts 2. I literally am incapable of describing the impact of seeing this movie after devoting forty nearly continuous hours to earning it. After a story where there are implied to be two keyblades in the universe, one of which is wielded by Mickey Mouse, here’s a warrior in a strange cloak utilizing two keyblades at the same time. And he’s fighting heartless we’ve never seen before. And he can run straight up a building! SO COOLAnd who’s that other guy? He’s wearing a blindfold? OMG is that supposed to be Riku? Did he get blinded by the light at the core of the universe? But now he’s free? How did he escape? What happened to Mickey? Did the other dude steal his keyblade? Is that Oathkeeper? Why are there so many heartless? What happened? What’s going on!?

Practically days after Kingdom Hearts was first released, the Internet was ablaze with theories and conjecture for what was coming next. No two people could agree on one solid theory as to what was coming. There were even naysayers that claimed nothing could live up to the potential of that one teaser movie.

Who could have guessed that that was the right answer?

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, the GBA game that followed Kingdom Hearts 1, was a tremendous tease. Kingdom Hearts 2, Squaresoft knew, was to be the next big thing, so this “side story”, even though it directly continued the plot of KH1, had to pace itself to only tantalize the audience for the upcoming hotness. Organization XIII was born here, and it’s clear they were created with an emphasis on “mystery” and not much else. Anyone in the Disney or Square pantheon could be under those hoods, and the fact that Axel and Vexen both resembled ersatz Final Fantasy 7 characters only fanned the fandom’s fanatic speculation that Organization XIII was some big crazy melting pot of Disney/Square characters hiding under hoods. Chain of Memories’ (second) ending introduces DiZ (Delightfully Immature Zealot), a character wrapped in bandages in an effort to hide a face the player had never seen, but, oh, he’s mysterious, so what’s hiding under there? Come to think of it, I don’t think CoM introduced a single new character that is actually operating under their “real” given name.

And then came Kingdom Hearts 2, which, to its credit, did finally give answers to all the questions that had been asked thus far. The bad news? It approached those answers in the worst possible way.

Looking so smug.  Maybe?Let’s revisit Ansem. As I mentioned earlier, in KH1, “Ansem” is simply (?) a scientist king that goes too far in his research of heartless. It is clearly stated throughout that Ansem did not create the heartless (he created some heartless, but he didn’t originate the idea), he just found them, labeled them, and enhanced them until they ran amuck over his world and others. Again, during the KH1 finale, Ansem is evaporated by the light of his own hubris. There was, in short, no reason for Ansem to return. Even if we wanted to revisit the heartless (which, according to that bonus movie, was always the intention), Ansem was not at all necessary, all we needed was some other loser to find a door to darkness and release them, or even go the extra mile and dig out some even greater evil and claim that the newbie is the real origin of the heartless, Ansem was only a misguided, weak fool, bwa ha ha and whatnot. But, no, Kingdom Hearts 2 brought back Ansem in the form of Xemnas. Yes, you watched Dark Ansem die, but this is Twilight Ansem, and he’s just as murderous as the last Ansem.

The insanity didn’t stop there. Just to confuse everyone further, Ansem was revealed to not be Ansem, but actually Ansem’s apprentice, Xehanort, and the real Ansem was that guy all wrapped up in the bandages. I’ve given it a lot of thought, and, even after years, I still have no idea why this “twist” was introduced. It’s the kind of plot twist that makes everyone look like an idiot (so Leon, Cid, Aeris, and all of Ansem’s subjects had no idea what the guy looked like? They just loathe anybody with the same name?), outright contradicts preestablished, straightforward facts (Xehanort wrote about Ansem meeting King Mickey in the first person… so… Xehanort was confusing his own identity?), and alienates anyone who just enjoyed KH1 but hadn’t yet played KH2 (“Man, that Ansem is a jerk.” “Weeeeeell…”). It adds practically nothing to the story, aside from exonerating an Ansem #2 that was just created, and, perhaps worst of all, it further complicates a plot into “Who’s on first” wordplay territory. The literal plot of Kingdom Hearts 2 can be explained as, “Ansem is dead, and in his absence, Ansem hatches a new plan, but Ansem, Ansem’s former mentor, thwarts Ansem’s efforts, losing his life in the process, and Ansem dies shortly before Ansem is finally killed.” The only benefit to introducing Ansem the Wise is that it gives DiZ (Delicious, Inviting Zest) an interesting reveal to hide under those bandages. But that wouldn’t be necessary if that stupid mummy hadn’t been introduced in the final moments of CoM, anyway!

All shiny and redEver hear of Vader Syndrome? Well, remember Empire Strikes Back? Where that big scary dude reveals he’s actually that blonde kid’s father? It is an amazing, Alderaan-shattering moment because it completely flips the dynamic of everything that has ever occurred before and after in the story. And it’s a neat trick, but you can only do it once, or you very quickly get diminishing returns. Imagine if the series went on to explain, I don’t know, that the princess was also related to blondie and the scary dude, or something even dumber, like one of the robots was also the son of the scary dude. It wouldn’t enhance the story in any significant way, it would just pile some dumb trivia into a universe that shrinks and shrinks because it seems like there’s only one important family in an entire far, far away galaxy.

Kingdom Hearts has a terminal case of Vader Syndrome. Every game since Kingdom Hearts 2 has introduced new characters that, presumably in an effort to endear them to the audience, are just new versions of previously existing characters. There are three playable characters in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, all of them all new, and 66% of them are either Ansem or Sora. Remember “the other guy” from that teaser movie I so loved? He was a Sora. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days introduced an entirely new character into the timeframe between Chain of Memories and KH2, and, surprise, she was just another Sora, but in the shape of another Kairi. Even more confusingly, “Ansem” also seems to be aging in reverse, he’s at his oldest when Sora was born, and by the time Sora is fifteen, he appears to be just old enough to rent a car.

None of this is a bad thing from a story telling perspective. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? Of course it’s a bad thing: it’s needlessly convoluted and even requires dedicated fans to create new and interesting descriptors for characters so we’re not just talking about Ansem being at odds with Ansem all the time. But, to return to the original point of this paragraph, you want to tell a story with such needlessly complicated plots, that’s your business, but it’s terrible for this franchise. Look at Kingdom Hearts 3. It is confirmed that it will No plot relevance at all, I'm surefeature Big Hero 6 and Tangled, and it would be insane for them to ignore Frozen, the entire Pixar library, and let’s throw the Marvel and Star Wars cinematic universes in there. I know an eight year old that loves all of those things, and has the Legos to prove it. By the time the game is finally released, let’s say he’ll be ten, just a perfect age for a Disney crossover game that could be an ideal gateway to the more heady Square-Enix JRPGS of yesterday and today. But I could not, in any kind of good conscious, recommend Kingdom Hearts 3 to the kid, because, holy cow, he’d have to read my thirteen part Kingdom Hearts FAQ just to begin to understand what’s going on. No child should be subjected to that. I shouldn’t be subjected to this!

So, it is with that, that I leave you, Kingdom Hearts. You looked too deeply into the darkside of complicated plots and complex character relations, failed to come up for air at any point in the last fifteen years, and drowned in the darkness, finally swallowed by an impenetrable black. You’ve sacrificed your kingdom, people, and sanity all for the sake of mystery. Maybe, one day you’ll realize that Kingdom Hearts should be… light.

Thanks for reading!

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #12: Titles

A door to knowledge?Q. Why did they number the Kingdom Hearts games so dumb and weird?

A. Here are the ridiculous title explanations you were waiting for.

Kingdom Hearts, aka Kingdom Heats 1, is the most straightforward of the bunch. As a reminder, yes, Kingdom Hearts is revealed to be an actual object in the game/series, and is not just some random nonsense title. Gilgamesh is not searching the multiverse for the Final Fantasy, and Benjamin does not live in Final Fantasy, USA.

Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories is the Gameboy Advance game that was kind of a retelling of Kingdom Hearts 1, kind of its own original story. So, the “Chain of Memories” is a gentle reminder that you’ve seen everything in this game once already, and a descriptor for how the plot of the game involves Naminé, the slave witch, altering Sora’s memories by inserting herself into key moments. She is breaking Sora’s chain of memories, while you are trying to get a chain combo going through your own memories of a game you already played. Kingdom Hearts Re:Chain of Memories was the PS2 remake of the game that has a title based on an email subject misunderstanding.

Quirky?Kingdom Hearts 2 is the sequel to Kingdom Hearts, and the last time we saw a straightforward title in this series (it’s been almost a decade!). The “2” here could also be a clever reference to the fact that Sora and Kairi are both accidentally duplicated for the entirety of the game (Roxas and Naminé, respectively), or how Sora wields a pair of keyblades during special occasions. Also, every world winds up getting visited twice, so Kingdom Hearts 2 is twice as padded as Kingdom Hearts 1.

Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days for the DS is where we start sliding off the rails forever. This impossible to abbreviate title features Roxas (Sora clone) and new character Xion (… also a Sora clone) palling around with Organization XIII for the period of time between Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. We’re talking about 358 Days, and since the relationship between Roxas and Xion is central to the plot, it is 358 days divided by two people. Also, a DS screen can be used by better games (thinking of Contra 4 here) as a sort of giant screen divided into two. It all adds up to KH358/2D being titled unusually so as to discourage people from playing that turd.

LIAR!Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep is the prequel of the series, thus the whole “Birth” thing. Aggravatingly, this is not the origin story of the main villain of the series, Xehanort, so we’re probably going to see another, earlier prequel somewhere down the line to cover the Birth of Darkness. Interestingly, while this game is mostly in media res because someone lost the ability to tell stories with concrete beginnings, the game does open with the literal birth of Sora, which causes Ven, an identical cousin of Sora, to awaken from a deep sleep. The game is then bookended with Ven knocking back into a coma while his heart flutters off to hang out with child Sora, so “Birth by Sleep” actually makes a sort of sideways sense. If you squint. Note that, thanks to its plot placement before Kingdom Hearts 1, BBS is sometimes referred to as Kingdom Hearts 0, which will be important in a moment.

Kingdom Hearts Coded was a damn episodic cell phone game that got rereleased as a complete DS game named Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded. This is the story of Mickey Mouse trying to get with the times and digitizing Jiminy Cricket’s dusty old journal which, naturally, leads to the world nearly being destroyed, because technology is scary and somehow scanning a book creates sentient life, most of it malevolent. “Coded” is referring to the scanning (coding) process here, and “code” is also a synonym for “puzzle” according to Word’s thesaurus, which alludes to the fact that this is a puzzle game. “Re:coded” is just what those whacky programmers were complaining about when they were informed the game would be reheated for the DS.

When your hero doesn't understand...Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance is just… ugh… still mad at this one. First of all, yes, if you abbreviate the title, it just appears as Kingdom Hearts 3, which we… *cough*… I mean fans have been clamoring for since Kingdom Hearts 2 six years prior. Now, to be annoyed by the very next letter, it’s “3D” not just because it’s in 3-D, but because the subtitle is three sequential D’s: Dream Drop Distance, which is a previously unmentioned keyblade ability that allows the user to drop into the dreams of the heart… which are… just regular dreams. Anyway, to the game’s credit, it does continue the “story” of Kingdom Hearts, so it did work out like a pseudo-Kingdom Hearts 3. Of course, now we’re all excited about the real Kingdom Hearts 3, and nobody cares about the 3DS anymore, so let’s resubtitle the game as 2.8, since we already used 2.5 for the Kingdom Hearts 2 HD release, and we can’t exceed three. There are an infinite amount of numbers between two and three, and I’m betting 2.9 is reserved for some kind of prologue cell phone game released three months before KH3. Or a paid demo! The possibilities are endless!

Speaking of lousy promotional games, Kingdom Hearts χ was a browser based game set ages before the events of any given Kingdom Hearts, pre-Keyblade War, which was fought over the χ-blade. For those of you without a doctorate in Kingdom Hearts History, this would be akin to setting a Star Wars game a thousand years before the birth of Chewbacca. Kingdom Hearts χ is a nothing of a game, basically meant for playing around the Kingdom Hearts universe while your boss is off hitting on Debra in accounting (think about it, Kingdom Hearts was released in 2002, the teens that played that game and bought Nobody hoodies and custom zippers are well into their cubicles today). There were a few inklings of the plot in there, though, so those scenes are being repackaged as the movie Kingdom Hearts χ in the new set, like 358/2 Days in KH1.5HD and Re:Coded in KH2.5HD. Wow, Team Kingdom Hearts really has this down to a science.

And χ is pronounced “key”, of course.

Moving right alongFinally, we have Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage. Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (KH0) ends with Aqua sucked into the Realm of Darkness, which is also where a whale of a lot of worlds also wound up during the time period between BBS and Kingdom Hearts 1. This means that we can just reuse Aqua’s BBS HD Remake model and animations to explore a whole host of “lost” worlds that are just reused assets from previous KH games modified to a darker palette for inclusion in the Realm of Darkness. It’ll be Birth by Sleep 0.2 alright, as the whole game will likely involve two new worlds, one new Square guest star (let’s say… Laguna?), and the other 80% will be stuff we’ve already seen.

I’ll buy it day one.

Q. Any handy visual aids available for the series?

A. Here’s the boxart for Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD

The Whole Gang

Highlighted below are all the characters that are, or have ever been, Sora.

The Soras

Now here are all the characters that are, or have ever been, Xehanort.

The Xehanorts

And, finally, here are all the characters that are… female.

Kinda Lonely

That help?