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Kingdom Hearts FAQ #14: Kingdom Hearts 3

You said it, AxelSo, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first Kingdom Hearts game since 2005, eh? How’s that working out?

Excuse me, but, despite the seemingly simple numbering of the third installment, there have been approximately twelve billion Kingdom Hearts titles in the last (nearly) fifteen years. And that’s something of a problem! All of those titles were very much Kingdom Hearts stories, but all of them (save Dream Drop Distance) primarily featured side characters, like Roxas, Ventus, or Aqua. And, because the Kingdom Hearts franchise has literally no idea how to write an ending, each of those characters wound up with unresolved stories begging for a climax come Kingdom Hearts 3. And does Kingdom Hearts 3 reach that long awaited climax for a cast of at least thirty freeloaders? … Wait, should that be a question?

Does Kingdom Hearts 3 reach that long awaited climax for a cast of at least thirty freeloaders?

Pretty much! It’s actually kind of impressive how many “side stories” have built up over the years, and Kingdom Hearts 3 ties up nearly all of them with a neat little (inevitably heart-shaped) bow during the final world.

Wait… “during the final world”? The game doesn’t gradually solve these problems over the course of the entire 20-30 hour game?

Oh my no. Have you played a Kingdom Hearts game before? All of that messy plot is saved for the final couple of hours, and the rest of the game is having fun around Disney-based worlds while creepy dudes in coats occasionally discuss their favorite Netflix shows (Ansem is apparently really into Ozark).

That sounds… bad.

That’s not a question. It’s a statement. A correct statement.

So is Kingdom Hearts 3 bad?

Poor girlCertainly not. In a lot of ways, Kingdom Hearts 3 is what the Kingdom Hearts titles have been striving for since the initial announcement of Squall Leonheart meets Dumbo. Disney worlds are huge and varied, NPCs actually exist (where appropriate) so Planet Tangled feels populated by actual people (as opposed to the Agrabah Marketplaces of the past that had apparently been struck neutron bombs), and the various worlds often contain mechanics that unmistakably separate the “levels” by something other than your Disney-approved guest characters. There are (relatively) Giant Robots in Toy Store world! A sailing system reminiscent of a mini-Wind Waker in Pirates of the Caribbean world! Big Hero 6 features a Crack Down-esque super-hero city playground! It’s pretty great, and a far cry from the themed hallways of some of the previous titles. In fact, in a weird way, it makes some of the more classically “videogame-y” worlds worse by comparison. Frozen is basically the ice level (complete with ice maze, ice tower, and the return of Square-mandated snowboarding), and Monsters Inc.’s factory stage is another fine showcase for our gaming friend, the conveyer belt. But those worlds aren’t bad! Just kind of ordinary when compared to exploring a gigantic toy store filled with murderous tsum tsums (which is rarely a destination for old-fashioned Chocobros).

So play Kingdom Hearts 3 for the Disney experience?

It’s certainly what is front and center. Four of the worlds are basically “play the movie” experiences wherein Sora gets to tagalong while a film unfolds (and, for some reason, a complete cutscene featuring the entirety of Let it Go), one world serves as a quasi-sequel (and inadvertent condemnation of capitalism), and two worlds seem to be excuses to hang out with a cool cast of characters. And that’s fun! It’s all very entertaining, and the only thing that really separates this whole experience from the much-missed Disney Infinity is that that “real” plot keeps rearing its ugly head (and Anna doesn’t get a grappling hook).

So the Kingdom Hearts plot is the worst part of Kingdom Hearts?

Not exactly. The narrative just…

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 #11: The Women

Q. What is Kingdom Hearts’ Lady Problem?

A. Answering this question initially took a while to write, because, frankly, I didn’t know where to begin. The basic statement here is that Kingdom Hearts is just throbbing with casual misogyny, but that is so endemic to video games as a medium, where to start? I rolled this post through a number of drafts before I was reminded of one important game series.

Hot pizza actionSenran Kagara.

I was fascinated by Senran Kagara when I was first alerted to its existence, because it’s something of a rarity in modern gaming: the game that is about breasts as opposed to that weird thing going on in much of the industry where developers seem almost surprised that titillation crept into the final product. Soul Calibur is a serious fighting game with a serious plot and serious gameplay, and oh my how did Ivy get dressed like that? Yes, please sit through the finale of the ultra serious Xenosaga, featuring guest star Jesus, while the entire female cast is wearing swimsuits (“Even the robot?” “Especially the robot!”). Senran Kagara is just, from top to bottom, a half-naked teenage girl delivery system, with gameplay constructed around that simple concept. The heroes are super-model thin characterization archetypes (the honest blonde tomboy that is proficient at kicks, the blonde’s natural opposite who is collected, proper and “high society”, the physical prodigy who is prideful but fiercely protective of her friends, the pink haired one that is shy and passive and has a disgruntled rabbit pet, and Twilight Sparkle), and the villains are basically a list of fetishes given flesh (the good-girl-turned-bad, the emotionless robot, the goth lolita, the queen sadist, and… something to do with bean sprouts… is that a thing?), and they fight, whether by cooking or ninja skills, with the goal of knocking their opponent into nudity. It’s kind of a clever system, because, with the game featuring exclusively women, if the player wins, hooray, there’s a naked lady on the screen, but if the player loses… hooray, there’s a naked lady on the screen. It’s really the pinnacle of perverted technology. This game might pass the Bechdel test (I think there aren’t even any boys for the ladies to talk about), but its misogyny levels are off the Sarkeesian-Friedan Scale. But one important thing does happen in all of the Senran Kagara material I’ve seen: the women accomplish something. It may be short term, personal goals, like Asuka achieving her dream of making the world’s most phallic sushi, or more important goals, like repelling some kind of ancient evil from hell demon-thing, but the cast of Senran Kagara really does accomplish quite a bit within their narrative. Which brings me to an unfortunate truth:

The women in Kingdom Hearts accomplish nothing.

As is my wont, this thesis will be supported on a character-by-character basis, starting with the grandmommy of Kingdom Hearts women…

Kairi’s Grandmother is the grandmother of Kairi and… wait… I didn’t mean literally. Eh, while we’re here, let’s just note that, I believe, she is the only Kingdom Hearts original character’s parent or grandparent to be seen on camera. Kairi’s Grandmother is the lore depository of Kingdom Hearts, and for her dedicated service to an aural tradition, she doesn’t even receive a name. Let’s call her… “Steve”.

Screaming out for funOkay, for real now, let’s take a look at Kairi. Kairi is the postergirl for Kingdom Hearts, and I mean that literally, as I do actually have a poster for Kingdom Hearts 2 with Kairi on it. She’s also on the cover of Kingdom Hearts 1, so, suffice it to say, she’s supposed to be pretty important. And she is important, in the same way that the keyblade is important. Come to think of it, the keyblade is way more important than Kairi… Kairi probably ranks somewhere around Donald’s hat. He would look weird without it, ya know?

Kairi is the third “friend” in the Destiny Islands trio, the first being the protagonist, Sora, and the second, the anti-hero Riku. Sora and Riku challenge each other constantly, becoming stronger through the struggle between two best friends who will always push harder to greater goals. Kairi watches. Sometimes she talks about fruit. But Destiny Islands is invaded by the forces of evil, and Kairi has her heart torn from her chest! What’s to become of the poor girl?

I’ll tell you what happens to her, she becomes the most literal object in the history of objectifying women. Kairi is split in two, and one half is her body, which is alive and breathing, but is otherwise as animated as a tube sock. This half of Kairi is literally fought over by Sora and Riku, both of whom want to “have” coma-Kairi, and it ain’t because they desire scintillating conversation. The other half of Kairi is her heart, effectively her soul, which squirrels away in Sora’s heart. Sora spends the majority of Kingdom Hearts 1 not even noticing Kairi, his second best friend, is right there with him the entire time. So, basically, Kairi spends the majority of Kingdom Hearts 1 either as a completely silent tag along or an item to be fought over. Check your key items list for Kairi.

Finally, Kairi is reassembled, and her healing hug brings Sora back from the brink of darkness, and then Kairi… stands around and worries. Kairi turns out to be a Princess of Heart, they all open the keyhole to the final boss, and then proceed to stand around making statements like, “Come back safely!” or “Let’s bake some cookies for the boys,” or whatever. Kairi does nothing, despite the fact that she has the same “training” Sora and Riku had at the start of the game, so there’s really no reason she couldn’t grab a more active role and start slinging blizzard spells to guarantee Sora comes home safely.

While we’re on the subject of the Princesses of Heart, a quick rundown of those gals:

  • She's so smartCinderella is kidnapped before the game even starts.
  • Aurora, aka Sleeping Beauty? Also pregame kidnapped.
  • Snow White: Ditto
  • Belle? That’s a-kidnappin’. Twice in two games.
  • Alice Pleasance Liddell is kidnapped from Wonderland during the game. Despite the fact that the source material, “original” Alice and the Disney Alice are both inquisitive, intelligent, and kinda sarcastic, this Alice is a lot more deer-in-the-headlights during her brief scenes.
  • Jasmine of Agrabah is kidnapped during the game. While Aladdin gets his stupid monkey, genie, and friggen carpet mime as active sidekicks, Jasmine’s pet tiger is nowhere to be seen, and Jasmine’s “no father, you shut-up” attitude is similarly absent. Note that Jasmine returns in KH2, where she stands in the courtyard all damn day, doing not a damn thing.

So, ya know, no luminaries there.

Under the sea contract negotiationAriel, the Little Mermaid, is the lone woman in the game that actually joins your party, and, while she’s at least not completely useless in combat, she doesn’t provide anything tangible in the plot. While, say, Tarzan joins the group and successfully saves his gorilla pals from colonialism, Ariel joins up, is tricked by Ursula, and hands the sea witch the most powerful artifact in their world. Ursula is defeated with Sora’s help, and the world is saved… from the mistake Ariel made. Kind of zero sum, there. In Kingdom Hearts 2, Ariel does the exact same thing, but with a fine set of legs.

The only woman in Kingdom Hearts I that nearly accomplishes anything is Maleficent, who has a fun time of grooming Riku to darkness (but he comes back to the good guys), capturing the Princesses of Heart (but they get rescued), and stopping Sora’s advancing light (total failure there). In the end, she is defeated not even by the hero, but the inevitable betrayal of a darkness greater than hers (that, incidentally, is male). As mentioned in other posts, while she is revived for Kingdom Hearts 2 and onward, she basically becomes a member of Team Rocket, and is stuck blasting off again for the remainder of her sad existence.

Also, God help me if Kingdom Hearts 3 doesn’t at least make a pass at a Dragon-Maleficent versus Bahamut fight. See also: Mat, Tia.

Alright, so Kingdom Hearts 1 is a bust for women doing much of anything of use, how about moving forward? Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories introduces Organization XIII, a gang of goons that has twelve male members and one female member. That one female member has no goals of her own beyond her boss’s machinations, and she gets herself killed second out of thirteen inevitable deaths. While some of the prequels have filled in the blanks on the history of other Organization 13 members, nobody seems at all interested in revisiting anything about… what was her name? It had an X in it…

Not helpingOh, but Chain of Memories also introduces Naminé, who is the nobody of Kairi. Naminé has the ultra-specific ability to manipulate Sora’s memories, and this may seem like a really useless ability at first blush, but considering the universe turns on Sora’s every move, this actually could be important. So what does Naminé do? Well, she’s forced into the service of Marluxia, who wants a Sora that is a slave to Naminé, so, by right of double slavery, that would make Sora into Marluxia’s slave. Naminé does wipe out most of Sora’s memory before being rescued by stupid Axel, at which point Naminé volunteers to spend a year of her life gluing Sora’s brainmeats back together. Naminé’s entire contribution to the plot can be done without getting out of her chair, and is another KH lady just fixing the problem she caused in the first place.

Question worth asking: Naminé is apparently the only “bodied” nobody in the universe that was never formally inducted into Organization XIII. No cloak, number, or codename for her. Like Axel or Roxas, she might have eventually betrayed the Organization, but she’s definitely on their payroll at her introduction. So, what, can’t have two girls on the team? Does this have something to do with spooky black cloak laundry day?

Insert licking jokeOrganization XIII actually did have a 14th member during the events of 358/2 Days, Xion. Xion is female. To most people. Xion is a clone of Sora (who is firmly male), but has some sort of weird “I am what you want to see” thing going on. For instance, to Xigbar, Xion appears as the (male) Ventus. Xion appears as a dark haired Kairi to Roxas, because Roxas’s heart longs for Kairi (with a dye job), and Roxas is Xion’s best friend, so she just rolls with it, Dark Haired Kairi is her identity. Now, maybe I’m the only guy whose ideal woman is Mystique, so correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’m pretty sure “woman who morphs to look exactly like what her man wants” is pretty much the exact definition of a male fantasy. And this extends to her very identity, so, wow, way to take the time to think out this character, Kingdom Hearts. At least she… eventually goes nuts and dissolves into her component parts and is completely forgotten by everyone she has ever met.

Oh.

Oh, wow.

Xion, honey, I’m so sorry.

Look, when you get this whole “not existing” thing sorted out, let me know, and I’ll take you out to your favorite restaurant, my treat. You’ve had a hard time of it. No… that was Roxas’s favorite restaurant, you… you have to move past this…

And her keyblade is all frilly, tooKingdom Hearts 2 sees Kairi back in action, 100% awake and alive and oh man she’s getting kidnapped again! Wait, no, she escaped and… nope, kidnapped again. Then she escapes again thanks to Naminé, and then she gets a keyblade! Yahoo! She can fight for herself now! Sora, Riku, and Kairi all have keyblades, and the old gang is back together again! I bet all three of them are going to team up and… oh, just Sora and Riku? Kairi sits on the sidelines, again? Does she at least get to save the boys in some big hero moment with her new… No? Just stands there? Mickey Mouse racks up a higher kill count? Kairi doesn’t even get to pretend to do anything fun until Dream Drop Distance, where Kairi appears in the absolute last moments of the game to remind everyone that, yes, she still has a keyblade, and she’s here, and she’s ready to kick ass, and to be continued… so I’ll believe it when I see it.

Thanks you guys.Kingdom Hearts 2 also allows one female party member: Mulan. Thanks to first seeing the movie when I was a pissy, “wake up, sheeple!” teenager, Mulan will always hold a place in my heart as being one of the first movies I completely tore to shreds from a critical perspective. I actually like the movie as an adult, but I am standing by my teenage assessment that the movie treats “female” as a disability that, through hard work and perseverance, can be overcome. Yes, in the end, Mulan proves that she’s just as much of a soldier as all of the boys, but the other 90% of the movie features her having to compensate for a lack of strength compared to the rest, is washed out despite having a mythical creature aiding her plan, and then the “soldiers in drag” bit at the finale showcases not the benefits of being a woman, but the inherit misogyny in their society. Always thought that film kind of muddies the waters of “women can do anything” to “wow, it sucks to be a woman, but you can probably pull it off with some effort”. Come to think of it, I suppose that is the more realistic moral.

Miraculously, I believe KH2 sidesteps this issue by presenting a Mulan that is indisputably stronger/better as female-Mulan than as male-Ping. There’s no “being a woman is a disability” accidental message here, simply that Mulan is stronger when she is herself, emphasis on “her”. Oh, wait. Mulan is the only female party member, and the only party member that undergoes such a dramatic stat transformation. Despite the fact that nearly every party member has an arc (Beast grows to be more empathetic, Jack Skellington grows to understand his place in the holiday pantheon, Simba grows to overcome meerkat cult programming), only Mulan, the woman, starts out terrible and improves to the point where she’s on the same level as the men. Like my interpretation of Mulan, maybe I’m just seeing an issue because I’m being overly critical, but I ask you, sheeple, what else is the internet for?

KH2 also lets Queen Minnie Mouse out of her cage. While Donald is a mighty mage, Goofy is a superior shieldsman (shut-up, spell check, that is so a thing), and Mickey is a keyblade master, Minnie is stuck with a complete lack of abilities, and has to be escorted (as in escort mission) during her time with the party. Needless to say, when not being actively involved in the plot, Minnie just stands around and worries about her husband.

STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERKingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep is the big prequel in the history of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, and it features the first (real, with a plot) female playable character, Aqua. Aqua is one of three keyblade disciples, the other two are boys, Ventus and Terra.

First of all, to the game’s credit, during the prelude of the story, Aqua is crowned Keyblade Master above her fellow apprentices by Masters Eraqus and Xehanort, and I’m not even going to sully her accomplishment by pointing out that the only reason she gets a promotion is because noted horrible evil force Xehanort is trying to drive the male protagonist to the darkside. Oh, wait, my bad, just did. Does it count as an accomplishment if it only happens to further the plot for two males?

Aqua, despite believing bicycle shorts and partial, ruffled sleeves are a good idea for a life of combat, is clearly the smartest of the three protagonists in Birth by Sleep. She’s also the weakest, and pretty damn slow. But she’s good at magic, the most easily exhausted skill in the Kingdom Hearts franchise. So… maybe not so smart?

Aqua is also stuck being mom for Birth by Sleep. Terra ventures out into the universe in order to prove that he is a good person worthy of the rank of master, and he eventually (thanks to Xehanort) steers his quest toward an effort to save his buddy Ventus by defeating the mysterious Masked Jerk wandering around. Ventus flies off to explore the universe with an unhealthy dosage of whimsy, and gets caught up in the Masked Dork hunt as well. Aqua doesn’t leave home under her own volition like the boys, she leaves only after being charged with bringing Terra and Ventus home. She not only fails at this objective, but also pretty much calls her companions terrible when they all meet at Radiant Garden, further splintering the group. Aqua’s internal monologue throughout the game is a constant stream of, “Gosh, where are my friends? I hope they’re alright,” and that line of thinking engulfs any other personality traits she might possess. Finally, when everyone regroups during the penultimate chapter of the game, Terra and Ventus battle Xehanort and his Masked Dingus protégé, while Aqua fights… Braig. Confused as to who Braig might be? So was Aqua.

The finale of Birth by Sleep is where Aqua really shines with all the luminescence of a blackhole. By this time, Terra has killed Master Eraqus (“You were the chosen one!”), Master Xehanort has possessed Terra’s body, and Ventus has defeated Masked Poindexter, who turned out to be the other half of Ventus, so Ventus is in a Kairi-level coma. So, first thing first, Final Girl Aqua, has to find a safe place to stick Ventus. Despite the fact that Aqua literally has worlds of allies at this point, including Yen Sid’s mysterious world and King Mickey’s entire kingdom, Aqua decides the best place to leave Ventus is her old, abandoned homeworld, where she transforms the place around Ventus into a metaphorical and literal labyrinth. As a result, she is the only person in the whole of the universe that will ever be able to find Ventus’s body again. This is important. THE WORSTThen, Aqua stomps over to Radiant Garden to deal with this Terra-Nort thing. She beats the combo villain into submission, and believes she has expelled Xehanort from Terra’s body. But, the battle opened up a hole to The Darkness, so Aqua and Terra both are sucked into the void. Aqua and Terra are sinking into oblivion, and she realizes that only one of them can escape, and the other will be sucked into blackest night. Aqua decides to sacrifice herself to save Terra. Reminder: like, ten minutes earlier, Aqua put herself in the position that made her the only person capable of saving Ventus, and now she decides that Terra is more important than her own survival. Aqua damns herself and Ventus for the sake of Terra. I don’t know if they covered this in keyblade school, Aqua, but two is a bigger number than one. Of course, Terra is actually still possessed by Xehanort, and all Aqua actually accomplished in that battle was fracturing Xehanort’s memories, so he doesn’t quite remember his evil plan at the immediate moment, but he’ll come around to it in a couple of years with the help of Braig, whom Aqua made no attempt to apprehend or otherwise stop after their battle.

So, to be clear, Aqua’s final act in Birth by Sleep is to save the villain of the entire franchise, and effectively damn herself and her only other living friend. Don’t worry Aqua, your sins will be rectified by Sora and his amazing ability to have a penis.

Forgot about these nobodiesAnd that’s a ballsgame, folks! There are seven Kingdom Hearts games (Oh, I didn’t get into Re:Coded, where Maleficent fails once again, and Naminé’s memory pops in for a hot minute to be cryptic. That’s it. Not a single other woman to be seen. Kingdom Hearts Re:Sausagefest), and women can only be ineffectual or make things worse. It’s kind of an achievement all by itself in misogyny, as Kingdom Hearts is nowhere near some of the overt, casual misogyny you’d see in other games (“Thanks for choosing strong female character to be in your party. Would you like to equip her with a bunny costume or a maid outfit?”), but the subtle undercurrent of women just failing constantly exists in every game in the series. Keys are the most important things in the universe, keyholes just get in the way.

Steve would not be proud.

Q. What was the very first thing Goggle Bob ever wrote about Kingdom Hearts?

A. Why it was a shorter answer to the previous question! Deep in the bowels of Talking Time, there’s a post regarding Dream Drop Distance, written in August of 2012, that is reproduced here:


Kingdom Hearts 3D, despite the fact that I know more female KH fans than male, is the most mancentric manocracy based game since forever.

Here’s a run-down of the female characters appearing in KH3D (spoilers in case you want to be surprised):

Esmerelda of Hunchback of Notre Dame world needs to be rescued by the protagonists.

Quorra of Tron world needs to be rescued by the protagonists.

Bwa ha ha how much for the castle?Queen Minnie of Disney Castle needs to be rescued by Mickey Mouse.

Queen Minnie of Three Mouseketeers world, which takes place in the past of Disney Castle, needs to be rescued by Mickey Mouse and the protagonists.

Maleficent and Ursula appear extremely briefly in a cutscene and as an illusion, respectively.

The Blue Fairy shows up for three seconds to mock a little wooden boy.

Shiki and Rhyme of Traverse Town seem to, with the rest of The World Ends with You cast, be the audience surrogate, as all they do is run around confused all the time.

That’s it, I’m pretty sure that’s EVERY female in the entire game, and you’ll note not a single one of them has anything to do with the “proper” plot.

If you’re curious about the real plot, it’s about one guy who is already three guys trying to be thirteen guys by manipulating one guy (who is three guys and one girl) through a liberal use of time travel and Inception-esque dreams within layers of dreams. Also, in the Kingdom Hearts universe, if you kill a guy twice, they then come back to life with super powers.

I really enjoy the gameplay in the Kingdom Hearts series (excluding 358/2 Days), but paying attention to the plot is a fool’s errand.

Had I only listened to myself…