Tag Archives: final fantasy

FGC #476 Final Fantasy 9

Fantasy Time!Final Fantasy 9 doesn’t get enough respect for being the top of its very specific, very forgotten class.

It’s easy to see why someone would have issues with Final Fantasy 9 at its initial release. For starters, it was a JRPG right there at the end of the Playstation 1 JRPG boom. This meant it had a healthy amount of competition from all angles (including an in-house rivalry with Square’s own Chrono Cross). And, honestly, a “throwback” JRPG in that environment was the worst possible idea. Yes, the Final Fantasy franchise had drifted very far from the medieval fantasy origins of Final Fantasy (give or take a floating techno city), but that didn’t mean the rest of the genre had moved on with it. Medieval fantasy JRPGs were a dime a dozen in 2000, and practically everything in Final Fantasy 9 had been done by other JRPGs of the eon. Fantasy world with a whole bunch of depressed furries? We’ve already got Breath of Fire. Your Princess suicidally depressed into a haircut thanks to being responsible for the destruction of her kingdom? Straight out of the Wild Arms playbook. Hell, even some seemingly unique flourishes are improbably specifically from other titles of the epoch: the malevolent monster fog that initially rescinds and then blankets the world in a time of crisis is the entire premise of Legend of Legaia. In short, there’s a thin line between “retro” and “derivative”, and then it’s an even shorter hop to “outright theft”. And it probably didn’t help that Final Fantasy 9’s hero is a thief…

And, come to think of it, that thief was a problem, too. Every protagonist, from Beatrix to Zidane, is deliberately evocative of other heroes in the Final Fantasy franchise. Vivi might go through an interesting journey from “9 year old” to “inspiration for an entire society”, but a quick glance reminds you he’s still just a generic Final Fantasy Black Mage. Freya is a dragoon obsessed with her potential lover, and Dagger is a princess with global responsibility issues. And Eiko? Look, I’m sorry, but Rydia called, and she wants her everything back. And it’s kind of hard to not be cynical when you’ve seen these characters before and liked their games better. With very little exaggeration, by the time some people played Final Fantasy 9, they had already played Final Fantasy 6 for approximately 500 hours. BORKYou want your protagonist to fill the shoes of Locke Cole, you damn well better be sure he’s going to bring something new to the table. Oh? At one point in one dungeon he gets sad about being a monkey? But then he instantly recovers? Wow, Final Fantasy 9, you phoned it in so hard, Steiner just learned the rotary-dial ability.

But now it’s twenty years later. Time has passed, and, for better or worse, the world is very different. Now JRPGs are only medieval when they’re also showcasing anime high school students. Now Final Fantasy is a brand that includes more spin-offs and “experiments” than it does actual numbered entries (and those numbered entries get their own, specific spin-offs, too!). The idea that any one game could capture the zeitgeist of the franchise and its most prominent age is no more possible than you could now produce a film that somehow featured every movie star back to the dawn of Hollywood. The Final Fantasy franchise is now so much more than “there used to be crystals, right?”, so Final Fantasy 9 being some kind of deliberate nostalgic journey seems… quaint.

… And it’s not like anyone is going to compare FF9 to Legend of Legaia anymore. Nobody remembers Legend of Legaia.

So now, divorced from the expectations of the bygone year of 2000, it’s easy to play Final Fantasy 9 and see that the real innovations could never be found by watching this…

Weeeeee

But by playing through this…

What's the haps?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the intricacies of Final Fantasy 9’s plot and its various scenarios, let me explain what you’re seeing there. Ultimately, this is not a complicated scene: it’s Darth Vader telling Luke he’s his daddy. Zidane has just discovered his home planet, and Garland here is explaining how he created Zidane to destroy the (or at least one) world, and souls have to migrate through a magical tree, and Zidane’s brother is another destroyer-monkey that apparently exists with an expiration date, and… Actually, come to think of it? Maybe this scene is a little complicated. This happens a lot in JRPGs: the crux of the plot involves a lot of metaphysical and metaphorical ideas, and there’s really no way to get that information to the player without evoking some kind of massive info dump. In this case, Final Fantasy 9 has wholly invented its own version of the afterlife/reincarnation, and, in order to simultaneously explain the details of that system and how the villains are gumming up the works, you basically need an introductory course on Final Fantasy 9’s religion. Christians don’t know how easy they have it when they can just toss off a line like, “I’ll send you to Hell!” without having to follow it with, “Which is a location where the greatest sinners are eternally tortured by Satan, a demon that once fell from Grace when…”

BORKBut what is being explained isn’t important (sorry about the previous paragraph, I’ll try not to waste your time with asides in the future… wait! Dammit!), what’s important to the entire genre is how it’s being explained. Garland is not confined to a mere text box, nor is Garland a giant cut-out that encompasses half the screen. Garland is hovering across a magical mushroom patch (or… something) and explaining the why of Final Fantasy 9 while “escaping” Zidane. This is inevitably leading to a showdown of some sort, and requires the player to actively “play” while listening to Garland. Want to know more? Of course you do! Follow the floating evil dude. You’re actively playing a videogame, after all, and a role-playing game at that. You think Zidane wants to know more? Of course he does! You’re playing as Zidane! Your goals are one in the same. Now go on, scoot, follow that bearded knight and get the whole story. After all, if you’re Zidane, you’re part of the story.

And that’s something we never saw again.

The very next Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy 10 (yes, I know stating sequential numbers sounds obvious, but please remember that the next FF after that was Final Fantasy 10-2), relied on voice acting and dedicated cinema scenes for its plot advancement, thus making the franchise “like a movie”. And that’s great for anyone that uses their PS2 to play DVDs, but maybe not the best for the person picking up a controller to actually play a game. Regardless, we were all very excited about Final Fantasy 10, its movies, and other similar games like Metal Gear Solid 2 or Xenosaga. Game-movies are the future! It’s like the moving pictures! Videogames can finally be as respectable as Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2! Games are art! … Except we weren’t lauding the “game” part of our videogames, we were just excited about the occasional moments when a videogame could feature a mini-movie… and whether or not any sort of player participation was involved was completely moot. Grab some popcorn! It’s time to play a videogame!

PLORPBut I’m not telling you, dear audience, anything you don’t already know. We remember the bygone Playstation 2 years, and we remember the gradual drift from “movie games” back to “games you actually play”. Yes, we still deal with the latest games touting sparkling stars performing minor voice acting, or “deeply cinematic visuals”, but, by and large we’ve gotten away from action games just sitting back and letting Norman Reedus deliver a soliloquy about baby carrying… Except for in the genre that started this whole mess. JRPGs are still considered plot-delivery devices, and, whether you’re playing a game featuring a lady trying to organize her armies against a dragon goddess, or some title where everyone inexplicably wants to %&*# the dragons in a wildly different way, you still wind up with “sit here and watch” cinema scenes for everything from tea parties to castle storming. Somewhere along the line, it was determined that JRPGs are closer to visual novels than any other genre, and would you care to sit down and have some exposition today? It might be explaining a planet’s apocalyptic backstory, or it could simply be the recounting of a supporting player’s daddy issues, but it still means you’re just sitting there smacking X to advance.

And what’s worse? In the absence of the seemingly unlimited budget of pre-Spirits Within Square, everything has flattened out to this…

So brave

And it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a “retro-throwback”, or a JRPG so popular that it apparently earned its spot in Smash Bros history…

What a bunch of jokers

The directors of Final Fantasy 9 knew exactly what they were doing. Final Fantasy 9 is a game that never loses sight of being a videogame, and uses every “trick” that surfaced in the thirteen years that had passed since Final Fantasy. From multiple character animations, to dynamically moving villains, to even something as simple as “interrupting” text boxes, Final Fantasy 9 does everything it can to keep the player engaged in every conceivable way. After all, why would you bother with another goofy sidequest or “Active Time Event” if each wasn’t vibrant and remarkable?

Final Fantasy 9 truly was the end point of all JRPGs that came before. It’s just a shame it was also the end of the dynamic JRPG.

FGC #476 Final Fantasy 9

  • System: Playstation 1 in its first go, but it’s made it to the Playstation 3, Vita, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Switch in the intervening years. May I recommend any version that involves a fast forward button?
  • Number of players: Oddly enough, Final Fantasy 9 has the ability to assign combat controls to either controller port, so you can technically co-op play FF9. Yay! I called Vivi!
  • Remake Reproblems: I very much appreciate everything that is involved in the HD remake of Final Fantasy 9. Fast forwarding is amazing for a game that has always had absurdly slow combat. Automatically maxing your levels and abilities for when you don’t feel like grinding from square one is something I have wanted forever. And the graphical touchups add a new volume to a game that a lot of us originally played on ancient televisions that could barely handle three colors. But, man oh man, someone didn’t put nearly enough time into making sure the new HD sprites match the “HD” cinematics. Some of the most dramatic scenes in this game now appear to be animated by the folks behind Monty Python, and it’s not the best look.
  • HUNGRY!Cool Car: Your final airship is the Invincible, a destructive “monster ship” from Zidane’s home planet (and another Final Fantasy reference). It is also the ship that obliterated Princess Dagger’s home on two separate occasions. Dagger lampshades the situation if you chat with her aboard your new ride, but it’s still more than a little weird that the first princess of PTSD is totally cool with riding around on her own personal atomic bomb.
  • Favorite Dungeon: Gizamaluke’s Grotto is the best name for a dungeon ever, and I will hear no objections to this apparent fact. The fact that it contains multiple exits and a moogle wedding is just gravy.
  • What’s in a name: Pumice is the stone that eventually allows you to summon the combat airship, Ark. However, in the original Japanese, Pumice is known as the “Floating Stone”. That makes a lot more sense for this franchise.
  • What’s in a name Part 2: One of Kuja’s pet dragons, Nova Dragon, was originally named Shinryu, ala the chief reptilian super boss of the series. Given Nova Dragon provides such a lackluster fight, It’s probably for the best that this one got changed…
  • So, did you beat it: I got everything on the original hardware, including the Strategy Guide that is a reward for murdering the super boss. And I did that all without a real strategy guide, because the official strategy guide for Final Fantasy 9 is the worst thing to ever happen to the medium.
  • But you still own it, right? I got the collector’s edition!
    I hate this thing

    Visit Playonline for more information on how my life is a lie!
  • Did you know? There are nine knights of Pluto! And Pluto is the ninth planet in our solar system. Or… at least it used to be…
  • Would I play again: This… is not my favorite Final Fantasy title. I love exactly what it did, but the speed of everything kills me, and my knowledge of all those sidequests I’m ignoring if I ever want to finish the game again within my lifetime is terrible for my conscience. Final Fantasy 9, you’re an amazing game, but I just can’t deal with you right now.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Stretch Panic for the Playstation 2! …. God dammit. Please look forward to it, if you must.

WARK

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #15: Re Mind and DLC

So Kingdom Hearts 3: Re⏀Mind is DLC that is now available. What’s KH’s first DLC like?

I refuse to answer a question that comes from an incorrect premise.

Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Goggle Bob?

In a way, Kingdom Hearts has never not had DLC. The original Kingdom Hearts (1) had three different versions before we ever saw a sequel. It started with OG Japanese Kingdom Hearts, and then graduated to Kingdom Hearts: USA Version. Yes, in the original version of Kingdom Hearts, there was no Sephiroth, no sequel-teasing special movie, and a distinct lack of Kurt Zisa (don’t ask). This inevitably led to Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, a Japanese version of the game that included all of the American content, a handful of new enemies/challenges, a smattering of mute cutscenes, and, most importantly, a secret boss and secret reports that more distinctly alluded to plot points of Kingdom Hearts 2, then still three years away from release. Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix even set the standard of sticking the next game’s final boss in a nondescript coat, and turning him (inevitably “him”) into a super difficult, super confusing battle. Yes! It was “DLC” that established KH’s love of zippered coats!

Wow! DLC in the bygone year of 2002? Wasn’t that pretty great?

Slice 'n DiceHell no. Unfortunately, this was the bad ol’ days of “full game ‘DLC’” releases (see also: Devil May Cry 3). If you wanted to see any of the new content (or, at least, any of the content that was actually worthwhile), you had to replay the game from scratch again, because every new version was technically a whole new game. It didn’t matter if you had a Level 100 Sora in Kingdom Hearts, you needed to grind all over again in Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix. No way you’re going to conquer that “bonus content” otherwise…

So you’re saying no one responsible for the Persona series’ last three entries ever suffered through Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix?

Yep. More’s the pity.

But at least you got more Kingdom Hearts content!

Well, not so much, either. Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix was initially never released outside Japan, so if you wanted that “Kingdom Hearts DLC”, say, because you were a bored college student sinking fast in the merit-based quagmire of the American educational system and you required Kingdom Hearts to bring your life meaning, you were pretty much out of luck unless you wanted to learn Japanese and pay exorbitant import fees.

Well, at least that only happened to Kingdom Hearts 1… Right?

Nope! Kingdom Hearts 2 had a similar trajectory. In fact, Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix had an even more alluring collection of “DLC”: it featured an all-new dungeon, rematches against the significant bosses of KH2, the prerequisite mysterious bonus boss battle, and all-new 3-D models of all the Organization XIII baddies that died alone and 2-D in the previous GBA game (Chain of Memories), so you could fight them “for real” in the Kingdom Hearts 2 engine. Oh, and the game included a full 3-D remake of that GBA game, too.

Wow! That is a lot of content!

Yep! And it didn’t make it across the Pacific, either. We did eventually get that GBA-PS2 remake on the PS2, though… but only as its own, separate budget release. No Kingdom Hearts 2 Lingering Will super battle for American folks.

Boo! Boo I say!

Stupid WhaleBoo indeed! And this continued to be the new normal for the franchise. Birth by Sleep (the PSP one) Final Mix featured upgrades like a battle against Pinochio’s Monstro, Coded got Re:Coded, and, in the end, it seems that poor Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was the only Kingdom Hearts title to not see any gameplay changes after its initial release. … And that is the case only because it was repurposed as exclusively cinema scenes for the inevitable HD release. I shudder to think how many secret boss battles could have been squeezed in there if someone decided to properly convert the DS game.

So did America ever see any of this “DLC”?

Not for a very long time. But we did eventually see all of this content with the 1.5/2.5 HD remasters that were released in 2013/2014. Now, as of 2017, you can play all of this bonus content on your Playstation 4 as part of the Kingdom Hearts Complete compilation. So it only took an extra console generation, a whole new title, and XIII years for America to see Kingdom Hearts DLC. Seems about right!

So you’re saying we should consider ourselves lucky that this DLC is a worldwide release and only $30?

Yes. Please bring Nomura gilded zippers as an offering of goodwill.

So how does Kingdom Hearts 3: Re¤Mind shake out?

KISS!Your mileage may vary, but, as these things go, this seems to be pretty beefy DLC. First of all, there’s the signature “Final Mix” difficulty mode, this time allowing for some interesting challenges or lack of challenges. You can make the game more difficult by adding conditions like a HP drain, or make the game easier with one-hit kills for your opponents. It’s like a built-in Game Genie! There’s also a boss rush of some significant opponents, and the requisite secret boss du jour. And there’s an expansion to the “photo mode” of the original game, with the ability to set up dioramas so you can see what it would look like if Riku and Sora kissed in new and interesting worlds. We’ve also got additional keyblades, Oathkeeper and Oblivion, that were conspicuously absent during the initial release, and some additional battle options that manage to change the entire feeling of Sora’s combat. … Actually, I think those items are free as part of the DLC’s update, but it’s really hard to keep track of what is what. I know for certain that the new plot elements are part of the DLC, though!

A new plot?

Well, “new” is kind of a misnomer here. On one hand, for the first time in a Kingdom Hearts “Final Mix” situation, there is a significant amount of entirely new voice acting, new cinema scenes, and wholly new scenarios (you get to play as new characters!), on the other hand, almost all of this content is in some way “recycled” from the main game. Most of what you’ll find in ReØMind is either something that was already in KH3 but now seen from a different perspective, or a battle repurposed from its original context. The first bit of gameplay in KH3: RM is a struggle against what was previously the only wholly optional heartless in KH3, and that seems to be stating an opening mission statement of repurposing many of KH3’s “scraps” into complete meals.

So it’s just warmed up leftovers?

Yes, Kingdom Hearts 3: Re⍟Mind is leftovers. But they’re super delicious leftovers. This is some prime rib going in your lasagna leftover repurposing.

Is… is that something you actually eat?

With gusto.

So do the new plot details at least offer something new for fans?

Nope!

What the hell!?

I know, right? Kingdom Hearts 3 ended on a very confusing finale. Here’s where the spoilers for the franchise start in earnest…

FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3

Stay dampHow the hell do you screw up friggin’ time travel!?

Okay, to be clear, we’re not talking about how do you screw up while time traveling. A healthy 80% of all time travel fiction is based entirely on this concept, and, give or take a Time Cop, that’s always a good time. It’s the human condition, right? You go back in time with your intricate future knowledge of how you’re going to make everything better, make a few changes here and there, and Bob’s your uncle, Hitler is president. Whoops! I think we all learned a valuable lesson about not messing with the natural order of things (and I would seriously like to speak to whichever time traveler is responsible for our current political situation).

No, what we’re focusing on today is how you mess up a story that involves time travel. After all, time travel is one of the best tropes in all of storytelling. Want to change the past? Duh! We all do! But changing the past (and hopefully avoiding Hitler) isn’t the only option available with time travel. Want to see the future? Or drop that text book, and experience the past like a tourist? Or how about traveling through time to prevent a “bad future”? Did anyone order a child from an alternate timeline? Hell, let’s go nuts, screw up the timeline, and see an alternate reality where bad is good and good is wearing ill-fitting leather. Time travel opens the door to any number of wonderful tropes and stories! And leather!

FIGHT!And let me tell you a secret about time travel stories: don’t ever try to figure them out. Time travel is always, always going to be a complete mishmash of conflicting ideas and contradictions with the very concept of cause and effect. And that’s fine! It’s time travel! It breaks all the physical rules of the universe, it may as well also cause a broken brain. So don’t bother trying to figure out how there can be more than one Trunks at one time, or how you can’t wrap a gun in beef shank and bring it to the past, or why the hell bringing a teenager on a time travel expedition would ever make sense. It’s all just nonsense from the moment someone goes back to the future, and you’re expected to not think too hard about how Bruce Banner accidentally invented the fountain of youth while trying to quantum leap. You can’t ruin time travel by not properly following the rules for a fictional event. Time travel is the Wild West of storytelling, and you’re perfectly justified in claiming that if two time travelers kiss, they instantly become horny lizards or something. It’s cool! That’s just how time travel works in this universe, and they’re going to have a wonderful little reptilian family. Be happy for the lizards!

And time travel can be amazing in videogames. Videogame narratives by their very nature must be linear. You can have a flashback in Lost, Breaking Bad, or [please insert name of show that premiered in the last decade], but that simply doesn’t work in a videogame. If Mega Man has a “flashback level” to before the adventure started, he’ll lose all his sweet robot master weapons and extra lives. And that just wouldn’t do! It’s even worse in JRPGs, where experience is key, and your character must start at level zero. A flashback in a JRPG would never fly, because your hero has to start as a blank slate, or, at the very least, an inexperienced townie. Seeing some “ten years earlier” with a child that somehow knows Ultima is not even a possibility.

WORM!But time travel? That’s how you meet the past. Swing on back, take your time in a special dungeon or town, and meet all the villains before they became corrupted by malevolent fog. Or use time travel in new and interesting ways, like by changing subtle items in the past to greatly influence the future. Plant some beans. Break some walls. Distract the guy building the wall. Time travel opens all sorts of avenues. And in your better games, time travel offers entire worlds. Here’s the craptastic present, an even more rotten future, and a glorious past that you can restore with a little elbow grease (and giant swords). But at least there are lasers in the future! That should help you save the day. Just remember to take your time and explore every nook and cranny to discover the difference between these disparate time periods!

Final Fantasy Legend 3 seems to present itself as such. Right from the start, you are introduced to our quartet of heroes, three of which hail from a future approximately fifteen years ahead. Our fourth warrior is a woman from the present, where the rest of the gang has been raised and trained after being smuggled back with the aid of a mutant professor and his time machine. Everyone is informed that the world is being flooded by a nebulous evil god/master (pick your translation), and it is now their job to travel between the past, present, and future to find enough pieces of that time machine to lift off and launch a missile right into this damp god’s face. And that’s a great excuse for an adventure! It promises three different time periods (and thus three different worlds) all in the midst of this forever flood. And, bonus, as the game progresses, we’re also granted the ability to dive beneath the waves, so there’s a full trio of underwater “worlds”, too. Let’s see how that coral reef has developed over thirty years!

So it’s kind of a shame when it all turns out to be bullshit.

Painful!Here’s the basic flow of Final Fantasy Legend 3: You start in the Present, and venture through a tower. This grants you the ability to go back in time. Now you can participate in a rescue mission in the Past that guarantees an old lady and a young girl will be alive in the future (present). Back to the Present, and it’s time to waddle around another tower or two. This allows travel to the Future, where some helpful future townsfolk grant the ability to access a floating continent. The floating continent, you’re told, does not have “time”, so it is an area that does not have a past, present, or future. Then it’s off to Heaven (Pureland) and Hell (Underworld), which are under similar time restrictions. These three areas (Floatland, Pureland, and Underworld) contain a healthy 60%-75% of the dungeons in the game, and, as part of the finale, they’re going to be the largest/longest dungeons as well.

Did you see what happened there? This is a story that introduces a time machine from the first moment, and then doesn’t even use the damn thing for at least half the game!

That’s how you screw up a time travel story, dear readers. If you’ve got a time machine, and you’re not using it, you’re doing something wrong. Use all the toys in your toy chest, and never turn your time machine into a glorified airship. Final Fantasy Legend 3 dropped the ball, but you don’t have to.

But if you do mess up, just go back in time and try again. At least it would make a good story.

FGC #460 Final Fantasy Legend 3

  • System: Gameboy. There were actually two different versions, one published by Square in 1993, and another rereleased by Sunsoft in 1998 (because a certain game made Final Fantasy a tweak more popular). Both versions are exactly the same, give or take some terrible cartridge art.
  • Number of players: Four party members, one consistent guest character, but only one player.
  • So mysticMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Disappointing plot aside, Final Fantasy Legend 3 is easily the most accessible of the Final Fantasy Legend titles. This makes sense, as this is right about when this “version” of SaGa branched off to form Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, and SaGa continued on in a different form on the Playstation 1. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Regardless, this is the rare SaGa/FFL game that doesn’t require a friggen chart to map out character progression, so it’s fun for a girl or a boy.
  • But the equipment system still sucks, right? Oh my yes. I might cheat my way into perfect stats just so I never have to manage the inventory ever again.
  • Favorite… form? You have a lot of options for character customization. No, wait, scratch that. You have a lot of options for whether you would like your party to devour gears and cogs to become robots. Or you can eat a hunk of meat and become a man-bat. You’ve got options. Regardless, the worm is the best choice, as he’s a friendly looking lil’ dude. For a monster.
  • Did you know? There was a DS remake of FFL3, and it never made its way over to Western shores. But some dedicated fans translated SaGa 3 Jiku no Hasha: Shadow or Light, and now you can play the dang thing in English. Hooray for our side! Literally!
  • Would I play again: I want to say there is a JRPG from the 90’s that uses time travel a little more effectively, so I’ll pass on this legendary adventure.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Space Harrier for the 32X! That’s going to be a mammoth of a good time. Please look forward to it!

CHOMP

FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3

KingDUMB FARTS IIISo it’s time to talk about Disney, Kingdom Hearts 3, Google, and whether or not I am afraid for my very existence.

By my reckoning, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first “pure” Kingdom Hearts title since Kingdom Hearts 1. No, I’m not talking about how the cast of Kingdom Hearts 3 is as white as freshly Frozen snow; what I am referring to is that the “worlds” of Kingdom Hearts 3 are, for the first time since the original Kingdom Hearts, entirely dictated by the directors of the title. Okay, yes, that was technically always true, but there were mitigating factors in other titles. Kingdom Hearts 2 clearly reused a number of Kingdom Hearts 1 worlds/models/actors to save on production time. Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days, and (Re)Coded all remixed worlds from 1 and 2 for plot purposes. Birth by Sleep featured Disney worlds that were either really old classic films (like Cinderella), or “prequel” situations (like a Lilo & Stitch world before Stitch finds Lilo). And Dream Drop Distance may have once had a chance, but its world choices (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tron, Fantasia, Three Mouseketeers, Pinocchio) felt like a series of vignettes someone (likely Nomura) just wanted to see “done” before the franchise wrapped up in “real” Kingdom Hearts 3 (dude has been trying to get Chernabog to fit in somewhere for decades). So, with literally every other title out of the running, it is pretty safe to say Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first Kingdom Hearts title in quite a few years that wasn’t dictated by an overwhelming need for everyone to pal around with Aladdin for the fortieth time.

This creates an interesting math opportunity (a nerd’s favorite opportunity!): what is the median age of our featured Disney franchises?

HERCULES!For Kingdom Hearts 1, we have…

Pinocchio (1940)
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Peter Pan (1953)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Aladdin (1992)
The Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Disney’s Tarzan (1999)

And, for the sake of completion, let’s note that Kingdom Hearts 1’s earliest release was March of 2002 (America saw it by September).

Look around!Kingdom Hearts 3 is a little different…

Toy Story (1995)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Monsters Inc. (2001)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Tangled (2010)
Frozen (2013)
Big Hero Six (2014)

And Kingdom Hearts 3 itself was released in January of 2019.

Now let’s crunch some sweet, sweet numbers! Kingdom Hearts 1 seems to contain three worlds based on “classic” properties, and the rest are for 90’s kids. If we include all of the worlds, the average world/franchise was 25 years old as of the release of its featured game. If we eliminate the “classic” titles, though, the average world is 8 years old as of Kingdom Hearts’ release. The reason I note this is that we have stupid monkey brains, and, for most people reading this article, The Little Mermaid feels like it was released a hundred billion years ago, and maybe being reminded it was slightly more current when we first saw Kingdom Hearts (1) is important. Also worth noting, the absolute oldest franchise involved is 62 years back, but of the “current” crop, it’s only 13 years. The newest title involved is only 3 years old.

Pirates!Applying the same calculations to Kingdom Hearts 3, we see an average age of 14 years for every franchise involved. Dropping the classic worlds (anything over fifteen years old… and man, it hurts me to refer to Disney’s Hercules as “classic”), we see an average age of (rounding up from 6.66) 7 years. That is very close to Kingdom Hearts 1’s average of 8. And the preceding average makes more sense with its oldest game being only 24 years old (Toy Story a bit more contemporary than Pinocchio), and our most recent movie is 5 years old.

What does it all mean? Well, allowing for outliers, on average, the worlds of Kingdom Hearts 1 and Kingdom Hearts 3 cover roughly the same time frame of movies relative to their release. Or, put in SAT form, The Nightmare Before Christmas : Kingdom Hearts 1 :: Tangled : Kingdom Hearts 3. On average, both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 3 feature roughly the same range of refugees from the Disney Vault.

And what does that mean? It means Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t for me.

FLARE!Kingdom Hearts 1 spoke to my childhood. Kingdom Hearts hit a college-age Goggle Bob, and said, “Hey, remember when you were six and had a crush on Ariel? Remember when you wanted to be Aladdin? Remember when Tim Burton inspired your decade long mall-goth phase? Remember going on one of your first dates to Tarzan? And how you probably would have gone on more dates at that point in your life, but you still were stuck in that mall-goth phase? ‘Member?” Kingdom Hearts was an amazing game on its own, but its Disney Cast was summoned almost precisely to satisfy my own childhood nostalgia. And, given I was just the right age where I would start fondly remembering childish things (as opposed to being the cranky teen that totally wasn’t into that cartoon crap, mom), Kingdom Hearts hit the serotonin sectors of my brain faster and harder than any kid with a keyblade and a turbo x-button ever could.

Kingdom Hearts 3? Not so much. I did not gape in amazement when Elsa bust into Let it Go. I did not feel any excitement when Baymax flew onto the scene. And I certainly didn’t give a damn when Rapunzel tromped around the forest carrying an impossible amount of hair. I saw all of these movies. I liked all of these movies. But did I feel anywhere near the same level of joy at seeing these characters now realized in current-gen Playstation graphics and palling around with me, the smart and handsome player? No. It was another level. I may have been interested in what was going to happen next, but it was less “Oh boy! It’s Oogie Boogie!” and more “Oh, I bet we’re not going to get the tavern song, because, while that was enjoyable, it is not essential to the overall plot or the broader themes of Kingdom Hearts 3.” The featured movies of Kingdom Hearts 3 are merely pleasant, they are not my singular, can-never-be-replaced childhood.

And that’s fine! Not everything in the world needs to appeal to me or my generation! It’s good that Kingdom Hearts as a franchise is moving forward, and we don’t have to rehash why Jafar is back for the third time. It’s good that a whole new generation gets to see their heroes and villains up on the Square-Enix stage. This is, ultimately, a good thing.

But it’s not a good thing that the other half of the Kingdom Hearts equation got kicked to the curb.

Yes, I’m talking about this dork.

Leon!

Kingdom Hearts hit all the right beats to make me revel in the joys of my childhood. While I would have never admitted it at the time, it also hit the “childhood nostalgia” I had for a mere handful of years prior: the golden age of the Playstation JRPG. Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8 were as much my teenage years as The Little Mermaid or Aladdin defined the years prior. So when Squall, Cloud, and even wee Tidus popped out of the post-ending void of their respective titles and back into even a cameo-based role, I was elated. All my old friends were back! Bring it in, guys! I’d even put up with a horribly-mangled reinterpretation of Setzer Gabbiani if it meant I got to see any luminaries from my beloved Final Fantasy 6 cast again. And this carried through to the interesting bits of The World Ends with You in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, too. It was always fun to see some Square nostalgia, even if it didn’t add up to much. It was textbook fanservice, but it wasn’t like anyone was playing Kingdom Hearts for the plot (cough).

Disney the Poof!And now it’s gone. Kingdom Hearts 3 only features characters that were either created by Disney, or were created within the confines of the Kingdom Hearts universe, so they’re just legally created by Disney. Mind you, that’s a whole separate thing from how Disney never “created” Pinocchio or Aladdin or Rapunzel; it just created a version of that timeless character, copyrighted it, and decided to sue anyone that tried to use that character ever again. I’m sorry, what is the hair color of your chosen mermaid? Red? Yes, we’re going to have to issue a cease and desist.

Wait a tick. Maybe this isn’t a whole separate thing. Maybe it’s the only thing.

And it’s the only thing because now Disney is the only thing.

I am writing this puke o’ words essay shortly after Disney’s nigh-complete acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Disney now owns the film rights to The X-Men. Disney already owned the print rights to The X-Men, as they acquired Marvel Comics ten years ago. And do you remember a time that “the latest Marvel movie” wasn’t just the latest Disney release? Iron Man (the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that would eventually earn all of the money with The Avengers) was not a Disney release. That history is gone, though, now, and, soon enough, people will imagine Logan or Deadpool started as Disney properties. You’ll certainly be able to buy Deadpool plushies at Disney World. And the same will be thought of Star Wars. The Simpsons. The entire city of Atlanta, for some reason. Definitely the entire state of Florida. Disney lashes its tentacles wide, and writes contract after contract until it owns the very seas. Also, please look forward to The Little Mermaid 4: Ursula Wasn’t So Bad, coming Winter 2022.

Yummy!And Kingdom Hearts 3 reminds us all why this is a bad thing. If Disney doesn’t want something, then damn tradition, the audience, or even the creators having a say in the matter. Do you think anyone at Square-Enix wanted to drop its de facto mascots Cloud or Sephiroth from the proceedings? Do you think they didn’t want to promote the star of their latest Final Fantasy title? Could we live in a world where even the slightest hint of NieR: Automata, one of many of Square-Enix’s top selling games from the last five years, exists in the Kingdom Hearts universe? Could we please include Emil, the good boy? We could, but Square-Enix was not going to disagree with Disney for even a second. Sure, there may be DLC or remixes or whatever in the future, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fine example of how it is going to be now: Disney is in charge, Disney would like to see its needs met, and no one cares about literally anything but Disney. Cloud has to tie-off a plot decades in the making? No he doesn’t. We want that one Disney rat to have a cooking game, and that’s where resources are going to go.

And that’s why Google Strata scares me.

Wait, crap, sorry, got ahead of myself on that point.

The other thing that happened just recently is the announcement of Google’s new gaming console, the Strata. Or maybe just Strata? Have I become my grandmother, and I can only say “The ‘Intendo” from now on? Regardless! The Strata is Google’s latest attempt at conquering a brand new market, and, by all accounts, it is going to be a streaming-based experience. Like the abandoned original plans for the Xbox One, it will have absolutely zero physical media. And, like Netflix, you will simply use the service to stream a digital library, and will never “own” a distinct game on the platform. Essentially, the Google Strata will be a super-amazing gaming console perfect for the radical gamers of the 21st century… and the minute Google stops supporting it (or your internet connection drops out), it will be about as useful as a toaster. Oh, wait, my bad. It will be less useful than a toaster, as a toaster can at least warm up my mittens on a cold morning (Editor’s note: Goggle Bob does not understand toast).

He made that!And, while I am certainly upset that Strata will do nothing for my videogame hording habits, my biggest issue with the service (that only exists in a theoretical state as of this moment) is that it will be completely beholden to the whims of Google. Like the Apple app store before them, Google will inevitably have complete control over who is able to publish games to its storefront. Google will also have absolute control over when those games may be removed. And if this sounds like some kind of Big Brother-based paranoia, and you would like to imagine a world where Google “does no evil” and is completely hands-off in its monopoly of its own service: consider that Google will have technical control over what games can stream, but, more importantly, it would have complete control over how this content is monetized and advertised (at least within the service). And, let’s not kid ourselves, no one is going to keep a game up on a streaming service if the service has literally made it impossible for said game to make money.

And once a game built for a streaming service is gone from said streaming service? Well that’s gone forever.

Just like Squall and Cloud and all of Sora’s Square brethren.

Look, I know I’m being overly apocalyptic here. Even using Kingdom Hearts 3 as my example seems disingenuous on some level, because there are pretty good odds literally anything missing from Kingdom Hearts 3 could be added as DLC (that, incidentally, I will pay cash money for, because I want my nostalgia back at any cost). And it’s not the end of the world that a game or two gets lost from a streaming service, because there’s always another game to play, and Kingdom Hearts 4 Princes for 258 Brides is just around the corner to keep me occupied. But… well… I care about videogames. I care about the forgotten. Looks like funGod help me, I care about Squall “Leon” Leonhart, and I care about that all those arcade games we’re never going to see again because their technology is too annoying to emulate. And, yes, I preemptively care about all the Google Strata games that are going to be exclusive to the system, and then lost to time because Google will eventually decide Gmail ads would be more profitable. It may sound crazy, but, yeah, I care about crazy things. I care about the plot of Kingdom Hearts.

So… uh… what was this article about? Oh yeah! Kingdom Hearts 3! Yeah, I liked the game. It might not be made for my age group, but it was a fun experience. And, incidentally, the mere fact that Sephiroth wound up on the cutting room floor apparently made me doubt my beliefs and very place in the world. Cloud skips one game, and my brain feels like some manner of burned bread.

Gee, it’s almost like videogames are important.

FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3

  • System: Playstation 4. And I guess some arcane magics summoned it to the Xbox One, too.
  • Number of players: I still say that Kingdom Hearts could be the next Secret of Mana, and its “childish” appeal would be ideal for siblings or friends playing the title together. But, nope, just one player.
  • So it has come to this, a Kingdom Hearts FGC entry? Hey, after 400 or so, I can bend the rules a bit. This started out as a sort of Kingdom Hearts FAQ addendum from the question (that I only asked myself): “Why does Big Hero 6 make me feel like an old man? Is Kingdom Hearts 3 for babies?” From there, I decided to address the lack of Square-Enix characters, and… things kind of snowballed. I feel like this essay is a little too heady for the light and plot-based tone of the Kingdom Hearts FAQ entries, so here we are. Categorizing things is hard!
  • These dorksFavorite World: Big Hero 6 felt like it received the most fully-realized world. It felt like an appropriate “sequel” to the movie, all the memorable characters were included (really did not think Honey Lemon or Wasabi would make the cut), and its general geography allowed for a Crackdown-esque level of gameplay not seen elsewhere in the title. And, if Big Hero 6 is visited as the last world, it actually makes thematic sense that Sora is now experienced and training other heroes like Hercules did with Sora on his first world. Symmetry!
  • Completionist: I enjoy playing Kingdom Hearts games, but it is going to be a while before I revisit every damn world looking for hidden mickeys or ingredients. This game really needs an Arkham-esque informant system that is going to at least point me in the right direction to find where some teeny blood oranges wound up amongst multiple planets.
  • Shoot ‘em Up: The new Gummi Ship levels are cool! And micromanaging my ship to make sure it is always the proper level to actually survive some of the random encounters is not! Zero-sum Gummi Ship!
  • Over thereDid you know? I did not note Winnie the Pooh’s appearance in the timeline of Kingdom Hearts worlds because Winnie the Pooh is omnipresent, and all bask in his ever-burning glow. His desire for honey will outlive us all.
  • Would I play again: You know what I really want to do? Replay every Kingdom Hearts title in in-game chronological order. I would also like infinity time to do such a thing. It’s… not gonna happen. But I might replay Kingdom Hearts 3 at some point. It’s mostly fun!

What’s next? I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. The next few titles covered on the FGC will be games I don’t technically own, because they are impossible to own. We’re going to spend some time looking at games that are generally unattainable due to various copyright, distribution, and emulation issues. First up, Spider-Man: The Video Game. Please look forward to it!