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Kingdom Hearts FAQ #01: Ansem

A man to be laughed atQ. Who is Ansem?
A. That’s a very simple question! Here’s a succinct, 1,200 or so word answer on “Ansem”, in chronological, Kingdom Hearts history order.

In the beginning, “Ansem” started out as Xehanort, a terribly named young man who became a keyblade master. Fun fact: Xehanort is from Destiny Islands, the same home planet/island as the KH protagonist, Sora, and I’m sure the series will never use this fact as a last minute plot “twist”. Anyway, Xehanort was granted time travel powers by his future self, in a lovely predestination paradox that seems to be the only crossover with Gargoyles that KH is going to commit to. More about Young Man Xehanort will be covered later, but suffice it to say he somehow fails (despite having time travel powers and seeming control over, basically, the universe), and grows up into…

Portrait of a keyblade master as an old manOld Man Xehanort, as voiced by Leonard Nimoy. Since the entirely of Birth by Sleep is basically the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (obviously foreshadowing Disney’s eventual acquisition of the Star Wars Universe) Old Man X is basically Emperor Palpatine. OMX spends the entire game as a “kindly old keyblade master” who is so dripping with evil he is literally followed by unimaginable monsters, though the heroes of the tale kind of don’t notice. Over the course of the game, the mysterious Mr. X first tried to pull Keyblade Apprentice Ventus (the original Sora) over to the darkside, but failed, and simply created a bizarro clone of Ventus named Vanitas (the first clone of Sora). Vanitas was a bust for some reason, so then Darth Xehanort moved on to tempting Keyblade Apprentice Terra over to the world of evil. This actually succeeded because Terra loved his friends so much he just had to kill Obi-Wan (as played by Mark Hamill).

Why don't you cry about it?Now this is where it gets complicated: Old Man Xehanort was using Terra the entire time so the old man could gain a young man’s body. Wait, phrasing, Xehanort wanted to literally possess the body of Terra, and did so. So Terra’s soul got suppressed, and Old Man Xehanort became Terra-Xehanort for a hot minute. This led to Keyblade Apprentice Aqua beating Terra-Xehanort so hard he literally could not remember who he was. Amnesiac-Terra-Xehanort is then discovered by Ansem the Wise, who immediately disproves his own name and hires Amnesiac-Terra-Xehanort as his assistant, thus transforming the villain into Lab Coat Xehanort.

Looking scienceyLab Coat Xehanort basically becomes the magical Dr. Mengele of the Square universe. In an act that can only occur in backstory and must never be seriously analyzed, Lab Coat Xehanort turns Ansem the Wise’s entire staff into a bunch of crazy monsters, tosses Ansem the Wise into the Realm of Darkness, steals Ansem’s name despite the fact that he is surrounded by people who knew the original Ansem, and then “unlocks the darkness in his own heart” or whatever and splits himself into two separate beings, Heartless Ansem and Nobody Xemnas. Then he went out for smokes for a decade.

By the era of Kingdom Hearts 1, Heartless Ansem, calling himself Ansem, orchestrates the entirety of Kingdom Hearts I, attempting to swallow the total KH universe into darkness, because that’s what you do when you’re the pure darkside of an already bad guy. Heartless Ansem clashes with the newest keyblade wielder, Sora, who has the sleeping soul of Ventus in there for whatever reason. Sora’s rival is another keyblade wielder, Riku, who once received the key-blessing of Terra. Riku is eventually totally possessed by Heartless Ansem, because Ansem-Xehanort can’t seem to get enough of this whole You recognize this one“possessing random teenagers” bit. At around that point, Sora is transformed into a Heartless by Heartless Ansem-Riku, but Sora recovers; however this random bit leads to the creation of Nobody Roxas, which will be important (sorta) later. Anyway, Sora beats Heartless Ansem senseless with his keyblade, Riku is freed of Ansem’s control, and Heartless Ansem is evaporated by the light that is Kingdom Hearts. Heartless Ansem is dead and gone forever.

Meanwhile, toward the end of KHI, Nobody Xemnas (the seventh “Ansem”) grabs Nobody Roxas (the fourth Sora) for his own nefarious purposes. Xemnas has this whole group of Ansem the Wise’s former trainees, called Organization XIII, and they’re all interested in turning the moon into a heart or something, because they’re Nobodies without emotions, and that makes them sad and angry. Sad lil dudeSo Sora is led into Castle Oblivion, where he must fight another Sora clone, about half of Organization 13, and then have his memory erased, because amnesia is the grease that keeps the Kingdom Hearts wheels rolling. Riku is thrust into the basement of the castle, and finds that he now has the ability to transform into Heartless Ansem. So, to be clear, Riku is another Ansem. Riku also meets DiZ, which stands for… seriously? Okay… Darkness in Zero. DiZ is secretly Ansem the Wise, now cosplaying as Batman’s lesser (least) nemesis, Hush.

But while this is all happening, Xemnas has inducted Roxas into Organization 13. Roxas is, ya know, doing whatever, chilling, eating ice cream, hanging with his buddy Xion, that kind of thing, for about a year. Then all heck breaks loose when it turns out that Xion was secretly a failed clone of Roxas (so, Sora #5, #6 if you count that other clone). Because you can only photocopy a photocopy so many times, Xion kind of breaks down into nonexistence so hard no one even remembers she was ever alive, and Roxas has a giant freak-out that leads to Riku going full Dark Ansem just in time to make the opening of Kingdom Hearts 2 really confusing.

Air Boat?Roxas is now trapped in The Matrix by DiZ and Dark Ansem-Riku. Roxas realizes he’s The One after a very exciting essay on “what I did on my Summer vacation”, and then pretty much ceases to exist just in time for Sora to come back to be the hero. The remaining members of Organization XIII go stomping around the universe, generally stirring up trouble, and Sora beats them down in turn. Finally, Nobody Xemnas reveals himself as being behind everything, and it’s all another ploy to create Kingdom Hearts, or find Kingdom Hearts, or something or other. What’s important is that DiZ, aka Ansem the Wise, sacrifices himself to transform Dark Ansem-Riku back into Shadow the Hedgehog Regular-Riku, and then Riku and Sora just straight up murder Nobody Xemnas, because he didn’t have a heart anyway, so it’s okay. This means that, finally, the last Ansem is dead, and the galaxy is at peace.

You're gonna be eternal, all rightExcept not so much. Death in the Kingdom Hearts universe is kind of confused: If someone is split into a heartless and a nobody, and then the heartless and nobody are killed, it becomes some kind of double negative thing, so the original “person” comes back to life. In Xehanort’s case the whole of the universe had a compile error or something, and it spat out another twelve or so Xehanorts. Seriously, Old Man Xehanort came back to life, and then used previously-never-mentioned time travel abilities to stock his all-new, all-better Organization 13 with at least four other versions of himself (“himself” now being a word that has absolutely no meaning). Two other Org XIII members are hangers on from the last Org, and the other six are mysteries because we’ve gotta have something to speculate on before the release of Kingdom Hearts 3. Xehanort (the young one, I think) tried to possess Sora and make him member #13, thus joining the great line of Too Many Soras with The Ansems All The Way Down, but he failed, as Xehanorts are want to do.

And now we’re all gearing up for the final KH chapter as the forces of light (Soras) battle the forces of darkness (Ansems) for the final fate of… wait… there are Disney characters in this franchise?

Roar!

FGC #006 Batman: Arkham City

Shway viewThere are many things that I want to do, but know will never happen, and one of those things is be cryogenically frozen.

Hey, you’re gonna dream, dream big.

I am, and have always been, someone who believes the future is only getting better. I don’t believe the apocalypse is just around the corner, and I don’t believe we are experiencing some low point in human history due to the propagation of violence, low morals, and Taco Bell. I am about thirty years old, and I look at what the world was at my childhood, and where we are now, and I am blown away by the simple fact that myself, my children, and my children’s children will never have to waste their entire lives trying to remember who played the wife in Beetlejuice (Geena Davis). I would love nothing more than a guaranteed, one way ticket to the future, if only to see where this whole humanity thing is going, and experience the inevitable leaps in technology and information and maybe jetpacks.

And while the “technology” of the future (would someone from the early 1900’s even identify social media as “technology”?) would be more than worth the price of admission, I would be genuinely fascinated by what culture from today has survived or even thrived in the hearts and minds of future generations. I just recently discovered that the novel The Giver was published in 1993. I read The Giver in, I believe, 1995 or 1996 or thereabouts, as part of the grade school curriculum, and assumed, at the time, that it was an ancient tome on par with most of our reading assignments, some of which were written well before this century. Well, that century, at least. It is intriguing as an adult to learn that something you assumed to be classical literature as a child was, in fact, contemporary, but has now become classical literature. I would love to see what comes in the future, whether Harry Potter or (God help us all) Twilight grows to be promoted to the same “whaddya mean we have to read this now” echelon as Shakespeare and Mark Twain.

I got people to saveThen we have the sick, sad world of pop culture, and what will survive for generations, seemingly in spite of itself. Detective Comics #27, featuring the Batman, was published in May of 1939. At the time, no one, not even creators Bill Finger and Roger Meyers, could have predicted Batman would still be a cultural juggernaut seventy-six or so years later. Despite my letter writing campaign, Batman is not taught at schools or universities, he is not the popular mascot for a local sports team, nor is he ever in a tv show that lasts for more than four seasons. Batman perseveres, for some peculiar reason, despite being just a dude in a Halloween costume in the funny papers.

Everything about Batman is depressing. From the macro, like the fact that kid Batman can’t even go to the movies without acquiring a lifetime bout of PTSD, to the micro, like how even just a year into his one man battle against crime, Bruce Wayne is just riddled with scars and injuries that will guarantee a very cranky retirement (sorry Terry!). Even peripheral Batman characters are left without a bottle of bat-prozak: Batman has a virtual army of fellow orphans at his disposal, and Barbara Gordon, either as Batgirl, Oracle, or Battumblr, lives in an eternal state of lying to her doting father.

And Sad Man lives in Sad Town. Clowns are supposed to make people happy, not make people fleshless. Penguins are adorable flightless birds, not notorious gangsters. And crocodiles… okay, I guess crocodiles in the sewers are always bad for property values. Depending on what continuity we’re subscribing to this week, the entire city of Gotham was founded around the prison of an evil warlock that radiated bad vibes, and that barely even cracks the top 20 of horrible crap to befall Gotham City before it was even founded.

Don’t even get me started on The Clench.

All this adds up to a hero that is the darkest pile of dark in the darkest pit of darkness that, somehow, perseveres to the modern day.

Remember when he used to hench for Pharoah Man?Batman: Arkham City is the apex of that darkness. This is the story of Batman, Dark Knight, venturing into Arkham City. What’s Arkham City, you ask? Well, Gotham City had such a criminal problem, that it decided to wall off an entire section of the city, a section including homes, highrises, a historical district, and an entire museum, and just give it over to the criminal element, and call it a jail. This idea was contributed by little Sally Stemberger, age 6, who invented the idea while playing with one of her father’s snowglobes. She was asked for further details about how this would work, but, unfortunately, she had already moved on to My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic by that point, so her contributions to the project were minimal.

We’ve got Batman in Criminal Freak City trying to save the world in the middle of a snow storm during an eternal night. Folks, this is using your onyx crayon on a piece of taupe construction paper.

But it’s here, smack dab in the heart of darkness, that you realize exactly why Batman has persisted all these years. Despite theoretically being the most depressing concept for a depressing ongoing story in the most depressing setting against horridly depressing villains, the reason Batman has captured the hearts and minds of generations shines through.

The strange secret of Bruce Wayne?

About ten minutes into Batman: Arkham City, you’re going to shout, and that shout will sound like this: “Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!”

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

It’s fun to be Batman. No one wants to be an orphan. No one wants to fight an unending war against a concept that has existed, according to nearly every major religion, since the dawn of humanity. No one wants to actually wade through a sewer to fight a murder clown. But I can tell you what everyone does want, and that’s a grappling hook that denies any and all laws of physics and launches you into the air whereupon you release your crazy batcape and gently glide to another rooftop, or, if you spy criminals, slam down to the ground like an avenging, one-man earthquake.
Batman Arkham City is wall-to-wall violence, misogyny, and depression (There’s a point in the game where it’s strongly implied that Batman beats a pregnant woman into submission where it’s all three at once!), but that’s not what we (want to) remember about the experience. Ask your average gamer about Batman: AC, and they’ll describe gliding over the city, sliding down from gargoyles to surprise brutes, or just playing with all of Batman’s magnificent toys in crazy combinations until Thug #4,621 explodes just from Batcontact.

And you better believe that’s what keeps Batman eternal. In the end, it’s never about the rogues gallery, or the pathos, or whatever the hell Gotham starring Ben McKenzie is about, it’s about that simple joy of freedom, that while Batman is a man that is trapped by his compulsions, he lives his life as a man who isn’t even bound by gravity. Batman’s villains have a body count approaching the population of French Guiana, but Bats is never going to be among that number, because, despite chasing a completely deadly hobby every night, he just dances through bullets like you or I survive a light rain. Batman is freedom incarnate, and that’s going to appeal to anyone who happens to be a human being, no matter the epoch.

This makes zero senseSo if I ever get that voucher to the future, when I wake up in another five hundred years, I have no doubt there’ll be an officially licensed ComDisney-Mart Batman comic waiting for me in Dr. Belthasar’s waiting room. And, as the children of the future hook their holovids into my datastream, I’ll tell them all of the time I was The Batman, and flew through Arkham City on wings I controlled with the press of a button.

I won’t mention the bits about Hugo Strange, though. That never went anywhere.

FGC #6 Batman Arkham City

  • System: PS3 for me, Xbox 360 for you? Maybe PC if you’re some kind of weirdo
  • Number of Players: 1. 2+ if you count the inevitable audience this game accrues.
  • Longest Combo Chain: Does the game log this anywhere? I can see I got that 50+ combo trophy, and I remember being pretty proud of that.
  • Get all those Riddler Trophies? I didn’t get all of them, but I got enough to punch that dork straight in his dorky face. Punchin’ knowitalls: another Batman staple.
  • Did You Know? This should be the last time we ever hear Batman The Animated Series’ Mark Hamill’s The Joker. Mr. Hamill has claimed this is was his last stint as the character, and that should remain accurate until a mob of nerds take over the Hamill Compound and force the poor guy to record audio for appalling fanfic scripts. If you would like to participate in this event, please contact Debbie at her usual email address.
  • Would I Play Again? This is one of those weird “being an adult sucks” things. I absolutely would love to play this game again, but I would feel like I’m re-wasting the hours I poured into the game in the first place, just to experience a plot that I know is only going to drive me further insane, and rediscover/solve riddles that I know I already solved once. If only there were a way to experience the same joy of playing the game, but with a new plot and environment to explore. And maybe I can drive the Batmobile, too? Well, a man can dream.

What’s Next? Random ROB has chosen… Rygar for the NES. Set shields to deadly! Please look forward to it!