Friday, October 20, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 15 - Sora Will Save Everyone

Here it is, the final episode of the Birth By Sleep segment of the Kingdom Hearts Primer.

Sam and I harp on this a lot, and it's one of our biggest problems with the reveal in Blank Points: One of the easiest ways to lose me in the plot of a big franchise is to give is to negate loss or death in some way. In order to have happy endings, a lot of stories where a major character makes a sacrifice or gets killed off will have their death or the cost of their sacrifice "restored" in some way.

Get away from the primer for a second, this is one of my least favorite storytelling devices. I won't pretend to speak for Sam, but for me I never cared for this saccharine view of loss. In the real world, when people make sacrifices, it is highly unusual for those sacrifices to be reversed. And when they are, they usually come with a bigger cost. In my opinion, I've always found the view that "nothing is ever truly lost" to be a very dangerous lesson to teach to young people, because it doesn't give them the skills to cope with loss, and doesn't prepare them to value what they have.

That said, I'm not adverse to happy endings. Loss doesn't have to mean the end, and in the real world most people do cope with loss and move on. They learn for their mistakes and grow into better people for it. So for me, when I saw this scene that promises all the people who have ever sacrificed or suffered in this franchise will one day be saved by Sora (in Kingdom Hearts 3), a part of me was frankly annoyed by the suggestion. In my view, the basically invalidates all the suffering those people went through, and robs the significance of what they did.

Despite my misgivings, I did tear up at seeing everyone full of hope that they would be saved by Sora in the end. Say what you will about Nomura (lord knows I do), but the man knows who to touch the heartstrings. Kingdom Hearts is a good franchise, but I wonder how much further he can push it before it gets too ridiculous for ever die-hard fans like myself to handle.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 14 - There Are No Coincidences

It's getting close, guys. Big reveals are going on and there's a lot to take in. Buckle up!

So much goes on in this episode that it's difficult to delve into it in a single post. The big problem is something I've talked about multiple times in these write-ups: Birth By Sleep obsessively explains away almost every single detail from previous games by saying that it's something Terra, Ventus, or Aqua did.

But we see another problem in this episode, and towards the end of the last one, where it's not content with just explaining away details in previous entries. In a lot of the endgame dialogue, the characters in this game reuse speeches and phrases that characters in earlier Kingdom Hearts games used. Sora's "part of their heart" speech and Billy Zane as Ansem's infamous "All world's begin in darkness" monologue are taken almost verbatim. Unfortunately, they are also recycled in contexts that rob them of their original meanings.

There is debate as to exactly when Kingdom Hearts "jumped the shark". Some would say it was Kingdom Hearts 2. Others would point to Dream Drop Distance, which we will cover soon. If I were asked where I thought the Kingdom Hearts franchise got too bloated and out of control, I would say this game. Fortunately there's an HD version of this game on the PS3 and PS4, because otherwise it would be criminal for all of this important plot information to be buried in a portable many fans didn't play.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 13 - Making the Franchise Worse

Welcome to the beginning of the end... for Birth By Sleep.

By far my favorite moment of this episode is when Sam, after doing some plot calculus in his head, comes to the conclusion that this game, when taken in context with that which (in terms of release date) came before, makes the whole franchise worse.

Frankly, knowing that every problem in the known universe can be traced back to 3 kids and their inability to communicate makes the whole sorted affair feel like a cosmic waste of time. On top of that, most of the trio's actions, even when are aware of what they are doing, just make things even worse for the ones who need to clean up their mess later.

This is compounded by the sheer stupidity/inconsistency of Eraqus. Despite being this stalwart Templar of Light, he wasn't exactly worth-coming about the dangers of darkness (and his evil rival who covets it).

Sure, I feel bad for the 3 "heroes", but it's hard to be particularly sympathetic to them when everyone (including them) would have been better off if they just got sick and stayed home.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 12 - My Best Friend, Xehanort

At last, we're solidly in Act 3.

We've suddenly gone from not much happening at all, to a lot happening all at once. Out of all the new topics introduced, there are two big ones: Eraqus and the X-Blade. We'll table the X-Blade talk for now. Instead, I want to focus on Eraqus and his questionable decision making.

The game wants to portray him as an ultimately well-meaning man that has become so blinded by his obsession with the light that his judgement has been clouded. To some degree, this works, particularly in his interacts with Terra. These moments, and the way Terra remembers him, give off the impression of an "All Darkness Must Die"-type Knight Templar figure. While he loves Terra like a son, it's obvious that he doesn't approve of Terra's proximity to the Darkness.

That said, I also believe that Birth By Sleep wants me to think of Eraqus as an intelligence (not omniscient, we have Xehanort and Aqua for that) person in all other respects. If that is the case, he fails miserably. We harped on it a lot during this episode, but I just cannot get over how Eraqus let Xehanort watch the Mark of Mastery exams despite knowing he tried to start the Great War of Kingdom Hearts (For Science!). And on top of that, he neglected to tell his students about this event.

This could be forgiven, but there really is no compelling reason (at least, the game doesn't offer one) for him to make these mistakes. There would be no plot to Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep if not for all the secrecy. Considering how much (and we haven't even gotten started on most of it) of these events tie directly into Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, Eraqus and our 3 "heroes" just come of this looking completely irresponsible.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 11 - Winding Up At Anthro-Con

This is the last world before we can get back to the main plot.

To make something clear in these posts, I want to say that although we constantly complain about how gullible Terra is, that's not inherently a flaw with either his character or the story. Gullibility is a trait, like any other. It can be good, bad, or somewhere in between.

The real problem comes from the fact that Terra is fooled by the bad guy every single time. No matter how many times he is ruthlessly, consistently fooled, he never takes steps to try to avoid being duped in the future. It's always "Well, I guess I've been duped again. Guess I couldn't do anything about that".

And even that could work, but then it would help if he had some character trait other than "stupid, easy to trick". Just some scenarios where his gullibility generates some interesting dynamics b/t him and more heroic character, or if he grew wise and started raising questions to certain people before he chose to help them. The latter could even mark some strong, much needed character growth.

Instead, the same scenario plays out over and over again. It gets to the point where one can easily predict the plot of almost every world.

  • Terra will find himself fooled by the bad guys, up until he helps them complete their plans. At this point, once they think they no longer need him, they will double cross him, leading him to realize he'd been duped.
  • Ventus (Call him, Ven. will show up either slightly earlier/later, and just miss him. While looking for Terra, Ven meets the friendly Disney hero of whatever world he landed on and get sidetracked into helping him for a bit. Once he feels he can do no more, he'll leave while the Disney hero takes care of it from there.
  • But no, actually Aqua shows up after the other two to tie-up loose ends, learning that she "just missed" her friends. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 10 - That Wasn't Very Disney of You

Well, we were going good for a while, but now is filler time.

We've talked about the whole "Prequel" problem before, and I don't have much to add on that point. That said, Sam is right to note how egregious it is almost every detail in Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 was explained away by some cosmic mishap involving Terra, Ventus (Call him Ven), and Aqua.

To some degree, every story involves unlikely coincidences. That's what makes them interesting, but the amount of minor, irrelevant detail that gets "explained" in Birth by Sleep is excessive.

And that whole scene with Pete makes Minnie look really bad. Maybe it's a cultural thing between America and Japan, but while Pete's behavior was awful, it didn't warrant exile.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth by Sleep - Episode 9 - Tricked As Always

It had to happen eventually. With all LPs, especially with Kingdom Hearts, you reach the eventual filler episode.

It's just that we spent this episode talking about filler in Kingdom Hearts. It's a subject I've pontificated over numerous times in this series. I see no need to go over it again.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth by Sleep - Episode 8 - The Worst JRPG Protagonist

Welcome to Greek Mythology... where everything is made up and the points don't matter.

To give the game some credit, I didn't notice just how badly the timeline for this world got bungled until after I had beaten the game twice and then did this project with Sam. When I had 8 hours between visits to a given world, it was easy to forget some of the particulars. Having AtRiley cut this in chronological order just puts in into perspective.

It's also hard to unsee just how different Aqua is treated in this world compared to other worlds. In all the other worlds, being a woman informs her character, but it never becomes a defining trait of who she is and what she's involved in. Here, Sam's right in that she just gets treated like the token chick. Even if it's only for this part of the game, I'm left quite uncomfortable about that. Not only does it perpetrate harmful stereotypes, but the character deserves better than that.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episodes 7 - Cartoon Characters Don't Pay Taxes

This was probably one of our best episodes.

It's been a long time since I made this commentary. As a result, while I still largely agree with many of the things I said in this series, some of my opinions have changed. The point I was trying to make at the start of this episode regarding player agency and how that sets up expectations doesn't resonate as strongly to me now as it did back then. I've seen a lot of games that put the player in positions where they can't make good choices, like Night in the Woods, and they've turned my opinion around. It's not a crime to rob a player of agency, so long as something compelling comes from it.

The other hard part about writing these posts well after the series was recorded is that sometimes I just don't have any meaningful commentary to add. In those cases, I artificially inflate the length of my post by making meta-commentaries on the meta-commentary I made in the episode. Worse, I won't add anything meaningful to the commentary in doing this. It literally only exists to add words.

That's a terrible writing style that would only come from a hack. Fortunately, I never claimed to be good at writing.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 6 - Let's Talk About It

Before I even had the chance to, Sam immediately points out the problem with the scenes in this episode... both of them.

The second problem Sam mentioned was elaborated on in the previous episode's post. In the scene with Terra and Braig, Sam talked about how this game seems to need to explain every single thing that happened in later games as a side effect of what one of our main characters in this game did. That issue I had with Aqua's spell on Kairi is the same problem I had with Braig's scar: There was no need to explain it.

However, that leaves the other elephant in the room. The first problem that Sam pointed out, and my biggest issue with Birth By Sleep, is that when the three met up again, the entire plot would have been solved if they just sat down and compared notes.

Though the footage we borrowed from AtRiley (Thanks to them for allowing us to use it) cut these scenes to be in chronological order, Birth By Sleep is a Rashomon plot. As a player, one plays through each character's story one at a time, and only gets the full understanding once they've completed all of them. On some level, this only works if each character has knowledge the others do not have access to.

But the best way to make sure that happens is to either prevent them from gathering together in the same place, or otherwise disincentive them from divulging information to the other parties. In the scene at the beginning of this episode, where the friends meet up, neither of these conditions hold.  Not only are all three of them in the same location, but as friends they would almost automatically open by asking what the other two have "been up to".

Think about a time when you, the reader, reconnected with an old friend. There's an almost 100% that within the first five minutes of talking, you asked them happened to them between when you last saw them and when you met again. It's just something we do, but this doesn't happen in this scene.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 5 - Aqua Reads The Script

This episode contains the second-most annoying scene in Kingdom Hearts.

I spoke earlier about how Birth By Sleep has an almost pathological obsession with "explaining" away all the plot conveniences in the first game. The problem is that in doing so is that not only did we not need those explanations to begin with, but answering those questions raising other, harder to ignore questions.

This scene between Mickey, Aqua, and Kairi is one of the most glaring examples. Here, Aqua senses that "destiny" has brought her and Mickey to Kairi in order to protect her from danger. This explains the following:

  • Why Kairi can use a keyblade. (Although that requires additional information from later in the game, and that the player was paying attention in both scenes to subtle details.)
  • Why Kairi ended up at the Destiny Islands in time for the original Kingdom Hearts.
Unfortunately, in the process on answering those two questions in that scene, these other questions got raised:
  • How did Aqua sense that Kairi needed to be protected? Is it some by-product of her ability to sense darkness (as seen in the Cinderella world)?
  • Why did her protection take that exact form? Why not instead offer her some practical self-defense tool or some power to be used "only in emergencies"?
  • What mechanism decided that the world Kairi would end up in was Destiny Island? Furthermore, how is this any different/better than having her end up in Traverse Town?
  • Why does touching someone else's keyblade give someone a keyblade of their own? Does this mean Jack Sparrow from Port Royal got a keyblade when Sora let him touch his? Why isn't there some more formal ceremony for this, to prevent a bunch of random thugs from getting knowledge of other worlds and ready-access to the very tool to abuse that knowledge?
As a net result, we've now create extra question, since the ones raised far outweigh the number of questions answered. 

Worse than that, these initial plot conveniences did not need to be explained. Simply put, the story of Kingdom Hearts works without knowing how Kairi got to the island. It doesn't matter because the story isn't about that. The franchise's overarching narrative is made worse with these answers.

Tune in next time for the actual worst scene in Kingdom Hearts.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 4 - WHOA!

Terra is an idiot. You will accept this is move on.

As I said in the episode, a lot of the problems I have with these Disney world stories aren't really the fault of Nomura or of Kingdom Hearts. They are a by-product of some combination of the following:

  • The original Grimm Brothers' source material
  • The time period in which these movies were written/animated
  • Walt Disney being a huge jerk in real life
I point them mostly to show how much different old Disney was to the more modern movies from the same company. Since Kingdom Hearts is, on a fundamental level, a love-letter to the many classic movies almost all of us grew up on, it's unfair to criticize it for drawing on that same source material.

That said, it is also important to highlight some of the choices that were made outside of the influence of the source material. The big one is that Aqua is almost always the one closing up the story of any given Disney world. Not only does that mean she is always a major actor in the events leading to the story's conclusion, but it means she's often a big reason why the Prince of a given story is able to find their true love. Considering that the women in these original stories were often demure, and lacking in any real agency, it's nice that they (deliberately or otherwise) have a female character make the choice to be a driving force in the plot. While it doesn't make up for Kairi, it goes a long way.

As of this update, we're done with the old-school Disney films. All the worlds from here on out will be drawing from the same pool of 90s-2000 era movies that the rest of the franchise uses. There's a lot of content out there that compares old Disney with new Disney, but it's still worth taking a look back to see how far we've come as a society every now and then.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 3 - Ballroom Blitz

Now what were those magic words to get this episode out? Hmmm....

Oh yes, "Sam, please post the video!"

If there's one thing that Birth By Sleep does a lot better than other games is link the storylines of the individual Disney worlds back into the main plot thread.

Even if something as small as Ven, Terra, and Aqua relating what's going on to their own relationships with each other, having a through-line of some kind gives each story a sense of momentum/pacing that Kingdom Hearts 2 didn't have.

It also helps that the main 3 characters frequently interact with each other. Further, the writers actually do a good job of weaving the themes and subjects of the main story into the tales of the Disney worlds.

And then Aqua went to an old lady's house to murder her and her two children...

Friday, September 15, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 2 - How Could I Ever Forget "Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue HD: 0.2: Birth By Sleep: A Fragmentary Passage"?

It's time Sam finally got the answers he's long sought... some of them anyway.

Even today, I see fierce debates over exactly how much responsibility Terra has for tarnishing his own reputation with the rest of the cast. Among the Kingdom Hearts community, you'll see many people on both the "Terra Is An Idiot" front (my side) and the "Terra Did Nothing Wrong" front (not my side).

In a way, part of his problem comes from sheer circumstance. Any given RPG hero usually just listens to the first few people he/she encounters when they arrive at a new location. Almost every single time, these people happen to be trustworthy enough to for/with. Terra doesn't have that same luck. The "Terra Did Nothing Wrong" crowd would argue that he has no way of knowing that the people he first meets are all morally dubious, and thus can't be held responsible for being duped by them.

While I'll concede that Terra has very poor luck, I would argue against anyone who claims he is absolved of responsibility. It's only natural that people ask questions before they accept jobs or when they meet others. Most of us don't realize it, but whenever we meet someone for the first time, we often start by having them tell us about themselves and vice-versa. The fact that Terra doesn't do this is strange, especially since he's on a mission to learn about the goings-on in other worlds. Ventus has this problem too, but he's lucky enough to meet decent people.

To his credit, once the Evil Queen in Snow White asks him to kill the titular Snow White, he does start to ask questions: But that's only once he's asked to murder another human being. And even though he never had the intention of taking the job, he still accepted it and put himself in a position where it looks like he went for the kill.

A case can be made that he's not 100% responsible, but he does take some share of the blame. As a character trait, that even has the capacity to lead to some tense/dramatic moments. Unfortunately, Birth By Sleep commits one of, in my opinion, the greatest sins a storyteller can make when trying to build up drama. Unfortunately, it's too early to talk about it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Birth By Sleep - Episode 1 - The Chosen One

And so the Primer begins anew....

I have a deep seated problem with this game, and Sam hit the nail on the head very early on. This game answers questions that did not need to be answered, and raises new, even more confusing questions as a result.

As we progress through the game, Nomura insists on explaining details that aren't important, rather than elaborating on the ones that are. This initial reveal of Sora saving Roxas before he was even born is just one of those details. Not only does this ruin Sora's appeal as The Unchosen Hero, but it comes out of left field. There's nothing in previous games to even suggest the possibility, and doesn't really add to the story.

I'll point out other such details as we go along. This is only the beginning.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - 358 Days / 2 - Episode 8 - The One You Have Ice Cream With

Sam and Brandon are finally at the grand finale of 358 Days / 2. Roxas and Xion face existential crises while completing more missions.

Days provides some interesting insight into the mindset of Roxas and those most directly connected to him. That said, in terms of the overall plotline, not much of importance happens here. It's mostly character work, and that's why it works as well as it does. That said, don't play it. The game attached to this story is pretty awful in ways that exist outside the scope of the primer.

Next time, a little more than one week from now, we'll be moving on to the big breaking point for the story of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep. I can't wait for you guys to hear what we have to say on it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - 358 Days / 2 - Episode 7 - Sensible Questions

Brandon and Sam get to finally talk about the plot important details. Roxas completes more missions.

While it is irritating how often the same lines are repeated over and over in these scenes almost verbatim, this is by far some of the most depth we get our of the characters in Kingdom Hearts. I absolutely love the conflict between Roxas and Axel in this scene.

In the end, the only thing Roxas ever really wanted was to understand who we was and use that knowledge to be his own person. His motivation, and how complicated his quest for truth and self-determination, give him the best scenes in the series.

For this reason, he's my favorite character in the franchise. I only wish more people could look past Kingdom Hearts 2's god awful into to see what I see in Roxas.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - 358 Days / 2 - Episode 6 - Riku May Cry

Sam and Brandon get close to the end of the 358 Days / 2 portion of the Kingdom Hearts Primer. Meanwhile, Roxas, Axel, and Xion completed more missions.

We're getting there. Just one more episode left before we can move on the next game in the Primers.

Something I noticed as I re-watched these episodes for the posts is that Kingdom Hearts has a very severe problem. Almost all of the plot critical information comes from the very start and very end of any given Kingdom Hearts game. For this reason, most of the middle of each game can be easily forgotten.

On some level, this is understandable. This middle section is where all of the Disney worlds make their home, and they are part of the selling point of Kingdom Hearts. That said, at some point, this franchise's original fiction began to dominate everything else. I'm not longer sure how much of a selling point the Disney worlds are anymore. They're obviously something that cannot be ignored, since the central identity of Kingdom Hearts is a fusion between Square Enix and Disney. But are they still the main draw? I don't know.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - 358 Days / 2 - Episode 5 - Epidemic of Falling

While Axel, Roxas, and Xion stood at the clock tower for the fifty-thousandth time, Sam and Brandon continued the Kingdom Hearts Primer.

While I will continue to complain about the nonsense that occurs in Days's main plot, there is something to be said for how strong the character interactions are.

The voice acting has some problems, mainly in the delivery, but the script is pretty strong, especially when it involves the main trio of Axel, Roxas, and Xion. There are a ton of interesting and complex relationships just between them. Roxas and Xion bond over similar feelings of being ostracized from the rest of the organization. Despite there friendship, the nature of their existences puts them at odds with both each other and the world at large. And ultimately, neither one of them can survive.

Meanwhile, Axel values their friendship as one of the few genuine bonds he's formed as a nobody, especially since his actual former best friend is nearly unrecognizable. For that reason, he's willing to do whatever it takes to preserve that friendship, which is exactly what drives a wedge between them.

It's pretty deep, and I wish they leaned into this kind of material more.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - 358 Days / 2 - Episode 4 - Relationships Founded On Lies

This clock tower is really starting to grate on our nerves.

I try genuinely hard to avoid spoiling things for Sam on this Kingdom Hearts adventure we've embarked on. But every now and then, a reveal is so tantalizing that I can't help myself. This was one of those times. It doesn't help that those kinds of retcons are alarming frequent, especially in the spin-off games. On top of that, they are necessary in order to properly contextualize the experience.

This game spends so much time dwelling on the fact that Nobodies don't have hearts. This is problematic for two reasons. One, while they talk a lot about it, they never explore the ramifications of what it must be like to live without emotions and how having and losing emotions can change someone. Despite constantly saying that Organization members don't have feelings, almost all of them have distinct personality traits, thoughts, and emotions (or at least character archetypes). Even if Kingdom Hearts 2, it stinks of a lack of opportunity.

But then coming out and saying that they *do* have hearts and feelings causes it's own set of headaches. It makes all the pointless, meaningless dwelling on the subject feel like a collective waste of time. Why did we spend so much time going "Oh, we don't have emotions", when that couldn't be further from the truth? And it jettisons all the potential there could have been to explore a very interesting premise.

I can't figure out what it would be, but there had to have been a more satisfying way to resolve this problem than the route they took. As it stands, it feels like Nomura figured out we couldn't write characters with "no hearts" and just did away with the premise with a half-assed retcon. I'm unsatisfied.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - 358 Days / 2 - Episode 3 - AxelRox

Sam and Brandon were halfway through the commentary of the 358 Days / 2 section of the Kingdom Hearts Primer. Meanwhile, Roxas continued to complete more missions.

Something I mentioned in this episode is that Kingdom Hearts, after the first few games, has a tendency to hire relatively new voice actors for characters both minor and major. Either that, or celebrity voice actors.

That doesn't seem to be the case in Days though. I had assumed that Xion's voice actress being new was part of why she wasn't turning in a great performance. This is incorrect though, since her voice actress is Hayden Panettiere. You'd probably know her as the Indestructible Cheer Leader from Heroes or Sam in Until Dawn, but in terms of Kingdom Hearts she also does the voice of Kairi in every single game she appears in.

While she has little experience with voice acting before Kingdom Hearts (according to her imdb), it's no more or less than any of the other voice actors here. This again leads me to expect that the voice director(s) weren't giving them good direction.

It's a shame, or it would be if this game wasn't mostly filler.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - 358 Days / 2 - Episode 2 - Ice Cream Friends

Sam and Brandon continued the Kingdom Hearts Primer by themselves.

I was genuinely excited by Sam figuring out the importance of Xion's hood coming on and off between shots without me having to explain anything. Then again, he studies film so of course he would notice the cinematography tricks.

Aside from that, this is more of an setup episode. Not much in terms of story progress went on, but the game is currently establishing plot points that will become topics of conversation later.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - 358 Days / 2 - Episode 1 - Without Much Thought

The struggle is eternal. Though it may start and stop it fits, there will never be an end to it. Thus, our journey begins anew.

This shouldn't take anywhere near as long as our Kingdom Hearts 2 season. But don't fret, we still have our brand of off-the-cuff commentary.

Not much happens in this first episode, but one thing you can immediately notice is the stilted voice acting from much of the cast. If you compare the performances in Days with that from previous Kingdom Hearts, there's a noticeable monotone is most of the lines.

Even Sam, who watches so much anime that a wooden performance or two might slip be him without notice, couldn't help but commenting on just how bad the voice work is. One rule I like to use is that if one or two characters have flat, bland acting, it's likely those performances. However, if the whole cast, or most of it, is turning in sub-par voice work, it's probably the direction.

And since we don't see this problem in any other Kingdom Hearts game, I can only imagine that whoever was tapped to direct the voice work here just wasn't up to it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 39 - Deus Ex Machina

3 games down, however many we have left to go!

There was a healthy discussion about the endings in this episode that has stuck with me in the (now) year since we originally recorded it. Had Square and Disney decided to stop here, this would have been a solid ending. Sure, there would have been some mysteries left unsolved, but not everything needs to be explained in order for a story to be a good story.

Either fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your perspective), Kingdom Hearts did continue after this game. And as the series went on, they moved away from the more whimsical tone of the first game and more towards the decidedly darker tone started in Kingdom Hearts 2. We'll talk about some the problems I have with the storytelling in future Kingdom Hearts game at a later point, but I feel this shift in tone had it's own impact on the series.

Sam and I talked about how the fate of Roxas and Namine in particular is terribly tragic, but didn't get as much screen time as it should have. If anything, those kinds of very unfortunate fates become almost a staple for the series as it goes on. That said, it all started here.

Now that we're officially out of Sam's Kingdom Hearts comfort zone, I hope you guys have as much fun seeing how he reacts that I did when I was recording it with him.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 38 - Honest Eyes

We're ramping up towards the grand finale!

I think the best part of this episode is how, up until King Mickey said the line, Sam thought I was joking about "the eyes don't lie".

The resulting meltdown was truly spectacular. I don't think I could have scripted a better scene between the two of us.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 37 - The Most Interesting Man in Kingdom Hearts

Welcome to one of the best parts of Kingdom Hearts 2.

I've maintained that Roxas is one of the most interesting characters in the Kingdom Hearts fiction. Unlike a lot of the other heroes, he has a solid arc from the start of Kingdom Hearts 2 to the end of the game.

Roxas begins with a strong desire to understand himself, who he is and why he exists. In his effort to do so, he starts to develop his own identity. There's a tension born from the fact that while his mere existence is tied to someone else (just by the nature of his birth), he is beginning to actualize himself as his own being.

His role in the game is small, but it's rife with interesting philosophical discussions and has big implications on the lore of the franchise. For most of it, he is unwilling trapped inside Sora, only at the end finally accepting his place as a piece of a larger whole.

I like the character. And as small a role he has in the game, I'm happy for it.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 36 - Darkness Works in Mysterious Ways

And we finally get back to the main plot of Kingdom Hearts.

As I reflect on this transition into the Final Act of Kingdom Hearts 2, I have difficulty trying to solve the real issue I have with it. Like I said in the episode, there is a serious logical leap that takes place here in order to catch Sora (and the player, by proxy) up with the events of the plot.

The logic is as follows:

  • The crystal trophy and Olette's pouch are one of a kind items.
  • There are two copies of a crystal from the trophy and Olette's pouch.
  • There is a place where the people who are missing from Twilight Town (like Kairi) are located.
  • Therefore, there *must* be a second town where the duplicate items came from and where Kairi got sent when she was kidnapped.
The Twilight Town crew happens to be right in this case, but I don't see how the premises lead to the conclusion.

What I think should have happened is that the second round of trips should have been about investigating worlds again, looking for clues as to what the (seemingly unmelting) sea-salt ice cream bar and photo might be alluding to. With a few more clues or facts to go on, I feel like it would be more plausible that the whole team could arrive at the conclusion it did.

This would also have solved the big problem that much of the Disney world stories had, in that they don't tie-in to the main plot thread. While the other games aren't always great at this either, this was a major problem with Kingdom Hearts 2.

The storyline in Kingdom Hearts has never been the problem. The problem is always in how it's presented and in its support. A bit more attention to detail would've gone a long way.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 35 - Going Super Cyan


So, I could make up a whirlwind of excuses for why it took us so long to make another episode of the series, but in truth real life just caught up with us in a big way.

And the moment Sam was free enough to resume editing of the footage, he had some massive computer issues that set us back.

It's a good time to come back in though, since after this we get to go back to talking about important plot details. On top of that, Tron's world is one of the better one's in this game.

Expect more for us soon. We'll back, and the gravy train isn't stopping for anyone.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Vistory Podcast - Episode 5 - The Game Industry Crash of 1983

Today, the Vistory Podcast takes a look at one of the most infamous periods in the history of gaming: The Crash of 1983.

Topic include the gaming landscape before the crash, the root causes behind it, the likeliness it will happen again, and the lessons we can learn from it.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Vistory Podcast - Episode 4 - E3

E3 may have came and went, but there's still time to learn about it in today's episode of the Vistory podcast.

In this episode, Andre and I discuss one of the most well known gaming conventions out there. Topics include how it was founded, how it has evolved over the years, and it's importance to the industry as a whole.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vistory Podcast - Episode 3 - ESRB

Welcome to another episode of the Vistory podcast.

This week, we discuss a topic that most gamers should be very familiar with: The ESRB. The origins, impact, and reasons behind the ESRB are all fair game.

We hope this was informative, even if you're like us and super into games already.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 34 - God Is Dead!

Finally, Atlantica is over!

It's worth noting that when we make silly suggestions like we did in this episode, it's almost purely because we're so bored that imagining that version of the show is the only way we can keep ourselves awake.

We had no intention (at the time) of making adding all of this in at the time. But since Sam needs some way to liven up the editing job, and I love seeing what his brain cooks up, here we are.

Final note: We will be producing content at a slower pace than usual just because of real life obligations. Please be patient with us. We promise it'll be worth the wait.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 33 - The Thing Furries Don't Thing About

We come back to the Lion King world, so let's try not to fall asleep.

Thankfully, Sam's here to add some spice to my life.

Vistory Podcast - Episode 2 - ROM Hacks

Welcome to another episode of Vistory. Today, we discuss ROM Hacks.

I apologize for my relative silence this episode. This is a topic I thought I knew more about than I did.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 32 - How Sora Saves Christmas (Again)

This world is best world.

As much as I love Halloween Town, we're still getting tired of all these world stories. And as a result, we were still in the middle of losing our minds.

I would apologize, but I think it's fun to watch.

Vistory Podcast - Episode 1 - Genre

Welcome to a new project I am undertaking with a friend of mine: Andre Doucet. This is Vistory, a podcast discussing the history of games one topic at a time.

Our inaugural topic is Genre. This is an interesting one to start with, because while games of yesteryear generally stayed within the confines of one genre, that's less true in the modern era. These days, you'll mostly find rigid adherence to single-genres in the indie scene.

We hope you enjoy our first episode and many more to come.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 31 - Magic Carpet Ride

Sometimes we make interesting, serious points about Kingdom Hearts.

And sometimes we look at copyright and just say "screw it".

This is one of those latter times.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 29 - Of Kings, Contracts, and Fish Lawyers

Finally, we get to the part I HATE!

I've written about it before, but I can't even fathom how anyone though Atlantica was a good idea. It's a concentrated does of everything wrong with Kingdom Hearts 2.

I hate this world, and I hope it they never come back to it in future games.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 28 - What Has My Life Become!?

Welcome back to Port Royal. We're barely hanging on.

This is roughly the point where Sam and I start to lose our minds and slowly slip into madness. It's not quite so visible at this point, and we're still able to mostly hold a coherent conversation. But we start making a ton of diversions and side conversations, which will become a more common occurrence later on.

In the meantime, enjoy the sanity while it's still there.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 27 - JRPG Talk

While Kingdom Hearts rolls in the background, Sam and I talk about the JRPGs we have (and haven't) played.

I want to point out that while Sam seems to have a chronic inability to finish the JRPGs he starts, as of the time of writing, he has completed a single JRPG: Final Fantasy XV, otherwise known as the Beautiful Boy Band Adventure.

Given how long this series has gone on, and Kingdom Hearts status as one of the biggest JRPG franchises out there, it was only a matter of time before an episode like this came out. Sam and I spent a while just talking about the various games we've played in the genre, lightly comparing them both to each other and to Kingdom Hearts.

Also, props to Belle for not being another captured princess. Even when held hostage, she still manages to be the only sane person in the room.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 26 - This Force Called Sora

And now that we've finished with some of the important stuff, we can do nonsense for the next 5-10 episodes.

A recurring problem we're running into with this series has more to do with the nature of these long RPGs than any inherent flaw with Kingdom Heart's actual story. Our objective here is to help explain the lore and story behind this franchise. That said, so much of the content, even when focusing purely on the cutscenes, has little, if anything to do with the story.

Most of this "filler" story comes from the Disney worlds. This is an interesting problem, because those Disney worlds are a major draw for many, if not most, of the people who play this franchise. A lot of the reason people come to Kingdom Hearts is to fight alongside characters from classic Disney films.

But for us, who are only interested in the overall plot, most of this is just a waste of our time. It's almost shocking that, if you remove most of the Disney-related worlds from any given Kingdom Hearts game, and focus on the original story, without losing much. Some details are lost, but the series as a whole will still make sense.

If anything, I would want to have the main story thread woven into the Disney world storylines with much more grace than this. Considering worlds like Beast's Castle can do that, it doesn't seem like too much of an ask.

Then again, I wasn't on the team for this project, so what would I know.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 25 - Going Full Stupid

It's so refreshing to have cool, interesting conversations about the story.

The scenes in the first seven minutes of this episode are all Final Mix exclusive, and that's honestly a large problem. In those seven minutes, so many of the reveals from future games are foreshadowed that the people who only played the original release don't have the foundation that they should. Unless you're like me, and read the wiki, the only way you'd have this content is to:

  • Look it up in the wiki
  • Import the Final Mix version from Japan
  • Wait several years for the ReMix to be releases, that you'd have no way of knowing about at the time Kingdom Hearts 2 came out
And up until recently, this was one of the biggest problems with the Kingdom Hearts series. In order to have the complete story, it was required to have the following systems so that you could play every game in the Kingdom Hearts series:
  • PlayStation 2
  • Game Boy Advance (any variant)
  • Nintendo DS (and later 3DS)
  • PlayStation Portable (PSP Go and Vita wouldn't work due to copyright protection)
  • Mobile Phone
This all changed recently with the ReMixes. While this was a problem for a long time (and part of why Kingdom Hearts was so hard to get into), now all one needs is a PS3 and a PS4 to have access to every game. Soon, with 1.5 + 2.5, the PS3 won't even be necessary, and the PS4 will be the one-stop shop for Kingdom Hearts.

Square Enix has had this problem for a long time, and finally they've solved it. Still, disregarding the financial commitment of getting all the systems and games, there is still the issue of having to play all of the games. As you can see, even with a ton of the gameplay edited out, going through all of these stories is still quite time-consuming.

It's a messy complicated problem Square Enix dug themselves into. While I appreciate the attempt to solve it, it's still a problem.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 24 - An Single Joke (Please Laugh)

It's story time, ladies and gentlemen.

It's weird to think of how Kingdom Hearts 2 is a product of it's time. I'm not talking about mechanics or how dark its story is (although that's certainly true). I'm talking about how it references other media that, in hindsight, are clearly only to drum up or capitalize on hype for other projects.

We touched on that topic earlier in Port Royal. In hindsight, it's obvious that the only reason Port Royal is even in Kingdom Hearts 2 is that Pirates of the Caribbean was taking off in a big way at the time it was being developed. This is silly, but something that one can easily look past, and is no more offensive than any other Disney-world story.

On the other hand, the references to Advent Children are some of the worst offenders in the game. It's not just that the game is detouring to make a thinly-veiled hype piece for the movie. That could be hilarious, but otherwise inoffensive in its own way. The real problem is that the way the jury-rig the pieces together makes almost no sense. It comes off as awkward, especially when those extremely edgy looking outfits are juxtaposed to "Happy Disney Funtimes".

Monday, April 3, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 23 - De-Rezzed

Sam and I stop playing games to talk about not playing games.

I appreciate Sam's help in reminding all of us who Christopher Lee is and why you should be worshiping him.

Aside from that, it's nice to have a Disney movie tie into the main thread in a way that makes sense without feeling too much like filler.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 22 - A Tale of Two Ansems

Today, we start to get into some of the more confusing aspects of Kingdom Hearts.

I love the way they leverage the fact that Tron exists in a computer system in order to write the scenario. The way they smartly link it back into the main scenario through the protagonist's quest for answers was a nice way to keep the plot moving forward.

I was also very impressed at Sam's ability work through his confusion and figure out the Ansem/Xehanort connection without my help. It shows that he's been paying attention as we prime.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 21 - Zippers Held By Belts

Finally, we're back to talking about story content.

It's actually pretty amazing that, after the original Kingdom Hearts, Kairi has a huge problem with almost completely ceasing to be relevant to the plot. Even though she spent most of the first game in a state of limbo, she still does contribute to the story in some ways.

In Kingdom Hearts 2, her only real contribution is being kidnapped, and then not being kidnapped anymore while Sora goes off and actually deals with the real plot. It gets worse from here on. At some point, you'd be hard-pressed to remember who Kairi is. I wish that they'd make more use of her. As it stands, she only serves as motivation for the real heroes, without taking any actions of her own.

Also, points to Sam for correctly figuring out the Xehanort/Ansem family tree on his first try.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 19 - Stupidity Skyscraper

And now, we leave the worst level in the game to go to the worst filler level in the game.

This world is another example of how the game just blatantly copy/pastes the story of the movie, and jury-rigs Sora, Donald, and Goofy into the mix as Mary Sues that solve all of the problems.

For that reason, I don't have much more to add beyond what we said in the video.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 18 - Atlantica: A Hate Story

From one of my favorite level, to what is easily my least favorite....

It's amazing how quickly I can go from singing this game's praises to groaning at how bad it is. Atlantica is, if anything, a microcosm for all that is wrong with Kingdom Hearts 2.

  • While easy and otherwise inoffensive, there's nothing engaging about the musical segments. They're nothing more than fluff.
  • The scenario is some of the most vapid writing I've seen from any Kingdom Hearts world. Not only is it blatantly coping from the first movie, but it does so in a way that almost directly contradicts the "character growth" that the people in the world underwent in the first game.
  • Facts revealed in this scenario (like the world *above* the sea), make me wonder just why we needed to blend in with the undersea world at all in the original Kingdom Hearts. Why not just land above the sea and interact with the people there.
If we never revisit Atlantica in another Kingdom Hearts game again, it'll be too soon. It's clear that nobody knows what to do with it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 16 - Revenge Before Pleasure

This is Hollow... CHRISTMAS!

Please note that between the time we recorded this footage, and now, I have actually sat down to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas for the first time. When this was made, I had not seen the film.

Someone in the Square Enix offices is obviously a huge fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, because out of all the Disney worlds, this one got the most love by far.

The script is so much more well written, they added a ton of cool little details into the Final Mix version, the enemy and scenario design is heads and shoulders above most other worlds. There is so much care than went into this level that I'm genuinely impressed by it.

Shame that the other worlds aren't cared for as much.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 15 - Sam's Undersea Sing-A-Long

Welcome to my personal hell.

I hate this world with a blinding, fevered passion. If you want a preview of my big problems with Atlantica, you can read about it in my post from way back in the day.

I touch on it here, but in truth we'll need to wait until we come back a few times before I can really drive the point home. It's bad, and just thinking about it makes me wonder why on earth did it turn out the way it did.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 14 - Dice Like Duke

We skip Timeless River in favor of Port Royal instead.

When Sam and I talk about this game's tendency to just recycle the stories from the movies they source from, this world is one of the worst offenders. Not only is this the same exact story, but it's also the same shot more often than not. On top of the frequency in which they repeat scenes, it's one of the worst ones in the game. It exists only to capitalize on the popularity of the franchise back when Kingdom Hearts came out.

It's also just a strange world in general. The "realistic" visuals looked pretty good at the time, but it just hasn't aged well at all. By modern standards, it just looks too uncanny. And to have Sora, Donald, and Goofy is juxtaposed to the much more washed out visuals of the world and characters is even worse. Sam's right when he says it looks like it's from a different game entirely.

When I went through this level way back when Kingdom Hearts 2 first came out, I was impressed by it. That said, it doesn't hold up to the test of time. Nothing here is particular well done.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 13 - The Doritos of Light!

Witty intro setting up the episode you're about to watch.

"Interesting", long-winded discussion or critique of the material we covered in the episode. This could be anything from an elaboration of a point Sam or I made to a new avenue of discussion that only occurred to me when re-watching the video for the purpose of making the post.

Follow up to the previous paragraph, further elaborating on the points made as needed. Sometimes this is short, sometimes this can take multiple paragraphs.

End with a brief sign-off that either servers as a punch-line to a joke established in an earlier paragraph, or gives a nice stopping point for the reader.

Or I could just be an ass who didn't have enough points to make for a good article on the nothing that just happened.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 43 - The Poison-Her

Let us finish what we started, with puns.

In a typical Hitman level, most of your time is spent figuring out what approach would be best to take out your target. What weapon will you use, when's the best time to strike, how will 47 get out after the kill is completed, and remove all evidence of the crime?

Players are likely to screw up several times before they successfully complete the mission, one way or the other. What makes this mission different is that one of those questions is already answered for the player. What weapon will they use on the targets: The Viral Syringe (which is functionally identical to the Modern Lethal Syringe).

This would normally be fine, but this one question also answers several others. When and where is the best time to strike? The answer to that is basically any place and time where no one is looking at the target. How will 47 hide the evidence? He doesn't need to. A Poison Kill is treated like an accident, so it doesn't matter if the body is discovered.

Because of the particulars of how this weapon works, the tricky part is merely in finding where all three moving cogs (the viral syringe and the 2 targets) are. Since players can still restart until the first objective is complete, the most dangerous part of this mission is completely safe. You'll notice that once I found where both targets were, I was able to quickly kill both of them, delete the evidence tape, and escape.

I think it's good to experiment with new ways to add challenge to the Elusive Targets, but I think this experiment failed. This was just far too easy.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 12 - Look At That Crowd!

The filler never ceases!

I feel like I'm grading on a curve for this plot. Sure, it's original, which makes it 10 times better than most of the Disney world stories in Kingdom Hearts 2. That said, there are too many little problems I have with it for me to think it's more than bland, uninteresting filler.

It's death by a thousand cuts. Nothing here is bad, it's just mediocre all around.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 42 - Pro Surgeon

We talk about the addition of the Professional difficulty while completely another Elusive Target.

The addition of a Professional difficulty hammers home the need to allow players to more easily customize their own difficulty settings to form the ideal experience for them. There are a ton of ideas in the Pro difficulty that I would love to have added to my Hitman experience. I want to play around with how the game plays if players need to make clean kills to take disguises, or if cameras can detect suspicious/illegal activities and summon guards.

But other parts of that difficulty mode, like the limit of 1 manual and no auto-saves, and the rearrangement of objects in the mission to make them harder to get to, are things I'd rather not have when playing Hitman. I'd love to be able to turn some of these options on and leave others disabled.

After playing Dishonored 2 on my own custom difficulty with enemies who are easy to sneak around, but deadly and tenacious once alerted, it's hard to not see how other games, especially these kinds of "immersive sims", could benefit from this kind of customization. In one of the recent updates to Dishonored 2, players can change everything from enemy detection rates, how much damage they inflict and how often they attack, to even how much potions heal for. It takes the innate replayability of the game and severly ampli

Monday, March 6, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 11 - Underworld Supervisor

The priming continues as we explore the ramifications of Winnie the Pooh, and then travel to the depths of the underworld.

Even during my first playthrough of Kingdom Hearts 2, despite how cool Auron is, I was checked out for most of the story parts of Olympus Colosseum. Frankly, I just didn't care.

It's also hard to get invested in the plot when the characters make decisions that I can only describe as nonsensical. As I said in the episode, when Sora volunteers to help Meg by going to speak with Hades, how did he think that was going to go down? Hades was the villain for this world in the previous game, and Sora should know he'd be up to no good. It just seems kinda pointless.

Nothing that went on here seemed to really matter, even to my younger self. Little did I know, right?

Friday, March 3, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 10 - You Missed A Chest!

Welcome to the Beast's Castle, home of old friends and missed treasure chests.

In lieu of making any meaningful commentary on Beast's Castle, I'm going to instead talk about a problem I have with RPGs.

Many times in an RPGs, players will see treasure chests in the level while watching cutscenes. This is good because it gives them something to pay attention to while the characters are busy talking about things not relevant to the main plot.

On the other hand, if the scene changes or they end up behind a point of no return, then it feels like the game is teasing them about the chest they missed.

Remember the player's feelings when placing chests in your game.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Heart 2 - Episode 9 - Objectively Better

We finish Mulan's world and go back to faffing about for a bit.

Not much to say. Frankly, any criticism we could levy towards this section would only be criticism of the original movie.

Next time, other worlds!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 41 - Rube Goldberg's Revenge

Welcome once more to sunny Sapienza, where we take on Landslide.

The more I play both these Bonus Episodes and Elusive Targets, the more impressed I am with how effortlessly IO Interactive re-contextualizes the same maps from the story missions in ways that still feel fresh, new, and interesting. Even though I played the Sapienza map countless times since it's initial release in Episode 2, Landslide adds enough new/remixed content that it feels almost like a new map.

Out of all the bonus episodes, I'd say this one is easily my favorite of them. The target for Landslide speaks to me in a "I want to murder you so badly" kind of way that the targets in the Summer Bonus Episodes just didn't. I almost felt bad for those sad saps, but the mafioso deserves no sympathy.

It also feels like this bonus episode comes with many more interesting opportunities than the other two. Not only is Priest 47 just a delight to see, but there are many more hilarious and/or karmic opportunities just in the plaza (and even more if players take the time to explore the town).

Episodes like these make me all the more excited to see what can be cooked up once it's time to release the second season of Hitman.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Heart 2 - Episode 8 - Your Army Sucks!

We start the Disney worlds... and the parts not really relevant to the primer.

First things first, I said that Eddie Murphy did the voice of Mushu here. That was completely wrong. It's a soundalike.

Sam and I have talked for a very long time about how we're going to tackle these Disney worlds. In a series where our goal is to comment on and explain the main story of Kingdom Hearts, these Disney worlds, especially in Kingdom Hearts 2, are mostly filler.

I'm also really annoyed that the world scenarios are, more often than not, straight up rehashes of the movies they are "inspired" by. The only real difference is that Sora, Donald, and Goofy are added to it in ways that read like bad fan-fiction.

Bottom line, these worlds just weren't fun to comment on, and not much happens that pertains to the main story.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 7 - KH and the Sunken Cost Fallacy

Finally, we have arrived at the game proper.

I must say, as someone who has played this game countless times, I really appreciate the scenes they added in the Organization XIII chambers for Final Mix.

In the original release, most of the Organization members hardly get any screen time before Sora starts to slaughter them one-by-one. While this is still true even with these scenes, they help to introduce players to these characters so that there's something resembling a buildup to the boss fights against them.

It's not much, but it's a needed addition that goes a slight way towards establishing our villians.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 40 - Getting Outside Help

It's too dangerous to go it alone...

Outside of the complications I had in finding the location of the thumb drive, there's no much to this target. Honestly, I might have even been able to get Silent Assassin if I had been more careful in walking out without getting spotted by the staff manager.

The worst part of this mission is that I didn't really have any way (that I know of) to find the thumb drive aside from brute force. It was essentially a game of guess-and-check until I lucked out with the correct room.

Kinda boring, otherwise. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 6 - The Boy Who Cries Inside Me

Roxas's last day of summer vacation has come and gone, so now we go some tutorial bits with Sora. :)

It makes sense that we would have some sort of introductory sequence for Sora since there's a change in protagonists. That said, since we already had a 3 hour long intro as Roxas prior to that, as a player I can't help but feel frustrated at how long it takes for the game to get moving.

The strange thing about video games is that their interactivity gives players a higher tolerance for this amount of front-loading, since it can be broken up through gameplay segments, and players aren't likely to go through it all in one session.

But at the same time, the fact that players do wish to play and interact with the game, instead of watching a bunch of cutscenes, means that it is often smarter to get right into the action. This is largely why In-Medias-Res is such a popular plot device for video games.

That's why I have such mixed opinions about how long this intro sequence is b/t Roxas and Sora combined. I can appreciate how important it is to perform setup for the story and plot of the game. Even when that's considered, this process takes entirely too long, and could have easily been abridged in numerous ways.

It's not the intro that's the problem, it's the aggressive length of it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 39 - Doing A Murder

Today, we look for a deceptively simple solution to the problem of The Blackmailer.

This was a lesson in how to be more effectively experiment with NPC routines without openly exposing yourself to unnecessary danger when performing Elusive Targets. Even with the single attempt, it is important to do some basic scouting to figure out where the target is at their most vulnerable.

That said, since player death means that a contract is failed, a little more creativity is required when looking around. I pulled my gun out a couple of times not because I wanted to shoot anyone, but just to see who would detect suspicious activity. If the vision cones start appear when my gun is in my hand, then I know that it's not safe to take out the target where I'm standing.

Though certainly an easier target than average, this one required some thought. It's easier than it seems to break his routine and isolate him. Spacial awareness is, and always has been, king in Hitman. Knowing the map is the key to succeeding, no matter who the target is.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 5 - ROXAS SMASH!

Five episodes in, and we're finally finished the intro to the game. Good thing we aren't playing, or that might have been another five or so episodes.

I've said it before, but I really feel that a lot of the anger people have for Roxas has much more to do with the overly long intro than anything about his character. As much as the character needs this kind of introduction, there's no denying that most people playing Kingdom Hearts 2 were starting to get annoyed by the time the dual keyblade boss fight with Axel came around.

It's such a shame because he is one of the most interesting characters in the series. The Nobodies in general pose interesting philosophical questions about what it means to be a part of a person, divorced from the whole. If that half were to develop it's own personality and feelings, essentially it's own self, would they want to merge back into who they once were, or would they want to be their own person.

Roxas is the body and soul that Sora left behind when he became a heartless. But unlike other nobodies who yearn to be whole, Roxas has no interest in going back with Sora. He hates that his very existence is fundamentally tied to someone else. There's a lot of good sources for drama there, and they aren't capitalized on as much as I would like.

That said, this is a topic better discussed in 358 Days/2, so I'll table this discussion for now.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 4 - Rivals With Destiny

We question our life choices while Roxas investigates the seven wonders of... oh thank god.

Not much to say here as most of this episode consists of filler, nonsense, or retreading old ground.

Still, we made some bad jokes in the meantime. That's almost worth it. :)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 3 - The Belt That Strangles Nomura's Head

Today, we watch teenage children beat the stuffing out of each other in a legally sanctioned blood sport.

We erroneously say it's been two years since the events of Kingdom Hearts 1. This is a lie, it has actually been 1 year in Kingdom Hearts time.

Aside from that, we spend most of this episode talking about the Struggle, and trying to get Sam up to speed on the many Ansem's of Kingdom Hearts. To recap:
  • There's the original Ansem: Ansem the Wise. This man was the person who ruled Hallow Bastion with benevolence.
  • He took an apprentice, who would betray him and take his name, becoming the heartless known as "Ansem, Seeker of Darkness" that Sora fought in Kingdom Hearts 1.
  • When "Ansem, Seeker of Darkness" became a heartless, he left behind a nobody, who would take the name Xemnas.
Confused yet? Don't worry, that's normal.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 2 - Eyes Can't Lie

I don't have the budget to render an introductory paragraph.

One of the fun things about doing this Primer series with Sam is that even when I'm telling the complete truth about what's going on or the reasoning behind some character's actions, the answers can often be so outlandish that he still won't believe me.

This primer series is definitely intended to help people understand what's going on in Kingdom Hearts. That said, it's also been great for me because doing it with Sam has been a great way to uncover a lot of the common hangups, expected and unexpected, that make it difficult to parse through.

I still firmly believe that the overall plot is pretty basic, but a terrible job was done in presenting that plot. The confusion comes more from presentation and mistranslation than anything else.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Episode 1 - Blood Sport

This is the big one, ladies and gentleman. For most of you out there, this is where Kingdom Hearts jumped the shark. Fortunately for you, Sam and I are here to explain the plot, make some bad jokes, and occasionally let a good joke or two slip into the mix.

It's really tough to go through this tutorial/intro segment of Kingdom Hearts 2. As I said in the primer, for the story Square Enix wanted to tell with this game, it was necessary to introduce Roxas in a low-impact, mundane way, and do it early. That said, this is, was, and has always been a really rough segment of game to go through.

Not because it's particularly difficult. It's the tutorial, and generally pretty easy. However, it's 3 hours long and unless you know what's going on in the lore through outside sources, not much here will make any degree of sense to you.

It's disorienting, and I understand that it's intended to be. But for people who just wanted to play as Sora again, the anger they must have felt makes sense.

A shame really, because Roxas is easily one of my favorite characters in the series once we get into who he is and what motivates him.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Kingdom Hearts 2 - Trailer

It's that time again. Once again, Sam and I are delving back into Kingdom Hearts to help solve the mysteries within.

This is going to be the big one, taking up most of the run-time for the Primer series. At the same time, now that a lot of the big ideas and concepts are out there for discussion, this is where Sam and I can also truly begin to start hacking away at what most confuses most people about Kingdom Hearts.

I hope you guys enjoy what you are about to experience. :)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 38 - We Are The Watch_Dawgs

Another day, another Elusive Target. This time: The Chameleon.

This is another video where, like The Chameleon, I had the right general idea, but didn't execute correctly because I had lacked situational awareness.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 37 - A Critical Eye

Let us talk about Elusive Targets, the internet, and Hitman as we take on The Food Critic.

I spoke in the episode of The Guru about how the Modern Lethal Syringe isn't the completely worthless item that I originally thought it was, but only outside of story missions. It is a silent weapon, so no noise will be generated when the player uses it. It's faster than choking someone out and snapping their neck. Furthermore, poison kills are treated as accident kills, if the body is discovered later, it will not count as a body being discovered for the purpose of calculating the final score. This makes it possible to get Silent Assassin without having to worry about hiding the body.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 36 - Remember the Evidence

I was so *close*...

What kills me most about this target is that I very clearly had the Silent Assassin solution thought out, but I just missed a few details.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

#110: The Disappointments of 2016

As I said in my highlight reel of 2016, this has been one of the best years in gaming in quite a long time. That said, no year is free from games that didn’t live up, and this is no exception.

The same rules as last year apply. Just because a game made this list, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily bad. All it means is that when I played it, it had significant problems that really hampered my enjoyment of the overall experience.

So without further ado, my disappointments of 2016 are…

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 35 - Happy Holideaths

I know it's late, but now's still an excellent time to celebrate the season of hitting, with Hitmas!

One of the things I love about Hitman, and its the same reason a mission like this can exist, is that it really doesn't take itself seriously. And because of that, it's completely willing and able to play around and poke fun at both itself and others.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 34 - Out of Touch and Time

And now, we finally kill a sweet old lady!

I admit, when I looked up the solution to see what I was missing, I kicked myself for not realizing that the soldiers would move on their own if the player just let's them talk. This is something that I probably would have known if I watched/played more Marrakesh play. I've never cared much for this map, so I don't know as much about it as I do the others.

As I mention in the video, it's very often that getting Silent Assassin has almost nothing to do with the player's ability to execute their plan. Usually, the steps to get a Silent Assassin rating are pretty easy to perform. The tricky part is usually in figuring out what exactly the solution *is*. It's often very deceptively simple.

If I had stuck to my original plan, this contract would probably been over in a single episode. I saw the differences between the normal map and the variant for the target. At the time, I even knew about the pipe, and how to use it as a way to sneak up to the roof silently. The only thing I didn't realize was that letting those two guards talk would give me the opening I needed. And that comes strictly down to map knowledge.

There's always a way. You just have to find it.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

#109: The Highlights of 2016

If you talked to a bunch of random strangers on the street today, they’d probably tell you that 2016 hasn’t been a great year. There are all sorts of reasons why that might be, but gaming isn’t one of them.

No matter how crappy everything else was, 2016 has been a fantastic year in gaming. So many great and wonderful games game came out this year that we gamers were drowning in really good experiences throughout.

As usual, this is a list of games that I present in no particular order (it’s decided by a random number generator). And just because a game doesn’t appear on this list does not mean that it is a bad game. All it means is that either I didn’t play it, or it didn’t leave a strong impression on me.

With that said, my highlights of 2016 are:

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 33 - Old Lady Spy Novels

Today, we lay the groundwork to kill a harmless old lady.

The more I play these Elusive Targets, the more I realize something I'm not sure I like. They do a great job and being the closest thing one can get to being a Hitman. There's no denying the thrill that comes from making your attempt and knowing that if you screw up, it's over. I won't deny that in the slightest, and I overall enjoy my time attempting them, success or failure.

That said, the large opportunity cost for failure, where you can no longer attempt the target if you die, and cannot restart once objectives are completed, discourage players from playing the game in the way that is the most fun.

I have a problem I spoke of earlier in stealth games, where I restart the moment I am detected and try again. I'm trying to break myself of that habit for a good reason. A lot of the fun of playing Hitman comes from letting a mistake occur and just rolling with it. The game's systems encourage players to improvise and figure out how to take a bad situation and salvage it so that they can still kill their target.

The Elusive Targets, as brilliant as they are, severely discourage this kind of play. When the player is detected during an Elusive Target, they have every incentive to immediately restart and make a fresh attempt. You see this occur several times in this episode alone, and it's partly because the high risk discourages any form of risk-taking. The fact that bonuses are awarded for Silent Assassin kills during Elusive Targets further disincentives it, because you cannot even be detected when going for that ranking.

I'm not sure how you solve that problem either, because the draw of an Elusive Target is that it's such a high risk environment. At the same time, this high risk prevents Hitman from being the tense and exciting game of improvised murder that it wants to be at its core.

Tough problem. Worth thinking about.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hitman (2016) - Episode 32 - Personal Space Invasion

In this episode, The Chef's goose is cooked.

If you're curious about the Elusive Target suit rewards, IO published the below chart regarding how to unlock each one...