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.