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.