Monday, October 30, 2017

Kingdom Hearts Primer - Re:Coded - Episode 1 - Decoded

Welcome to the Re:Coded section of the Kingdom Hearts Primer. It's just to be a great and long-lasting season.


Yeah, not much happens in Coded. So we won't spend much time on it. In keeping with that theme, I won't dedicate many words to it.

I will point out that Sam did a great job in editing that together though. Dude needs more credit for his work.

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.