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by Ethos

Kingdom Hearts: One Man’s Trash…

Sunday, October 4th, 2009

Quite the mishmash.

Quite the mishmash.

Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series is an odd beast.

In most cases, gamers either adore the series, or despise it for a variety of reasons. And the funny thing is that honestly, it’s easier to make a case for how bad the series is than how good it is.

Having said that, know that I am indeed a Kingdom Hearts fan. I have fond memories of my introduction to the series way back in the day with the original Kingdom Hearts. I enjoyed Chain of Memories for what it was, despite the radical, and often frustrating changes in the gameplay. And Kingdom Hearts II most definitely has a spot among my all-time favorite PS2 RPGs. I’m “under the spell,” as I like to say; one way or another, Kingdom Hearts just works for me.

A brief re-visiting of Kingdom Hearts II was all it took to re-confirm this fact. Cheesy voice acting, intensely melodramatic scripting, and embarrasing localization issues aside, the first few hours of Square Enix’s PS2 masterpiece amazed me today just as it did over three years ago. The question, though, is why?

What makes or breaks Kingdom Hearts is the setting itself: Disney characters and Final Fantasy heroes thrown into the same game, with a healthy dose of original (and very Japanese) content to buff out the storyline. It sounds crazy because it IS crazy. Nobody knew what the hell to think when the original Kingdom Hearts was announced oh-so-many years ago. Upon its arrival, the odd mishmash of characters and franchises either resonated with gamers, or it simply… didn’t. There isn’t too much more to say, frankly; people like myself find the concept charming, while others find it awkward and childish.

Regardless, it can’t be denied that the series has a hell of a heart behind it. Sora is a naive little toolbag, but I find myself relating to the guy nonetheless. He doesn’t really buy into the whole key-bearer nonsense, he just wants to find his friends and go back to a peaceful life on his lush island home. And, as the player, I find myself wanting the exact same thing. Kingdom Hearts has an awful lot of convoluted mythology behind it, which is honestly quite fascinating if you take the time to wrap your head around it. But the ongoing themes of friendship and devotion are what make the player connect to the experience – provided they can get past the heavy layer of schmaltz and melodrama.

This can't come soon enough.

This can't come soon enough.

It’s worth mentioning that the mechanics upon which the game is built are, for the most part, pretty solid. The combat is fairly straightforward hack-and-slash, with a pinch of obligatory RPG elements. Is it deep? No, not really. Is it broken? Not by any means. It’s fast, flashy, fun, and most of all, flashy. Kingdom Hearts is just one of those experiences that has a very unique, very over-the-top sense of style to it. And once again, this manner of flashy, stylized fun will either draw gamers in, or turn them away in disgust.

It’s hard to argue against those who dislike the series; it just doesn’t work for everyone. But it certainly works for me. I still consider the “opening segment” of Kingdom Hearts II to be one of the best found in any game, ever. The conclusion to Roxas’ tragic story brought tears to my eyes back in 2006, and three years later, it has the same effect. In Kingdom Hearts, Square Enix has the beginnings of a rich and long-running franchise. Here’s hoping they take the ball and run with it.

Speaking of Kingdom Hearts

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

roxasWell folks, it’s been a very festive week so far with lovely pictures, embedded videos, and Mickey Mouse making his way onto the face of some coked out Final Fantasy XIII character. I’mma call her Cokey.
But this post isn’t about Cokey. This is about observations I’ve made about the Kingdom Hearts series now that I’ve been able to dive back into it by revisiting old favourites and trying out brand new titles. I popped the original game into my PS2 the day before I bought Dumb Name, and I got as far as kicking Leon’s ass in Traverse Town. As for Dumb Name, I’m now over 4 hours in sitting at Day 71 (the game skips days, so that doesn’t mean all that much in terms of completion).

Anyway, it was a strange experience seeing the beginning of Kingdom Hearts I. There was some decidedly cheesy voice acting (should have started playing last week), yet I was impressed with its focus on character. For a series that has a lot of over-the-top things to say, and an obsession with calling lovers “friends”, the original game is surprisingly captivating right out of the gate. Sora’s feelings for Kairi are clear right from the start which is essential for the game to draw the player in and make him realize that this series will be as much about emotion as it will be about saving the world. This is a lesson that many, many games need to learn. While the wacky trio is always focused on defeating Ansem, Sora’s motivation is only convincing because all he ultimately wants is to find Riku and Kairi.

heartlessOn a nit-picky tangent, I hate that right off the bat the three friends are hypothetically talking about “other worlds” instead of just the world outside the island, it seems incredibly contrived. Also, although the scene in the “Secret Place” is really cool, it’s also an example of one of the worst miscommunications in gaming scene production. After a mysterious cloaked figure is speaking face to face with Sora for a few lines, Sora RANDOMLY stops and says “Huh? Where’d you come from?!” Makes no sense.

Anyway, the ultimate point is that Kingdom Hearts: Dumb Name seems to have similar high and low points in its story-telling. Organization XIII cares about their lack of hearts a lot more than people WITH hearts care about anything, but at the same time, there’s a very real connection with Roxas’ story. There’s that special Kingdom Hearts charm that allows it all to be believable, and even when the script isn’t the best, the characters always act in accordance with their personalities and thematic role. I may have more insight into why Kingdom Hearts just works, but more likely I’ll give in depth impressions about Kingdom Hearts: Dumb Name before anything else.

I know a few Riddlethos readers are also Kingdom Hearts fans, so what makes it work for you guys? Lemme know!

It begins…

Monday, September 28th, 2009

Yes, I’m getting Kingdom Hearts: Dumb Name tomorrow (or like a reader put it, Kingdom Hearts: Big Ass Fraction), and I realized that it’s been so long since KHII came out, and although I’ve replayed both games, since, I’ve sort of left that world. I couldn’t stay as hyped for future iterations for the series as I was when I first discovered the secret movie, if I did I’d go crazy.
Therefore, this DS game sorta creeped up on me. I am going to be playing and posting impressions throughout the week, yes, but I finally got a lot of my games back from my brother in MontrĂ©al so I thought I’d throw in the original Kingdom Hearts. This is a series that, although I really do adore it, the last time I played it I also thought the Wii was going to lead the way into saving the world of video games.
Yup, a HELL of a lot has changed since then.
I’m excited and nervous, although few games that I replay ever disappoint me. More as the week develops!

I included Xenosaga to piss Riddles off.

I included Xenosaga to piss Riddles off.

Welcome to Kingdom Hearts Week…

Monday, September 28th, 2009
Blue. Very... blue.

Blue. Very... blue.

That’s a really ominous font. I just realized that… ah well, it’s pretty.

My apologies. Welcome to yet another fun-filled week at Riddlethos.com. As you’ve likely gathered, our theme this week is Kingdom Hearts. Love it or hate it, you’ll just have to live with it. Me and Ethos both love the series, as I’m sure many of you do.

What should you expect from this week? Well, a certain Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 days hits stores tomorrow. Ethos will snap it up as soon as his grubby fingers can grab it, and then (presumably) write his impressions of the game. (Right Ethos?)

Just kidding, we’ve actually already discussed this extensively! Unfortunately we will NOT be bringing you dual-impressions this week, because I’m passing on 358/2 Days in favor of Dead Space: Extraction. Blasphemy, I know; especially during Kingdom Hearts Week. But I’m super-excited for Extraction, and 358/2 Days (God what a dumb name) just hasn’t piqued my curiosity. Hopefully, Ethos will be able to change my mind.

Anyway. I totally just beat Uncharted. More on that tomorrow, it’s late. Goodnight fools!

“I Need A Cigarette” – Love Story Hits Countdown: #5

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Alright, to counter the tragedy that is Mario and Peach, Riddlethos brings you the number 5 position on the sister countdown of love stories that are worthy of praise.

I Wish

I Wish

#5 Best Video Game Romance: Sora and Kairi -
Alright, I had to fight Riddles a little on this one, and I do know of the slightly confusing relationship between Sora and Riku, but I think there’s more than enough evidence to support Sora and Kairi’s connection to earn them this spot. While these two are apart for most of the series, we do get to see a bit of their past and the growth from a childhood crush to a more deep-rooted desire as opposed to the nothing we see with Mario and Peach. At the beginning of the first game, Sora is obviously nervous around Kairi and reacts in the same way we all did when we were 14 when a friend brings up the issue; he stands in stunned silence until the friend claims he was joking. Sora blushes when Donald and Goofy bring her up, and when faced with the decision to bring her back to life, he doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself. As he grows older, he becomes more aware of his loneliness and can only fill the void by remembering his time with Kairi.

Kairi doesn’t just sit along for the ride either. Her feelings for Sora bring him back to life from his short time as a heartless, and he remains in her heart even when her memory has been scrambled. It’s all very sappy and like the entire Kingdom Hearts plotline, a little convoluted, but there really is a lot of heart, and its sincerity is what has endeared me to the series. I do hope that as the characters continue to mature and as the franchise hopefully moves soon into its third major installment that the series is able to accurately portray a continuation from this point. Chain of Memories and even some of Kingdom Hearts II shows an angry hormonal Sora, and treating teenagers like the horny, passionate beings they really are would be a refreshing change of pace from the glossed over de-sexed characters that typically infiltrate the gaming world.

As it stands, the story of Sora and Kairi having a very important and secure place in each other’s hearts is sweet and strong enough to hold a spot in this list, although you might hear Riddles grumbling a little bit about it.