Thursday, March 29, 2012

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Dream Dropped Sleeping Memories

A few weeks back, I made a post about Kingdom Hearts II, where I brought up a few important plot points that most people would have a hard time understanding if they didn't play the spin offs.  In the same post, I also promised a follow up that would serve as an explanation about how said spin-offs explain Sora's mysterious absence at the start of KH2, the mysterious Organization XIII, and the whole Xemnas/Ansem/Xehanort link.

But you know, I've spent the last few weeks struggling.  Let's be realistic here:  If you're really curious to know all of the story links, you can simply consult a Kingdom Hearts wiki.  I also struggled because there was a larger point I was trying to illustrate with the ridiculous number of spin-offs needing to clarify the story.  It wasn't until a conversation with David that I began to hash things out, but my friend Joe gets the credit for really hitting the point that's bothered me this entire time:

Kingdom Hearts is a franchise victim, and has become more about "how can we get more games out of this" rather than providing side-stories or sequels that add closure.

I still owe it to you all to carry out part of this post's original goal:  Mapping out the spin-off mayhem that surrounds Kingdom Hearts II.  But I'm going to do it in a more abbreviated format, covering what each respective game answers, what new concepts to the KH mythos was added, and a miscellaneous category I'll simply title "Damn it Nomura" (DIN).  But I'll also elaborate more on the previous accusation towards the franchise.

Well, let's get this show on the road.

Chain of Memories / Re: Chain of Memories

Answered:  Sora and Riku's actions between the first two games, why Sora was asleep in a pod, what happened to the other half of Organization XIII
Introduced:  Organization XIII
DiN:  ..Organization XIII.  Our new villains are metrosexuals in black leather.

Released in 2004, just a few months before the second main title, Chain of Memories attempts to bridge the gap between the first and second games.  Due to its release date preceding Kingdom Hearts II, it actually works in some ways as a precursor to the second game, and likely did a bit to satiate the thirst of fans who were parched after the goodness that was the Kingdom Hearts.

However, as this game was released for the Gameboy Advance initially (though later ported to the Playstation 2 and packed in with Kingdom Hearts II:  Final Mix), it's likely that fans would have missed out on this.  Furthermore, it doesn't do a great deal to explain who the heck Roxas is, and why Axel's so hellbent on him returning at the beginning of the second game.  To get the full picture of this, you need. .

358/2 Days

Answered:  The origins of Roxas and why he left Organization XIII
Introduced:  Xion
DiN:  Scene after scene of eating popsicles.

You know a few things about Roxas after playing Kingdom Hearts II:  He's Sora's Nobody (a being formed when an especially strong person becomes a heartless), he's a former member of Organization XIII, he's friends with Axel, and at some point in time, he beat Riku.  The second game does a poor job of explaining this.  You play for Roxas for the first painful hour or two.  You have a short cutscene with him before the last dungeon which, at best, seems like a hallucination of Sora's.

358/2 Days explains this, adds a little more backstory to the Organization, and to some degree, fleshes out Roxas's character.  Slightly.  Only there's that pesky little bit where a person's Nobody usually looks exactly like them:  A bill Roxas doesn't exactly fit, the answer to that and more lies in. .

Birth By Sleep

Answered:  Why Roxas and Sora look different, Xehanort, and how this whole mess was started.
Introduced:  Keyblade Exams, the real Xehanort.
DiN:  Keyblade Tokusatsu Squad (See above; it's a lot less cooler than it sounds)

Birth By Sleep alerts us to the fact that Keyblade users have to take some type of test to be considered "masters".  So yeah, it wasn't enough for Sora to beat the tar out of Heartless across two games, save countless worlds, almost singlehandedly wipe out the entirety of Organization XIII (sorry Donald and Goofy, we both know the Drive forms did all the work).  He still needs to take an test.  Which, yep, you guessed it, gives license for another spin-off!

I already did an entire post on this game, and I'm loathe to revisit it in too much length, so here's the gist:  This spin-off shows all of the events that set up Kingdom Hearts, introduces us to Ventus, who looks like Roxas, but technically isn't Roxas's nobody, and. .

You know what?  I can't do this anymore.  Let's just move to the conclusion.

Closing Thoughts

Let me clarify this:  I am not opposed to spin-offs, prequels, or side-stories when they enrich the plot, add to the mythos, or provide a sense of closure.  Various UC Gundam series and games did this nicely.  Ys continues to be a series of self-contained adventures that follow a continuum, star the same character (with the exception of Origins), yet still manage coherency.

There lies my problem with Kingdom Hearts, and the previous "franchise victim" comment.  I get the rationale for Chain of Memories, really.  However, did we seriously need 358/2 Days?  Many significant points about Roxas could have been handled with better writing in the second game.  We could deal without the entirety of Xion's existence.  Also, while I see the purpose of Birth By Sleep, and even enjoyed it from a gameplay perspective, did we really need an entire game detailing Xehanort's sinister plot?  Did we have to complicate it by making him some old dude that possessed a younger dude and abused a former student in some hairbrained plot to create the ultimate keyblade?  Why couldn't we have just left it out 'evil asshole that grew too obsessed with studying the darkness in the heart' or something?

Similarly, do we really need Dream Drop Distance to elaborate on Sora and Riku taking their mastery exam?  Couldn't this just be part of the prologue when they finally release the third game?  Or better yet, why can't the person in charge just go "You know what guys?  Fuck the formalities, you're masters.  Here are some bitchin' powers.  Oh, also, Xehanort's back.  Go handle that."

And that's where my issue lies.  The spin offs related to Kingdom Hearts II aren't exactly a story that happens to be spread across three additional games.  It's three additional games trying to clean up a confusing mess of a story (that isn't without its interesting concepts) left behind by a single game.  When you add to the fact that these games are spread across so many consoles, as well as the target demographic, it almost guarantees that even the most avid fan is going to miss something somewhere.

This is my third post on this series, and while playing through the second game restored my faith a bit, revisiting all of these plot points just makes me tired.  If my rantings didn't make much sense, then I direct you to this to try to explain Kingdom Hearts.

Until next time. . well, play a sequel that doesn't make your brain melt.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice overview of the series. That Google doc is a fantastic summary!