4/16/2012

Looking Back On: Kingdom Hearts




Hello, viewers, and welcome to a new style of post that I like to call: Looking Back On. This is where I spend the post telling how I got into a series, and my experiences playing it's games. Due to this year being the 10th anniversary of Kingdom Hearts, this post will be about my experiences it. Coincidentally, Kingdom Hearts is probably my 2nd favorite game series of all time.* I'll not waste any more time, and start this post proper.

This story actually doesn't start with my purchase of any of the games, but rather, the Mickey's House of Mouse series. It was a kid's show on Disney, where Mickey Mouse owned a nightclub, various Disney characters would cameo, Mickey would crack lame jokes, and the majority of the show was old Disney videos featuring Mickey, Donald, or Goofy. I loved this show as a kid, but I don't know if it holds up, as I haven't watched it in years.

Why am I telling you about this? Well, they released a Straight-to-Video movie for Halloween called House of Villains, where the Disney villains, led by Jafar of Aladdin, took over the nightclub. One of the commercials on the original VHS (which I'm pretty sure I still own) was a 1 minute advertisement for a PS2 game called Kingdom Hearts. I wondered what this had to do with Disney, but it interested me, and I wanted to get it, even though I didn't have a PS2 at the time.

About a year or 2 after I first got the video (when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade), I learned about a GBA sequel to Kingdom Hearts called Chain of Memories. Remembering how much I had wanted to get the original, I figured this might be the only way for me to get a single KH game, so I asked for it for my birthday. My uncle gave it to me, and I was engrossed for the next 3 years trying to beat it. While I was confused about the story a little, though certain things where talked about in exposition, and there was a journal to help recap the events of the previous game, so I wan't too lost. All I knew was; You see Heartless, Bash with giant key, collect EXP orbs, rinse and repeat. Throw in some amazing boss battles (especially for a Disney fan like me), some plot advancement and character development, and you have one awesome game for the Game Boy Advance!

This game introduced many concepts to me that I had never seen before in a video game: Androgynous characters whose genders weren't immediately clear (Vexen, Marluxia), a sense of fun in an otherwise serious game, and a combat customization system (the cards). It was fresh for me then, and it;s still fun revisiting these concepts now.

I only really had one problem: The difficulty towards the end of Sora's story. Once I defeated Darkside on Destiny Islands, I must have fought the Riku Replica at least 10 times before finally beating him, then Larxene at least 12 times, Axel at least 20 times, Marluxia's first form at least 30 times, and his final form at least 35. No exaggeration, when I finally defeated that bastard, I was Level Fucking 91. As good as your game is, you shouldn't make the player need to grind so endlessly!


When I finally beat this story, I was in 5th grade, and was so proud of myself. I remember thinking that I still had some questions, but they could be easily answered in a sequel or by playing the original game, but little did I know, that there was another side to this story: Reverse/Rebirth, the story of Riku. At this time, all I knew about Riku was from the replica, and he was probably my favorite character, so I was so excited when I found out you could play as him! And I loved every second of it. There weren't as much annoying cutscenes (though the ones that were there were mostly necessary), and I always loved how overpowered the Dark Mode was. The only disappointment was that it was too short. I ended up defeating Ansem at level 30-something. So once again, I had a couple questions, but I was confident they could be answered in a sequel.


And how right I was! In 4th grade, I finally got a PS2, and one of the first games I ended up getting for it was Kingdom Hearts 2. I was a bit lost on the Prologue, and for the longest time, I assumed the Axel in this game was an impostor, but this game's play style was more awesome than CoM! The Reaction commands always kept things interesting, and I loved how it included more Disney worlds and characters. I felt that the plot was perfectly cleaned up, but this was just my opinion, apparently. For some reason, I always thought you had to defeat Sephiroth before you could defeat Xemnas. Boy was I stupid. I ended up defeating Xemnas at level 50-something, and after an epic climax, and a beautiful credits montage, I was surprised to see the Sequel Hook with Sora and Riku getting the message in the bottle. I would later learn about the secret ending for Birth By Sleep and watched it on Youtube, before eventually starting my own Proud Mode file to view it when I deserved it.


By now, I was in 5th grade, and these 2 games had given me enough information on KH1 to go on. However, I felt that without that game, I was missing something from the experience. So that October, my dad took me to Best Buy to get "the family" (really just himself) an iPod, and as I was browsing the video game aisles, I saw the Greatest Hits version of Kingdom Hearts. I begged him to get it for me, and after a few minutes, he finally relented. I spent the rest of the month making sure I beat this epic adventure.


Going off of the information I had from Chain of Memories and KH2, I didn't learn much new, other than the fact that there was a Tarzan world. This was actually the first game to present me with moments that genuinely frightened me: the shark bursting through the game in Atlantica, and the fights against Chernabog and World of Darkness in End of the World. While I found it inferior to KH2, it was still an extremely enjoyable game, and my expectations for the future of the series were soaring through the clouds.


Sometime after I got KH1, I started using the internet regularly, and was researching the Kingdom Herats series (I don't mean to brag, but I've always been intelligent for my age, and wished to expand my knowledge), and soon found announcements involving 3 new games in the series. Words cannot describe my excitement at this point. I soon learned what the plots of these games would be: Roxas's time with the Organization, the backstory of the Birth By Sleep video, and the story of what was in Mickey's letter. Knowing all of this, I kept on top of the information on each game as it was revealed more and more.

Later that same year, I learned of the remake of Chain of Memories for the PS2: Kingdom Hearts: Re: Chain of Memories. This game originally came with the Japan-only Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix +, an updated re-release of KH2. I loved Chain of Memories, and I knew I'd love it even more with full English voice acting, so I got it ASAP.

As I expected, it was better than the original. With controls more akin to the other PS2 KH games, and being able to hear every character speak actual English instead of grunt (or in Vexen's case, screech and laugh like Professor Hojo) was very pleasing. The insane difficulty toward the end of Sora's story was greatly retracted, as I was able to defeat Marluxia's 2nd and 3rd forms without much trouble in the mid Level 50's. With added features (including a battle with my favorite member of the Organization, Zexion) and a cutscene theater, it was vastly superior to simple Chain of Memories. The only problems I have with this game are Mickey's Voice Acting (though his VA did die half a year later, so this may not be fair) and a couple alterations to some scenes, though some were for the better. This served to hype me up more for the upcoming titles in the series.

3 long years after I had gotten Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was released in America. The strange title was slightly confusing, though. I knew the 358 was the amount of days Roxas spent before the prologue of KH2, but the 2 confused me. I guessed it had to do with the "mysterious" 14th member introduced in this game, Xion.

Ah yes, Xion. The main cause of Kingdom Hearts' current Hatedom. People view her as a simple Mary Sue, pretty much a self-inserted fanfic character, and having barely any personality. Honestly, the only thing I hate is how the X in her name is pronounced as an SH. I don't see much wrong with her otherwise, except for her blandness.

But that's enough about her, onto the game. The controls were slightly difficult to get used to at first, but now, I'm very used to them. The story doesn't show as much of the Organization as I would have liked (I would have preferred to see more interactions between characters, and more of the CoM characters), but it seems to go over what is necessary, as well as adding some tension and backstory between Axel and Saix. There aren't as much worlds as I would have liked, and the Mission format can be annoying, but overall, this is a solid game. The multiplayer mode is very well done, allowing you to play as characters that don't even appear in the game (Donald and Goofy)! Although this is one of my favorite DS games, I still felt that it wan't the next Kingdom Hearts 2.

Then, the next year, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep came out for the PSP. Thankfully, by this time, I'd gotten a PSP he previous Christmas, so I was all set. The story here is that, 10 years before Kingdom Hearts 1, three young Keyblade Warriors, Terra, Aqua, and Ventus, were training under the Keyblade Master Eraqus. Shortly after Eraqus makes Aqua a Master as well, they discover that Eraqus's close friend and fellow master, Xehanort, has gone missing, and monsters named Unversed are invading all the worlds. Terra, while locating Xehanort, has to cope with his latent darkness. Aqua is tasked with spying on Terra, and Ventus just wants to bring Terra home. You can play each character's story in any order you want, and each one has a different play style from the others.

This game helped answer many questions (Who is the young Xehanort, how was Castle Oblivion created, why were certain characters in other games without their world, etc.), but also created quite a few new ones. I think that's actually pretty clever as it keeps fans pumped for what's going to happen next in the series. It may piss off some people, but screw them, we're TRUE FANS!

The gameplay of this game resembles KH2 the most, considering that it still has Reaction Commands. However, it also has probably the most extensive customization system in the history of Kingdom Hearts. Instead of the traditional menu of commands, you make a deck of spells and abilities that you use to attack enemies. When you use it, it needs to recharge. There are also various special abilities you gain throughout the game as you go through the worlds, finishers that you gradually obtain, Shotlocks which you find with other abilities, and, of course, Keyblades. This game is definitely worthy of being a successor to KH2, but 2 is still my favorite.

While all of this was going on, Kingdom Hearts coded was being gradually released in episodes on cell phones in Japan. Since cell phones aren't as marketable for gaming in other countries, Square decided to port it over to the DS as Kingdom Hearts re:coded in late 2010. Basically, this game combines the gameplay and graphics of Days, the customization of Birth By Sleep, and the story of the original coded. They also added an Avatar Mode where you could get signals from other DS's to unlock floors on a gradually growing gameplay level, where you could unlock clothes for your avatar. This isn't just limited to clothes from characters who have appeared in the KH series at this point, but also various other Final Fantasy characters, like Lightning, Firion, Warrior of Light, and Sazh. This was an interesting idea, and would evolve into the Streetpass function on the 3DS. This was a good game, but, just like Days, wasn't quite as good as the others.

With all those games finally released, Square has been without a new Kingdom Hearts game for over a year. But when the 3DS was announce, what was one of the first games announced? Kingdom. Hearts. 3D. And I don't mean a 3D remake of the original KH, I mean an entirely new game on the 3DS. It's already out in Japan, and is coming out elsewhere in late July. This game features Sora and Riku going through the same test Terra and Aqua did in the beginning of Birth By Sleep, but in the Realm of Dreams. I'm really pumped for this game, and can't wait until info is leaked about the PAL/US bonuses. Also, word has spread that there will be just one more game released before Kingdom Hearts 3 is a reality! Hopefully they won't half-ass these games, like they've been doing with the main Final Fantasy games lately.**

Well, that's my experiences with the Kingdom Hearts series. I've been with it since toward the beginning, and I'll be with it once it finally spirals down into the void of forgotten/dead video game franchises, like Megaman Battle Network. Sora and Riku, you guys will always be among my favorite video game mascots.

HBM, signing out!
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* Second only to Final Fantasy. Ironically, Kingdom Hearts is what introduced me to Final Fantasy in the first place.

** Yeah, I'm not a fan of 11 or 13. I may not have played them, but I could barely stand to watch even 5 minutes of gameplay from either. That's pathetic. And don't even get me started on 13-2!

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