Monday, November 16, 2009

Old reviews of "Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories" and "KH2". And the awesome that is Snaiad.

But first - I was just flipping channels yesterday when O.o OMG WTF LOONEY TUNES MARATHON!!!???!!!
Yes, I know I have the DVDs. It's not the same.
Switching from Warner Bros. to Disney, I don't think I've ever mentioned my love of "Kingdom Hearts" before on this blog, so rescuing this old review from MySpace (originally posted 9/27/07) is as decent an excuse as any.

"Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories".
Let's not EVEN compare this to the PS2 "Kingdom Hearts" (which I maintain is the best Disney movie -so to speak- in years). It's not remotely fair. I did enjoy revisiting the characters and story. The animation is gorgeous and the music is terrific.
Now for the bad news. It is very close to being too f**king hard. Hard to the point of not being fun, really. It's almost entirely the fault of the combat system, a bizarre combination of a card game and a melee "button-masher". It's hard to explain, but the best analogy I can think of is trying to play chess and as you are trying to think through your strategy, your opponent is throwing pawns at your face. In the climactic battles, this approach is downright infuriating.
That said, this game is sort of a breakthrough in interactive storytelling, as it sets up major plot points in the official "Kingdom Hearts" sequel. And the idea of finishing the game only to discover that you may now play through the story again from an entirely different character's point of view is inspired.

"Kingdom Hearts 2"
This game is *reeeeeeeally* long.
Oddly enough, it's only a few actual hours longer than the first game. But the thing is, the first game didn't feel long. It started out coasting along on the novelty of "Final Fantasy" and Disney characters mixing it up, and then you got caught up in the main story. While there were a few awkward interruptions (Gummi. Ship.) the pacing never felt off. That's not the case with "KH2".
Perhaps you have heard of the infamous five-hour-long prologue?
Seriously. It's five hours long. A five hour long Prologue. It's a hell of a lot to ask of the audience's patience. It came dangerously close to reminding me of what people who hate, hate, hate the Shire-set opening chapters of Fellowship of the Ring say reading those opening chapters is like. (NOTE: People like that exist.)
In this five-hour-long Prologue,
there's no sign of the main characters from the first game. (I have a serious problem with any sequel where the main characters and/or main storyline are completely ignored for the first five hours/twenty chapters/three episodes/whatever.) Instead, you're playing as some random new character. And to top it off, this new character *disappears* at the end of the prologue. Admittedly, he does figure into the plot to a small degree; but I figured out how in the *opening credits*. (Which are absolutely the best part of the game. This has even more of a "this is less a video game and more an animated film with some interactive bits" feel than the first "KH".) However, the game itself doesn't clarify how until the very ending - which also happens to be the one other time the character appears in the story. Hilarious.
And did I mention that the nature of this aforementioned character will actually ruin other role-playing games for you? Especially if you're like me and you tend to analyze every work of fiction you consume? I'm serious. Every time you run into an enemy in an RPG, you are going to feel a twinge of guilt before bashing their skulls in for hit points.
It's Spoilertime: It's a pretty controversial example of the aforementioned What Measure is a Nonhuman Trope. In the game, we're introduced to these new enemy creatures called "Nobodies". Most of them are just mooks, like the Heartless in the original, but some of them are bosses. These boss characters are basically just normal people - but there's something different about them, so they aren't normal. Turns out most of them really want to be normal and there is a lot of poignant character development and attention paid to the Nobody characters, Roxas, Axel, and Namine. Roxas doesn't even know he's anything other than a normal person for the five hour long prologue!
And then later on, after Roxas is "dead" and Sora takes over the story, practically every mentor-type character assures him that it's okay to kill all the Nobodies, major characters and otherwise, because they "don't count" as real people. The fact that Sora does not question this and the player is basically forced to agree with him ensures that you will need lots of marshmallows if you join (or, God help you, start, as I did) any discussion about the nature of Nobodies in this game.

I'd feel less grumpy about the length and the pacing if the prologue didn't set the standard for the game as a whole. The further the story strayed from "random Disney and Final Fantasy people help a boring kid in Hammer Pants battle evil and search for his significant other", the more it tried my patience. And it strays from the main plotline quite a bit.
Think of how people who hated the second season of "Lost" felt about the second season of "Lost" and you have the idea. (NOTE: These people also exist.) Organization XIII = The Dharma Initiative.
Furthermore, if you're going to dump a vast all-reaching conspiracy and a Guild of Calamitous Intent-style organization into the mix, for crying out loud please focus on it. We barely learn what's going on until the last third of the game (really, in the end it feels more like "KH 1.5", "KH 2" and "KH 2 and 1/3").
Last night, I was at that magical point - and I'm sure every game in the role-playing genera has one towards the final chapters - where the play is just like work. I had level grinding to look forward to (fighting enough enemies so that the hero does not crap his Hammer Pants and keel over when he finally meets the final boss villains). Not to mention the final villains, and there are five of them; one for each hour of the Prologue. Two of these villains are hard, one is really annoying, and the leader, in the grand tradition of "Final Fantasy" bosses, just won't f-ing give up (actually, I think you have to battle him five times - one Epic Battle for every hour of the Prologue hahaha).
And I didn't think it was possible, but the Gummi Ship is even more annoying than it was the first time around. To the point where *part of the fight with the final boss includes a Gummi ship battle*. I sh*t you not. And whoever came up with the "Little Mermaid" *sing-along* level / "Guitar Hero" rip really needs to sit and think about what they have brought into this world.
BUT!!! (And this is plainly a big "but".)
I stuck with it until the end. Granted, I was largely curious to see how the hell they were going to wrap everything up, but I really and honestly did get really into it in the end. Also, the "Lion King" level is great fun and seeing Donald and TRON together made the 80's-era Disney fan in me go "yay".

Update: There is a new chapter in the "Kingdom Hearts" series released on the Nintendo DS. And it is AAAaaaaaalllll about Organization XIII. I can't say whether I've truly fallen out of love with this series, but I don't know if I can do this game.
That and I still haven't even finished "Platinum" yet...
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So what is Snaiad? It's a fantastic world-building project started by science fiction illustrator Nemo Ramjet (who, incidentally, has the greatest name of any sci-fi artist*). And it includes some of the most insane -yet totally believable- alien creature designs you'll ever see. It's a little overwhelming but it's definitely worth an archive binge.

* - Brynn. Terryl. Aya. Nemo. I ought to just change my name to Trych and see what happens.
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So if anybody out there saw "2012" "2112" "Roland Emmerich Destroys The First Three Cities That Everyone Can Name. Again." "Tragedy Porn", and thought "Oh noes that could really happen waaargarble!!!", please take a minute to watch this:


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