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May 28, 2012

Kingdom Hearts…But First, Advent Children

Before we get started, I’d like to make a correction and apology.

Posted on May 24, 2012:

Kingdom Hearts 2 is not an awful game by any stretch.  It’s just full of things that make it hover dangerously close to the edge.  Roxas and his pain-inducing prologue, the disorganized Organization XIII, the shift from the east/west hybridization to cookie-cutter anime fare, the segregated plot, the still-piddling minigames, the absurd gameplay decisions, the unevenness of Reaction Commands, the mash-happy nature, the handling of the worlds…there’s a lot to discuss, and I will in due time.  But for everything the game does wrong, there are just a number of things that it does so right.”

In retrospect, that’s not fair to anime.  As you can guess, I hold anime in high esteem -- it has plenty of amazing elements, its fair share of faults, and stories ranging from magical to mediocre.  To knock something just because it has anime and manga influences is utterly wrong; I used to rag on the Teen Titans cartoon before it came out because it tried to copy anime, and yet by series’ end it became one of my favorite shows.  To even insinuate that anything with certain tropes, styles, and mannerisms is automatically bad because of it is something that I would like to avoid -- hence, my correction.

What I should have said is this:

It’s just full of things that make it hover dangerously close to the edge…the disorganized Organization XIII, the shift from the east/west hybridization to Advent Children-style schlock…”

There we go.  That about sums things up -- and makes the final hours of Kingdom Hearts 2 so genuinely painful.

So let’s pretend you've never seen Advent Children (in which case I envy you).  You go in expecting to see exactly what you hoped for: a continuation of the Final Fantasy VII mythos.  Ignoring the fact that for the most part the loose ends and narrative were all wrapped up -- though that would be more of an issue when Dirge of Cerberus came around…brrrrr -- you’d expect for the movie to give you a glimpse of what became of the characters after Meteor nearly wipes out the planet.  Likewise, you’d expect for bad guys and monsters to show up, and battles to occur rather frequently.  And you’d expect the movie to follow the game and its internal logic far more closely than, say, The Spirits Within.

And you’d be right.  Too bad that all those elements can’t save the movie from being shit.

If you’re a fan of Cid, Yuffie, Red XIII, Barret, or Cait Sith, you’re out of luck.  Outside of about six minutes in the total hundred-one minute runtime, they’re pointless.   (Vincent fares slightly better, for good or for ill).  Having cleared the original game I know that Midgar and the connected slums weren’t exactly a colorful place, but the rest of the world managed to be vibrant and varied; here you just get washed-out, dystopian images and palettes.  The new villains end up having their plan upended by a “much-needed” confrontation with Sephiroth, begging the question why he wasn’t just the villain in the first place -- especially considering that he’s on the movie’s cover.  The plot manages to add exactly nothing to the continuity or world, with the stakes being not much more than “beat these guys” and all the other elements that made FF7 so great being shuffled aside.  And what in God’s name happened to Cloud?  What happened to Reno?  What happened to Aerith?  Why is Rufus suddenly alive after being blown up by a Weapon’s attack and ostensibly having a skyscraper collapse on him?  Is Geostigma really just a disease that makes people sad?  Why did we need an extended scene of Cloud’s cell phone sinking into the water?

It’s all just a ruse to shuttle viewers from one fight to the next -- and therein lays a major fault with Square-Enix as of late.  Final Fantasy has never been a perfect franchise, but (up until 13) it had a few consistent elements.  It had a sprawling world, deep and meaningful and for the most part inviting players to explore.  It infused spiritual elements with the mundane, from crystals to spirits to ancient societies to powerful magic.  It brought crazy casts together, allowing them to bounce ideas and worldviews and rivalries off each other -- and gave you a party to follow and use to fight the hordes of evil with at your leisure.  There was, and always will be, an emphasis on the battles…buuuuuuuut there was a difference between having the battles as a part of the game and having the battles be the whole purpose of the game.  You could argue that it was just due to limitations of the hardware, forcing the FF team to reign in their designs -- and considering what Squeenix does when they have free reign with technology, money, and resources…

…Yeah.  You know what they say about how absolute power.

Advent Children apparently hands out a slew of maxed-out, game-breaking Materia, because now everyone can fly, leap around as fast as a speeding train, cut through buildings and motorcycles, deflect bullets with sunglasses, and can survive getting stabbed and shot with no discernible damage to their clothes.  I’ve heard that the crew behind the movie purposely decided not to worry about physics and make the fights as cool as possible.  The problem with this approach is that when you just make the fights cool, you forgo everything else -- plausibility, sense, personality, tension, stakes, risk and reward, impact on the characters, impact on the plot, actually being able to tell what's going on, etc.  Fight scenes aren’t exactly world-class literature, but they still have a decorum that you can’t afford to ignore, regardless of your medium.

In spite of that, I’d assume that Advent Children sold like hotcakes coated in a cocktail of drugs and peppermint.  And even if it wasn’t, Squeenix would be content with taking the lessons learned -- over-the-top fights, high-end graphics and melodrama are good -- and applying them elsewhere.  Advent Children's contribution to the canon was just giving fans footage to make AMVs to; the plot was (if you can believe it) simultaneously bare-bones and byzantine, so much so that there had to be prequel novels and an updated version of the movie to make more money promote Final Fantasy XIII give a satisfying conclusion explain what was going on make more money.

With that preamble out of the way, we’re finally ready to talk about Kingdom Hearts 2.  Stay tuned.


  1. I liked Advent Children. Mostly because I had long since given up all hope and wasn't expecting anyone to ever continue or even consider continuing the FF7 mythos (besides fanfic writers that is).

    You know what you should do? Write what YOU think happened after FF7's credits, only in short points. I'd like to do that too. Let's have a nerd out and see how long it takes for the fanboys to start raging.

    1. To be fair, Advent Children DID deliver on over-the-top fights...for good or for ill. (I also liked the music, so there's that.) Still, it feels like a wasted opportunity in a few respects.

      That said, I'm not sure if I could do the FF7 canon justice any better than the AC "masterminds." I'm only a fan, not a creator, and it's been a while since I played through the game. There are probably more dedicated, more well-versed gamers who could tell a better story.

      ...On the other hand, if I could have my say, I would want to see at least three things after FF7's credits (or to be more specific, after the Lifestream steps in but before the centuries-later finale):

      1) What becomes of Shinra after the end? Its headquarters in Midgar got wrecked, and I'd assume that people would be a lot less receptive to them after they played their hand in destroying the planet. Conversely, they're a necessary evil and a major part of the world's economy prior to the end. What's life like without them?

      2) How does Cloud and the gang help rebuild the world? If Dirge of Cerberus did anything right (and that's being generous), it's show efforts to move on after the world's near-destruction. I'd like to see more of that, be it cooperation with civilians or resentment and interference.

      3) What other secrets are the Ancients hiding? I don't want to screw with the canon too much, but if there was going to be anything I'd like to see explored, it's this. Maybe Cloud and the gang could go on a journey to uncover more long-lost mysteries (and considering the excavation bit near the end of the first disk, maybe they could help out some archaeologists). It could be a chance to learn a bit more about the world, but more importantly let the characters get a little introspective about who they are, what they want to do from now on, and their place on the living, breathing organism they call The Planet WITHOUT sinking into pointless melodrama.

      That'll just about sum it up for now. If I think of anything else, maybe I'll make a new blog post about it.

      Till then, it's your move.

    2. Your points are great, actually and I hadn't considered those before hand but as far as I'm concerned, Shinra is destroyed. Now for my two cents:

      1)Expanding on your shinra aftermath idea, I'd say that with the world's economy in the balance, Midgar is taken over by its citizens and members of SOLDIER. Or better yet, the armed corps move in to take over the city, using their access to a number of Shinra's existing tech and recources and try to take over the city.

      I'd love to see an ff7 aftermath spinoff on this, with the party fighting against SOLDIER, equipped with half-done materia, mako and mech projects from Shinra. I'd also love to see the liberation of Midgar.

      2)What the hell became of Aeris? It's not exactly explained what happened to her. She became part of the Lifestream, which means she's kind of part of the greater planetray conciousness. She crushes the Meteor and now she's an Earth Goddess, or at least an aspect of her. I'd love to see Cloud finally reaching closure and coming to terms with the fact he can't hook up with her no more, what with her being the world around him.

      3)Clood hooks up with Tifa as a result of 2, because what the hell man, he's got no more excuses left.

      4)SPACE! Cid rebuilds his spaceship and goes to other planets, because why the hell not? It's his dream and from what we've seen in game, it's entirely possible!

    3. All valid points, indeed. I especially like number 3 and 4; 3 could give Cloud and Tifa some unique character development (which I admit I'm a sucker for), and 4 because...well, as you said, why the hell not?

      You know, I've never really thought about what could happen after FF7 (thanks to what Square Enix did with Advent Children and Dirge of Cerberus...brrrr), but given our little conversation it makes me wonder if they'll ever make a FF7-2. Of course, to say that that would open up a whole new can of worms would be the understatement of the damn millennium.

  2. They won't and it would be for the best. Trust me, there's no way they can live up to the hype of the first game and as far as systems go, materia was old-school and won't resonate well with the younger audiences.

    1. True. Hopefully they'll practice some common sense and resist the urge to stuff their pockets...again.