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August 21, 2012

The Return of Jafar: A Kingdom Hearts 2 Retrospective (Part 1)


So.  Kingdom Hearts 3D is finally out.

Cripes.  I’d like to think that I have a handy grasp on the franchise, but I’m having a hard time remembering any games -- well, any meaningful, canon-advancing games -- that put our hero Sora in the spotlight.  I’m drawing a serious blank here.  Outside of Kingdom Hearts 2, what have we had?  A prequel starring Roxas, another prequel featuring a Roxas-lookalike, a girl, and an idiot; a remake of a card battle game; a cell phone game…if my memory’s correct, Sora (and with it, the actual progression of the canon instead of filling in plot points -- or widening them, more than likely) has been out of action for about seven years.  Or if not out of action due to some game I'm missing, then far-removed from the public eye.

Which is kind of weird, considering 1) he’s the hero of the story, and 2) he’s what helps make the series great.  But I suppose there’s no point in whining, now that our hero’s come back.  And from what I’ve heard -- a few reviews aside -- KH3D is something of a return to form.  (Though of course, people said the same thing about Birth By Sleep…)  Well, from the video or two I’ve seen, there’s a pretty big emphasis on the worlds -- largely because they’re utterly massive now.  And to compensate, Sora can traverse levels with a slew of new moves.  Combined with the supposed evolution of BBS’ systems -- which I will admit weren’t the problem with that game -- it’s safe to say that from a gameplay perspective, KH3D shouldn’t be a disappointment.  With the story, who knows how it’ll go…?

Whatever the case, let the records show that I don’t hate everything Squeenix has done since KH1.  My intent is to one day get KH3D, and a 3DS along with it -- if only to enjoy cameos from the rather excellent The World Ends With You

Let the records also show that KH2, in my opinion, is vastly inferior to KH1.

I’m not going to say that KH2 is an inherently awful game, because it’s not.  It just has things -- lots and lots and lots -- of things that irritate the hell out of me.  But those things that irritate me and others are the very same things that put the game in GamesRadar’s Top 100.  I’ll admit that when I first saw the article and why they came to that conclusion, I had a less-than-demure reaction…


…but I can see why people like the game.  I vehemently disagree with virtually every point they make, but I’ll respect both dissenters and their opinions. 

What I think of KH2, in a nutshell, is as easy to discern as reading this post’s title.  If KH1 is a Disney movie -- a theatrical release that, while imperfect and more than a little sketchy on certain details, manages to capture an admirable and enjoyable spirit, then KH2 is a direct-to-video sequel.  One that continues the story, yes, but manages to miss the point on several fundamental levels.  Squeenix tries to give you what you want -- more dimension-hopping adventures -- but without an understanding of what made the original game work, it feels like such a betrayal by the canon and the company in question.  It’s a game that, like The Return of Jafar before it, doesn’t leave nearly as strong an impact as the original…or at least, not a favorable one.

So consider this as much a retrospective as it is a proving ground -- a repository of evidential material that should tell you what’s good and what’s bad about KH2.  Or you could think of it as edutainment.  Because…hey, why not?  Might as well learn something as long as you’re on the internet, right?

So let’s get started.  And just like before, we’ll start with the most important element of any work:

Part 1: Characters

Roxas
I’ve already spoken at length about Roxas (in what's incidentally the most popular post on this blog), but just in case you missed it, my opinion bears repeating: Roxas was a mistake.  But I’ll go ahead and entertain the thought that Roxas is a vital, irreplaceable part of the KH canon.  Ignoring the fact that he’s a bland, melodramatic cesspool of angst -- and something of an idiot, though that’s hardly surprising -- he does offer something important.  His existence alone, and all the mysteries surrounding it, helps expand the story from a one-shot story into a potential franchise.  If nothing else, it shows ambition.

And I would actually praise Tetsuya Nomura if it seemed like he and his cohorts weren’t just making it up as they go.  

Roxas’ story could have, and should have ended right there in KH2.  In his debut game, he adds very little to the story; there are flashes that suggest that, yes, he’s going to have a lasting impact on the story…but they’re flashes, and nothing more.  There are signs that his bond and mind-meld with Sora will indeed play a huge part -- or even a subtle part -- in shaping both their characters…but they’re mere threads, and nothing more.  He’s woefully underutilized, yet we’re supposed to believe that he’s important after the fact?  I don’t buy it.  I don’t buy him being the star of 358/2 Days and seeing another Organization member introduced.  I don’t buy him being a lookalike of Ventus in BBS, because Ventus would be effectively the same character (maybe even better) even if he didn’t look like Roxas. 

Maybe this is all a part of Nomura’s grand design, and maybe I’m being a bit too critical.  But you know what?  I wouldn’t have to be if I had any reason to latch onto Roxas.  The only compelling part of his character -- and Ventus’ by extension -- is that he’s been subjected to some hard knocks throughout his life.  In other words, the primary connection we’re supposed to feel for him isn’t based on admiration or fascination; he’s just someone we’re supposed to pity.  Someone designed to make players say “Aw, he doesn’t have a heart?  Poor Roxas; he’s had a rough life, so he must be a good character!”

Sigh.  If only RoxasXDeleteKey was the OTP…


DiZ/Ansem the Wise
I’m tempted to leave this space blank. 

DiZ is a non-entity in this game.  In spite of his plans to use Sora for his own aims and wage war on the Organization (or the Nobodies, or the Heartless, or the darkness, or the ice cream man for not stocking enough sea-salt popsicles), DiZ promptly and immediately disappears until the last three hours of the game, where he needlessly sacrifices himself because he couldn’t be arsed to move away from his machine -- a machine that he constructed and likely should have known would explode him to death, but whatever. 

For a character teased in promotional art, teasers, trailers, interviews, and magazine articles, DiZ sure doesn’t do much -- again, another case of misappropriation.  Which is kind of a shame, because given that he’s the one responsible for teaching Xehanort important, plot-shifting details about the nature of the worlds, he could have been primed to have a sort of intellectual war with Xemnas.  Or merely because of his intelligence, he could make a definite statement in the story about knowledge and intelligence, and the proper methods of seeking it out.

Why do I get the feeling I’m a better writer than all the Squeenix heads put together?



Namine
Finally, someone new to discuss.  This should be promising.  Let’s see here…Namine appears in the game’s first hour…and then she shows up in the last three hours.

Hold on, I need to go smoke an elephant’s weight in cigarettes.

I’ve actually been meaning to talk about Namine for a while.  First of all, I want to start by saying that I haven’t played Chain of Memories.   (I never got a GBA because my mom assumed my brother would hog -- and eventually break -- the system.)  What I know about Namine from that game are things that I gleaned over summaries and screenshots; essentially, she uses some form of “witchcraft” to rewrite memories in order to screw with Sora for the sake of Organization 13.  She eventually works to restore Sora’s memories to normal, but only by imprisoning him in some flowery stasis pod for about a year.  That…makes sense?

Here’s the issue.  If I hadn’t dug up info about Chain of Memories -- as was my brother’s case, since he had only played KH1 -- then I wouldn’t know anything about Namine.  And of course, KH2 does jack-all to explain the importance of Chain of Memories and all its characters.  Establishing a character in the context of KH2, especially one as --theoretically -- important as Namine should be a top priority, yet it’s much too easy to draw a blank.  And the same goes for a lot of points.  Why does Organization 13 have only eight members (seven, now that Roxas is down and out)?  How did Riku and King Mickey escape from the darkness?  Who’s Namine?  All valid questions that will barely be answered in Jiminy Cricket’s Journal!  You’d think that a detail like “This girl can destroy your mind” would be something worth noting.

I’m seriously starting to wonder if the first three hours and the last three hours were from completely different games.  They’re so incongruous with the rest of KH2’s narrative.  They don’t mesh at all.  Their tone and context are so far-removed from Sora’s adventure that they’re downright obtuse.  Where is Namine throughout the game?  Why does she do nothing for so long in spite of being so powerful?  What is she, really?  Is she a witch, or a Nobody?  Is there a difference?  I’m asking this because, of course, none of these questions are satisfactorily answered in KH2.  She’s just a character who explains things and pops in to move the plot when no one else, not even the writers, can.

The most I can say about Namine is that she seems like a nice girl, she can warp people out of a jam with dark portals, and she has an embarrassingly girly run while holding Kairi’s hand.  I’m pretty sure girls don’t run like that in real life.  And by pretty sure, I mean that this is more proof that being a girl in Kingdom Hearts completely and utterly sucks.       


 Axel
A member of Organization 13 -- and dead-ringer for FF7’s Reno -- who’s out to save his buddy Roxas by any means necessary, even if it means betraying his partners in crime.  In spite of his aims and issues, he’s actually cocky and affable; there’s a sort of roguish charm to him that actually makes him worthy of being added to the KH canon instead of being a spiky-haired scarecrow for Sora to smash down.  I didn’t time it exactly, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Axel has more screen time than the villain of the story.  Granted that probably has more to do with cementing KH2’s bromance, but the point still stands.  And it’s not to anyone’s detriment; even if he’s part of a worrisome trend, I can’t help but like Axel, and sympathize with what the writers were going for.

See?  I can be positive when it comes to discussing Squeenix.

I think the best thing that could happen to Axel was being separated from his pal Roxas.  Friendship is pretty much the fuel for the entire series, so it makes sense for him to pursue solace from a more villainous angle; in a sense, he’s a dark mirror of our hero Sora (or Riku, alternatively).  He has a personality, he’s pursuing an identifiable goal, and he actually sees some semblance of character development -- from a cocky guy that seems to have the situation under control to a deeply-scarred and needy anti-hero; from there, he becomes a schemer who’s essentially playing both sides to his own ends, and ultimately becomes a desperate martyr who’d sacrifice himself it meant keeping some semblance of his friend alive.  So let it be known, therefore, that I actually think Squeenix CAN do something right…even if it is by accident.


Sora
It’s about time.

I’m not entirely sure how the flower-pod that Sora was in changed him, but I’m convinced that it made him more badass than ever -- in both a good way, and a bad way.  For now, let’s just focus on the good, because the alternative would be wondering how his mind and body didn’t turn to mush after a year of not being in use.

In the original KH, Sora’s understandably out of his element.  He’s weak, he’s confused, his world’s effectively been erased, and his friends are missing.  There’s a sense that even if he is a happy character, there’s a pressure squeezing him from the inside out.  There’s a similar pressure plaguing Sora in this game, but not in the same capacity.  Here, he’s even happier.  He’s more energetic.  He’s always eager to smile, and explore, and see new worlds, and make new friends.  At the same time, he’s a bit more aggressive and hot-headed, and will call someone out if they’ve done wrong.  (It should also be noted that Sora gets decked on multiple occasions, up to and including taking a punch in the face.)  Plus he’s smarter than he lets on, and even has a subtle sense of humor.  Essentially, he’s a walking, talking ball of fun; if he’s slated to become the messiah (or something like it), then he’ll certainly be a charismatic one.

Sora isn’t just a fun character, but an important one for JRPGs as a whole.  Consider, if you will, some of the characters from Final Fantasy, and what makes them who they are.  Cloud’s inferiority complex and failures in SOLDIER led him to pretend to be someone else, which led to a breakdown later in the game.  Squall is surly and a social recluse because of abandonment issues from his orphanage days.  Tidus has father issues that he loves reminding us about.  Vaan has -- hahaha, no, just kidding.  It’s never Vaan.  Ashe has her husband killed and her kingdom ruined, so she embarks on a quest for revenge in the tiniest miniskirt possible. 

Sora has no such issues.  Rather than have a dark and troubled past define him (or worse yet, constantly slow down the story to remind us of said past), he lives in the moment.  He moves toward the ending he wants with gusto.  He is, ultimately, and now more than ever, a kid on a wild adventure -- a far cry from the brooding heroes of games of all genres.  He has his problems in the context of what’s happening at the moment -- and yet, those problems are never ones that force him or the story to a stand-still.  He may LOOK like a stereotypical JRPG hero, but he’s far from one; because of it, he not only succeeds in capturing the Disney spirit, but is the clear lynchpin as to why Kingdom Hearts worked in the first place.

There’s a pretty telling scene around the midpoint of the game.  While looking for Cloud, Tifa runs across Sora and crew, and asks them if they’ve seen anyone with spiky hair (one of Cloud’s defining characteristics).  My immediate thought was “What about Sora?  He’s got spiky hair.”  Apparently Sora felt the same way, because he cocks his head and pulls on a few of his spikes.  This is the most brilliant thing Squeenix has ever done: they took time out to make fun of themselves.


Donald
Still as incomprehensible as ever (again).

Having looked over my entry on Donald in the KH1 retrospective, I have to wonder if the game added anything conclusive to his character.  You know, creative liberties and all that.  I mean, yeah, there was that subtext about Donald being a more by-the-book dimension hopper, what with his “strict” adherence to protocol.  But what else?  But what else besides a wardrobe redesign?  Not much, I think; it was just Donald Duck.  Just Donald being Donald.

Having played KH2, I’ve realized there’s nothing wrong with that.  Because in KH2, Donald is more Donald than ever.

In the original game, Sora and Donald get into a fight after the former crash-lands the ship in Tarzan’s world, leading to them refusing to speak with each other.  Naturally, they patch things up by world’s end, and go about their adventures as usual.  It’s a moment where both of them reveal how childish they can be, particularly in Donald’s case (who I’m guessing, according to the KH canon, is pushing forty).  High-minded as he might be, not even Donald is above it all -- and his less-than-polite tendencies come out in full force here.  Tempted by greed, curious to a fault, regularly distrusting and disrespectful…he’s even ready to come to blows when he enters Mulan’s world.  He’s decidedly colorful, in a nutshell.

Moreover, the Sora-Donald-Goofy Trinity succeeds in part because of Donald’s vividness -- particularly in the sense that he’s a reflection of Sora.  Consider that the fight I just mentioned in Mulan’s world has not only Donald getting incensed, but Sora as well; it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that the two have a lot more in common than they care to admit.  And if that’s the case, then Donald is the distilled essence of a part of Sora: he’s the childish, unscrupulous, often-aggressive part of him.  But with that childish nature comes a sense of purity and earnestness; he pursues everything with zeal, and puts an immense amount of weight on protecting what’s important to him.  So all in all, he’s stepped up from KH1 -- now, if only he could speak properly…


Goofy
I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I wish somebody would make a new game starring Goofy.  Yeah, I know.  Goofy, the god-emperor of fuck-ups.

Hear me out on this.  If Donald’s the personification of Sora’s more energetic elements, then Goofy represents the more sedate parts -- yin and yang, as it were (with Goofy as yin and Donald as yang).  Goofy brings with him a measured intelligence and wisdom to the group, as per Sora’s subtle savvy.  He doesn’t let anything get to him, even if he’s justifiably wronged.  He’s the one that points out logical points and the group’s best course of action, just in case Sora loses focus or Donald decides to try and murder something.  He’s got one of the single most useful Limit Breaks in the game.  

Even if there’s not much to Goofy, there doesn’t need to be.  What he offers is a simple, good-natured humility that provides a counter-balance to his more animated pals.  In an industry filled with demon swordsmen, one-man-armies, nigh-superhuman archaeologists, and Captain Falcon, I’d argue that Goofy’s as badass as all the rest.  And that’s all that needs to be said.

…He still uses up all my items, though.


Mickey Mouse
A thought occurred to me while playing KH2.  See, for a large portion of it, Mickey travelled around in the same getup as the rest of Organization 13 -- black cloak and hood, albeit shrunken down to his size.  My question is, why?  Was he trying to infiltrate the Organization?  If that’s the case, then wouldn’t they notice that they suddenly had an extra member?  Wouldn’t they notice that this newcomer not only had a Keyblade, but was also two feet tall and had a tail and frying pan-sized ears?

Anyway, Mickey Mouse.  Fittingly, he’s the king of Disney Castle (wonder if he ever organized any inter-dimensional summits…?), and a fierce Keyblade warrior in his own right.  In spite of being an effectively-immortal swordmaster, Mickey -- much like the FF crew before him -- stays out of the spotlight, only bailing Sora out if you’re getting hammered by a boss.  It’s kind of odd that Mickey pops into whatever world you’re in exactly when you need him most, but I suppose it’s more of a thematic thing; he’s a hands-off mentor and guardian that wants to give Sora a chance to prove himself, and likely grow more accustomed to using the Keyblade.  Plus, gathering intel is not exactly Sora and company’s forte, so having Mickey stealth his way through the game makes a fair amount of sense. 

So what does KH2 do for King Mickey?  Well, the game certainly doesn’t ruin him (suspect physics of his fighting style aside); he’s still the same amicable mouse we know and love.  At the same time, there’s a certain seriousness and resolution to him -- a result of his duties as king and old friend of Ansem the Wise, no doubt.  And like Donald -- up to a point -- he’s a bit of a by-the-book player.  Being the king brings with it certain practices and standards…although considering that Mickey wonders why everyone has to hate the darkness and the metaphysical implications therein, it’s possible that he doesn’t have blind faith in the very element his kingdom was literally built upon.

Although…Mickey’s (and to an even greater extent, his master Yen Sid’s) status as an informant opens up a lot of questions.  Both of them were effectively right there for what happened in Birth By Sleep.  Why didn’t they bring that up?  Why did they never mention a Keyblade War, or the Keyblade Masters, or the fall of the Land of Departure?  The obvious answer would be that such information is on a need-to-know basis, and it didn’t have an immediate effect on the plot.  The MORE obvious answer would be that Nomura and friends hadn’t thought it up yet.  

Pete
A better villain than all of Organization 13 put together.

I’m serious.  He may not be the most effective villain (he’s a recurring enemy who often gets smacked around like a pinball), but for what it’s worth he actually tries.  He’s got a personality, one that’s tonally constant with his character and the Disney universe.  He’s got a motivation, in that he wants to show up the Disney do-gooders, serve his boss Maleficent, and use the Heartless to go to town on…well, the universe.  He even gets a little episode that develops his character, and injects a bit of pathos.  He leaves more of an impact than any other enemy in the game, though that’s likely a consequence of Jim Cummings’ performance and Squeenix’s graphics engine at work.  He’s animated in the way you’d expect from the fusion of two philosophies, and even surpasses expectations…even if that includes an unusually-bouncy jaw.  Also, apparently Pete is some kind of cat.  As a wise man once said…



Kairi
Shortchanged as hell in this game.

I’m having a hard time deciding which game treats Kairi worse -- the first one, where she’s comatose for all but about three hours of the game (and even so has her body firmly in the hands of the bad guys), or the second one, where they try to pass her off as a stronger and more capable young lady, but arguably screw up even worse.

Let us count the many ways…with the proper music, of course.

1) Spends her days waiting for her boys (Sora and Riku) to come back.

2) Gets so desperate she tries to contact Roxas for clues about Sora’s whereabouts.

3) Vanishes for more than a third of the game.

4) Becomes embroiled in an enemy plot to get Sora -- with the key point of said plot being Kairi’s kidnapping.

5) Goes into “hiding” with Hayner, Pence, and Olette…only to get kidnapped anyway.

6) Spends another third or so of the game MIA/in her cell.

7) Gets bailed out by Namine and joins her in an embarrassingly girly run.

8) Gets a Keyblade for exactly one scene.

9) Is relegated to the background for most scenes following her Keyblade acquisition.

10) Has the potency of her reunion with Sora -- a touching moment in its own right -- immediately and unceremoniously upstaged by Riku’s reappearance and Sora’s reaction.

As I recall, one of the trailers for the game teased a more active role for Kairi, thanks to her speaking the line “This time, I’ll fight too.”  That line actually is in the game.  The fighting part?  Not so much.  And thus, the lesson “Never be a girl” is cemented in the hearts and minds of female KH fans everywhere.  Oh, speaking of lessons…


Riku
Rule #1 of Kingdom Hearts: if you have anything resembling ambition, you’re doomed to transform into a tall black man with a spiky mullet.

Much like Mickey Mouse, I can’t help but wonder why Riku would decide to wear an Organization hood.  Does it have some kind of cloaking power?  That can’t be what lets them teleport around, can it?  Well, whatever; Riku spends almost all of the game running around in that hood of his, giving Sora the silent treatment and doing…something.  He’s been helping out DiZ, I guess, but other than screw with Roxas and occasional good deeds in Disney worlds, I can’t say he leaves too big of an impact.  Doubly so when you consider that Squeenix thought it wise to mute one of their more complex and thoughtful characters.  Riveting.

To be fair, Riku’s decision to hide his transformed self from Sora and Kairi says a bit about his character.  He was a proud and cocky kid back in KH1, and was used to upstaging Sora at every turn; he ended up losing to Sora in the end, and it’s obvious that his pride’s taken a blow.  So while Sora gets to faff about in Disney worlds, Riku has to shoulder the shame of his mistakes, much like a scarlet letter or a particularly bad haircut.  He can’t show his face to his friends, because his face is one that shows how far he’s fallen.  Of course, it’s possible that he’s giving the sugar-blooded Sora waaaaaaaaaay too much credit.

Also, I’d like to point out that the whole “blindfolded Riku” thing is just one of many, many, many dumbass ideas.  Riku’s eyes can’t lie…yeah, that’s a rather hefty load of shit right there.


Nobodies
I've said this before, but I'll say it again -- I actually really like the Nobodies.

There's something utterly unsettling about them, more so than the Heartless.  Pulsating, writhing, boneless forms, each with their own unique skills...they may not make sense, but they're deadly and freaky as all get out.  And their sparing use in the game actually makes them more frightening.

That said, fighting the Nobodies is NOT something I like.  They all seem to have some sort of cheap ability.  The Dusks can suddenly decide to not take damage any more and slip out of your combos.  Sorcerers can bludgeon you with cubes, whether you like it or not.  Assassins become invincible as they attack from the ground, and parrying them out of it is harder than it needs to be.  Dancers can go suck one of Pa's Homemade, Old-Fashioned Cow Pies.  

...They still look cool, though.



The Disney Heroes
Apparently, Sora’s increase in power brought with it a boost in the abilities of all their friends; the Limits give everyone a slew of over-the-top attacks that tear through enemies…well, assuming you can confirm a hit.

The stories for each character inhabit an odd, variant space.  For some characters (like Hercules), they’re experiencing a sort of original story for the game.  For others (Aladdin or Jack Sparrow), they’re going through the narrative of their movies…though it should be noted that Aladdin essentially makes us relive The Return of Jafar.  And then there are characters (like the goddamned Beast) who seemed to have gotten past their movie canon, but suddenly regress to somewhere in/beside it.  And because you visit the worlds twice, the second visit (in the case of Mulan or Jack Sparrow) can then spin off into an original story.  It’s kind of odd, but I wouldn’t say it’s to anyone’s detriment.

Visiting the worlds twice and mixed-up canon would lead you to believe that they’ve all got jumbled story arcs.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  In fact, I’d argue that, whereas KH1 was largely about Sora learning lessons from his would-be mentors, KH2 is about both student and teacher learning something new.  Aladdin learns a lesson about trust.  Mulan learns a lesson about honor.  Tron learns a lesson about friendship.  The goddamned Beast learns about what really matters to him before mauling the shit out of Xaldin and riding off into the sunset with Belle in his arms on his Harley (that’s how I choose to remember it, and no one can tell me otherwise).  It’s a way of cementing the idea that Sora’s now capable of fighting on even ground with the veterans; he still has a ways to go, of course, but he’s a lot more competent than his giant feet would suggest.


The FF Crew
I just realized that this game features almost every major character from FF7.  Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, Yuffie, Cid, Sephiroth…I’m thankful that they practiced some moderation and decided NOT to put Vincent in, but I guess they’ve gotta save something for KH3.  Or maybe they’ll think outside the box and give us the first (and only) black man in either canon’s universe.

I’ve mentioned before how Cloud and Sephiroth’s scenes were a mistake and don’t belong in KH2.  I still believe that.  But with that aside, the FF crew actually stays out of sight for the most part.  If the Disney heroes are the infantry, the crew is more like logistics -- mission control, making sure Sora has a home base to come home to and intel whenever he needs it.  Each of them -- well, except for Selphie -- manages to help Sora out in one way or another, and once more show how far he’s come by fighting side-by-side with him.  This goes double for Auron, who has the distinction of being (and likely not the last) FF-based party member; even if I don’t 100% approve of the turn KH has taken, even I can’t help but smile as Sora and Auron create a tornado by forming a propeller out of their weapons.  So the characters themselves aren’t necessarily the problem; after all, we can’t have things get TOO Disney-fied.

But seriously, guys.  Next game, I want to see Final Fantasy characters.  Steiner, Bartz, FuSoYa…hell, can you imagine how surreal it would be if two Cids actually met?


The Disney Villains
Arguably, they take the biggest hit in the transition to KH2.  In the original game, even if they didn’t necessarily like each other (and let’s be honest, weren’t exactly the deepest characters), they still worked together.  They had a common goal, so to speak, and their unified presence made them far more threatening.  They split up to wreak havoc in their respective worlds -- overseen by Maleficent, of course -- and put Sora and the gang to the test.

In this game, they get marginalized by the presence of Organization 13.  Last time, they were THE villains (Ansem aside).  This time, they’re JUST villains; the real focus is on stopping the men in black cloaks, and all the rest is just filler.  The ultimate goal isn’t saving the Seven Princesses of Heart from Maleficent’s clutches -- seven princesses who, notably, have zero bearing on the plot despite being immensely integral to the canon -- but stopping Xemnas and pals from making an artificial Kingdom Hearts.  Unfortunately, the balance is skewed.  There are eight living members left, and only five of them actually muck about in the worlds.  There are more than five worlds in this game.  So what relevance does beating Scar have on the plot?  How does Hades’ game plan mesh with the rest of the game?  Hell, some of the baddies even get a downgrade; Oogie Boogie goes from one of the top conspirators to someone with the memory of a goldfish.  It’s all just a bunch of faffing about while you’re waiting for the plot to actually kick in -- and you’re lucky if one of the Organization members spends even three minutes in a world before zipping off.  Couple that with each world requiring a return trip, and eventually the faffing about reaches critical mass.

The Disney villains deserved better.  Instead, we get…


Organization 13
You know, I wish that you could see me every time I have to type “Organization 13.”  More often than not, I find myself lowering my head and shaking it, with a palm firmly pressed into my forehead. 

Organization 13.  Where do I begin…?

Really, what else do I have left to say?  In general, they’re all stupid-looking.  They distort the Disney/FF balance.  They all have over-the-top attacks that further disrupt the balance.  They’re so one-note.  They’re dead before they manage to do anything of note.  Their “schemes” and “tricks” occur largely off-screen, and have such an inconsequential effect on the plot.  Even if the Disney stuff is all filler, it’s LOTS of filler -- more than what the Organization offers.   There’s just so much bullshit that could have been avoided if A) the members gave us any reason to care about them, or B) they had a collective screen time of more than an hour.  Really, what is there to say about these guys?  Xemnas is a high-minded, rambling villain.  Xaldin is a bastard.  Xigbar acts and sounds like a surfer dude.  Saix is also a bastard.  Luxord is classy and honorable.  And Demyx?

Demyx is a conundrum in his own right.  In nearly every cutscene he’s in, he’s a whiny, sniveling coward.  He moves like, looks like, and acts like a wimp.  And then in the cutscene before you kill him, he suddenly changes into a hyper-competent assassin; with a commanding shout of “Silence, traitor,” he’s suddenly a completely different person.  But why?  Why is he suddenly a legitimate threat?  Why does his speech pattern change?  Why does he go back to being a pissant as soon as the boss fight’s over?

Nobodies.  That’s what they are.  And there’s never been a more applicable term. 

I’m done talking about characters now -- and a certain group in particular.  So tune in next time when I dive into the worlds.  Will KH2 shine once again?  Or will it fizzle out before I even hop into the Gummi Ship?  Only one way to find out…

(Seriously, though.  Put in Steiner.  It’d make me and my brother so, so happy.)

2 comments:

  1. Quick question: Can I use one of your images in an upcoming blog post? I'm linking back: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-tzGRi1qrqU4/T7G-wcQvakI/AAAAAAAABC0/WzojprPLOh8/s1600/voltBSOD.jpg

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  2. Go right ahead. Use the picture -- or any other that strikes your fancy -- as you see fit.

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