In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.
This week: Kingdom Hearts
Man, the Kingdom Hearts games are good. Like a lot of people, my initial reaction was something along the lines of “Disney and Final Fantasy? Wow. Makes a LOT of sense. Pass.” Well, I’ll freely admit when I’m wrong (Insert Revenge of the Fallen joke here). As it turns out, the Kingdom Hearts series is just this side of amazing and focuses much more on its original characters rather than relying on the revered character libraries at its disposal. Sure, Mickey gets plenty of screen time, and that’s definitely cool, but Sora, Roxas, Riku and the lot are the real stars. Their story is layered in all sorts of awesome, and I mean it is LAYERED.
I’ll be honest; as much as I like Kingdom Hearts, I would be hard pressed to sum it up in any kind of a nutshell to someone unfamiliar with the series, and not in that lame “You have to experience it to understand it” kind of way. It’s just really hard to explain. In fact, the plot of the series borders on the convoluted and it’s usually got one foot on that particular side of the fence. There are a LOT of characters and alliances to keep straight and identities get revealed so that Ansem, thought to be the villain in the first game, turns out to be the hero and it’s his student Xehanort that stole his identity as the true villain while the real Ansem then donned the name and visage of DiZ to help the heroes behind the scenes. But see, that Ansem/Xehanort we see in the first game isn’t the REAL Xehanort. It’s the Heartless created when his body was destroyed in an experiment. That same process also created a “Nodoby” named Xemnas who then starts Organization XIII who in turn-Aaaaand I’ve popped a blood vessel. Seriously, it’s nuts. But with each of the “anchor” games clocking in some 40+ hours of play time, there’s bound to be a lot of plot.
The problem is that the game’s developers at square Enix aren’t exactly making it easy with regards to keeping everything straight and building a solid narrative since for some reason, they insist upon releasing games with key story elements across a multitude of platforms. The first instance was Chain of Memories for the Gameboy Advance. While you revisited essentially the same words and met essentially the same characters in the game, the in-between areas gave us our first real look at many of the members of the aforementioned Organization XIII and DiZ. The events in Chain of Memories are pretty damned important to the story in Kingdom Hearts II, which was later released on the PlayStation 2 (as was the original game). Oddly enough, it seemed like an intentional move since one of the main lot points of KHII is that Sora and co. don’t remember the events of Chain of Memories, so the non-Gameboy-owning player and Sora are essentially in the same boat, but come on. That’s some weak sauce. Chain of Memeories was remade for the PS2 as Re: Chain of Memories and included in the Final Mix of Kingdom Hearts II in Japan and recently saw a separate stateside release, now well into the lifespan of the PlayStation 3.
The cross-platform woes continue. Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days is currently available on the Nintendo DS and tells the story of Roxas and his early days in Organization XIII, serving as another fill-in-the-blanks game set between the two PS2 titles. Out now in Japan and heading soon to the US is Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, a prequel to even the original game this time on the Sony PlayStation Portable. The heroes of Birth were first seen in a secret trailer/ending in Kingdom Hearts II years ago. One of the main characters, Ventus, bears an uncanny resemblance to Roxas from KHII and 358/2. What’s the connection?
To get that answer and more, you’ll need the current Sony console (where Kingdom Hearts III will inevitably land at some point) and not one, but two portable gaming consoles. The jump from PS2 to PS3 is perfectly acceptable. It’s the new generation. What I don’t get is why they’re spreading the story out across a multitude of platforms, each with radically different install bases. Many gamers don’t have any handhelds and those that do by and large tend to have one or the other. I don’t know anybody outside the TRUE hardcore gaming community with both a PSP and a DS. And given Square Enix’s relationship with the folks at Sony and the core games being released via PlayStation, the fact that there’s even a Nintendo Kingdom Hearts at all, let alone games so crucial to the overall plot, is a bit of a puzzler. Even the old go-to “cash grab” seems unlikely in this instance, given the overall execution.
So really, why go here? Why not give fans a steady narrative either on one system or on all of them? This is some nasty bait and switch shenanigans if ever there was such a thing. They sort of righted the initial wrong with Re: Chain of Memories, but can that model continue? And if so, then why not release the game on both platforms simultaneously? Is the PSP version of Army of Two: the 40th Day the same as its console counterparts? Of course not, but it tells essentially the same story. Games are released on multiple platforms every single week. There’s no reason to screw people around with giving bits and pieces of the story wherever they feel like it. Hell, I had a Splinter Cell game on my old cell phone that coincided with the release of Double Agent on the consoles. Then again, Ubisoft is pulling a similar stunt with Splinter Cell, so maybe it’s best we save that discussion for later.