August 28, 2012

Why I’m No Longer Afraid to Work With Games

“Do what you love, and love what you do” –Some Random Guy Whose Name I Forget (or never knew in the first place)

It took 20 years for me to hit my breaking point, but I’m fed up. Tired. Exhausted. I don’t want to live in fear anymore. I’m sick of doing the things I love under the cover of darkness and secrecy. I realize now that I want a career in an industry I care about. I want—no, I need—to have a job doing something that I love. It’s not money that drives me, nor am I motivated by what I studied in high school or college. No, what I love most are games.

I’ve been a gamer all my life. Video, card, board—you name it. I’ve collected more types of cards than I can count, solved more mysteries than I’d ever imagined, and owned more video games than I can remember. But I’ll always remember the first time I played any game—digital or paper.

My first introduction to games was through my mother. She was the school nurse for a private school in Manhattan, and due to her position and location in the school, a lot of kids would hang out in her office—usually because she was awesome person to be around (or it could have been because kids didn’t want to go to class and feigned sickness, but I like to believe it was a little bit of both). One day, some unknown student left his Sega Game Gear in her office. My mom, not knowing who it was that left it, kept it in her possession for a month and waited for someone to claim it. After that month was over, no one came in asking about a missing game system, so she decided that she would just give it to me.

Several hours of Shinobi (and a ton of double A batteries) later, and my fate was sealed. There was no turning back—I was hooked.

Perhaps the best gift I’ve ever received.

My soon-to-follow gaming addiction overwhelmed my free time, along with my finances. Eventually, my parents grew unwilling to completely support my hobby and decided that I needed to get a job. So off I went to find work that paid well for someone with my skill-set (read: age 13, no former work experience). After some brief searching on various different job boards around the school (we didn’t have Craigslist or Monster back then), I stumbled across several child care gigs.

Since I lacked 'real world' experience (as in, office positions, cashier experience, and the like), most of my jobs in high school involved working with children. Not so much the tough parts of it; more like the run, play, and stuff them full of candy before sending them back to their parents or guardians sort of stuff. After hours and hours of just spending time with children and watching them (because that doesn’t sound creepy in any way, shape or form) I realized what we have in common—we both like the same stuff. I’m a fan of a lot of “childish” things, though the reason I like these things is because they are complex entities dressed up in mystical or mysterious packages. Also, sometimes they’re just really adorable. I can understand other stuff, like finance, or economics, or math; in fact, I majored in all three in college. But I’m not really passionate about them—they’re just something I happened to fall into.

Have you ever watched Avatar? No, not the really awesome movie, and not the really shitty movie—the kids’ television show. Well, that’s really a misnomer…I don’t think it’s just a “kids” show. It’s for everyone that appreciates what it’s trying to convey. In the case of this cartoon show (because it’s not an anime, those are made in Japan by definition), the message is about doing the right thing despite hardship—a moral lesson we can take to heart. It just so happens that the moral lesson is dressed up in explosions, flying yaks and a few quirky characters.

C’mon, how can you not love this? His name is Appa!

And that’s what I really enjoy about things like video games, anime and the like—they have a message and a story, and I just so happen to love the medium in which those stories and messages are conveyed. In the case of games particularly, you even get to interact with the story…almost like you create it because of your actions. That’s an incredible feeling.

Now publicly admitting one likes fantasy, or sci-fi, or similar genres is…difficult (at least, for me). For some reason, these genres are viewed as childish or geeky by the populous at large. There’s a stigma that exists associated with anime, games, and fantasy in general. When you admit to a random stranger that you have a vast collection of paper cards with pictures of dragons and demons on them that you use to battle other strangers who have similar objects in their possession, sometimes you get weird glances. I figured that I wouldn’t be able to have a career in any of these things when I grew up because I wouldn’t be able to admit to strangers I liked them—it would be a secret reserved for my friends and family.

Just one of the random people I’ll meet at a Magic: the Gathering tournament. Yes, I play in those. Yes, he’s a wizard.

Today, just typing the last sentence of that paragraph makes me feel like a complete idiot. Reading it over again confirms that feeling. How come I cared so much about what people think of my hobbies? No, not hobbies…that’s not a strong enough word. The word I’m looking for is passions. I am passionate about games, anime and the like. When I played Braid, I wanted to stand up on a rooftop and shout “Jonathan Blow is a genius” until my lungs bled. After watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I nearly cried at its beauty and incredibleness. And Magic: the Gathering has given me more friends than I can count.

So why didn’t I go on the roof and scream till I lost my voice? Or tattoo a Pokemon character on my forehead? Well, I’d like to say it’s because I’m not a crazy person, but I don’t think that’s actually true. It’s probably because I’m afraid of heights. Or needles. Or more realistically, it’s because I’m afraid of judgment.

Let me tell you a story—one that will show you the stigma I felt first hand. Back in middle school, I used to go to a summer camp in Rockland.  It was a day camp, but sometimes we’d go on trips and stay overnight in places. One of these places was Mexico, and we got to stay there for an entire week (yea, that camp was pretty awesome). While the trips were really nice, and the friends I made were really cool, everything wasn’t sunshine and cupcakes.

If only life were like this every day.

You see, we had a program director that wasn’t the…nicest of people. She did her job, and she did it well, but she didn’t have a lot of tact. Or maybe compassion. One of those. Anyway, one random day we were playing Magic in the camp common room. She comes over and sees us playing, and the following dialogue occurs:

Director: snicker “Hey, that seems kinda neat—what’s that game?”
Us: “Oh, it’s called Magic. You use dragons and demons and other monsters to fight your opponent.”
Director: audibly chuckling “That’s kinda cool…so I guess that makes you guys the ‘Magic Men’ huh?”
Us: “I guess so…? All we do is just play the things we love.”
Director: as loud as possible, so the entire camp hears “OK, whatever, see ya later Magic Men!”
Us: glare silently; slouch visibly; as ‘cool kids’ point, laugh and judge.

Note that the above story might be a little bit of hyperbole and is subject to my bitter, skewed sense of reality.

Now we were already kinda nerdy, but we didn’t care—we were doing what we loved, and naturally, we enjoyed it. But she gave us a name, a label, an identity, and then assigned a negative connotation to that identity immediately—and so did everyone else. It wasn’t the identity that segregated us to the social pariah zone—our actions put us there long before we had a name. But she made it tangible. She portrayed that it was appropriate to mentally partition a group of people into a place with a label. After she did that, we had next to no shot of getting out of that zone, and for the next several years, we were known as “the Magic Men.”

I’d like to say that it was an isolated incident; that something like that happened once, and only once. I can’t say that. Even now, today, when I tell someone I meet that I love things like Magic: the Gathering or Pokemon, I get looks. The difference is I’ve just stopped caring.

This isn’t the story of why I love what I love. Rather, this is the story of what’s been holding me back from following my dreams—a wall of my own doing, a perception based on the belief that what people think matters to someone’s happiness. In a sense, it does—especially if you value your happiness based on what people think of you. People in media have this problem. Your level of popularity matters, definitely, if you’re a singer, a movie star, a politician, or a bunch of other things. What’s changed in me is not the desire to impress, but rather the type of people I’m trying to impress.

I’m tired of trying to fit in with a crowd I don’t belong with. I’m tired of being worried if I’m judged for what I believe in. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what I believe in to anyone but myself and my closest friends. If you’re reading this, what I believe in probably matters to you, too. If it doesn’t, then that’s fine as well.

After all this—the admonitions that I love “childish” things, the allusions to my personal experiences with people forming opinions about me without actually knowing me, and acknowledging to myself the desire I have to be a part of something I love, you’ve basically got two options. Either you can judge me for the fact that I play with paper pictures of dragons and demons and be on your merry way, or you can accept that fact and play them with me.

You know where you can find me either way.

August 22, 2012

“The Fire” (Pokemon Conquest Edition)

I haven’t wanted to “catch ‘em all” since I was twelve. Now, I literally cannot stop.

“The fire” is a simple concept—in a sentence, it basically means an intense, burning desire to do something; a feeling that consumes you, that you can’t shake until completing a task. In a word, it means motivation.

I’ve been playing Pokemon Conquest for over 90 hours, and I’m slightly passed the halfway point.

Let those numbers digest for a little bit.

How long does it take you to “complete” a game? Do you breeze through the story, pick up the relevant plot points, then put the game down after the credits roll? Or perhaps you play the game ad infinitum, getting every single legendary item or finding every hidden chest and secret area, obtaining 100% completion, and stop once you’ve dominated the game? “Completion”, “finished”, “beat”; these are just words to describe different goals we gamers have, and these goals can change depending on how attached you are to a game. I find that the more I love a game, and the more there is to do in a game, the more I’ll feel compelled to do those things—my goals for considering I’ve beaten a game increase or require more time to be spent as my love for a game increases.

Regarding Conquest, compelled really isn’t a strong enough word…it’s more like, driven. Intensely motivated. Obsessed, even. One might even say that I possess “the fire.”

Gotta catch 'em all.
Personally, I usually land somewhere between the camps of finding out all I can about the story and completing a game to 100%. If I love a game for more than just its story, then I’ll want to get 100%. In case it wasn’t clear, I love Conquest. However, because of all the things to do in this game, I’ll settle for anything upwards of 70%. I want to invest a lot of time, but even with “the fire” I lack sufficient resources to invest all the time I need.

If you wanted to see all of Conquest’s story, then you’ll finish this game in roughly 10-50 hours, depending on what portions of the story you deem relevant. If you want to get 100% completion…well…I’m sorry. Maybe you shouldn’t even play this game. Because if you want that, you’ll probably spend close to 300 hours.

But that’s a rough estimate.

"You got chocolate in my Peanut Butter..."
Pokemon Conquest is the marriage between Pokemon, the franchise, and a smattering of different tactical elements from games like Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics, and others. While there are Pokemon, the “trainers” that use them, and a way to capture them in the wild, that’s about where the similarities to other Pokemon games ends. Much like Advance Wars and other tactics games, you control several Pokemon on a grid in which they battle a variety of other Pokemon. Every Pokemon can only use one move (which the game has already decided for you)—a move that is the same among each Pokemon with that name. So, for example, every Pikachu knows the same move, but not every Electric Pokemon knows that same move (like his evolved form, for example). So if you see a wild Pikachu, you know what move it can use, since that move is standard among Pikachus in the game. You can’t teach a Pokemon new moves; it can only use the one it comes with (but that move changes if/when the Pokemon evolves).

Kinda like Advance Wars…but not nearly as awesome as this picture implies. 
Each Pokemon trainer is known as a warlord, and every warlord has the ability to train multiple Pokemon (but can only send one into battle at a time). Not every warlord can capture, or “link with” every Pokemon, as each warlord has a special type that they are proficient with. Knowing how to maximize a warlord/Pokemon combination is one of the ways the game offers complexity…and replay value. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Battles are comprised of up to six warlords and their Pokemon fighting for various Kingdoms. Each warlord also has a special power that can only be used once during the battle. Attacks are super effective if used correctly and not very effective if used in the wrong scenario. Say, for example, you try to use a fire attack on a water Pokemon—it won’t do a lot of damage because water doesn’t (usually) burn. Water on a fire Pokemon, however, is quite effective, and does a lot of damage. This is where the Pokemon aspect of the game shines—knowing how to deal the most damage with your attacks, how to build a team to battle against opponents, and how to avoid taking too much damage all come into play. If you knock out the opposing Pokemon before all of your Pokemon are knocked out, then you win the battle.

Battles normally take place when someone is trying to conquer one of the seventeen kingdoms of the land, each of which corresponds to a type of Pokemon. As you attempt to conquer a kingdom, you will need to fight multiple Pokemon of the kingdom’s type—this means in order to conquer the Ice kingdom, for example, you will need Pokemon that are good against Ice Pokemon. It was this aspect of the game that I loved the most, as it made me play with Pokemon I wouldn’t normally use otherwise—after all, it’s very difficult to defeat every kingdom in the main story with the same six Pokemon. I've had very little use for a Venipede in other Pokemon games, but when fighting the Grass kingdom, I needed his Poison type attack (which was super effective against most my foes there).

I’ve never found a use for him until this game. He’s kinda grown on me since. 
I also love that the kingdoms aren’t from some random land created solely for this game. Taken from a series called Nobunaga’s Ambition (those in the U.S. might recognize that these characters are from the Samurai Warriors series), the game has a healthy dose of historical influence to flesh out the story a bit. You’re a fledgling warrior from the Normal type kingdom trying to unite the seventeen kingdoms and protect the world from destruction at the hands of Nobunaga. As you unite the kingdoms, you gain allies who help you in your quest. Once you unite the seventeen kingdoms, your journey ends and you save the land.

Well, your journey ends if you don’t want to play through the thirty or so side quests and the downloadable content, all of which have stories of their own, half of which require you to unite the seventeen kingdoms again. And again. And again. And once you’re done with all those quests, you get to beat the game with your main hero and reunite the seventeen kingdoms for a final time.

Like I said—90+ hours, just about halfway done.

Even with the massive amount of story related content and side quests, they haven’t been what I’ve spent most of my time on. You see, each warlord has a “best fit” Pokemon—one in which they can achieve their “perfect link” with; i.e., “100% friends”, or something like that. A Pokemon’s strength in this game is relative to a) its warlord’s stats, b) its stats, and c) the link it has with the warlord that partners with it. As the link increases, the strength of the Pokemon increases. This means that a Raichu (the evolved form of Pikachu) can lose to a Pichu (first form of Pikachu) if its link is low. Depending on the fit between warlord and Pokemon, some warlords can only achieve a 30-40% link with a Pokemon. Few combinations lead to a 100% link Pokemon/warlord combination, and it is only when you find this link and nurture it that the warlord evolves and gains new powers and stats.

This is where the “catch ‘em all” nature of Pokemon keeps me coming back for more. I’m obsessed with not only finding the perfect link Pokemon for all of my warlords, but also evolving both the Pokemon and the warlords. However, there are over 100 warlords and about 200 Pokemon, so that…takes some time. Hence the 300+ hour estimate I provided earlier for those of you that want to dominate this game.
Also, this game is just too cute.
So why am I a bit over 50% complete at 90+ hours? Well, I should clarify my original statement—I’m not too obsessed with perfect links for ALL my warlords…just the “famous” ones; i.e., the ones taken directly from the Nobunaga’s Ambition series. Of the 100 or so warlords in the game, about 60 or so are generic, while around 40 are unique characters recognizable from the series. However, for some of these characters, there exist perfect links with legendary Pokemon as well—links that I would also like to obtain, and that my friends, is a significant time investment.

While it might take some time to match the perfect warlord with its perfect Pokemon, developing the link doesn’t take a lot of time. Which is nice, since as soon as you find that link you can build it up to the high 50-60% range quickly (the sweet spot for many evolutions). However, there’s just one problem—every time you start a new quest… the links reset.

All of them.

Oh, you’ll keep the warlord/Pokemon pairs and evolutions you’ve made while playing, but the link levels, they return to the low 10-20% range. Each time you start a new side quest, you need to rebuild the links in order to level up the strength of your Pokemon and get them to evolve. Thankfully, for multiplayer (which is amazing, by the way), you can set a link level that each of your Pokemon start at for the battle, but in single player, it means lots and lots of grinding.

But hey, if you enjoy the work, it’s not really work…now is it?

August 13, 2012

A TerREble Game, but for Completion’s Sake…

[Celebrating the release of Kingdom Hearts 3DS, Enix Hearts is currently running an article series looking back at the previous Kingdom Hearts games. Since I wrote a piece for them revisiting Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, I feel compelled to do posts for the rest of the games as well. Below is the story of a spin-off to the Kingdom Hearts franchise.]

Cryptic words written on a page in my journal. That’s what started this journey.

While I own the page, and the handwriting looks familiar, I don’t remember writing the lines that led us here. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t. Which means that these words are a message. Whomever took the time to send us this message, to leave it in a place so personal, so hidden…it makes my skin crawl every time I see it.

“Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it.” Is it a threat? A cry for help? Or something in between? There’s some place that we’ve been before, but can’t remember…people we’ve met and forgotten. One thing’s for sure—if someone is in need, friend or not, the King won’t stand by and let them suffer. He’ll figure this out—and I’ll be there to help him, every step of the way.

Kingdom Hearts: Re:coded was originally a mobile game released after Kingdom Hearts II. Jiminy Cricket, official scribe of Team Sora’s journey, notices a line in his journal that he doesn’t remember writing. Confused at its ominous, cryptic implications, he and King Mickey decide to create a digital copy of his journal and attempt to analyze its meaning. Upon “digitizing” the journal and examining the results, they find a variety of bugs corrupting the data that take on the form of Heartless. With the help of a digital copy of Sora, Mickey attempts to rid the journal of the bugs in order to uncover the meaning behind the message. Eventually, a digital copy of Riku enlists the help of Donald and Goofy and, along with Mickey and Jiminy, brings them into the journal in order to fix the bug problem. However, Maleficent and her subordinate Pete also enter the journal in an attempt to conquer the world (which isn’t explained very well, but, hey, this entry is one of the weirdest ones, so…).

Maleficent and Pete end up kidnapping digital Riku and Team Sora has to track them down and inevitably fight against a corrupted digital Riku. Team Sora succeeds, but upon defeating digital Riku, the journal resets itself to a state prior to the infection—and kicks out all the non-digital people in the process.

After the debugging process, digital Riku returns with the discovery of a new portion of the journal—one that leads to memories of Castle Oblivion. Digital Sora heads to the Castle, defeats a digital copy of Roxas, then finds a digital copy of Namine that tells him about everyone he needs to help: Roxas, Axel, Xion, Terra, Aqua, and Ventus. Mickey hears the message, thanks digital Namine for the information, then sends the message to Sora and Riku on Destiny Island—in fact, the bottle that they receive at the end of Kingdom Hearts II is the message that relates this information to them.

And with that, we’re all caught up on Kingdom Hearts lore. Well, not completely, I suppose—after all, Dream Drop Distance has released in the U.S. and everywhere else, so there’s one more chapter in the saga to review. Once I get caught up on it, I’ll be sure to let you know how everything unfolds (and hopefully, hopefully leads into Kingdom Hearts III).

August 1, 2012

The Birth of an RPG

[Celebrating the release of Kingdom Hearts 3DS this week, Enix Hearts is currently running an article series looking back at the previous Kingdom Hearts games. Since I wrote a piece for them revisiting Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, I feel compelled to do posts for the rest of the games as well. Below is the beginning chapter to the Kingdom Hearts franchise.]

I’ve failed everyone—my friends, my Master, and myself. I don’t know why Ven still believes in me. It’s more than that—he wants to emulate my skills, my abilities, my actions. I’m not a role model; I’m not even a Master. I’ve never been able to keep the darkness away, and I’m not sure if I even want to at this point. Why would anyone want to be me?

Terra’s too hard on himself. Just because he missed the Mark of Mastery doesn’t mean he can’t wield a Keyblade. Though his frustration is sending him down a dark path…one I’m not sure I can save him from. Now that I’m a Master, it’s my duty more so than ever to ensure darkness and light are balanced. I need to find Terra, to make sure he stays on the right side of that balance…

I don’t know why Terra and Aqua see me as such a powerless little kid. I know that I lack the skills to become a Master right now, but someday, I’ll be as powerful as Terra, and we’ll both be Masters! It doesn’t matter that he failed now, because I know one day he’ll succeed, just like I will! I know he’s sad now, but I’ll find him, wherever he’s gone, and bring him back home…so we can be a family once again.

Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep is the prequel to Kingdom Hearts. While Kingdom Hearts fans are familiar with the exploits of Sora, Riku, Kairi, and the rest of the cast, Birth By Sleep features three brand new protagonists: Terra, Aqua, and Ventus. Each Keyblade wielders, the trio are a group of friends studying to one day become Keyblade Masters. At the start of our story, Terra and Aqua attempt to complete the Mark of Mastery exam, a test to prove to Keyblade Masters that they are proficient enough Keyblade wielders to be called Masters. While Aqua passes the exam, Terra falls short, relying on the darkness that resides within him to pass instead of relying solely on the light.

Shortly after the exam, the various worlds in existence are attacked by a new enemy—the Unversed. Terra and Aqua are asked by their Master, Eraqus, to defeat the Unversed and find another Keyblade Master called Xehanort.  Ventus is asked to remain home, since Eraqus fears sending him out to the other worlds. Dejected, but obedient, Ventus remains while Aqua and Terra head off to complete the tasks they’ve been assigned.

Right before Terra and Aqua depart, an unknown enemy called Venitas attack Ventus and convinces him to follow Terra out of Ventus’ fear for Terra’s safety. Terra leaves, Ventus follows, and Aqua is tasked with watching out for both of them while also battling the Unversed (such is the life of a Master, I suppose).

After battling the Unversed on several worlds, Terra finds Master Xehanort, who reveals that the Unversed are Venitas’ minions. While searching for Venitas, Terra bumps into Aqua and Ventus, but ignores them in order to find Venitas. Terra leaves them to continue his search, while Aqua tells Ventus to return home. Ventus ignores her and continues his search for Terra, while Aqua continues to battle the Unversed.

While searching for Terra again, Ventus finds Xenahort, who reveals his intentions of combining Ventus with Venitas in order to create an all powerful Keyblade—one that has the power to open Kingdom Hearts. Eraqus learns of Xenahort’s intentions and tries to kill Ventus. Terra, however, steps in to protect Ventus and fights Eraqus. During their struggle, Terra overpowers Eraqus and accidentally kills him. Distraught, Terra runs after Xenahort in order to confront him. Aqua learns of Terra’s actions, and she renews her search for Terra. Ventus does the same, and all three eventually meet at a place called the Keyblade Graveyard.

In the Keyblade Graveyard, Terra, Aqua and Ventus all discuss their grievances with one another (basically just with Terra, really) and reconcile their differences. Just as they do so, Xehanort and Venitas appear to confront the trio. Xehanort fights Terra, while Aqua and Ventus fight Venitas (with some assistance from Mickey, who at the time was an apprentice of another Master called Yen Sid). Terra succumbs to the darkness and loses his heart to Xehanort, while Aqua, Mickey and Ventus defeat Venitas. However, in the process, Ven loses his heart and is left in a comatose state. Xehanort disappears during the battle, and Aqua leaves to find him and bring back Terra. She eventually finds him on a distant world and attempts to defeat him. While she manages to save Terra’s body during the battle, she fails to stop Xehanort and falls into the darkness herself. During their battle, Xehanort loses his memories, and is discovered by Ansem the Wise, who becomes his mentor.

While the events of Birth By Sleep take place long before the events of Kingdom Hearts, they set the stage for the newly released Dream Drop Distance…which I will hopefully be able to review for you soon. Until then, I hope I’ve been able to make some sense out of the Kingdom Hearts lore—it can be a bit…confusing.

July 26, 2012

Too Many Split Personalities to Keep Track

[Celebrating the release of Kingdom Hearts 3DS this week, Enix Hearts is currently running an article series looking back at the previous Kingdom Hearts games. Since I wrote a piece for them revisiting Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, I feel compelled to do posts for the rest of the games as well. Below is the story of the prequel to the events of Kingdom Hearts 2.]

I know it’s common for a Nobody to have few, if any memories of their past, but I don’t remember a thing. Well, that’s not entirely true I guess. The only thing I see are fragments, hazy pictures of a spiky haired boy surrounded by friends. A boy that can’t—or maybe won’t—stop smiling.

If that boy was me, my cheeks would hurt too much to keep up the laughter. There’s no way he could have been happy all the time. That he could have been surrounded by friends, loved by everyone. People aren’t like that—they aren’t that lucky.

There’s no way I could have been him. That I’m a part of him or that he’s a part of me. It doesn’t matter, anyway—I have my own personality, my own identity. And no memory, no connection, nobody is going to take that away from me.

Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days takes place between the events of Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2. Much like Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories took place directly after Kingdom Hearts, 358/2 Days functions as a bridge between the first and second Kingdom Hearts. 358/2 Days is the story of a boy named Roxas, who at this point in the story we know is Sora’s Nobody, created when Sora became a Heartless in the first Kingdom Hearts. Roxas is taken in by Organization XIII, who uses him to fight Heartless and collect their essence in order to open the door to Kingdom Hearts. During his time with the Organization, Roxas questions his memories (or lack thereof), his existence, and his purpose. His keeper, Axel, puts up with his lack of self-confidence and existential crisis while accompanying him on several missions. Eventually, the two become close friends and begin to question the Organization and their roles in it as a whole.

As Roxas grows in strength and ability, he is introduced to a new member of the Organization—Xion. While Xion, unlike the rest of the Organization, is not assigned a number from I to XIII, she is nonetheless assigned missions to capture Heartless much like Roxas. She accompanies Roxas on several missions as well, and just like Axel does, she becomes close friends with Roxas.

Eventually, both Roxas and Xion learn their origins—Roxas learns he is Sora’s Nobody, while Xion learns she is a copy of Sora’s memories that was created by Xemnas in order to replace Sora. Xion knows that in order for Sora to become whole again after the events of Chain of Memories, she needs to be absorbed by him. She leaves the Organization with the help of Axel, and in the process, Axel and Roxas have a falling out. Xemnas takes control of Xion and sets her against Roxas, and Roxas defeats her and leaves the Organization. Axel tries to stop Roxas from leaving, but Roxas defeats him as well.

Shortly after leaving the Organization, Roxas encounters Riku, whose mission is to capture Roxas in order to return the rest of Sora’s memoires. Roxas defeats Riku as well, but before he can kill him, Riku turns to the darkness in his heart, channels a newfound power, and defeats Roxas, setting the stage for the events of Kingdom Hearts 2.

July 25, 2012

Moar Keybladez!

[Celebrating the release of Kingdom Hearts 3DS this week, Enix Hearts is currently running an article series looking back at the previous Kingdom Hearts games. Since I wrote a piece for them revisiting Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, I feel compelled to do posts for the rest of the games as well. Below is the story of the second Kingdom Hearts games.]

We woke up in a house, with no memory as to why we were there. Though I guess that doesn’t really matter—wherever we are, we are. Our goals haven’t changed—we still need to find Riku and Mickey. If they aren’t in this house, well, then we’ll check the next house. And the next one. And the one after that.

We found them once before. In a way, it’s our fault that they are still lost—after all, we let them close themselves in. I can’t focus on the guilt that’s eating away at me, though. If I do, I might just get dragged into the darkness myself. I can’t drag them out of the darkness if I’m trapped in it, right?

Even though “here” doesn’t matter in the long run, I can’t help but shake this feeling that I’ve lost something—that I’ve forgotten something important…maybe even someONE important…but if I remember Donald, Goofy, Mickey, Riku and Kairi, who else do I need to remember?

Kingdom Hearts II continues the events of the first Kingdom Hearts, with Sora, Donald and Goofy trying to find their friends Mickey and Riku. While searching for their friends, Team Sora learns of a mysterious group of hooded figures, called Organization XIII, that has the ability to control a new group of enemies that have begun to plague the worlds—the Nobodies. Similar to the Heartless, the Nobodies are a product of the transformation people go through when their hearts become filled with darkness. As a person’s heart is filled with darkness, it transforms into a Heartless. When that heart has fully transformed into a Heartless, it leaves the body behind. As a result, the discarded husk transforms into a Nobody—a (typically) grayish creature that causes lots of chaos and has a voracious appetite for hearts. The task to control the Nobody population and defeat Organization XIII falls solely on Team Sora’s shoulders, and they set off to save all the worlds from this new threat.

Team Sora learns that the Organization plans to rebuild and open the doors to Kingdom Hearts while defeating several Organization members. They eventually find Mickey again, and with the help of various members of other worlds, including a revived Maleficent, they wage war on Organization XIII. The team finds out that the Organization members are Nobodies themselves and that “Ansem,” the villain that they defeated in the first game, was not the real Ansem, whom Mickey personally knew, but actually was the Heartless of a student of Ansem’s, named Xehanort, who went around and called himself Ansem. Furthermore, Xehanort’s Nobody, Xemnas, is Organization XIII’s leader.

Still with me?

Team Sora heads to the Organization’s hideout, finds Riku there waiting for them, and teams up with Ansem to defeat Xemnas. An epic battle pitting Sora and Riku against Xemnas ensues, and together, they defeat Xemnas and prevent Kingdom Hearts from opening. Sora and Riku return to their home world, and reunite with Kairi once more.

July 24, 2012

A Key to Unlock All Worlds

[Celebrating the release of Kingdom Hearts 3DS this week, Enix Hearts is currently running an article series looking back at the previous Kingdom Hearts games. Since I wrote a piece for them revisiting Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, I feel compelled to do posts for the rest of the games as well. Below is the story of the first Kingdom Hearts games.]

Yesterday, we planned to get on a boat and leave our island in pursuit of the unknown. Today, our home no longer exists, I have no idea where I am, and I have no clue how to find either of you. After those shadow-like creatures separated us, I saw our home unravel right before my eyes. As you both disappeared into the darkness, gone to some place I can’t quite reach, I fought to save our world. But I was too weak. And now I’m lost too.

 I refuse to believe you’re gone completely—after all, I can still feel you both in my heart. There has to be some trace, some clue as to what’s happened to the both of you. I’ll find you again. Maybe we can’t rebuild our home, and maybe there’s no home for us on any of the worlds out there, but as long as we coexist in each others’ hearts and stay out of the darkness, we’ll never have to rebuild ourselves—just our surroundings.

And if you’re still stuck in the darkness, if you’re blind and you can’t see the light I can…well, then I’ll cast off this light, come after you and drag you out of the darkness myself.

Kingdom Hearts is the story of a boy, Sora, who gets separated from his childhood friends, Riku and Kairi, after his home world is attacked by a collection of shadowy creatures know as the Heartless. Sora is given a strange key-like weapon (called a Keyblade) which he uses to fight back against the Heartless. However, Sora lacks the strength to defeat the Heartless that invade his home, and as a result, they devour his entire world. The destruction of his home ends up relocating of Sora, Riku and Kairi to different worlds they never knew existed. Distraught and alone, Sora attempts to reunite with his friends and find a way back to their home.

During his journey to find his friends, Sora meets two other travelers, Donald and Goofy who also lost someone—their friend and ruler, King Mickey. They come to the conclusion that it would be easier to search for their missing friends together, and decide to team up to find them. Along the way, Sora, Donald and Goofy continue to run into the Heartless and are tasked with eliminating them from each world that they find.

As they fight the Heartless, Team Sora finds a group of Disney villains, led by Maleficent, attempting to control the Heartless in order to kidnap the Princesses of Heart and use their power to open a door to Kingdom Hearts, which would let them rule over all worlds. Team Sora methodically defeats various members of this nefarious organization while continuing their search for Riku, Kairi, and Mickey.

Eventually, Team Sora crosses paths with Riku to find that he has become an agent of the villains that they have been trying to defeat. Furthermore, Maleficent reveals that Kairi is one of the Princesses of Heart and attempts to use her to open Kingdom Hearts after kidnapping the other six Princesses. Team Sora defeats Riku and Maleficent, but in the process Sora is turned into a Heartless. A new villain, Ansem, emerges from the shadows as the puppet master controlling Maleficent and reveals his desire to open Kingdom Hearts and unleash darkness on all the world. Kairi ends up saving Sora, and after he transforms back into a boy, Team Sora fights and defeats Ansem. In his last moments of life, Ansem succeeds in opening Kingdom Hearts, however, and it is up to Riku (and a late appearing Mickey) to sacrifice themselves for all worlds by closing the door to Kingdom Hearts from the inside.

Sora, left with the choice between returning to his home with Kairi or continuing his quest to find Riku and Mickey, chooses the later, promising to return one day to Kairi with Riku by his side.