Day: September 8, 2015

Kingdom Hearts 1 – Sequel Baiting for Fun and Profit

Some credits screenshots, since obviously the reports don’t have pictures.

I said earlier that I’d address the final two Ansem reports, from Sephiroth and the Unknown, so let’s start our examination of sequel-baiting there. These reports are very curious. Ansem Report 12 has Ansem discussing a certain subject he was studying that lost its heart but did not fade away. “Its memories remain and it has yet to take the form of a Heartless. A close eye must be kept on the situation. Much is still unknown.” It may very well be that this report was written after Ansem cast off his own body given that this is presumably written after Report 10. If that’s the case, then this report may be hinting that Ansem is discussing himself. You might be questioning where he found the paper after turning into a Heartless and appearing god-knows-where, but KH2 pulls a similar stunt, so you can see where I’m coming from.

He then curiously segues into another discussion, about the cosmology of the Kingdom Hearts universe. He says there is “The realm of Darkness. The realm of Light. And the world in between. Wherein lies true nirvana?” And you can’t believe how hard it was to write this endless Retrospective without using the terms “Realm of Darkness” and “Realm of Light” before they were introduced. But that’s obviously not the real focus of this report. What is “the world in between?” He doesn’t give us very much information…

In the 13th and final report, Ansem asks a fundamental question: when the heart leaves the body to become a Heartless, the body disappears. “Where does the body go when it separates from the heart? If the soul remains within the body, is it still considered to be deceased?” He says, if things are exactly as they appear, then there may be another half of someone who became a Heartless, still out there, “abandoned by its heart; a mere shell of its former self.

He then raises an existentialist possibility. If your “self” is your identity, then your Heart must be your identity, since your heart is refined into an identity by past experiences and association. That means it’s the heart that makes up “you,” and your existence is tied to your heart. Ergo, the other “you,” the body without a heart, “cannot truly ‘exist.’

Perhaps unaware of the irony of what he is doing, or perhaps in acknowledgement of the accidental wordplay that went into the name “Heartless”: Ansem dubs these beings of body and soul, these things that lack identity, “Nobody.”

Another side, Another story [deep dive]

We return again to RickyC’s playthrough of the original PS2 release from World of Longplays (YouTube) as our source for screenshots from the secret ending. Unfortunately this means we’ll only get shots from the first of the two endings, but it’ll more than suffice.

Kingdom Heart’s secret endings follow the completion screen, if you’ve completed the requirements for one or both. Now, this is true of many of the secret endings, but as high-intensity trailers rather than narratives, these two are really are more worth watching than reading about, if you’ve never seen them before. (Nevertheless, I’m not going to link anything as these videos have a habit of being taken down.) But like other parts of the game, I’m going to try to approach this from the perspective of a new player trying to deduce as much as possible.

KH1’s secret endings essentially bleed into one another. FM could have sown them together without break if they had wanted, but I’m glad they preserved them as separate videos. In this first video (from the original game), a man in the black cloak of the Unknown walks through a dark, modern city in the rain, to the base of a skyscraper. We do not recognize the man: he is blond with bangs, but doesn’t have Cloud’s build, so we must conclude that he’s a stranger. Another man in a cloak looks down from atop the tallest skyscraper. This second man is unhooded – Riku? It’s hard to say. It really does look like Riku, but there’s an issue where the trailer has such a high level of detail that you could easily be confused just because we’ve never seen Riku this close! This second man is also wearing a blindfold. Just then, Neoshadows begin to rise from the ground around the blond man. T this was their first real appearance in the series in Vanilla KH1, and they look far more menacing than any Hearts we’ve seen before this dark and dismal video. The blond man draws a Keyblade – the Oathkeeper – and then also the Oblivion in his opposite hand. We’ve never seen the Keyblades be dual-wielded before, so this is all very excited to our inner twelve year old.

Above, a meteor shower begins, and below, the first man summons the Heartless emblem in light, cutting him off from the Heartless. In a captioned close-up, the first man asks: “Where’s Sora?”

At this point, the trailer begins throws lines of dialogue and names of new ideas at us, in Japanese and in English. Some of the lines of dialogue are old (“What is this place?”) and some are not (“You are the source of all Heartless.”). Finally, we get the line of dialogue “We’ll go together,” and the title “KINGDOM HEARTS.” In the final shot, what appears to be an older Kairi with long hair stands the beach at the Destiny Islands.

If you’ve unlocked the second trailer, sadly FM won’t show you the first, which is very strange, seeing as how they’re two halves of the same whole. KH2:FM+ would show both trailers if you’ve unlocked both, because that’s elementary. C’mon KH1! Make sure to YouTube the original trailer or beat the game before qualifying for the second video to see both. The second video is called “Another Side, Another Story [deep dive],” and because some people like myself are lazy typists, it’s not uncommon to see both secret videos addressed as “deep dive” from time to time. I’ve been trying my best not to slip into old habits.

Deep Dive opens with a short of Sora at a crossroads in the green field (a shot that became one of the opening shots of Chain of Memories), and the words “Utter silence.” From there, we’re shown a message in a bottle at a dark beach, with the words “A fragmented tale / a world without you / The eyes will close.” Yikes, this is more than a little ominous. Still on the dark beach, we see a cloaked figure with bright yellow eyes step out of a portal from a rock. We see the words “Something so natural” appear, and we get a static effect that returns us to the dark city from the original secret ending.

By the way, the track in these videos, ”Another Side, Another Story,” goes on to become one of KH2’s central musical motifs.

Back in the city, the blond stranger and the Neoshadows engage. There’s a lot of fighting and flips, and the stranger seems to be actually defeating the Neoshadows, unlike poor baby Sora. However, the stranger is using Sora’s Keyblades despite not being Sora, and he uses Strike Raid, further complicating our understanding of what’s going on. During the fracas, we get the text, “The memory beyond.”

The stranger lands at the foot of the skyscraper, and we get the text “Something so simple.” Riku and the stranger lock eyes (so to speak, considering Riku’s blindfold and the stranger’s hood) and the stranger breaks away from the Heartless to begin running up the wall of the skyscraper. Of course, the Heartless follow. I have no trouble believing the Neoshadows can climb a wall, but the stranger doing it puts me in a bind between awesome and preposterous. This actually does happen in KH2 (and Days, which also shows this sequence), but KH2 (and Days) doesn’t go to the trouble of making sure it… makes sense… and that’s sort of ruined the awesome impact of the original visual. The appearance of running up a wall KH2 makes it seem like Nomura was just having fun with this trailer but then felt bound to reproduce it even after he couldn’t explain it?

The text now begins a countdown, showing the number thirteen in roman numerals. It will continue to countdown, swapping randomly between roman numerals and Arabic numerals. XIII is accompanied by the text “Where’s Sora?” from the original trailer, along with some additional text that disappears so quickly that it hasn’t even fully formed from its unfocused transition. I’m having trouble capturing it in freeze-frame! This is a problem throughout the countdown. I think it says “We must hide him.” Or possibly… “We must hid him” [sic]. I don’t think I can blame the FM team if they didn’t bother fully localizing a trailer that was never going to be released in English.

The stranger fights off Neoshadows as he climbs, using the laziest swings imaginable. It looks awful. Just then, a group of Neoshadows appears in front of him, and he cuts through them using Strike Raid with the Oblivion. Riku dives off the skyscraper and intercepts the Keyblade (this scene is revisited in KH2 and Days games, where he seems to be tossing the Oblivion to Riku rather than attacking Neoshadows, or at least that’s my view on the matter). 12: Ansem’s other report. “A creation born of ignorance.” Riku turns in mid-flight to catch the Oblivion, and two briefly lock eyes a second, something that will be a little expanded on once we finally see this play out in canon.

11 and 10 appear during this sequence, but in a questionable decision, 11 “shifts” from 12’s text to 11’s proper text, but spends more time with 12’s text on screen than 11’s! I know we’re not supposed to be reading this without multiple views, but c’mon! 11’s text is properly “Behind the door [is not equal to] Door to Light.” Hmm… 10 has both a title and two lines of dialogue: The secret place / “His voice… It’s left me.” / “This time… I’ll fight.” I originally thought these lines were never used in KH2, but reader dlppictures corrected me on this and several other points. It turns out KH2 did a great job catching all these lines, though the localization may have changed in places. Thanks, dlppictures!

As Riku falls and the stranger continues his anti-gravity run to the top, we are assailed by numbers and text. 9: “The world between = A forgotten world” / “The gathering.” By the way, “The Gathering,” oddly enough, would go on to become the title of KH2’s secret video, so maybe we’re supposed to be looking past KH2’s scope? VIII: “The third enemy = Nobody” Wait, who was the second enemy? “Who is Nobody you ask? They are the nonexistent.” (I believe that’s supposed to say “the nonexistent ones” but the English text is cut off by the end of the screen.) VII: ENDLESS “What took you so long, Kairi?” (Text from the first trailer) “Can we do it? Against that?”

This is a lot to take in at once, but between 9, VIII and the FM Ansem Reports, it doesn’t take a genius to deduce the Nobodies will be the focus of upcoming games, who may be the “creation born from ignorance” from 12. Some others are intriguing, like 10 while others are simply generic. The second dialogue from VII sounds like generic pre-boss text! Are we trying to hype the viewer or are we trying to fill space?

Visuals from KH1 begin to intercut the trailer, and we return to the dark beach, where one cloaked figure, looking like the blond stranger, meets another who is waiting on a rock. Some text appears unaccompanied by a number: HEARTLESS “We have come for you, my liege.” “You are the source of all Heartless.” There’s something menacing about this. Is it possible that they’re being spoken to a protagonist instead of an antagonist? 6: “The Thirteenth Order.” and then “Metamorphosis” / “Sora?” “Sora… Why?” / “Your Highness! But why?” Now it seems like Mickey and Sora might change and betray the others! Taken with VII, this could be an interesting turn. Quickly my friends! We must flock to the banner of the evil mouse!

5 flashes by so fast I had to go frame-by-frame to catch its text. “Change” / “The third key.” That’s not so much a surprise, as some of the others have been: we already know about three keys. It’s just a question of which key the trailer is talking about. It could be addressing the Key to Darkness or Keyblade of People’s Hearts, but it’s hard to make that argument when the blond stranger is swinging around two Keyblades at once. If we take “Key” to mean “Keyblade wielder” as Donald and Goofy did in KH1, it seems likely to me the third key refers to this blond fellow. Depends on how you read it. 4 is a whole wall of text: End of the world / “What is this place?” / “Is this the answer you’ve been looking for?” / “This is the world in its true form.” / “Maybe our journey meant nothing at all.” If you think about it, half of these lines are generic again and could go anywhere, but the last two are very intriguing…

3 says simply “Paradise,” though after a shot of Kairi and Sora being separated at the end of KH1, it adds “-> We’ll go together.” It then shows four cloaked figures from the trailer, as though to clarify they’re all distinct people: the yellow-eyed fellow, Riku, the blond stranger, and someone else who is simply indistinct. Finally, we see the number II, which has no text at all, but is followed by King Mickey in one of these omnipresent black cloaks, the words “Kingdom Hearts.” As nice a visual as this is, Mickey actually isn’t present when this scene plays out in canon, making it probably the biggest break between the trailer and actual events. To our surprise, the countdown stops at II.

In the final scene, the two cloaked figures on the beach meet. The one waiting on the rock turns to the first and says “I went to see him. He looks just like you.” Finally, a dream-visual of Sora flying over a stormy sea and the poorly translated conclusion: “Everything is coming back to me, the true…”

Here’s my best shot at predicting the upcoming game or games while trying to ground myself in the perspective of a new KH1 player. The game will focus on Nobodies and the attempt to find “the world between” proposed by Ansem in his final report. In so doing, Sora will discover something that will make him doubt his efforts (4), and he and Mickey may even take drastic action that will cause them to take on an antagonist role (though I can’t imagine Disney allowing Mickey to go evil for real, so it’s probably just a temporary fake-out on his part, if not both of them). This blond stranger will come looking for Sora at some point (maybe after Sora goes evil), though I can’t decide if the stranger is supposed to be a good guy or a bad guy. The bad guys will be called “The Thirteenth Order,” because that’s not the name of a good guy organization, that’s for sure. Kairi will only show up late (VII) after realizing she’s lost some kind of heart-to-heart contact with Sora (10) but will join the party at that point (also 10). But I guess that’s all just guesswork until the next…

And Conclusion

It’s at this point that I feel almost obliged to sign off with a concluding review. But at the same time, if you’ve read everything I have to say about the game at each individual moment, you probably have a good impression of my impressions. Another issue is that I’m not entirely done talking about KH1, as I’ll be comparing other games to it as we go along, and so on with those games to even later games. It’s a downside of this low-spoiler Retrospective format: I can only compare games once I’ve covered the other games. Up until this point, I could only have said “This part in KH1 is better/worse than this part in KH2” if I was willing to risk a spoiler, but I can easily say “This part is better/worse than this part in KH1” from this point on! In a matter of speaking, criticism of KH1 will go on until the end of the retrospective. As a result, it’s no so easy to have concluding thoughts about it. Maybe I’ll have concluding thoughts about later games, once we’ve had a few more games under our belts, but this one…? Not so much.

To wrap up this discussion of Kingdom Hearts 1, I’m going to spend the next entry talking about some of the promotional tie-ins: the manga, and a few surprises. After that, we’ll be moving on properly to Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories.

Prev: Kingdom Hearts 1 – Simple and Clean
Next: Kingdom Hearts 1 – Appendix and Tie-Ins

This retrospective’s screenshots come from Spazbo4’s longplay of the PS3, 1.5 HD version of Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix at World of Longplays (YouTube), and RickyC’s longplay of the PS2, western Vanilla version of Kingdom Hearts 1, also at World of Longplays (YouTube).