In light of Kingdom Hearts III's potential release, I've decided to take a look back at the second (and best, so far) major installment in the franchise.
In light of recent events, I felt it appropriate to dust off my PlayStation 3 and dive into one of the most important game series of my short, gaming life. It took a while to figure which one to choose, after all, there have been a lot over the years. In the end though, I decided to pick the real classic. The sequel to the original that improved upon literally everything. It's fighting was smoother, magic worked better, and there were even some fun new things to try.
Although, that was thirteen years ago. At the time, the game felt groundbreaking - and after playing it again, the nostalgia gripped me really hard. I was back in my childhood, playing screaming at my PS2 as Demyx chanted, "Dance water dance!" Unfortunately, that didn't last - and I began to notice some things. Not enough to dampen my experience, but it was definitely enough for me to stop and really think about why I loved this game so much. And it also made me think about how much Kingdom Hearts III will have to do to please people nowadays.
It's a beautiful game - and I had fun, but there's a lot that doesn't hold up anymore.
Kingdom Hearts II is the sequel to Kingdom Hearts, and the third game in the series overall (after Chain of Memories on the Gameboy Advanced). It takes place a year after the original game, and follows Sora and his Disney companions: Donald and Goofy as they travel across various original and Disney themed worlds. They must fight the Heartless, creatures of darkness that have the power to steal peoples' hearts, and the mysterious Organization XIII - a group of half-people, who were created from the husks of people who lost their hearts.
There's a lot of good that still shines this long after its release. The first being the enhanced battle system. The original Kingdom Hearts had a good, fluid battle style. So, to improve upon it as well as the KH2 did is pretty great. The intense combos and the variety of customizable moves made for a fun, and ever-evolving throughout the entire game. And it's not that this didn't exist the original - but it definitely wasn't as robust as what KH2 gave. Not to mention, the addition of a magic gauge made tracking and using magic much simpler - and I hated using magic in the original one.
The design improved so much. The worlds were much more vibrant and open, and the returning worlds had some necessary aesthetic fixes. Even the gummy ship mini-game and map got an amazing redux - taking on an almost Icarus-esque vibe in terms of gameplay. Even today, the game still holds up - it's not an open world epic, but it's still beautiful.
Then there's the storyline - which is all over the place - so I'm splitting it into two parts. One that I like, and one that'll show up later. The best part about KH2's storyline is the maturity - it's definitely a game that grew a little. It managed to tackle some pretty intense themes - such as death and even depression at some points, not to mention questioning the very idea of existence itself and what that means in universe. Instead of being a hero, you were given the idea that not everything you've been doing is great.
For example, fighting heartless has always been a necessary part of Sora's journey. After all, they are denizens of darkness that consume everything they touch. But, during the game, you find out that fighting heartless assists a greater evil - but you can't stop. And another big example is when Hercules comes down to help you save Meg. He leaves the entire coliseum full of people alone with a giant hydra - and they get killed by it. Hercules is depressed, and feeling guilty about what he did - not to mention heroing has left him pretty tired.
I could go on for ages about the good, good scenes that are sprinkled through this game. I could talk about how interesting and sad Axel and Roxas' relationship was. I could talk about Kairi coming into her own as a character, which is a huge improvement from the previous game. There's a lot of there - but again, there are also some problems.
There is a lot of stuff that didn't hold up though. As much as I loved the design of the worlds, their vibrancy didn't make up for the barrenness. Like, in the Olympus Coliseum, you hear people cheering for Herc as he fights. But, the crazy thing is that there are no people. And in Agrabah, they talk about a bustling bazaar, but there are no people there. The only characters you meet in any of the worlds are the important NPCs. There are no people anywhere else - and it really takes you out when you realize that.
And again, it's not that the game isn't beautiful. It's just that it feels more like I'm looking at a picture, rather than interacting with a living world. I know that this is a lot to ask for PS2 game - but if FFXII can do it, I think that KH could've at least tried. And sure, Hollow Bastion had a few extra characters - but that was about it.
Now, we get to the bad parts of the story. Notably, the weird way that the games decided to tackle the storyline of each world. So, the appeal of these games is the novelty of seeing Disney characters doing all this with random Final Fantasy characters in the mix - but do we have to have a weird rehash of all of the movie storylines? Cause, when you don't have the same production value, and only half of the original voice actors, and you skip a few parts - it kind of sucks? Like, I don't want to see Sora help a second rate Jasmine figure out what's going on with Aladdin.
I know that sounds harsh, but honestly, it's almost grating having to go through it. Not to mention, just obnoxious if you've seen all of the movies. It's not fun and it doesn't add anything. If anything, I would have loved to have seen these characters going on a brand new adventure! Why not right? Here's hoping for Kingdom Hearts III.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I think in the end, this game mostly holds up. I've been playing it for the past three days, and when I skip through some of the more cringy scenes - it's pretty fun to play. As the nostalgia faded, I'm still enamored with it after all of these years. It's story is mostly interesting, and once you get through the grating moments. But, Kingdom Hearts III has a lot to fix. I want to see populated worlds! Better dialogue! Maybe even a Disney world that doesn't take place right in the middle of the actual movie - because that sucks!
Hopefully, when it releases later this year, we'll be able to see if they've really improved.
Shann Smith is a lover of video games and has played games since he could hold a controller. He is a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, and also writes the Video Gay-Mer column on Popdust! If you have any games you'd like him to unpack, hit him up!
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Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.