Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kingdom Hearts 2's Villain Problem

I'm sorry I've only been updating twice a month, fellas and fella-ettes. I work at Men's Wearhouse, and this time of year is absolute madness there, what with prom kids and wedding parties launching full-on invasions of our rental areas. Just bear with me for another month, and I'll get back to updating thrice each month, on the 5s. If I can actually keep thinking up things to yammer about, of course.

I very much liked Kingdom Hearts 2. In fact, up to and including 2, I've thought the series is pretty great. They're creative, their plots are executed well, several have neat ideas, and KH: Chain of Memories might have been tortuous to actually play, but it was certainly interesting in many regards to the power of memories and so on. I have not gone any further with the series than KH2, though, so I can't say for sure whether it's still good overall or not. I can only work with knowledge of the first 3 in the series.

If there's one problem I have with the series, though, KH2 in particular, it's with half of the original characters. Kingdom Hearts does fine with most of its characters taken from Final Fantasy (as long as you're not looking at Nomura's clumsy, careless mishandling of any character he didn't personally invent), and it does a terrific job with its interpretations for most of its characters of Disney origins. But when it comes to the characters whose origins are Kingdom Hearts alone, it's pretty split.

On the one side, you have the main characters, Sora, Kairi, Riku, Namine, and Roxas. These ones are pretty good. Riku's an annoying ass in KH1, but his character gets much better in KHCoM, and he stays decent in KH2. Sora's an engaging hero who has a fresh feel to him, and you can see him grow in many ways throughout the games, while staying himself overall. Kairi's more appealing as an ideal than a character thanks to her essential part of the games' plots yet extremely small involvement in them, but what little we see of her seems alright. And I liked Namine, though she's woefully underdeveloped as a character. Roxas is...pretty bland, honestly, but not bad, I guess. It's not HIS fault he's stuck in the 5 most boring and pointless hours of KH2, and that his deepest character development is done mostly while he's off-screen. So the main characters are good overall. And the few supporting original characters aren't bad...Ansem's kind of just there as a plot point, but it's not in any bad capacity, and Pence, Olette, and that other kid that Roxas makes friends with are all okay, for minor NPCs.

But on the other side, you have all the original villains of the Kingdom Hearts series. Not the Heartless, mind--I mean the important individuals, not the legions of goons. These are the Heartless Ansem-Mimic whose proper name I forget, Dark Riku, and Organization 13. Now, Dark Riku is the exception here, because he's actually a pretty decent villain once he starts getting all existential and such. But the Ansem-wannabe is pretty generic. And almost all of Organization 13's members are irrelevant, worthless, utterly empty characters with no significance beyond their membership, and the members that DO have something resembling characterization are worse, a collection of generic anime villains whose oppressively convoluted plans are stupid and motivated by selfish and dumb reasons that barely make any sense.

Of course, SquareEnix having a host of lousy villains is nothing new. Even in Square's heyday, they couldn't seem to make a good villain to save their corporate life. "Classic" Final Fantasy villains included a megalomaniac tree that made Snidely Whiplash look like a deep and thoughtful villain, a moon man that had to have other people do everything for him to enact a plan to destroy people that he hated for no adequately-explored reason, a future sorceress that did the same thing as the moon man only for even more vague reasons and with less sensible methods, and a lame rip-off of The Joker that had none of his depth, just going for an "I'm evil for evil's sake! ...Because I'm CRAZY!" mentality. And don't even get me started on Sephiroth and the Turks.

The real problem I have with KH2's set of pathetic, empty villains is that the game didn't HAVE to be stuck with them, at least not in such a prominent role. You get a game like, say, Final Fantasy 12, and, well, you're stuck with the lame, poorly-imagined villain that you've got. Vayne is the best villain they've got because he's the ONLY villain they've got, the only one that's been written for the game that can properly take his role. He may suck, but there's no real alternative because they didn't make one.

But with Kingdom Hearts, the company has literally dozens of great villains available to choose from. Each Disney location visited, each set of characters met, has a villain to offer. Once they'd added the Heartless into the mix, Square was all set. They didn't NEED to do any more, because with a mindless horde of baddies in place to provide power for the bad guys and EXP-fodder for the good guys, Square had many villains they could put into the spotlight that came from Disney. Who can deny the villainous charisma of grand schemers like Ursula, Jafar, Scar, Hades, and Maleficent? The petty darknesses that make individuals like Gaston, Cruella, the queen of Snow White, Tremaine, and Barbarossa such interesting and personal nemeses?

Square has access to these great villains. And Square proves throughout the series that they can not only accurately represent Disney characters, they can actually sometimes make them BETTER. Yet rather than take this opportunity to use an already great villain and make them the spotlight, Square disregards this resource and relegates it to a lesser, even unimportant role. With the exception of Maleficent and Pete, every Disney villain is confined to their single part of the game, a small-time villain rather than anything of huge significance to the plot. And while Maleficent seems for most of KH1 to be the grand villain behind everything, she's eventually one-upped by the KH-original Ansem-wannabe. Then she's made a tiny support villain KHCoM (though to be fair, the setup of the plot to that game necessitates this), and, worst of all, finally relegated to a role of lesser opposition in KH2, a mere afterthought to Organization 13 that is shown through both the story's structure and through actual events in the game not to have nearly the power or importance of these idiotic Nobodies.

I mean, are you KIDDING me? This is freaking MALEFICENT! The only Disney villain so steeped in power that the hero can only beat her by CHEATING. Had the prince in Sleeping Beauty not had the little fairies setting him free, giving him equipment, and finally enchanting the sword to basically be a 1-Hit KO Homing Missile, Maleficent would have won with EASE. You're telling me that Square thought a collection of generic pretty-boys with stupid ambitions that amount to them crying into a pillow "WHY ME WHY CAN'T I FEEEEEEL STUFF THE RIGHT WAY SNRRRK I'M SO GONNA WRITE A BAD SONG ABOUT THIS SOB" would make more compelling and powerful antagonists than the mistress of evil, a wrathful wielder of magics as dark and wicked as her vengeful spite?

And how about some of the other villains I mentioned? I'll grant you that the takeover plans of Scar, Ursula, and Hades are personal enough that they could indeed be content with just ruling their own lands and not attempting to conquer all the Disney worlds and thus become major game villains, but what about Jafar? That boy was ambitious enough that he could easily fill the role of a villain out to threaten everything. And the queen from Snow White would make a fine secondary villain; you could have her attempting to kill off the Princesses of Heart, determined to be the fairest of ALL worlds, not just her own. And how about a villain from a Disney franchise not already in the KH games? I mean, imagine what interesting motives and methods you could give Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame to be the main villain of a game with such a set-up. The guy's already a fascinating villain, hung up on his own inner demons, seeing his hatred for gypsies and his lust for Esmerelda as an internal battle between God and the Devil instead of just 2 different sides of ugly, twisted evil. Imagine all the neat stuff you could do with him in a setting like Kingdom Hearts, with small, dark demon-type things (the Heartless) spreading to every world, preying on people's emotional weaknesses...the reactions he would have, the motivations he might acquire to take control of all worlds or of the Heartless, the reasons he might have for seeking out the fabled Kingdom Hearts, and so on.

At any rate, Square had a lot of options for who could be each KH game's major villain, options that spanned every level of diabolical intent and every kind of negative emotion and desire. They've no excuse for having lackluster, annoying evil-doers as the top opposition to the heroes in these games, and frankly, restricting the villains with serious potential to tiny roles is stupid.


  1. Ecc here, gonna make an account here when I can be bothered.

    IMO, Square fucked up from the moment they made the Nobodies completely emotionless characters. Even the most deranged sociopath has some emotional capacity, and even if the total lack of emotion is conceivable in some way, how the shit does that translate to an effective fictional character?

    I have played Birth by Sleep for the PSP. However. I still don't know if the story was simple yet decent, or just really shallow. Disney does play a greater role, but the Disney factor is entirely episodic this time around, with the central, original cast being the only overarching element.

    Either way, it's a solid action game with an 8-15 hour plot told three times from different perspectives.

    Did I mention the villains are drastically improved? For original KH villains, I was honestly impressed more than once. But I'm just one opinion, and a rather pedestrian one at that.

  2. Ecc, my man, good to see you. Good to see anyone who'll comment, really, but particularly so with you.

    I can get on board the idea of a group of villains who are incapable of emotion, but recognize that which they're now missing and feel compelled to take steps to recapture it. The problem for me with how the Nobodies are handled, besides the fact that they make lousy villains overall, is that it's painfully obvious that they DO feel emotion. Roxas and Axel obviously share an emotional bond of some sort (perhaps not as romantic as fangirls would like to think, but emotional nonetheless). Namine shows a fairly wide range of emotions. Several emotions are shown by various members of Organization 13. Hell, just the bummed-out yearning and passive-aggressive anger that the head of the organization portrays in his desire seems suspiciously emotional! Thoroughly unconvincing.

    It's not like such characters aren't possible to portray fairly well, too. Years before KH, Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation would quite nicely show an emotionless individual that yearned for emotion. Shanoa of Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia did the schtick alright, too. If your character wants emotions because he/she doesn't have emotions, then DON'T SHOW HIM/HER BEING EMOTIONAL.

  3. SquareEnix wanted their own villians that weren't disney oriented so that is why you have heartless and nobodies. Without then no one would be able to figure where they came from. KH 2 FM gives them more of a role, where they are actually planning and not just popping up anywhere. Unfornately this game is only in Japan which KH FM is as well. The organization were supposed to be myserious characters and were supposed to be oringally added to the english ones, but SqareEnix had time restraints which is why they have two games in Japan with added cut scenes and extra bosses.

    The disney villains are independent and work on their own universe for a reason which includes the greek mythology with Hades.

    Ansem derived from the nobodies and without them there would of been no Ansem or nobodies or even heartless.

    Nobodies, (Organization XIII) don't have emotions, but they have memories which gives them the part to act upon it. They are very deceitful and play along with ruse to have their enemies fall into their trap. They are extremely popular characters and have a huge fan base so I don't see them going anywhere except to have their origns explained in later games. Normura works backwards when he makes his games and sees what the audience wants and decides which characters stay and go.

    Roxas actually has a game as well which tells of his time in the organization. People shouldn't judge things until they actually play them. After that they can be nicky picky on things.

  4. Not to spoil anything, but Hutchback of Nortre Dome Quasiamoto and Frollo, and other of its characters will be in the newest kingdom hearts game. The game is called Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance 3D I believe. Even the beagle boys are in this game. Noruma puts in characters that people would recognize and gargoyles, Dark Wing duck is not something everyone recognizes.

  5. "People shouldn't judge things until they actually play them. After that they can be nicky picky on things."

    You're saying I shouldn't judge the characters and villains of Kingdom Hearts 2 until after I play a game that ISN'T KH2 and was made AFTER it to explain all the characters because they weren't adequately explored in the game they debuted as important individuals in.

    So I shouldn't criticize a game for not adequately developing its characters during its events if it...didn't adequately develop its characters during its events.

    How logical.

    Also, thanks for giving me the basic rundown of the villains in the game, I'm well aware of their roles already, as one would usually assume from the fact that I don't give any indication during the rant of being unfamiliar with any of them.

    1. Its gets worse now the main villan is teaming up with...his past self...yeah

      But on the Bright side 358/2 days does give us Xion who was voted best new character in 2009 in the nintendo power polls and her story is very well written for the most part

    2. I don't even wanna know. Although I suppose some day I will anyways. Curse my need to play every RPG.

      I'm actually playing 358/2 Days right now (possibly the dumbest title ever), and I'm fairly far along, and...I don't see it. Xion's the most interesting member of the cast, I suppose, but the cast is obscenely boring as a rule. I'm not impressed with her thus far. Maybe she gets better, though.

    3. Its mainly when you find out who Xion exacly is

      Keep in mind her name is similar to Shion as in the flower

      also no i

  6. I suppose your opinion on Xion can basically be summed up as "Tragic, but stupid, and the memory thing makes less sense than if had never been explained at all"?

    1. I made this rant a year or so before playing KH358/2D, so she's not mentioned here, but...yeah, that pretty much sums her up exactly. I might not be generous enough to use "tragic," maybe more along the lines of "mildly unfortunate," but essentially, that is exactly it right there.