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Kingdom Hearts III: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

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Like many people, I’d waited almost thirteen years to play Kingdom Hearts 3.

Technically, you could say that I’ve been waiting since 2012, when I beat Dream Drop Distance. But thirteen sounds more impressive, and it’s been that long since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out in Japan. And ever since then, we’ve all hoped to hear Square-Enix announce development on Part 3. Instead, we got hit with a number of smaller titles on different consoles. All have proven to be important to the story to varying degrees and I enjoyed playing all of them. (Well, except Coded. Sorry, Coded.)

But now, here we are. I can say that I beat Kingdom Hearts 3 at long last. Many have asked, and many more have their own opinions regarding this one question: was it worth the wait?

My answer: yes and no.

Kingdom Hearts 3 was an emotional rollercoaster for me, a lot of ups and downs. When it’s good, it’s phenomenal. It surpassed some of my wildest hopes and dreams. But when it’s bad…yikes. It’s worse than I could have imagined. I’m not even really trying to be dramatic here. That’s really how I felt as I played this game.

Let’s start with the high points.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy are back! These characters are the best that they’ve ever been. Their friendship is so strong in every scene, whether they’re teasing each other, reminiscing about past adventures, or having each other’s backs in battle. Donald and Goofy love Sora and they’re prepared to go anywhere with him to the bitter end. And while Sora is the hero of the story, his two companions got to have plenty of “awesome” moments all on their own. That was a pleasant surprise. 

The Disney worlds look, sound, and feel fantastic. They’re enormous in size compared to previous games and they’re all beautiful. Each location presents a unique environment to explore, from the lush forests in Tangled to the wide, open ocean from Pirates of the Caribbean.  The attention to detail is just wonderful and I keep finding new things to appreciate.

And best of all: the game has NPCs! Sora no longer runs through empty streets! You can actually see people in the cities and towns!

Unfortunately, while I adore all of Yoko Shimomura’s work in the Kingdom Hearts series, I have to admit that I came away with mixed feelings about the soundtrack this time. Kingdom Hearts 3 recycles and remixes a lot of music from the previous games, when I would have liked to have heard more new tracks.

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But I can’t complain too much because both the new and old music sound just as good as they always have. And I was extremely impressed by the new field and battle arrangements for each world. They each reflect the style of the scores from the original Disney films. If I hadn’t known better, I would have sworn that Alan Menken composed the music for Corona.

Now, you’ve probably heard that Kingdom Hearts 3 is too easy. Speaking as someone who’s not a very skilled gamer, I can confirm that these fans are correct. Most of the game is a breeze, even on the hardest difficulty level. Usually, I need to put in some level grinding at various points in a Kingdom Hearts game. Not this time.

Why is it so easy this time around? I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the number of options at your disposal when you’re fighting. As you attack with your Keyblade, you fill up a gauge that allows your Keyblade to change form and unleash more powerful attacks. Then, after a certain period of time spent fighting, you can trigger a joint attack with one of your party members, i.e. throwing Mike Wazowski at the enemy like a bowling ball. You also acquire Links, which are characters you can summon into battle using magic, i.e. Ariel and Wreck-It Ralph.

But wait- there’s more! On top of everything else, attacking certain enemies will trigger a type of attack called Attraction Flow. These attacks are designed to mimic popular rides at the Disney theme parks: a swinging pirate ship, the spinning tea cups, Prince Charming’s Carousel, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, etc. They are a lot of fun to unleash…the first couple of times. And they can be great for crowd control. But after a while, I got tired of using them.

And wait- there’s more! If you’re low on health, you might trigger an attack called Rage Form. Similar to Anti-Form, this turns Sora into a humanoid Heartless with faster, powerful attacks. His Rage attacks do significant damage at the cost of his own health.

Add it all up, and you can see why it’s not so easy to die in this game. I’d come close, only to trigger a slew of special attacks that allowed Sora to stay alive until the fight ended. Although you do not have to use any of these commands, you can’t disable them either, so they will keep popping up as you play.

Last of all, Kingdom Hearts 3 adds a very welcome option when you do fail at a battle or similar objective: “Prepare and Retry.” This allows you to access the menu before restarting a boss fight, so you can restock items you might’ve forgotten to equip, change your abilities or customize your spells differently. I hope that’s an option that’s here to stay for future Kingdom Hearts games.

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So, what didn’t I like about this game, besides the difficulty?  On paper, it doesn’t look like much.  However, the story has some problems and some of them bothered me so much that they almost tainted my feelings about the whole experience.

Granted, there’s actually a lot to like about the story of Kingdom Hearts III. The Disney characters get so many opportunities to shine. There’s a nice balance between worlds that strictly follow the plot of the movie and worlds that follow an original story that ties into the central conflict between Sora and Organization XIII. The Organization members have actual conversations with one another about their personal goals, their motivations, and their opinions of one another. One member gets a whole subplot that I won’t spoil, but it’s fantastic.

But, I reiterate: when this game goes bad, it goes bad. The biggest problem lies in the treatment of the female characters. It’s not a new problem for Kingdom Hearts, given that the games introduced us to dozens of engaging male characters and a handful of ladies. Yet many fans hoped that this would get rectified, especially for poor Kairi- the girl who is supposed to be one of Sora’s two best friends, but constantly gets pushed aside in favor of giving Riku more character development.

Kairi gets a couple of good moments in this game, but by and large, what Tetsuya Nomura decided to do with her was abysmal. I won’t spoil anything, but something important happens to her that left me feeling shocked, disgusted, and angry.  It’s not so much that I want Kairi to become a Strong Female Character who fights with a sword and doesn’t need a man in her life.  I just want Nomura to write her the way that he writes the male cast: as a person with her own goals and character growth, not an accessory to Sora.

To a lesser extent, there are twists in the game that seem to exist just for the sake of confusing/shocking us and getting the fans talking, not because they contribute to the story or characters. I know that some of this comes down to personal preference, and that if I want to continue with this series, I need to accept that this is how Tetsuya Nomura likes to tell stories. Still, I wish he’d stop pulling things like, “THIS character is secretly connected to THIS thing or person ALL ALONG!” When he just lets the characters play off of each other, Kingdom Hearts III shines. When he starts to go into the Lore, that’s when I begin to tune out.

I recommend Kingdom Hearts III to people who have stuck with this series for all of its installments. I would even recommend it to people who have never played a Kingdom Hearts game before. If you are willing to embrace the odd story and you think running around beautifully recreated Disney worlds sounds appealing, you should have a great time.

However, I do not recommend this game to anyone who has only played Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II. Weird as it sounds, I think you’ll have a harder time enjoying it than people who have never picked up a Kingdom Hearts game in their lives.

Why? Because you know just enough about the world and its characters to find certain ret-cons and new characters/information all the more confusing. The game doesn’t offer a clear, concise explanation for why some characters have returned from the dead, like Axel. Whereas, if you’ve never played one of the games before, you don’t know that they’re supposed to be dead.

Overall, I rate Kingdom Hearts 3 a 7/10. It’s not a perfect experience. The treatment of Kairi and certain parts of the ending left a bitter taste in my mouth. Yet the game also provided a lot of joy and I don’t want to throw that away. Sora, Donald, and Goofy: thanks for the ride. I look forward to playing future installments.

Games to Get Excited About: January 2019

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It’s that time of the month again! (And I mean that in a good way!) Not only is it a new month, but a new year! Happy 2019! Here’s to hoping it’s better than last year! So far it’s off to a good start, there are great games releasing this month. Let’s chat about a few! 


Resident Evil 2 – Re-imagined – January 25

If you are an older gamer and like horror the chances are high that you’ve played a Resident Evil game or two in your life. Even if you haven’t, you may have seen some of the movies. Well, they have re-imagined Resident Evil 2 because it was released over 20 years ago and sold almost 5 million copies.  The game was bloody, scary, and had horrible graphics (not for the time, just for now). The new re-imagination looks amazing and you can watch the trailer here. They have what they are calling an immersive camera that is supposed to let you “feel” it when you get bitten, plus there is tons of detail put into Raccoon City. If you love Resident Evil as much as I do, this is a must get. Even if you’ve never played it or watched the movies, it should be on your list if you are a horror game buff! 

The Walking Dead: The Final Season  Episode 3 – January 15  

I’ve personally never played a Tell Tale game, but I hear they are wonderful. Many people know they are having some issues with the company, but it seems they are bent on finishing what they started. Episode 3 is following Clementine and takes us 75% through the story for this season. Zombie games are one of my favorite things and the ones in The Walking Dead TV show are pretty fast, so if they are the same in this game you better make sure you have running shoes on! If you enjoy Tell Tale games or The Walking Dead in general this is probably a great game. 

Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe – January 11 

 I grew up in the 90s and some of my favorite memories are of playing Super Mario Brothers, so while I don’t even own a Switch, I am super excited for this. This new game is a 2D Platformer that you can play solo or with up to 4 player. There are five different characters to choose from – Mario, Luigi, Toad, Toadette, and Nabbit. Now, if you are one of those people who thinks these games are too easy there are three extra challenge modes in this game to appease you! I don’t think you can ever go wrong with a Super Mario game, and I highly recommend you check it out! 

Last.. But definitely NOT least… 

Kingdom Hearts 3 – January 25


This is the game I am most excited for (even though I can’t get it because I don’t have a console /cry). I have played Kingdom Hearts from the very start and found it fascinating. If you are a gamer and a lover of all things Disney and you haven’t played this.. GET IT! I highly recommend starting from the beginning, but rumor has it you won’t need to do that to follow this new story. We will go to magical worlds like the 100-Acre Wood, Pirates of the Caribbean, Frozen, Tangled, and even Monsters, Inc! It took YEARS for this game to come out because they wanted it to be amazing and I have very high hopes. The game play looks beautiful and the characters make you fall in love with them.  

 


That’s all for this month, but there are plenty more games coming next month so stay tuned! And as always, ’til then, play what you love! 

Thoughts on Beauty And The Beast

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(3/22/2017)

If you’ve read my December ‘top 10’ article, you may recall that the majority of the movies I watch are children’s cartoons, and that my family has been playing a game called ‘give all our money to Disney.’  My daughter is two.  Disney movies occupy a great deal of my consciousness.  On the whole, while I think that Disney films, especially those made in the nineties or later, have a positive impact on children and the world, many are also problematic.  It is important that we discuss these problems.  It is perfectly fine to enjoy problematic media, for example movies that perpetuate harmful stereotypes, but only if we are aware of the problems and discuss them.  The discussions take on even more importance if we chose to share the problematic media with our children.

There has been no shortage of harmful stereotypes in Disney movies over the years, including traditional gender roles, colorism, and some very uncomfortable portrayals of people of color (…and lack thereof.  Hey, Disney: consider making a movie that takes place in Africa and actually stars African people.  Like, human people.  Who are not white.  I’ll give you even more of my money, promise).  However, one trope that they can’t seem to shake is the ‘queer-coded villain.’  (2)

Disney’s catalog of bad guys is full of effeminate men and strong, single women.  Think Scar, Jafar, and Facilier.  Think Maleficent and Ursula (who somehow manages to check stereotype boxes for both ‘butch’ and ‘drag queen’).  I adore Moana but, given the history, it’s unfortunate that it’s two villains are a powerful female and a male character based on David Bowie.  It doesn’t exactly do anything to subvert the pattern, is what I’m saying.  Sometimes I find myself asking, “can’t we ever have a straight-coded Disney villain?”

Then I remember that we do.

Beauty And The Beast’s Gaston may not be the only villain without explicit queer coding, but he’s unique in the Disney catalogue in that his very straightness and adherence to gender norms are what makes him so villainous.  Gaston is the original Kylo Ren: a man who inserts himself into the female lead’s space, ignoring her signals and insisting that he knows what she wants when he obviously knows nothing of the sort.  He is the epitome of masculinity (there’s a whole song about it), and he wields his male privilege as a weapon against Belle and her friends.  He doesn’t have any magical powers; what makes him scary is his size and strength and lack of empathy.

I think that the ‘realness’ of the baddie is a large part of what makes Beauty And The Beast so popular, even 25 years on.

Of course, with the live action remake hitting theaters, Beauty and the Beast has been back in the news lately.  Specifically, the 2017 film has been making headlines because it features Disney’s first canonically queer character.  After a lot of fan speculation about Cogsworth, Disney revealed that the gay character is LeFou, Gaston’s obsequious sidekick.  Controversy erupted.  Many were outraged at the mere presence of a gay character is a children’s movie; one Alabama theater pulled the showing entirely. (3)  On the other side of the ideological aisle, many were thrilled to have a step forward for representation… but not every reaction was positive.

Teen Vogue’s Ryan Houlihan writes about it in his article, “Disney making LeFou gay isn’t the representation I need.”  He brings up a number of valid points, including concern that the ‘exclusively gay moment’ touted by Disney will be an afterthought that could easily be edited out, that wouldn’t be as emotionally resonant as the reveal in Laica’s Paranorman. He’s also, understandably, concerned that the first confirmed gay character in a Disney film is a villain.  Houlihan argues that Lefou doesn’t break the Disney tradition of queer-coded villains, “he’s simply an admission by the company of what viewers have believed for decades: that if a character is queer, it’s going to be the villain.” (1)

I think that, as Becca Bunch would say, “the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that.”  For one thing, LeFou as portrayed in the 1991 film doesn’t fit the mold of Jafar and his ilk.  He’s short, tubby, poorly groomed, and anything but graceful.  There is nothing feminine about him -except for his obsession with Gaston.  So, while making him gay doesn’t really affect the ‘villain’ pattern, it at least shows us a very different kind of gay villain, which is worth something.  Diversity in representation, even among gay Disney villains, leads to the breakdown of stereotypes.

Furthermore, I believe that it was a good story choice on the part of the writers.  I haven’t seen the film yet, but I think there’s a potential for LeFou’s subplot to be interesting and beneficial. There are a lot of things to love about Beauty and the Beast, but, revisiting it as an adult, the thing I love the most is that it focuses on toxic masculinity and how it affects a person. The Beast slowly learns to overcome his toxic masculinity over the course of the film, whereas Gaston acts as a foil/cautionary tale for what happens when a man lets the cultural pressures that come with masculinity take over. I think that sexual orientation, and how it interacts with identity and the societal ideas of what a ‘man’ should be, is a part of the life stories of men all over the world. It’s an idea that deserves to be explored on screen.

Furthermore, I take issue with Houlihan’s assertion that the producers of the live action adaptation, “muddled the issue by making him sexually “confused” – just to hedge their bets.” My last article was on the visual novel Ladykiller in a Bind, and a lot of the conversation around that game is about ‘messy’ queer stories and that they deserve to be told, not censored. Not everyone’s experience is the same. That ‘one day wants to be, next day wants to get with’ feeling that Houlihan references is something that I experience, and that I’m sure a lot of people with same-sex attraction experience. Most importantly, I think it’s a feeling that plenty of young people, still trying to figure out who they are, will identify with when they see the movie.

Finally, I feel the need to point out that Houlihan’s parenthetical comment describing LeFou’s live-action portrayer, Josh Gad, as straight.  I’m not entirely sure this is relevant, but more importantly, I’m not entirely sure it’s true.  He’s married to a woman (actress Ida Darvish), but I don’t recall ever hearing that ‘straight’ is how he identifies.  It seems to me that Houlihan is making a pretty big assumption about the orientation of someone he’s never met.  Director Bill Condon describes Gad’s performance as “subtle and delicious.” (4)  A friend of a friend even suggested that the entire queer subplot may have been Gad’s idea.  While there’s no way to know for sure without being told, it’s possible that he may have been drawing from personal experience.

Houlihan ends his article saying, “Taking a villain that was already coded as gay and letting him finally, blessedly, come out is a step in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to do so that LGBTQ people feel truly recognized, not just pandered to.”  I agree.  There is a long road ahead, but I’m glad that this story is being told.  Back in 2015, Vice’s Hugh Ryan wrote, “Personally, I hope we see more gay villains—just ones who are gay gay. Gay heroes as well, and sidekicks and straight men and bit parts, too. I hope the pansy doesn’t disappear just because he’s a stereotype, but I hope he’s allowed to be more than just a stereotype.“  LeFou shows us that those hopes are starting to come true.  At the very least it’s gotten us all talking about queer representation in children’s movies, and that’s worthwhile in and of itself.

 

References:

(1) http://www.teenvogue.com/story/disney-lefou-gay-villain-lgbtq-representation

(2)https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/the-number-of-gay-animated-villains-will-surprise-you-456

(3) http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/03/us/theater-shuns-disney-beauty-over-gay-moment/

(4) http://attitude.co.uk/world-exclusive-beauty-and-the-beast-set-to-make-disney-history-with-gay-character/

A Fan’s Perspective of the PewDiePie Scandal

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PewDiePie has been in the media quite a lot lately. Now that it’s starting to simmer down, I thought I’d give my two cents. As a fan of PewDiePie as well as a fan of his network, RevelMode, which hosts most of my favorite YouTubers (such as Markiplier, JackSepticEye and KickthePJ), I feel I have a well-rounded scope of the situation.

For those of you who don’t know, Felix Kjellberg (AKA PewDiePie) runs a very successful YouTube channel (he has over 50 million subscribers). He pioneered the whole Let’s Play side of YouTube. If not for PewDiePie, there probably wouldn’t be YouTube Gaming and Real Women of Gaming probably wouldn’t have our own channel. He has also raised millions of dollars for many different charities around the world.

That being said, what PewDiePie did was unacceptable. Pewds is known by his fans as a man who tries to push boundaries. He’s constantly making points about the media or about society, which is what drew me to him in the first place. He has a tendency of going too far in order to make a point, but he’s never gone so far that he had to suffer actual consequences… until now.

In an effort to make a point about how some people will do anything for money, he went on to Fiverr (a website where freelancers can sell their services for $5) and paid Funny Guys $5 to display a message that read “Death to all Jews” in one of their videos. Once Funny Guys actually displayed this message, PewDiePie reacted to it by saying he didn’t think they would actually do it.

Because of this stunt, both YouTube Red and Disney have dropped the YouTube star. PewDiePie’s show Scare PewDiePie was also cancelled, effective immediately. Rightfully so.

Do I believe that PewDiePie himself is antisemitic? Not even a little bit. I think he’s a normal, dumbass guy who takes things too far to try to get a laugh. He went about it all wrong. He could have had Funny Guys write anything on that piece of cardboard, instead he tried to be controversial and it backfired.

PewDiePie released an apology video in which he stated he will accept the consequences of his actions, but not before blaming the press for blowing it out of proportion. In a way, yes, the press did make the situation worse. For example, The Wall Street Journal went through his videos and took a lot of his content out of context to make it seem as though he’s been antisemitic all this time.

What PewDiePie doesn’t seem to realize, though, is that he wasn’t dropped from YouTube Red or Disney because the press blew it out of proportion. They dropped him because he was blatantly antisemitic. Not only have his actions caused his career a major setback, but they’ve also impacted other people.

Scare PewDiePie not only employed over 100 people, but YouTuber JackSepticEye flew to Los Angeles from his home in Ireland to collaborate on the show. JackSepticEye put a lot of work into Scare PewDiePie to play the villain of season 2. Pewds mentions this in his apology video, but puts the blame on YouTube for cancelling the show in the first place. No, Felix. You need to think about these things before you attempt to “push boundaries.”

When you’re in the spotlight, you can’t just say or do whatever you want. When you’re in the spotlight, other people get hurt by the consequences of your actions. For example, I wouldn’t go on Twitter under Real Women of Gaming’s handle and spew hatred because that would not only impact me, but also all the other wonderful people that make Real Women of Gaming what it is today.

Being an adult doesn’t mean you can say or do whatever you want. I means you can understand your mistakes and learn from them. So, Felix, I hope you learned from your mistake like you said you have.

What are your thoughts on the situation? Let us know in the comments below!