Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Master Sword (Ocarina of Time)

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in last month's post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future.

#4 - The Master Sword (Ocarina of Time)

I was only seven years old when The Legend of Zelda and I first crossed paths in 1987. I don’t believe I ever truly owned a copy of the original Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge, but I sure had a copy on extended loan from a friend at several points in my childhood. Although I attribute “Final Fantasy” with pushing me towards writing, I do think The Legend of Zelda sparked something in me. This game was different from anything I had ever known. It did not boast a complex story like Final Fantasy would when I played it later on, but it did come packaged with unrivaled exploration and adventure. What I’m trying to express is that I grew up with Link, Zelda and Ganon. Their story is a part of me as a gamer, as a writer, as an explorer and adventurer.

The first copy I truly owned was in Animal Crossing!
Prior to this title, I viewed video games as simple entertainment, something to turn on and enjoy for a few hours. Legend of Zelda was something more, though. It wasn’t just monsters on the screen to shoot or stab, or levels to complete like games I’d played prior. It was like entiring a whole new world and it was the first time I found something of myself in a game. I enjoy being thrust into a world without much direction and left to explore and uncover pieces of the story as I go. As often as I say “I love a game with a good story” the simplistic approach found in Legend of Zelda and mirrored in great games such as Metroid (particularly the “Prime” trilogy) and Shadow of the Colossus is something I also greatly admire.

In the original title, the most powerful blade is called “Magic Sword” but many believe it to be what later titles would call the “Master Sword.” The legend surrounding the Master Sword would first grow stronger when A Link to the Past was released for Super Nintendo. In this incarnation Link must face an evil wizard who has usurped control of Hyrule Castle in an attempt to release the seal that has locked a god-like being named Ganon in the Dark World. In order to succeed Link would need to get his hands on the Master Sword, a powerful blade with the ability to reflect evil magic back at itself. It would require a test of character and he would brave three dungeons to retrieve three pendants in order to awaken the sleeping sword. This quest which ends in a symbolic moment of Link pulling the Master Sword from the stone in the Lost Woods would become an iconic representation of the Legend of Zelda from that moment on.

The Master Sword of Link to the Past
Link to the Past is one of my favorite games ever made so it was difficult to believe that moment in the Lost Woods between a boy and his legendary sword could ever be trumped. When Ocarina of Time hit shelves for Nintendo 64 in 1998, Nintendo really outdid themselves. Again we are taken further into the past of the Hyrule Kingdom. Again Link awakens to find himself thrust into an adventure he was not quite prepared for and rushes into danger without a moment’s hesitation. Link’s first dungeon is an attempt to free the guardian of the Lost Woods, the Great Deku Tree, from an evil curse that has been laid upon it. Though he releases the curse, the Great Deku Tree still withers, but not before giving Link the Spiritual Stone of the Forest and sending him to find Princess Zelda. Anyone who played Link to the Past may realize they are now holding one of the three stones required to awaken the Master Sword.  In an attempt to thwart the evil intentions of Ganondorf, King of Thieves, Zelda sends Link on a quest to find the other two spiritual stones so that he may enter the Sacred Realm and protect the sacred relic, the Triforce, from falling into Ganondorf’s hands.

When I finally stood before the Temple of Time with all three stones in my possession, I already feel like an accomplished adventurer. I have met the Goron people of the mountains, and the Zora people of the sea. I proved myself to them by braving the challenges they put before me and earned the stones necessary to enter the Sacred Realm. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I entered the Temple of Time, the gateway to the Sacred Realm, I stood upon the threshold of one of the greatest moments in gaming history. As I placed the stones on the altar, a door slides open revealing a large chamber. Before me is a sword stuck in stone upon a large hexagonal dias. The symbol of the Triforce is etched into the stone, as well as the dias. This young Link I command wraps his small hands around the hilt of a sword that is slightly larger than he is and pulls it free of its stone prison. The Triforce etched on to the dias begins to glow and then, if that weren’t enough, something unbelievable happens.

Master Sword in the Temple of Time
Ganondorf is there and he thanks me for opening the door to the Scared Realm for him. I was a pawn in his plans all along. The screen fades to white and when vision returns, I’m in a strange glowing chamber. An old man, Rauru, explains he is one of the Seven Sages (I’d heard of them in Link to the Past!) and I am in the Temple of Light in the Sacred Realm. He instructs me to take a good look at myself – I mean, at my Link and I’m astounded to see that I’m not the small boy from the forest, but a grown man. Pulling the Master Sword from the stone, opening the door to the Sacred Realm, placed Link in stasis until he was strong enough to wield the blade and become the Hero of Time. Now, it was time to set right what he and I had done wrong when we allowed Ganondorf to enter the Sacred Realm and claim the powers of the Gods.

I felt as if everything I’d done with Young Link was a long prelude to the real heart of the game. Now I had a goal and a purpose. Ganondorf had used his powers to destroy and corrupt the land of Hyrule and now seven years later he would have to face Link on near equal terms. What a great build up, and a great plot twist. It was an eye opening moment when I realized I had only scratched the surface of what this game was going to throw at me, and how I was not going to have to experience the entire game as the pint-sized hero, but as a full-grown warrior. I was truly blindsided by all this, and it was here that I realized not only was I now in command of a grown Link armed with the Master Sword, but I was actually playing the legend that had been built up in the back-story of Link to the Past. I was witnessing the King of Thieves, Ganondorf, claim victory over the Triforce and become the evil monster Ganon that I had fought many times before. I was playing the origin of it all.

Now I get to play as this guy? AWESOME!
Honestly, what an amazing moment to realize that not only were you instrumental in creating the villain of every Zelda game you had already played, but you were playing out the events you had heard as myths and legends. It is not a wonder to me why Ocarina of Time stands as one of the most highly acclaimed and influential video games of all time. In my opinion, it has not been outshone by any other title in the franchise and I think it would be difficult to do so. Someday I will build up the Courage to face my fears and play the Master Quest version and then I will truly be worthy of the title, the Hero of Time.


Related Links
TOP Ten Memorable Moments

Friday, June 22, 2012

Week in Review - 6/22/2012

Nintendo DS

 When this game launched in Japan back in March, I was extremely excited. My Facebook has had a picture of Kenshin and Mewtwo since then (I should really change it). I never thought the game would see a US release, and only three months later! I was going to write an entire article about how I wish these niche games would come over here, but now that’s a moot point. I bought it on a whim yesterday and I’ve really been enjoying it. So far I’ve united Ransei with the Main Hero and I’m about to dive into the side-story episodes.

I nearly cried shortly beyond here.
I popped this game on a few nights ago because I couldn’t sleep. Did I think this would help? No, not really. Fortunately I stopped before it got too intense. That is to say, I came around a corner and caught a glimpse of a strange bipedal beast-man just as he disappeared around a corner and I nearly pee’d my pants. I play with the lights off and headphones on as the game directed me. Yeah. Well, I’m enjoying it when I am in the mood to have the pants scared off me. It is a great idea for a game.

With the release of Gods & Kings just this week, I have had “Civilization” on my mind. I decided recently that I would try and wait for the expansion to go on sale, but it doesn’t stop me from picking away at the long list of achievements I have yet to conquer in the original game and its downloaded content. I started up a game as Arabia and am pretty well situated in the northeast of a continent. I have a wall of City States protecting me from France, Mongolia and China. I will strive for economic dominance. 

The last time I played The Sims 3 back in March, I had created a small household that was made up of 4 cloned and killed Sims modeled after myself. I decided to pluck Electro Oliver out of his home and make him a successful businessman in his afterlife, but I got bored playing as a ghost and decided to boot up the original Sim Oliver before death claimed him. For the first time since I’ve owned the game, I managed to get Fishing to Lv5, Gardening to Lv7 and Cooking to Lv10 to make myself Ambrosia and thus immortal.   

Playstation 3
"This is ridiculous. Worst birthday ever."
I’m still working on my analysis of the Final Fantasy XIII plot. I’m paying a lot of attention to the Datalog and learning small tidbits here and there, but so far nothing is so ground-breaking that the entire game suddenly makes sense. I’m waiting to get near the end where all the rules established early in the game start to fall apart. I’m hoping this time things will add up. I’m part of the way through Chapter 6 out of 13 so I’m making some good progress. I may publish my notes when it’s said and done.

I did not play Planescape: Torment at all this week. I cannot get into it. Sigh.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Sacrifice of Palom and Porom

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in last month's post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future.

#5 - The Sacrifice of Palom and Porom

Final Fantasy IVis my favorite entry in the “Final Fantasy” series. From an objective standpoint, I would never say it’s the best game. Nevertheless, I would still point anyone interested in trying older games in the series to get a copy of Final Fantasy IV and see what it has to offer. It was the second “Final Fantasy” I played, and the first “Final Fantasy” to be released on the Super Nintendo. The depth of its story and characters shook my entire world. I daresay Final Fantasy IV was the final push I needed into creating my own stories. It was the first step in a process that would get me reading and writing in the fantasy genre. In a way, it changed my whole life.

The theme of “redemption” is prevalent throughout Final Fantasy IV. The main character, Cecil, gives up his unholy powers as a Dark Knight, to become a paragon of justice called a Paladin. It is a grand undertaking and something he must do to defeat the darkness within himself, before he can defeat the darkness that threatens the world. Although the game’s main plot focuses on this change of character, many of the finest scenes in the game are when other characters overcome past mistakes and really pull through to save the day. Palom and Porom are two such characters.

Palom and Porom are the youngest playable characters in the entire “Final Fantasy” series so far. These twins are stated to be 5 years old! I can’t imagine heading off into danger with two 5-year-olds tagging along, regardless of how skilled they are in magic, but Cecil doesn’t have too many options at this point in his adventure. He has recently arrived at a community that was seen attacking in the opening sequences of the game. He is not well received in Mysidia, but the Elder allows him an audience and tells him that in order to proceed he must climb Mount Ordeals and undergo the test to become a Paladin. Then in a glimpse of senility, he assigns the 5-year-old twins to accompany Cecil to this mountain that few ever return from. Perhaps the Elder is as annoyed with them as I soon get, but most likely he is just incredibly confident in their abilities as magicians and that they make unsuspecting spies.

Palom is the male twin, and a skilled Black Mage (destructive magic). He constantly refers to himself as a genius and a prodigy showing his cockiness and arrogance readily. He is disrespectful to adults and over-confident in his abilities. He is prone to run at the mouth and almost reveals they are spies to Cecil while traveling with him. In contrast, the female twin, Porom, is a White Mage (restorative and protection magic). She is equally skilled, but much more humble. She is constantly scolding (and beating) Palom for blabbing unnecessarily and being rude, arrogant, or too sure of himself. While Palom is often pompous and rebellious, Porom is modest and obedient. Palom is impetuous and Porom is calm and focused. They are truly like two sides of a coin, but what this amounts to for me is two characters who don’t have a lot of on-screen appeal.
I kind of want to slap them both.
I do not like Palom’s constant chatter, or his showing off, or watching him be a jerk to his elders. It makes him a very disagreeable little brat. I do not like Porom’s constant kissing up to elders, or her obsessive need to dominate and control her brother’s behavior. They are too extreme for my taste, and neither extreme is particularly enjoyable to be subjected to for several hours. Like my own kids, they almost never stop their incessant chatter. They always have something to say and it gets rather grating after a while. Palom and Porom are without a doubt my least favorite characters in the entire game – that is until they make up for all the annoying conversations and sibling arguments in one shocking moment.

After Cecil shocks the world and becomes a Paladin, the twins decide to stick with him. Though they didn’t like him at first, and admit their duty was to spy on him, they have come to respect and trust Cecil and want to continue to help him fight against the looming evil in their world. Since they survived the trials of Mount Ordeals, I assume the Elder thinks they’re up for anything and allows them to continue the journey with Cecil. The group infiltrates Cecil’s original turf, the Kingdom of Baron, and find that it has been occupied by agents of evil all along. They defeat the second of four fiends together and free  Baron from its dark master. But before the fiend truly dies he announces that the group is caught in his trap and the walls around them begin to close in on them.

The adults confirm that the doors are locked. There’s no way out and no way to stop the walls. Palom and Porom are oddly calm and Porom in a display of maturity drops his arrogant posture and speaks with an air of duty and honor. He announces there’s only one thing to do. They say they’re glad they could have become friends with Cecil and thank the Sage Tellah, also traveling with them, for everything he taught them. Then, in unison, they cast a spell that turns their bodies to stone. Their little statues can be seen holding back the walls and allowing the other members of the group to press on. The group tries everything in their power to revive them from their stone prisons, but their will to protect the group, and their willingness to turn themselves to stone prevents them from being returned to flesh. They make an ultimate sacrifice for the greater good, proving rather spontaneously that they did have a wisdom and character beyond their years.

Palom and Porom etch their ways into a player’s heart with their noble sacrifice. All their mindless banter is now forgotten. All the times they may have annoyed me is erased in a single moment of honor. When I was playing this game at the young age of 11, this scene really meant a lot to me. It demonstrated that kids can be brave, strong, noble and selfless. The unexpected loss of the two youngest members of the team really shocked me. It was the twists and unexpected turns in the narrative like this that made me realize how well a game could tell a story, and got me interested in telling my own stories. Even as an adult playing through this game, I admit I tend to choke up around this scene where the two little kids save a group of adults from certain death. It’s a moment in gaming that has really stuck with me since my childhood and will always among my most memorable moments.


Related Links
TOP Ten Most Memorable

Friday, June 15, 2012

Week in Review - 6/15/2012

This is as far as I got basically.
I decided to play Planescape: Torment but it’s not going well. I’ve never been able to really get into games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights which means it’s pretty difficult for me to get into this game. I’ve made it out of the Mortuary and am struggling to find Pharod, but the complete lack of direction throws me off. I really want to wrap my brain around the story and the struggles of the Nameless One as he tries to recover his identity. So I’ve dedicated playing a few hours here and there and working through my differences with the game. 

Playstation 3
This is as far as I got basically.
Don’t judge me. I gave this game a lot of crap when it came out in 2010 because the story was so ridiculous and convoluted. It was the exact opposite of what I really want in a “Final Fantasy” game. I’ve decided to give it another chance, though. I’m doing more of an analytic review of the game to see if the story just has more than meets the eye. Many apologists for the game insist the story isn’t that bad. I decide to see for myself. I’m taking notes and maybe publishing what I find later on.  

This picture makes me miss it already.
 I cannot pull myself away from this game. I blame this game for my re-interest in Final Fantasy XIII because I truly am enjoying the more action oriented battles which feel a lot more adrenaline generating and strategic at the same time. The battle system of Xenoblade is just the icing on the cake of what is a wonderful game. I recently beat it and just started over from the beginning again. I sank another 25 hours into the game before finally setting it down to play Planescape and Final Fantasy XIII. It still nags at me, but my addiction MAY be broken.  


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The First Colossus, Valus the Minotaur

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in last month's post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future. I’m sorry that my schedule got out of sync. I plan to be back on track for weeks to come, now.

#6 - The First Colossus, Valus the Minotaur

Shadow of the Colossus is by far one of the most amazing games I’ve ever played. Nothing I can say in this article will truly express to a reader how impressive this game is, nor could I predict what any individual would take away from the experience. I do believe the game has a unique ability to connect with any player. It has distinct artistic style and strong literary themes. It’s simple, yet effective, approach to telling a deep, emotional story is remarkable. To say the music is outstanding, I consider an understatement. In all honesty, the entire game experience is one of my most memorable moments, but I will attempt to fine tune my attachment by walking you through the first of sixteen encounters. It truly sets the pace and tone of the entire adventure, and just happens to be the first time the game took my breath away as I found myself toe-to-toe with the first of these giant, earthy monsters.

I played and enjoyed Ico years earlier, the predecessor developed by Team Ico, so I was interested in Shadow of the Colossus initially. A friend somehow convinced me to pick it up shortly after its original release back in 2005. Other than a friend’s trusted recommendation that I would enjoy it, I didn’t have any real expectation for the game. I assumed I would find it fascinating and artistic as I had previously found Ico. That was perhaps my initial reaction, but that would all change as I found myself up against the first colossus, Valus the Minotaur.

This may look like suicide, but this summarizes most of the game nicely.
Much like Ico, the game doesn’t waste time on words. You experience the story through actions and environments mostly. As the game opens with Wander arriving at some ancient temple with his horse Agro carrying the unconscious woman named Mono, this is practically all you will know for sure about them for most of the game. Wander proceeds to contact some powerful being named Dormin and requests he return Mono’s soul back to her body. Dormin replies with a deal. Wander defeats the sixteen colossi spread across the land and he’ll comply if it’s possible. After that, the game starts and the world is yours to explore. This story seems very basic and simple, but it's already sowing the seeds of doubt about the dubious nature of this deal.Wander is willing to risk so much simply for the possibility that Mono may be returned, and he pays no heed to what it may cost. The notion is romantic, but also hauntingly desperate. This game has your mind already turning over the possibilities with just a few lines of simple dialogue.

Are you intimidated yet? Do you feel desperate and alone?
From there you mount Agro and leave the temple to explore this strange, empty land. The first things a player may realize is that this place, called later the Forbidden Land, is mostly green and beautiful, but almost void of life. There’s the occasional splatter of trees, and a lizard may dart here and there, but that’s it. As you rush off to find and fight the first of many giants, you are not met with any resistance. You simply make your way to where the light of your sword guides you and marvel at your beautiful, yet unusually quiet surroundings. The game’s interface itself lends to accessibility of  the environment by being unobtrusive and out-of-sight when not in use. When you switch between your bow and sword, a small icon briefly pops up and then fades away. Wander’s strength is measured by two meters - a stamina gauge to measure how long he can climb or hold back his bowstring, and a health bar for when he takes damage. When they aren't actively being used, it’s just Wander, his horse, and the empty world on the screen. This reinforces some of the game’s primary themes. Although the environment is peaceful and tranquil, it also fills you with a sense of loneliness and despair. The way the game is presented to you is really indicative of what Wander himself feels: alone and desperate.

The light from Wander’s sword leads to a cliff where a brief tutorial teaches how to climb, jump, duck and roll – all the physical skills a budding colossus slayer needs to survive. When Wander finally crests the top of the cliff, there’s a brief cutscene to introduce the player to the first colossus. Each colossus is usually introduced with a rather cinematic scene which clearly illustrates just how gigantic they are compared to Wander. As Valus lumbers past he doesn't notice Wander standing there, as if he were an insignificant insect. Wander appears barely taller than the hoof of this cloven-foot monstrosity. If wandering through the lonely landscape didn’t make you feel alone, desperate and perhaps insignificant then standing at the toes of a giant surely will drive the feeling home. Valus continues on his way, away from Wander.The letter-box frame of the cutscene fades away leaving you to chase after this enormous creature and begin to look for a way to defeat it.

He is not so big and tough from this camera perspective!
The game offers very little in the way of hints on how to topple these monsters or even wound them. If you fumble around long enough Dormin (ever impatient) might offer you some clue as to where to start, or where to strike. I remember my first encounter with Valus didn't go well as I struggled to find a way to climb his massive body and find his hidden weaknesses. What you learn by trial and error on Valus continues to be the main way of fighting all the subsequent colossi. You search for the places on their body you can grip and climb, until you find the glowing sigils that indicate their weak points. However, each new colossus brings a unique challenge. Some fly; some swim; some are covered in seemly impenetrable armor. Discovering how to find their hand-holds, or expose their weakness becomes more and more like a dangerous puzzle. Being the first, Valus is perhaps one of the easiest, but because the game just throws you, your sword, and your wits against this giant being with very little in the ways of instruction - just learning to climb, stab and hold on for dear life is the puzzle with him.

 There are countless games of lone warriors braving all odds against formidable foes or impenetrable fortresses, but they all emphasize action or drama. Shadow of the Colossus really emphasizes emotion. From the art design to the music selection, from the cinematic scenes to the minimal dialogue and character interaction, everything lends to influence the way a player will feel when playing the game. Aside from the loneliness and the despair, there is also a great sense of foreboding, sadness and tragedy. As I played the game, I feel a certain amount of delight in conquering these living mountains, but when I finally plunge Wander’s sword in for the final time, as the behemoth takes its final steps before falling lifeless, I’m not met with a victorious fanfare to celebrate my achievement, but a sorrowful dirge to mourn its passing. I questioned early on whether what Wander was doing was even right. The game makes each victory feel monumentally triumphant, but also tremendously sad. It’s woven together beautifully and because you are Wander, because this story is told as a video game, you truly get to experience it all yourself as if it were you.

How about the power of flight! Does that do anything for you?
I cannot stress enough that this is a game to experience rather than read about, and there has never been a better time. Both Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were re-released in HD for the Playstation 3 back in September, 2011. Since then I’ve played through Colossus two more times. Everything is even more breathtaking in high definition. But even if you only have access to a Playstation 2, it’s still worth tracking down a copy of this game and experiencing it for yourself first-hand. This is the one entry in my TOP Ten that I doubt I could spoil because each person will probably take something away from this game that is unique to their own personal experience. Whether you lost someone you cared about, or have felt alone, insignificant, or desperate in some other fashion, the game really speaks to human emotions. As long as you’re not expecting an action packed adventure game, I believe it’s a game that anyone (with emotions) can appreciate.


 Related Links
TOP Ten Memorable Moments
Shadow of the Colossus soundtrack on Grooveshark
Valus the Minotaur on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbqt_XlXRl4

Friday, June 8, 2012

Week in Review - 6/8/2012


Nightmare Witch Doctor
The biggest challenge to me in Diablo III is my internet connection. Since I bought the game, my internet has given me and my wife nothing but trouble. We recently rearranged some furniture and since then we can’t seem to stay consistently connected to the internet after 8pm EST. It’s making progress in the game difficult. I have never been a naysayer against the demand to be online to play the game, but it sure is annoying me now that I can’t stay online at night. We never had this problem with any MMO. We recently hit up Whimsyshire in the afternoons, though. 

Shulk: Terrible name, Cool character
I had a patch of being busy lately and now that I’m caught up with life, I return my attention (nearly undivided) to Xenoblade Chronicles. It pains me that I was unable to stay focused from start to finish, but after briefly reintroducing myself to the game’s mechanics I’m firing toward the end and breakneck speed. I’m determined to see it through to the end before any other distractions pop up. I continued to be amazed by the music. The story is now picking up nicely, too, and I find myself more and more desperate to know what happens next.

Games on Deck:
Ever since I started blogging back in February, I've been reading more and more video game news and personal blogs about gaming in order to come up with topics and familiarize myself with what's going on in the world of gaming. That is to say, more than I used to. Since February I keep stumbling on the name of a game I'd honestly never even heard of until this year. It's surprising because most people are commenting that it's the best role-playing game (or Western role-playing game if they are segregating) of all time. How could I have never heard of this? 

The game is Planescape: Torment and I'm told it's an existential experience. I recently procured a copy for Father's Day and I'm hoping to turn my full attention to it after finishing up Xenoblade Chronicles. It means pushing back Persona 4 again! Can anyone who reads this far comment on whether they'd rather play Persona 4 or Planescape: Torment? I expect I'll have to decide which I devote my time to sometime next week.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sora's Sacrifice

This is part of an ongoing series about my favorite memories from video games. You can find the original list and table of contents in last month's post or by clicking here. Please be aware that these posts are going to be full of spoilers which may ruin the impact of these events on anyone who wishes to experience them on their own in the future. I’m sorry that my schedule got out of sync. I plan to be back on track for weeks to come, now.

#7 - Sora's Sacrifice (Kingdom Hearts)

I spent some time in February working on an article about how much I can relate to Sora, the main character of Kingdom Hearts. I was not talking about any of the other games to come out of that franchise, but the original game as I first played it when it was released. Although I cannot speak as highly for the other members of the “Kingdom Hearts” family, the original game remains a treasure in my game collection. I’m tempted to replay it again this summer based on this and the previous article I’ve written about it. It wonderfully blends the Disney movies I grew up with and the Final Fantasy styles of story-telling with gameplay that has come to define the “active RPG” genre. It’s a great adventure story that culminates in a very bittersweet ending. I doted on all this back in February as you can read here.

One side of the Kingdom Hearts story is about Sora’s struggle to reunite with his close friends, Kairi and Riku. When Sora’s home world is enveloped in darkness, they are both lost to him. His primary personal goal is to get them back. On the other hand, Riku chooses to accept the darkness and comes to resent Sora over the course of the game. He can only see Sora having fun with his new friends (Donald Duck and Goofy) and doesn’t realize how much Sora is struggling to get back together with him and Kairi. Riku is manipulated by Maleficent and comes to be a primary antagonist to Sora. He shows up to taunt Sora several times about his inefficiency at helping Kairi, who is trapped in a comatose state. Riku’s story is the mostly untold story of a tragic anti-hero who is also trying to do the right thing, but mostly going about it in the wrong way.

This all builds up to its boiling point at the unusual, original world, Hollow Bastion. It’s there that Riku fills Sora with enough self-doubt that he temporarily relinquishes control of his legendary weapon, the Keyblade to Riku. Riku triumphantly announces he was always meant to be the rightful wielder. This is where Sora really shows his true colors, though. The following events are what make Sora really shine as a character as he discovers his inner strength and steps up to face Riku. When Sora next sees him, the Keyblade returns to him and Sora explains that his connection to his friends (all the Disney friends he’s made as well as Riku and Kairi) is what makes him stronger, not weak. Riku proceeds to draw him deeper into the Hollow Bastion fortress where Kairi sleeps.

I spent a while playing Kingdom Hearts actually thinking that Riku is making a good point – that Sora is getting easily distracted by the Disney side of things and not focused on his true goals of finding his friends and saving the universe. I think that’s mostly a result of poor choices of words in the game’s script because the Sora that shows up to Hollow Bastion is pretty intense on both accounts. Riku’s taunting finally manages to get to him, and he loses the Keyblade, and with it the power to fight against the darkness. Nevertheless, Sora decides he can’t give up and he presses onward. His determination to succeed ultimately regains him the Keyblade and reunites him with his friends on the doorstep to Kingdom Hearts, which is a source of ultimate power sought after by the villains.

Sora means serious business.
Here is where the quest comes to its climax. The door is incomplete without the light from Kairi’s heart which is oddly absent from her comatose body. Riku explains her heart is locked away within Sora’s heart. Riku now has his own Keyblade which has been forged from the power of people’s hearts, particularly the other Disney princesses’ hearts. He claims it has the power to unlock people’s hearts to the power of darkness and plans to use it on Sora to get at Kairi. An intense battle ensues – for me it is the most difficult battle in the entire game (excluding a certain optional battle). The fight really gets me all worked up and drawn in. Riku is extremely fast and with his newly formed Keyblade, he hits hard.

The emotional significance of this fight is how worked up it manages to get you. Riku is not a villain and the game does not lead you to hate him. If anything, the game makes you care about him in a way similar to how Sora cares about him. I pity him. He is confused and needs help. He has also sided with the villains in an attempt to do the right things, but at what cost to himself and the worlds around him? Despite being the tragic anti-hero, the fight that ensues, Sora’s Keyblade to protect the Light vs Riku’s Keyblade to unleash the Darkness, is so challenging it always gets me into a frenzy. It builds my emotional state so high because I really, really want to knock him off his high horse, even though I do not hate him as I would a true villain. The character of Riku is the perfect rival to test Sora’s resolve, and the player’s skills. Despite how worked up this moment can get me, this isn’t THE moment. It’s the precursor to the scene that follows.
Sheepish grins are now warning signs of noble sacrifices.
When Riku is defeated and gone, Sora is left with two problems. First, he must seal Kingdom Hearts away from the villains, but the door (and keyhole) is incomplete without Kairi’s power. Second, he’s found Kairi, but she remains comatose. There is a brief emotional lull here as Sora, Donald and Goofy all ponder the problem. Then it happens. With nothing more than a sheepish grin to his closest allies, Donald and Goofy, he picks up Riku’s discarded Keyblade and stabs it into his heart. He decides on his own that bringing Kairi back is more important than his own preservation. Sora unlocks his heart to darkness, which releases Kairi, and transforms Sora into one of the mindless creatures of darkness he’s been seeking out and destroying. This is the “Mickey Mouse” way of saying he dies and is reborn as something evil.

With a player’s emotions running high from the mostly unwanted (but satisfying) battle against Sora’s best friend, the next scene immediately transfers all that emotion into the most shocking moment in the game. Sora’s self-sacrifice is the ultimate test of his loyalty to his friends, and his faith in their ability to carry on the quest without him. I struggle to express how much this impacts me every time I experience it. He’s just a boy! I proclaim. How could he be this noble? If the Keyblade chooses its wielder based on the strength and conviction of their heart, it’s clear now that it would have always been Sora and never Riku, despite what Riku tried to have Sora believe earlier. This single moment defines the very core of what the “Kingdom Hearts” story is trying to tell.

This game really plucks my heartstrings in a lot of ways. It sings to my nostalgia for the old Disney films and the beloved characters from both Disney and “Final Fantasy.” It tells a fascinating story of one boy’s journey against all odds to do what’s right. It is a great game with an interesting story, but what it does best is really suck me into that one moment where all three friends are reunited again. I truly wish all the games in the “Kingdom Hearts” series were like this for me. They all have their strengths and are good games, but there is something special about Kingdom Hearts and something amazing about this one moment. It’s as if the game itself has the power to unlock my heart and fill me with an extraordinary amount of anguish and sadness over these fictional characters. It is a testament to what a game can make you feel, and help you discover about yourself, when it’s done right and strikes you in just the right way.


Related Links
TOP Ten Most Memorable
Sora's Sacrifice on Youtube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e24MHDM0dBQ
Origin of Sora's Sheepish Grin - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRmtPjXyjgc