Musical Monday #28: “Naminé”

Naminé’s theme is beautiful.  It’s also brilliant because it’s so misleading.

Yoko Shimomura’s character themes always do an accurate job of reflecting each character’s personality, and often the tone of their personal story.  “Musique pour la tristesse de Xion” sounds depressing but a little hopeful, “Terra” sounds determined, “Sora” is happy and bouncy, “Roxas” and “The Other Promise” sound confused and sad, etc.  Now, let’s listen to Naminé’s theme.  What do you think it implies about her character?

To me, it sounds sweet, gentle, and essentially innocent.  And that’s very important, because we first hear this theme properly when Sora starts describing childhood memories of Naminé to his friends.  Up until this point in the series (Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, for non-Kingdom-Hearts fans), the player has been introduced to several of Sora’s friends on Destiny Islands, but he never mentioned anything about Naminé.  That changes when he, Donald, and Goofy enter a mysterious, creepy-looking place called Castle Oblivion, run by the equally mysterious and creepy Organization XIII.  They hint that the trio will be losing memories and recovering long-forgotten ones as they progress to each floor, because that’s the magical nature of the castle.

WARNING: Chain of Memories spoilers will commence.

So, when Sora says that he suddenly remembers another girl he used to be friends with, besides Riku and Kairi, the heroes assume that it’s the castle’s magic at work.  But it’s not.  Actually, Naminé is the one who has the magical ability to manipulate and change memories, and she never lived on Destiny Islands.  Members of Organization XIII want to use her power to trick Sora into believing that she’s a very special person to him, so that he’ll do whatever they ask from him in order to protect Naminé.

But none of that information is revealed until the penultimate level of the game.  Daisuke Watanabe, the head writer of Chain of Memories, does a very nice job of keeping the player guessing for a certain amount of time.  They show scenes of Naminé drawing under the guard of Organization members, so we know that she’s not some girl out of Sora’s head.  And Sora’s “memories” don’t magically come back to him all at once; as he puts it, they come back to him in little bits and pieces at a time.  He also says that she moved away when he was still very young and that, “I think the grown-ups knew the reason.  They might even have tried to explain some of it to me.  But I was little.  I probably didn’t understand what was happening.  I remember crying after she was gone.”  It all sounds so natural.  He had another best friend, she moved away, and now he’s starting to remember her again.  It’s only after he starts to obsess over her that we begin to realize that something is very wrong.

Naminé’s character theme contributes to the confusion by sounding so innocent.  Its reassuring tone subtly reinforces the idea that Sora is telling the truth, even though it’s all a lie.  If Shimomura had chosen to to compose something that sounded ominous, no amount of clever writing would’ve convinced us everything was fine and the memories were legit.

It also works because as the story progresses, we learn that Naminé really is a sweet, kind-hearted character, in spite of what she does to Sora’s memories.  She actually hated lying to him, but feared the Organization and felt so lonely that she was willing to do anything to have a friend.  So her beautiful theme does reflect her gentle personality, while also serving a narrative purpose.  It’s lovely and very underrated compared to some of the more popular character themes.

Oh, and the next Kingdom Hearts game comes out tomorrow.  YAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!

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Ten Things I’m Looking Forward to Seeing in Kingdom Hearts 3D (Based on Trailers and Stuff)

Only one more week until Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance comes out!

I’d look for a better quality gif, but I won’t dare go near any Kingdom Hearts tumblrs right now, when I could get accidentally spoiled! Anyways, found this one on GifSoup.

Time for another spoiler warning.  I’ll be discussing what was revealed about Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance in trailers, previews, and previous games, as well as the plots for worlds that appear in the game.  So if you want to go into the game completely blind, please don’t look any further.  Also, if you’re the kind of fan who does like spoilers and already knows how the game ends, PLEASE DO NOT LEAVE SPOILERS IN THE COMMENTS.  Thank you.

Ready?  Okay, onward!

(Picture found on IGN)

10. The Return of Vanitas

Few characters can actually get me to SQUEE out loud just by appearing in a trailer- with Vanitas, I did it twice.  First of all, it’s Vanitas.  Second, he’s shown talking to Sora.  Unfortunately, we never see Sora’s reaction to an evil version of himself, and Vanitas just suddenly appears next to Young Master Xehanort before Xehanort leaves.  So it’s possible that he isn’t physically there and it’s meant to symbolize something.  Can Sora even see him?

But if Vanitas actually returns to the series somehow, that could mean a battle between him and Sora, and who doesn’t want to see that?  Then there’s the possibility of what could happen if an evil version of Sora was on the loose now, with Sora being the important Keyblade wielder that he is.  If Vanitas found a way to change his hair and eye color, no one could tell them apart, and things could turn really crazy, really fast.

This is all speculation, of course, because he only appeared once in the trailers, and it doesn’t look like he was there for very long (unless the trailer was purposefully cut up to make it look that way).  Still, if Vanitas is making an appearance in a game that takes place over ten years after he died, it sounds like the writers are planning to bring him back.  Let’s hope they do it in a way that makes sense and develops his character further!

9. The Super Secret Bonus Ending

Almost every Kingdom Hearts game (except 358/2 Days) has one of these, and they always leave us fans screaming for the next installment.  They also get progressively better with each game, and as we get closer and closer to finally getting our hands on Kingdom Hearts 3, I’m sure the writers of the series plan to raise our anticipation levels even more.  The regular ending is supposed to be shocking as well, so I’m excited to see how the story continues to unfold.

8. Trying out the gameplay, especially Flowmotion

Oh yeah, the actual game.

This probably makes me a heretic among gamers everywhere, but when it comes to video games, it’s almost always the story that attracts me, not how to play the game.  The gameplay is always just kind of there, in the back of my mind, as an important element in making the story fun to experience, but that’s about it.

But then Square-Enix released Birth by Sleep, and that was the first time that I was suddenly aware of how much I enjoyed playing it as a game, not just as a means to experience a good story.  I loved the Command Board, the Mirage Arena, and the general battle gamplay with the Command slots and the special Limit attacks.  And given that so many of the worlds were new and had new areas to explore with three different, lovable characters, and they all faithfully replicated classic Disney movies, Square-Enix managed to pull off an unbelievable feat.  They got me to love level grinding.

It looks like Dream Drop Distance is continuing in this direction by keeping the Command slots, but now Square’s adding even more to the gameplay, with Flowmotion that allows the characters bounce off walls, swing off lamp posts with their Keyblades, slide down ramps, and basically do all sorts of crazy tricks using their surrounding enviornment.  AWESOME.  Needless to say, I can’t wait to try it out!

7. Riku: The Final Redemption

How is Riku awesome?  I would try to count the ways, but that’d be like asking me to count the number of grains of sand on the beach.

Not only is Riku one of the best developed characters in Kingdom Hearts, but he is also one of my favorite characters with a redemption arc.  His path to maturity wasn’t filled with sunshine and roses and puppy dogs named Dug, which made it feel more realistic to me.

Throughout Reverse/Rebirth, the other game with Riku as a playable character, he constantly struggled to resist Xehanort’s temptations, and twice, Xehanort was about to overpower him when Mickey stepped in to save the day.  He’s also had to battle his own massive guilt for the things he did in the first game.  Often, it took Mickey, or Sora, or Kairi to pull him up again and remind him that they still loved him, no matter what.  And that’s how life is.  It’s not easy to resist temptation, and God knows, when I make mistakes, I like to beat myself up about it.  That makes Riku’s story all the more powerful; in spite of all the pitfalls, he still keeps moving forward.  Even if he needs to lean on a friend’s shoulder for a while, he keeps going and doesn’t give up.

Now, with Dream Drop Distance, it looks like we’re finally going to see the culmination of Riku’s battle with his inner darkness, in which he emerges triumphant.  The trailer even shows Xehanort standing over him, saying, “I don’t know how you did it.  But you really have found a way to trap darkness inside your heart.”  And Riku just stares back at him with a little smirk.  This game cannot get in my hands fast enough.

6. General Bromance

Given that this is a game that stars Sora and Riku, bromance was pretty much guaranteed from the get-go.  To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it at first, because the entire series has been Sora-and-Riku-this, Sora-and-Riku-that, and I’d love to see some more of the spotlight shone on their friendship with Kairi.  Speaking of Kairi, when is Kingdom Hearts going to show some epic girl friendships along with the bromances?

That said, I really do adore the bromances in Kingdom Hearts.  Part of what I love about Riku is how his close friendships with Sora and Mickey (and Kairi) help him to get through his darkest hours, so any reference to that is most welcome.  It looks like Axel and Roxas are also back for more epic friendship moments, with Roxas doing an adorable imitation of his best friend’s catchphrase, and Axel doing something dangerous to help the heroes.

I just hope that Square doesn’t let the boys have the heartwarming friendship moments all to themselves.  Sisterly love is just as wonderful!  Got that memorized?

See, Roxas gets it!
(Picture found on KH Wiki)

On that note…

5. Lea and Yen Sid.  Together.  Planning stuff.  WHAT DOES IT MEAN???

This might sound silly, but I am really excited over Yen Sid giving Lea orders to do something dangerous.  Considering they used to be enemies, albeit in an indirect way, it’ll be interesting to see what drives Yen Sid to seek this former Nobody’s help.  We also know from the trailers that Lea is going to confront Maleficent and Pete to save Mickey’s group, so that’s probably when they team up.  (Maleficent vs. Axel?  YES!)

Also, despite leaving me underwhelmed when I first played Kingdom Hearts 2, Axel/Lea has become one of my favorite characters.  I’d like to see him at least get some closure with Roxas and Sora, possibly Saix too.  And even though almost all of the worlds in Kingdom Hearts are based on Disney movies, only a handful of Disney characters get involved in the overarching plot.  The rest are just people that Sora & co. befriend and help out.  So, every time someone like Maleficent or Yen Sid interacts with someone like Axel, a character who isn’t just hopping from world to world but is only doing plot-related things, I get super-excited.  What I really want in future Kingdom Hearts games is to see other Disney characters, like Aladdin, Cinderella, or Mulan, do more than just fight the random Heartless, but actually aid Sora in his quest.  Overhear Xehanort plotting with Braig/Xigbar and pass the information along to Sora.  Do something cool with the other Princesses of Heart.  Take part in the final battle.  Save Terra from himself.  Anything would get me excited at this point.

4. Finding out what Master Xehanort’s plotting now

“Master Xehanort!” Mickey squeaks, as he and Riku face off against every single Xehanort incarnation from the series, “We were right about you!”

Right about what???  I’m shaking in my (Organization-style) boots just thinking about what he could be trying to do to the heroes now.  Granted, in Birth by Sleep, Master Xehanort had the benefit of being a villain in a prequel where everybody disappeared, so Square Enix didn’t have to worry about making him intentionally stupid so the heroes could win.  That might change in future installments, since, y’know, the heroes have to win.  But they’re not out of the woods yet, and the games have been building up just how far Xehanort’s gone to ensure that his plans succeed, so it’s just as likely that Sora, Riku, and company have a LONG road ahead of them.  Which means lots of epic cutscenes and thumb-aching battles for us gamers!  Whoo-hoo!

3. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Square-Enix is finally adding one of the best Disney animated features of all time to Kingdom Hearts.  Need I say more?

I might as well.  I’m more interested in how Riku’s story plays out than Sora’s, because Riku is the perfect original KH character to challenge Frollo.  Like the judge, he started out arrogant and confident that he was strong enough to do whatever he wanted without real consequences.  But unlike Frollo, he came so close to losing everything and everyone he cared about at the end of Kingdom Hearts, and developed into a more mature character as a result.  While Frollo blames everyone else, including God, for his failures and insists that he’s a good Christian, it’s Riku that best exemplifies the spirit of Christianity by admitting his own mistakes and striving to make himself a better person.  He can also relate to Quasimodo’s self-esteem issues and being at the wrong end of a love triangle (if you believe in Sora/Kairi).

Even if the writers don’t play around with those connections, it’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  It’ll still be awesome!

2. Tron: Legacy (Or: Why Kevin Flynn Needs to Go Back to Friendship School with Professor Sora)

I’m mostly excited about this:

YES. THANK YOU, SORA.
(Picture found on IGN.com)

I think Tron: Legacy is a flat-out awesome movie and I love it to pieces.  But the fate of Tron really bothered me- because it didn’t seem to bother Kevin Flynn as much as it should have.  I realize that he needed to focus his attention on the giant army that Clu 2.0 was about to set loose on the real world.  But when Kevin finds out that Rinzler was a brainwashed Tron the whole time, all he does is gape in horror for about a split second and then goes back to worrying about Clu, as if nothing happened.  Keep in mind, up until that point, Kevin thought that Tron had died protecting him from Clu.  Also, that might not have happened if he had listened to Tron’s warnings about Clu.

Most people would feel horribly guilty about a friend sacrificing his sanity and his life to save them, and they’d express some desire to save that friend.  But all Kevin does is say, “Tron…what have you become?”

I’m going to assume he felt bad, but it bothers me how he just puts it aside, like it’s nothing, and our heroes don’t have a single conversation about trying to save him and reprogram him back to his original function.  There isn’t even an exchange between Kevin and Sam like, “Gee Dad, can’t we help Tron?” “No, son.  I wish we could, but there’s no time for that!”  Nothing at all.  And then, when Tron reawakens himself and sacrifices his life for real to stop Clu from killing the heroes…all they do is cheer, as if they cleverly escaped Clu all by themselves.

Enter Sora.

Out of all the Disney characters that Sora befriended in past games, he and Tron shared a particularly close bond.  Sora is also the kind of character that never, ever turns his back on his friends, regardless of the circumstances.  So I’m really looking forward to that plot issue being resolved in Dream Drop Distance.  Even if it ends tragically, like in the movie, at least this game will treat Tron’s reprogramming as something the characters should be concerned about.

Oh yeah…and LIGHT CYCLE RACES ON THE GRID!!!!!  If only “Derezzed” could be a battle theme in this world; then it would be absolutely perfect!

Speaking of battle themes…

1. The glorious soundtrack

Kingdom Hearts fans tend to disagree on a lot of things: characters, the story, which game was better, whether a game was complete waste of time, the difficulty level, etc.  But one thing everyone unites over is the beautiful soundtracks that Yoko Shimomura continues to produce.  When Birth by Sleep and 358/2 Days came out in Japan, I listened to all the tracks on YouTube before the games arrived in North America.  But this time I decided to stay away from all but a select few, like “Dearly Beloved,” because I was afraid of accidentally running into spoilers.  So almost the entire soundtrack is new to me.  And this time, I won’t have to import the CD because it’s coming to North America!!!  You DO love us after all, Square Enix!

Anyways, I don’t need to speculate over the quality of the soundtrack.  I know it will be fantastic.

Sorry for the extreme length of this post, guys!  So, anyone who wants to comment, what are YOU looking forward to seeing/playing in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance?

Musical Monday #27: “Enter the Darkness”/”Unbreakable Chains”

Warning: This post contains a few spoilers for Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep.  If you haven’t played or watched cutscenes of the game yet, and you’re planning to do so, you might want to skip this post.

I know Birth By Sleep came out two years ago, so most Kingdom Hearts fans don’t need spoiler warnings about Vanitas anymore, but I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise for other Disney fans that might still be thinking about playing the game.  Meh, I’m probably being overly cautious, but whatever.

Once upon a time, my favorite battle theme was “The 13th Struggle.”  Then “Enter the Darkness/Unbreakable Chains” came along and blew it out of the water.  Technically, “EtD” and “UC” are two different battle themes, but “Enter the Darkness” is really just a faster-paced version of the “Unbreakable Chains.”  We get to hear them whenever it’s time to battle Vanitas.  Happily, we get to battle him more than once.

Sometimes I flip-flop between which version I like better, but most of the time, I favor “Unbreakable Chains” because it’s slower, so I can really hear the other individual character themes that get interwoven into this sinister piece of music.  The first time I listend to it, I was too excited over the theme’s general awesomeness to notice anything disturbingly familiar about it.  But after reading comments from fans that recognized a dark version of Sora’s theme within the piece, I flipped out.  The composers made Sora’s theme sound evil.  SORA’S. THEME.

This is Sora’s theme:

That’s right; Yoko Shimomura and Takeharu Ishimoto, the composers for Birth by Sleep, took the happiest, bounciest theme in the entire series and made it sound creepy.

It makes sense that they did this, since Vanitas looks and sounds like an evil version of Sora.  I’m just shocked that they pulled it off so well.  The use of the piano, starting at 1:55, helps set the tone for that part.  While “Unbreakable Chains” also contains reworked remnants of Roxas’ theme and Ven’s theme, the part involving Sora stands out the most just because of how much it contradicts the original spirit of his theme song.

Overall, this theme suits Vanitas’ character very well too.  The slow opening always gives me the sense that something’s lurking behind me, just out of sight- which is usually how Vanitas picks fights with his opponents throughout the game, by sneaking up behind them.  The music doesn’t sound very melancholy either, unlike “Roxas” and “Musique pour la tristesse de Xion.”  By the time our heroes meet Vanitas, he’s completely embraced his heart of pure darkness and the destructive nature that came with it, so he doesn’t angst about his status as an incomplete being like so many other Kingdom Hearts characters.  Both “Enter the Darkness” and “Unbreakable Chains” effectively reflect his cold, arrogant, ruthless personality.

But months before Birth By Sleep got released in North America and I knew more about Vanitas’ character, I still listened to this song whenever I had access to YouTube.  It’s an exciting, scary piece of music and one of the most awesome battle themes to ever appear in a Kingdom Hearts game.

Musical Monday #26: “The Other Promise”

Oh my, another Kingdom Hearts-related Musical Monday!  Well, I can’t help it if Yoko Shimomura is a musical genius and her works are all divine gifts from God.  So, with Dream Drop Distance coming to America very soon- along with a North American release of THE SOUNDTRACK- FINALLY- I’m celebrating with some KH-themed music.

This week: “The Other Promise”

Every now and then, I like to browse YouTube for every official version of “The Other Promise,” along with a few great fan remixes, and listen to them all in a row.  (I also do this with Xion’s theme.  Unhealthy attachment to the KH soundtracks?  What ever are you talking about? ;))  So yeah, that’s how much I love this song.  My very favorite is the Drammatica orchestra version because of the rising crescendo at the end that hurts my heart in a good way, but they all rock.  It’s basically a more dramatic version of Roxas’ theme because it plays out during a boss fight between him and Sora.

Of course, it helps to know a bit about Roxas’ character.  As you might’ve guessed from the tone of the piece, he has a very depressing story.  I’d even say it’s more depressing than Xion’s, because Xion accepts her fate willingly, whereas Roxas is dragged into it, fighting to retain his independence the whole way.  He’s got a rebellious streak and is meant to be the opposite of Sora, the main protagonist.  He loves spending time with his friends, but he’s no cheerful, happy-go-lucky kid.  He’s inquisitive and tough, and it’s necessary for him to be that way because his story is full of people trying to manipulate him into serving their own agendas.  Even his best friend, Axel, does this to an extent, though Axel regrets it later.  I don’t really know if I want to go into more detail about why, because Roxas’ identity is really spoilery for people who haven’t played the games.

Still, even if you haven’t played the games and have never heard of Roxas, or if you hadn’t read the above paragraph, it’s pretty clear that this is not a happy piece of music.  But it doesn’t make me feel sad in the same way that Xion’s theme does, or Aqua’s theme for that matter.  Xion’s music is a mixture of sadness and a little bit of hope- it conveys her tragic fate, but also her willingness to sacrifice herself and her belief that things will ultimately work out.  If nothing else, she thinks her sacrifice will benefit the people she loves, so she goes along with it.

Roxas, on the other hand…well, like I said, by the end of 358/2 Days and during most of the Kingdom Hearts 2 prologue, he’d rather go down swinging than give up the life he has.  And because he constantly has the rug pulled out from under him, his character is often confused and trying to understand why his life is the way it is.  That’s what “The Other Promise” ultimately sounds like to me: confusion and sadness, but with some determination in it as well.  That’s what makes it so powerful.

Musical Monday #25: “The Second Star to the Right”

WOW!  25 Musical Mondays!  I should do something special to celebrate!  Like…like…

…like…

…okay, I give up.  Oh well.

Today, I’ve decided to talk about “The Second Star to the Right,” the song that opens Disney’s version of Peter Pan:

(And I unintentionally found one with Swedish subtitles.  Insert the Monty Python and the Holy Grail joke of your choosing here. ;))

“The Second Star to the Right” was sung by the Jud Conlon Chorus, who also sang the opening numbers for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Lady and the Tramp, etc.  In fact, with a few exceptions, like The Jungle Book, the Walt-era animated features all begin with some chorus singing over the credits, all in the same slow, wistful tone.  Even Song of the South got one.  Before the “I Want” song and the villain’s musical number became commonplace, this was the musical staple in Disney movies.  But “The Second Star to the Right” is one of the only ones I really like.

See, as much as I love everything about Disney and their classic films, I’m not very fond of the opening chorus numbers.  I guess it’s just because they all sound the same.  Even though the “I Want” songs have a similar context and tone, you wouldn’t confuse the opening notes to “Part of Your World” with “Reflection” or “Almost There.”  Meanwhile, the villain songs range from deep, powerful numbers like “Hellfire,” to the jazzy “Friends on the Other Side,” to the fun ensemble that is “Gaston.”  Now, click on the above links for Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Song of the South, and tell me they don’t sound exactly the same.  The lyrics are different, but that’s about it.  They’re not very memorable either, in my most humble opinion.

But I do love “The Second Star to the Right.”  As I mentioned above, the opening chorus songs convey a slow, wistful feeling that ultimately works for the theme of Disney’s Peter Pan, because the Disney version is all about learning to say goodbye to childhood and growing up.  Listening to this song makes me wish that I could fly off to Neverland, have adventures, and never have to deal with adult problems or responsibilities.  (Granted, I think we all feel that way most of the time, but this song just heightens that feeling!)  There’s something about it that reminds me of how much fun it was to be a kid, and I wish it didn’t have to end.

But I think that’s the wonderful appeal of Disney movies- they are our own little piece of Neverland.  For a glorious hour and a half, we can enjoy stories about fictional characters who have adventures, and strive to do the right thing, and won’t give up on their dreams no matter what happens and who stands in their way.  No, these movies aren’t very realistic, but they aren’t supposed to be.  They aren’t portraying the people that we are or the world that we live in- they’re potraying the world that we want to live in and the kind of people we wish we could be.  Best of all, unlike Wendy’s dilemma in Peter Pan, it doesn’t matter when we grow up.  We can always go back and relive our favorite childhood memories by watching those beloved movies again.

ALSO…

I did see Brave on opening night, but I’ve been busy so I haven’t had time to really pull my thoughts together and write a review.  I promise it is forthcoming.  Also, Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance comes out at the end of July, so you can expect a lot of Kingdom Hearts-related posts if all goes well and I get around to finishing them.  But I’ll write about other stuff too.  Hopefully.  Maybe.  Probably. 😉