Book Review: Kingdom Hearts II by Alexa Ray Correia
Boss Fight Books‘ “Season 3” continues, with Kingdom Hearts II. For those who haven’t been paying attention, Boss Fight Books specializes in publishing little volumes that explore various ideas about video games. Each book centers on a different game, and is written by a different author– they’re basically the 33 1/3rd of the video game set. I got a ‘season pass’ to their kickstarter awhile ago, and so every couple of months I get a PDF of their latest release. Kingdom Hearts II officially drops on the 27th, so consider this a sneak preview! Or something.
One of the biggest challenges a Boss Fight Books author faces is writing about a game that the reader might not have played. Sometimes the games are so ubiquitous that it doesn’t matter, in the case of, say, Mario Bros 2 or Mario Bros 3. Sometimes, the game’s obscurity is entirely the point, in the case of Soft & Cuddly. Or sometimes … I guess you just had to be there. See, I’ve never played a Kingdom Hearts game. In fact, my only real experience with the franchise is listening to MC Chris’ hilariously NSFW rant on the subject.
(Sidenote: Boss Fight Books should totally do a book on Resident Evil 4).
In any case, if you’ve had even less contact with Kingdom Hearts than I have, let me sum stuff up for you. The Kingdom Hearts games are a series of role playing games spawned from a team up between Squaresoft (the guys who make Final Fantasy), and Disney (you already know them). What results is the likes of Donald Duck and Goofy rubbing shoulders (and crossing blades) with pointy haired dudes with names like Cloud Strife and Squall Leonheart. Added to the mix is a bunch of original characters with key-shaped swords, along with a bafflingly convoluted mythology spanning over eight interconnected games, most of which are prequels and retcons.
Alexa Ray Correia loves these games.
(Sidenote: As far as I know, Alexa Ray Correia isn’t related to noted gun fetishist and Sad Puppies originator, Larry Correia, so that’s a plus).
Honestly, I think the problem with Kingdom Hearts II is that Correia loves the game too damn much. On the one hand, she has a deep personal connection to the series (complete with emotion filled memories of playing the game with her little brothers), and I respect that. On the other, Correia’s love of the game often gets in the way of addressing its flaws. For example, Correia does admit the game’s opening (discussed by MC Chris in the video above) is kind of terrible and futile, but she tries to make an unconvincing argument that this is a good thing because it’s supposed to help you appreciate the rest of the game, or something. There’s none of the affectionate snark and genuine introspection that we get from other Boss Fight Books entries. It probably doesn’t help that, early on, Correia compares the Kingdom Hearts series to YA novels … a particular subgenre I don’t particularly care for.
Kingdom Hearts II is about Kingdom Hearts. It seems like an obvious statement, but it’s still worth noting. Instead of using the game to branch out into discussions about, say, media franchise crossovers, or Disney’s unstoppable domination of pop culture, or even fandom (seriously, there’s a lot of weird Kingdom Hearts shit on deviantart), Correia instead explains the convoluted minutiae of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, often citing prequels or pack-in books or whatever. For example:
“Xehanort recruited six others to experiment with him. When Ansem the Wise saw the danger in the research they were conducting, he abandoned them. Xehanort continued to experiment with his five followers and recording his findings under Ansem teh Wise’s name. He eventually discovered the nature of the Heartless and opened an ethereal door, breaking down the barriers between the Realm of Darkness and the Realm of Light. Shortly after this, King Mickey Arrived– and the presence of this tiny ruler snapped something in Xehanort. He abandoned his body, separating into the Heartless Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, and the Nobody Xemnas. According to Nomura, the formation of Organization XIII proper began at this time, when the remaining five disciplines [sic] willingly abandoned their hearts to follow Xemnas. “(pg 45-46)
Seriously, I read superhero comics, and I still need a chart to figure out half of what’s supposed to be going on.
And again, I can appreciate Correia’s fannish enthusiasm, but a lot of her points read like something from a Freshman philosophy class: light and darkness can’t exist without each other, friendship can be hard, and hey maybe it’d be nice if there were women in this game that weren’t damsels. As I read Kingdom Hearts II, I kept on thinking about vaguely related points that Correia failed to address.
For example, she devotes a whole chapter to Mickey Mouse as King of the Universe, pretty much … but she doesn’t touch on the history of the character, or the tendency of classic cartoon characters to be ‘cast’ in different roles. I mean, sure, Mickey as a King Arthur analogue can be interesting, but Correia doesn’t mention how he’s played a steamboat captain or a musketeer or any number of other roles over the decades. At least she mentions the whole Sorcerer’s Apprentice bit from Fantasia, but again, that’s something directly referenced in a Kingdom Hearts game.
Kingdom Hearts II is a quick read– though part of that might come from the fact that I tended to skim over the more continuity-heavy digressions Correia goes on. I wonder if I would have enjoyed the book more if I’d actually played the game … but even if I did, it feels like Correia spends a lot of page time on stuff I’d already know.
Most damingly, Kingdom Hearts II doesn’t make me want to play a Kingdom Hearts game. Corriea’s chapter on the boring futility of the game’s first couple of hours makes me want to just go play Metal Slug instead.
But hey, maybe I’m just not the target audience. I always liked Bugs Bunny better.