Kingdom Hearts Doesn’t Need Disney Anymore And 3 Is Proof Of This
I’d never thought I’d say this, nor be at a point where I would be alive to seee it finally happen. After spending over 35 hours with a game that not only concludes another chapter in my life, but the myriad of chapters that this franchise has added through its spinoffs, mobile and web browser only games, I can definitely say this.
Kingdom Hearts needs to no longer involve the Disney brand in the franchise.
I was 6 when the first Kingdom Hearts came out in the U.S. My memory as a child of when I first played it is hazy at best, but I remember renting the title and its sequel in my local Blockbuster. Not only did I fall in love with the franchise, but the music and certain pivotal moments in its stories still bring tears to my eyes to this day. And Kingdom Hearts 3 delivered that as well, surprisingly. But it wasn’t until we moved wholly away from exploring the split off worlds of brands that I remembered why I loved this franchise. Kingdom Hearts can usually be seen in a very comical and cynical fashion on the internet, but through its very ridiculous (with a capital R) story beats, and anime Mickey Mouse moments, there is a lot of heart (no pun intended?) to this franchise.
Just the pure nature of making a story around frienship is something I gathered when I played at 6 years old. Yes, there is a lot going on and Kingdom Hearts 3 does a lot of heavy work to bring up story beats from the many spinoffs that came out after 2. But Sora’s journey and his enthusiasm for seeing new worlds and meeting new people is something I still admire of his personality, even when in this game, his voice (reprised once again by Haley Joel Osmont) somehow bothers me more than it did in the past, it is still the silly kid in big ole boots that I remember growing up with. But the nature of Square Enix working with Disney continuously through this franchise starts to showcase how the franchise needs to move away from having a large corporate brand make certain decisions for how characters are portrayed in the series.
Goofy, Donald, Mickey, Yen Sid, Chip n Dale, and Jiminiy Cricket make a vital group of characters in the franchise (maybe not the rescue rangers as much) due to how close they are with the protagonists in the story, but with how Disney approaches their characters being portrayed by other companies, and the decline of my ignorance to the very dangerous and capitalistic nature of Disney in the 21st century, I really do not need for Disney to be part of this franchise anymore. Without spoiling anything, the Disney worlds feel really meaningless in this latest adventure and only made me want to either see their respected movies again, or watch a movie I have not seen before and got spoiled through the game itself. The Toy Story world was the earliest level in the game that I really loved and found incredible, and not because of growing up with Woody and Buzz. It was mostly had to do with not reprising the story beats of one of the movies, and instead creating its own story around the larger narrative at play. One character moment involving Buzz Lightyear (of Star Command) was not only surprising but was a really cool arc to play with the character that I really liked seeing to the end on. However, it seemed like a lot of work to just get this world not only made, but correct in the eyes of Disney.
In an interview with multiple team members of Square Enix at IGN.com, this title was the first time Disney gave their digital assets and resources to Square in order to accurately portray the characters as they did in the movies. Art director Toru Yamazaki meantions how they really spent a lot of time crafting around what was given to them, as well as adding detail where it was needed. But they were never meant to be used in a video game, and that brought problems for the team, especially for when they had to animate hair on certain characters.
“Disney was very concerned with what Elsa’s hair looked like”, says Yamazaki. “Of course she’s got this beautiful golden-white hair that’s always flowing and beautiful, and when we got the data, her hair was just sticking straight backwards.” (IGN.com)
A quote by facial animator Kayoko Kajima spoke to IGN on how they were required to meet approval by Disney (names of said people in charge not mentioned) and how for the cutscene animators, it felt like the hardest they had to ever work in the confines of the brand.
Square’s animators work specifically from documentation given by the various Disney teams, but even then it might not come out precisely enough for the original creators. Yakima continues: “we get requests from Disney and Pixar like, ‘we want them to be showing less teeth here,’ or ‘their eyelids need to move differently,’ or ‘their line of sight isn’t quite right’. Of course, cutscenes are where the soul of the character comes out, so it was something that we put a lot of effort into and adjusted down to the minutiae.” (IGN.com)
Seeing these few quotes, as well as the remainder of the piece, made a lot more sense after spending so much time in the game. A lot of the worlds you explore, such as the Toy Story world, do not have much in variety of activities to do. Unless you count taking multiple picturs of Mickey Emblems throughout the world, or the unneccesary mechanics in a world I wish did not come back for 3, there is not much to do in them. And because of this, it makes the worlds seem more empty than usual. A lot of Heartless and Nobodies show up onscreen, and there are moments where you enter a respected world’s town and there are “actual” people inhabiting these towns, but they do not inhabit them in the traditional open world sense. None of them give you side missions, or allow you to interact with them. It as if someone took the open world design of Mafia 2, shrunk it a little, and put it in this game where only the main story at hand matters.
Not only this, but there is also a new variety of very boring and irritating minigames to be played that made me want to get back to the combat faster. The combat is literally the highlight for me in this because of how frenetic and sporadically fast it is. There’s a lot that happens on screen, especially in moments where you are combining abilities with your allies, or summoning characters and moves inspired by actual Disney Park attractions. They are all really fun to mess around with, especially with the different types of Keyblades at your disposal and the different abilities that spawn from them. But a lot of what happens in the beginning felt really meaningless, and only reminded me of bloated television shows that use filler content to get to the parts of a story that people really want to invest their time into.
It wasn’t until getting to the last 5 to 6 hours of the game (trust me on this) did I begin to see why I bought this game in the first place. Characters I wanted to see speak to each other again finally spoke, pivotal moments that called back to earlier moments in the franchise were made, and surprise appearances were conjured and appreciated by me. This is why I bought the game, being hesitant at first due to how much has changed in my personality since it was announced in 2013. But moreso, I’ve changed a lot more since Kingdom Hearts 2 came out. And, I didn’t scream like my 18 year old self did when 3 was announced at E3, nor did I fill every tweet with musings about wanting the third game already. That spot is non vacant and dedicated to my boy Jak and his boy, Daxter. But, I did have those moments of proud accomplishments by the time the game ended. Just like I did when I completed what I thought was the most difficult boss I have ever fought at the end of 2. Or when defeating the Chernabog boss on Bald Mountain in the first game. That sense that I accomplished something great still happened in this, but I also studied how the events were transpiring more often than I did as a kid. I realized how much Kairi is poorly written in this franchise, and how she barely gets any agency throughout the story. I also see, with a little help from the many Twitter accounts that I follow, that Sora and Riku make a better relationship (and possible couple) than Kairi and Sora do. But in the moments where it did focus on the relationships established in the past, I felt the same way like I did at the end of the last season of Samurai Jack.
I felt like a kid again, seeing the friends I made onscreen make one last appearance and give a grand finale in the process.
Kingdom Hearts 3 makes a lot of weird decisions in its level design, its mechanics, and the general space it occupies in a day and age where Disney is not something I think fondly of as I use to as a kid. But I still loved getting to finally play this game becuase it felt like I made it. Made it, in the sense of still being alive to see it happen. Maybe that is weird to mention, but so much has gone through my life that I am just happy I get to see certain stories finally close in a meaningful and well earned way. There is a lot of narrativie inconsistencies in this franchise, but somehow everything comes together at the end and I felt like I knew what was going on this time. Saying all of this, I honestly feel Disney should no longer play a part in this franchise due to the untapped potential that Square Enix’s own roster of characters can do to add to this ridicoulous world that was built. Have Noctis meet Sora and compliment each other’s hair. Have Rico Rodriguez have a wing suit moment with Goofy. Have the Mini Ninjas annoy the shit out of Donald. You can still keep characters like Donald and Goofy in it, but maybe we do not need to go see Hercules one last time.
And hopefully, it is the last time because that Olympus stage’s music is stuck in my head and needs to get out.