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Gamer Tuesday

October 9, 2012

Pap the Disney Gamer Presents a Year Long Celebration

Ten Years of Hearts, Keyblades and Disney Magic: A Kingdom Hearts 10thAnniversary Celebration

Last time on the Kingdom Hearts Retrospective

'Before the journey begins, let's have a gameplay tutorial... on a Cinderella themed station! Pretty CG openings!'

And now...

Part 10: A ragtag team of heroes, sidekicks, princesses and villains

Since it's inception, one of Kingdom Hearts's most appealing points lied in the many Disney character appearances as well as the original characters we would come across and play as during the journey. A lot of care went into the creation of the original characters, and a lot of thought also went into bringing classic characters into the original story. As previously mentioned in other parts of the retrospective, the Disney characters have detailed stories that had to connect with Kingdom Hearts' own story. The way they got around to that problem is that they had the main hero be an original character that walked into the original narrative and be accompanied by two characters that were so universal they could fit into any world without really feeling like outsiders, aesthetic and plot wise. On today's retrospective, we will be talking about the original characters that have headlined the series since the very beginning and the friends they meet along the way.

The Kingdom Hearts Trio Plus Two

The very first character we will be talking about is someone I have been mentioning throughout this retrospective, yet didn't fully detail his character until now: Sora. Sora is a young pre-teen boy that lives on Destiny Islands. He desires nothing but to experience the world, live life to the fullest, and always remain loyal to his friends. Back when Kingdom Hearts was released, someone told me that Sora was a visual manifestation of the inner child that lives in all of us, a child that desires adventure and gets to experience it in the best manner possible. That's why Sora is so endearing as a character: he has a spirit of adventure and loyalty that makes him a worthy representation of the Disney legacy.

Some has criticized this character as being too silly, at times brash and too quick to act without really thinking. In a way, this is true. Yet, some of the most popular Disney heroes have also had their streak of brash decisions backed up by unmeasured bravery. Once again, this made Sora a hero that could stand up to the likes of Aladdin and Peter Pan while still keeping the innocence of childhood intact.

Sora was voiced by Haley Joel Osment. At the time of Kingdom Hearts' release, his casting was seen as big news in the industry. It was common to see veteran voice actors of the animation industry come in and do voices, and every once in a while, the developers themselves would lend their vocal talents that yielded unintentionally hilarious results (as was the case with the first Resident Evil game by Capcom). Yet, it was unheard of that an Academy Award nominated actor would be the star of a major video game release. At the time of Kingdom Hearts' launch, Haley Joel Osment was recognized as one of the most prominent child actors of the industry. He appeared alongside Bruce Willis in the 1999 film The Sixth Sense as a child that was able to see the spirits of the dead. His chilling performance earned him a best supporting actor Academy Award nomination.

At Disney, however, Haley Joel Osment already had an extensive resume as a voice actor. In 1998, he voiced Chip in the direct to video film Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas. In 2002, he voiced Zephyr, the voice of Esmeralda and Phoebus' son in The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, and later in 2003 he voiced Mowgli in The Jungle Book II. Finally, he did the voice of Beary the Bear in the maligned, but oh so enjoyably campy The Country Bears. So it came as no surprise that with his expertise at Disney, Haley Joel Osment would land the role of Kingdom Hearts's main hero. Since his debut as Sora, Osment has been voicing the character since, and he also does the role of Sora-like characters (more on that later). Osment's experience in voice acting and appearing in films gave Sora a very childlike yet natural feel that made him easy to relate to as each new Disney world became a grand experience. His acting was very professional, but never so serious that you felt that Osment was taking it to the extremes.

On the other side of the spectrum lies Riku, Sora's older best friend. If Sora can be best described as a Disney character, Riku is a Square Enix hero through and through. I mention this jokingly as Square Enix has gained infamy for creating male characters that were brooding, often aloof in their actions and with some dark past or connection to a darker entity. Riku never quite reached the exaggerated stereotypes as mentioned here, but he certainly acted as a more realistic, grounding influence to Sora's bubbly and happy disposition. He does share one trait with Sora, and that is his undeniably strong loyalty to his friends. This, in turn, made him a better hero than Sora, but his connections to the Heartless and the darkness lead him stray, sending him on his own journey of personal discovery outside of Sora's adventures.

Riku was voiced by David Gallagher. Even though at the time his name wasn't as big as Hayley Joel Osment's, Gallagher did carry some experience with him. He starred alonside John Travolta and Kirstie Alley in Look Who's Talking Now, he played the role of classic comic book character Richie Rich in Richie Rich's Christmas Wish in 1998, and easily his most well known role of all, Simon in 7thHeaven. Much like Osment did with Sora, Gallagher brought a level of maturity to the character of Riku. His brushes with the dark forces gave him a wisdom that was needed in order to save the Disney worlds. Gallagher still voices Riku to this day.

Ending the trio of original Kingdom Hearts characters is Kairi, the female love interest in the game. At the start of the game, few is known about her as a character. The only thing we know is that she arrived on Destiny Islands many years ago and has been friends with both Riku and Sora since. Despite her enigmatic backstory, Kairi has a lovely personality and is the most soft spoken of the three characters. You might say she has a Disney Princess quality to her personality...

Kairi was voiced by Hayden Panettiere, a much smaller name in the film industry but with some very notable roles on film and television. Prior to Kingdom Hearts, she appeared as a 10-year old in the Disney film Remember the Titans. At Disney, she also sang the theme song for Cinderella III: A Twist in Time. Outside of Disney, she was well known for being one of the main characters on NBC's Heroes.

The Members of the Fab Five

No matter what kind of crossover project Disney is involved in, one thing is certain: expect appearances by the members of Mickey Mouse's troupe. Since the early days of animation, Mickey Mouse and friends have shaped the Disney company as we know it today. This is all thanks to an universal appeal that makes anyone instantly connect to the characters as well as flexibility that allowed them to partake in any role while still remaining true to their personalities. This has been proven on films like Fantasia, A Goofy Movie, Mickey and the Beanstalk, The Prince and the Pauper, and countless other animated efforts. It's no surprise that Mickey's latest endeavors, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, has become such an international success: no matter the themes involved, Mickey and friends will always shine through.

This is why Disney allowed Square Enix to have two members of Mickey's gang to be alongside Sora in his journey across the different Disney worlds. The Disney characters were restricted to their own worlds and stories, this meant that Aladdin wouldn't be able to meet the Beast at his castle. Yet, Donald Duck and Goofy had that privilege. That is because in Disney's eyes, Donald, Goofy and the rest of Mickey's gang are not really playing themselves but playing characters in the Kingdom Hearts universe.

Mickey and the gang call Disney Castle their home in Kingdom Hearts. Even though we never see Mickey Mouse until much later in the series, his presence can be felt throughout Kingdom Hearts. In the series, he has taken on the role of a Keyblade master and wise ruler of his kingdom. In a wonderful tribute to both his creator Walt Disney and Fantasia, he is under the ruling of Master Yensid, the sorcerer from Fantasia. Mickey Mouse sets out on a journey to free the worlds from the darkness and stop the villains for gaining even more power. Some fans have called Mickey the Yoda of the Kingdom Hearts series: short, but with endless wisdom and power.

On his court, he has Queen Minnie at his side. Much like in other endeavors, Minnie harvests a deep love for Mickey Mouse and remains loyal to him no matter what. Donald Duck plays the role of the court magician. This is where the Square Enix influence starts to come in when presenting the Mickey Mouse gang. In the Final Fantasy games, there were several jobs that characters could learn in order to grow powerful as warriors. One of these was the Black Mage, a character whose is adept in the magic arts. He could cast spells such as fire, thunder and blizzard. Donald Duck plays the role of the mage in both the story and in gameplay. His expertise lies in magic spells, so if you want someone that dedicates himself to magic, Donald is your man... or duck in this case.

Another job in the Final Fantasy series is that of the knight. Like in classic mythology, fairy tales and fables, the knight dons a shiny suit of armor and focuses on weapon based attacks. In a very fun twist, Goofy has been assigned the role of the knight in Kingdom Hearts. True to his character, though, he doesn't wield a sword. In fact, he hates fighting altogether! Instead, he yields a shield as his main weapon of choice.

In the story, Mickey sends out Donald and Goofy to find the person that wields the Keyblade and protect him/her while on their search for the king. Donald and Goofy meet Sora at Traverse Town, where they agree to go to other words in hopes of finding Sora's friends and King Mickey. The characterization of Mickey and the gang have been slightly altered in order to fit in the fantastical story, but Donald still remains a lovable, short tempered duck, and Goofy is still a great big oaf with a heart of gold.

Characters from another story

Kingdom Hearts wouldn't be a full crossover project without some of Square Enix's own characters making appearances here and there. Note that Kingdom Hearts was released at the height of Final Fantasy's popularity across the globe, so to symbolize that, many characters from Final Fantasy made appearances in both cameo roles as well as active supporting players.

This is Aerith. Her appearance was shocking to many fans since she is best known as the tragic heroine who gets killed by the game's villain halfway through the story. Nomura's reasoning for including her is that this is an alternate story, so she hasn't passed away. In the North American version of the game, she was voiced by Mandy Moore. Nearly ten year laters, Mandy Moore would land the role of a lifetime by voicing the tenth Disney Princess, Rapunzel

In the first Kingdom Hearts game, many characters came from the likes of Final Fantasy VII, VIII and X. These characters were also drawn by Tetsuya Nomura, meaning that as game director he was revisiting them and presenting them in a new manner. Key players include Leon (known as Squall in his own game Final Fantasy VIII), a brooding man that serves as one of Sora's many guides. He is accompanied by ninja Yuffie (from Final Fantasy VII) and Aerith (Final Fantasy VII). Further adventures lead Sora and friends to meet Cloud Strife, the lead character from Final Fantasy VII.

Never had friends like these!

In the Final Fantasy series, one of the jobs players can obtain is that of a summoner. A summoner is someone that is able to summon creatures onto battle. These summon characters have become just as prominent as the characters themselves, thanks to the likes of Shiva the Ice Godden and Ifrit the Fire Demon. It has been stated enough that Kingdom Heart set out to do many of the things Final Fantasy did but with a quirky Disney feel. Summoning was no exception. While as integral to the plot, summoning is great just because we get to see these characters on screen, even for a short period of time.

In the Kingdom Hearts universe, these summon characters came from worlds that have been taken over by the Heartless, being able to survive as different stones. Once the players discover these stones, they are able to summon these characters onto battle for a limited time.

The following characters are present as summons in the first Kingdom Hearts game:

Dumbo (Dumbo): The lovable baby elephant that overcame adversity by using his big ears to soar above his enemies and naysayers. He is able to squirt water and fly when Sora summons him.

Bambi (Bambi): The baby deer whose story warmed the heart of many. His whimsical nature leads him to prance around the battle field, dropping health and magic items.

Simba (The Lion King): A lion ruler whose dark past lead him to becoming the king he was always meant to be. He sends a mighty roar that scares enemies away

Tinker Bell (Peter Pan): Peter Pan's loyal, feisty companion. Her magical presence protects Sora in battle.

Mushu (Mulan): A tiny but very powerful dragon whose companionship led Mulan to being the hero of China. Being a dragon, he shoots fire towards the enemies.

Genie (Aladdin): A mythical being who has phenomenal, cosmic powers, he is a very lively individual whose only wish is to be freed. When Sora summons him, he is able to attack anyone that gets in his way with crazy magic.

Villains of a sort

Of course, it wouldn't be a Disney inspired story without villains running amuck, and Kingdom Hearts has them by the ton! The Disney Villains have become as prominent in Disney culture as the heroes and princesses, all thanks to the great care that went into creating them. Every villain, regardless of motivations or powers, leaves a deep impression in us. Kingdom Hearts set out to keep that legacy intact by having them be key players in the extensive narrative. Leading the villains is none other than the mistress of all evil, Maleficent. 1959's Sleeping Beauty is a film that is beloved for many reasons, one of them being the unforgettable villain that is Maleficent. Her grace and subtle beauty lead her to becoming the leader of the villains in Kingdom. Each world the player visits has a villain waiting for them at the end. Some of these include Jafar from Aladdin, Captain Hook from Peter Pan and Ursula from The Little Mermaid.

But what about Kingdom Hearts's own villain? He goes by the name of Ansem, the seeker of darkness, a man that seeks to control the light and darkness within each world for his own selfish needs. Ansem doesn't appear till the end of the game, where his true motivations come to light. In the story, it is believed that Ansem was a scientist hoping to learn more about the darkness and the Heartless. Yet, his reckless experiments lead to the darkness taking over many worlds and giving birth to powerful Heartless monsters (both figuratively and literally).

What's even more surprising is that Ansem is really just ONE side to one man in particular. Ansem would later be revealed to be Xenahort's Heartless. Xenahort was first introduced in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep as a man with evil intentions. In his desire to control the strongest hearts, he lost his original body, and has been able to survive by taking on many forms. Since this feature is about the first Kingdom Hearts game, though, we'll focus on Ansem for now. Ansem was voiced by Billy Zane, a name that while not as prominent as other lead actors still carries some weight around. He is best known for playing the role of the antagonist in the blockbuster hit Titanic. At Disney, he has appeared in the Buena Vista Pictures release Tombstone, and provided the voice of John Rolfe in the direct to video sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World.

Princesses of Heart

Last and definitely not least are the Princesses of Heart. In the Kingdom Hearts franchise, the Princesses of Hearts are beings whose heart are so pure and filled with light they are able to open Kingdom Hearts, the source of both light and darkness within the worlds. The likes of Maleficent and Ansem seek them out in hopes of finally gaining control of all the worlds. In our world, though, the Princesses of Hearts are actually the members of the fabled Disney Princesses! Kingdom Hearts, though, does things a little differently when casting these princesses...

The first member of the group is none other than Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She is a Princess of Heart due to the fact that she has been hailed as the fairest one of all. Snow White has a very romantic, lovely nature than makes her be instantly loved many around her (save for the Evil Queen).

The second member is Cinderella from Cinderella. She is a lovely as her name indicates. Despite being a slave in her own home, failing to receive the love and devoted attention from her stepfamily, she never lost sight of what is right in life, always receiving each day with song, hope, and faith. Her biggest dream was to attend the grand ball, where she met Prince Charming and lived happily ever after.

The third Princess of Heart is Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty. From birth, Aurora was both blessed and cursed. She was blessed with grace and beauty, yet cursed by the spiteful nature of Maleficent. Despite all of this, she maintains a romantic sense of peace that enchants anyone that meets her.

The fourth and most peculiar Princess of Heart is Alice from Alice in Wonderland. A bright child with a wondrous sense of curiosity, she is plunged into Wonderland, where she is forced to walk among mad people, barely surviving the wrath of the Queen of Hearts, and still have enough time to be enchanted by the odd and surreal beauty around her. Her inclusion as a Princess of Heart has created a curious controversy among fans as Alice isn't really a princess. Yet, a Princess of Heart isn't literally a princess sometimes, it is someone whose heart is so pure she exudes happiness, joy, and innocence. Alice may not be a literal princess, but she is someone whose purity shines even in the mad world than is Wonderland.

The fifth member is Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Belle is a quirky young woman that takes comfort in a fantasy world where true love reigns and happiness is just a dream away. This has lead her to become the town's odd resident. When her father is captured by a cursed prince, Belle's selflessness leads her to befriend the horrendous Beast, in the process making him learn to love again.

The sixth member of the group is Princess Jasmine from Aladdin. Jasmine is a hopeless romantic whose only wish is to be wed thanks to love, not a law. Her restlessness regarding this issue led her to the Agrabah Market, where she met Aladdin. Soon, Aladdin shows her a brand new world where every moment is red letter, and true love wins above adversity.

Last and not least is... Kairi! Remember when I said that she had a Disney Princess quality to her? Well, here's the reason why! She is the last piece of the puzzle whose hearts is key in bringing us to a new world. When her home island of Destinity Islands is overtaken by the darkness, her heart reigns within Sora's. It is learned that Kairi originally came from Radiant Garden, a place where the Heartless experiments would mean the end of this wonderful world.

Despite Ariel from The Little Mermaid being an official Disney Princess, she isn't a Princess of Heart in the Kingdom Hearts world. One of the reasons why is because she actually has a big role as one of Sora's allies and best friends. Another, much harsher reason, is that their hearts are not pure with light. Mulan, who doesn't appear until Kingdom Hearts II, also isn't a Princess of Heart.

And this ends this month's extensive article. Kingdom Hearts is a winner because of how its characters, both classic and original, are presented and introduced in the already expansive narrative. They are able to stay true to their classic roots while serving a role in the story. As we wind down towards the end of the year, next month we will take a look at the worlds these characters inhabit, as well as look at how one key shaped sword helped them.

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