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Gamer Tuesday

June 12, 2012

Pap the Disney Gamer Presents A Year Long Celebration...

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

Last time on the Kingdom Hearts Retrospective...

'Whistle while you work! Alan Menken! Japanese pop idol! Video game composers!'

And now...

Part 6: Of Fairy Tales, Crystals and Epic Fables

And now we have come to the most extensive element of the Kingdom Hearts mythos: the story. It is an element so grand in scope that I decided to dedicate the rest of this retrospective on the extensive Kingdom Hearts story, from the character development to themes and influences on the entire franchise. Before we even get to all of that, let's define just how important story has been in Disney and Square Enix history.

Disney prides itself as being some of the best storytellers in the animation industry. While some believe it is a pompous thing to declare, the legacy of their stories and characters has proven their point. That is because ever since Walt Disney started making films, great care has been given to the story and, most importantly how it is presented. During the Walt Disney era, Disney would often create his movies based on famous fairy tales and other pieces of fiction such as novellas and theater plays. The biggest reason why is because these stories often left a profound mark on his life, such as when he was a young boy and saw the silent film version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The story meant so much to him that he decided to turn it into his first ever animated feature film, and the rest, as they say, is history. Other stories, such as Peter Pan and the Uncle Remus stories, were often the point of inspiration for Walt and his team of animators and story men. Once they found that inspiration, it was time to adapt the story.

There are many versions of the Snow White story, Walt Disney ended up using the Brothers Grimm version for his animated film. In the original story, the Queen disguises herself as the old hag and tries to kill Snow White three times, the third with the famed poisoned apple. In Disney's version, the poisoned apple is the only one used for brevity and for bigger emotional impact

Adaptation is more than just presenting a story in an alternate setting word by word. It means taking liberties if it means the product will benefit from it for a better effect. It means adding or eliminating key scenes that create a bigger emotional impact on the audience. Disney has kept that in mind whenever they adapted stories such as Cinderella. We all know what the story is about: an abused but lovely girl gets the chance to escape her life by going to a ball, where leaving her shoe behind means a happily ever after for her. Disney's version follows that through, but adds many scenes that makes it one of the most definitive versions of the story, such as when the Step Sisters ruin her dress prior to going to the ball, or the battle the mice endured trying to get the key up to Cinderella.

Emotional balance was also key in creating an effective Disney story. Walt Disney once said that for every laugh there should be a tear. This means that the story should delight but also stir darker emotions, whether they'd be fear, anger or sadness. Going back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as an example, that film has plenty of laughs courtesy of the Dwarfs and the woodland creatures. Yet it's biggest moments lie when the Queen transforms into an old hag, and when Snow White runs through the woods. Finally, Snow White's death resonated greatly back when the film first premiered, making everyone realize that they were crying over the death of a cartoon character.

These were the stepping stones Disney established in order to tell a great story, whether it be an adaptation of a classic story or a brand new, original story. These ideas have been so successful that many filmmakers and creators have been influenced by them throughout the years, both at Disney and in other studios. Looking through their history in video games, Square Enix is a company that loyally followed these concepts, even if no one expected them to ever make a Disney video game.

Storytelling in gaming has not been as prominent as in the literary or film world. That is because in its early days gaming was mainly about completing a basic goal with increasing difficulty. The most story we would ever get out of a game was that you were the hero of a land that was in danger. Games had a protagonist, supporting cast and an antagonist and his/her henchmen. That's what we usually got. Nevertheless, these were often good enough to inspire us to continue the journey. Thanks to efforts in both the East and West, storytelling in gaming has been slowly evolving into something that allows for a deeper level of immersion.

As an example of how far storytelling in video game has come, BioWare's Mass Effect series features a storyline that can be affected by the decision of the player, and its lead character can be changed according to the player's desires

The reason why is because often we are not just witnessing a story unfold like in a movie or book. Gamers are progressing alongside the story. This has been handled differently from game to game, yet it is all the same idea: successful completion of a goals nets the player another chapter in the story. Square Enix has followed this method of storytelling for years now, specifically in their RPGs. When a Final Fantasy game starts, we are treated to the prologue, the reason why we are playing the game to begin with. Role Playing Games are about character development in both the gaming and literary sense. With each battle conquered the characters grow strong, and with that a new chapter of the story is closed and a new one begins.

To this day, Final Fantasy VII remains Square Enix's most popular game to date, thanks to a story that combined drama, humor and action. The famous death of Aeris has been constantly cited as one of the saddest moments in a video game ever

When Square Enix decided that their Disney project would have to be one that had to appeal to their Final Fantasy fans they had not one but two challenges to face: keeping Disney's proud tradition of storytelling while making sure the story progresses via the actions of the player. In the case of Disney's tradition, Square Enix decided that the Disney themed worlds would have to tell the same stories Disney told in their movies, meaning that they had to recreate key scenes that moved their story forwards while adapting them to fit the original story. That's right, Kingdom Hearts would have to tell its own story within other Disney stories, going back to Disney's own tradition of adapting classic stories in order to fit the animation medium.

The end result is an epic that manages to celebrate Disney stories while proudly following the traditions of RPG storytelling. Come back next month as I detail the original story that surrounds the Disney universe along with its many characters and themes.


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