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Gamer Tuesday

October 1, 2013

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: Kingdom Hearts, Disney Theme Park Food, and Sea Salt Ice Cream

Popcorn. Cotton candy. Turkey legs. Citrus Swirl. Dole Whip. Churros. Mickey Ice Cream Bar. Candied Apples. Rice Krispie Treats. These are some of the iconic snacks that can be found at the Disney theme parks around the world. While I do realize that I am creeping into Reuben's Sunday Brunch territory, there is a reason why I am talking about park food in a column about gaming. These snacks have gone from being just tasty snacks you can buy at the parks to being iconic and tied closely to the theme park experience. Many a fan have claimed that their day at a park cannot be completed without having one of these wonderful snacks while watching a parade, a show, or just enjoying the scenery in general. It has also been said that food can also bring people together, like having chat over tea or coffee, or a whole discussion over dinner. What I am getting at is that these snacks can also represent the social element of the parks, a moment where we are with our friends or relatives and enjoying the serene moment of being together over a great snack. Today's Gamer Tuesday article will be about how that wonderful Disney social experience made its way onto a famous Disney game, and how that element actually came from the act of enjoying a snack at the park!

If you are a regular follower of this column, then you know how many times I have talked about the Kingdom Hearts series, right down to doing a year-long retrospective about its inception and eventual impact on the industry. I can't help it; Kingdom Hearts is a series that means a lot to me on a deep, personal level. It was the game that brought me back into the Disney fandom in a big way and inspired the man I am today. There are so many themes and concepts to the entire series that you can easily take one of them and analyze its deeper meaning in the expansive storyline. One of these examples happens to be... ice cream. Let me elaborate on that real quick...

In 2006, Kingdom Hearts II debuted on the PlayStation 2. Everyone was eager to get back onto the Kingdom Hearts universe and pick up where the first game had left off. Everyone wanted to see Sora and friends back and explore creative Disney universes and do battle with the villains and just have great Disney fun. Much to everyone's surprise, the game did not start with Sora continuing on his adventure, but rather with a newcomer; a blonde boy named Roxas. As the game begins, he wakes up from cryptic dreams that connect to Sora in a strange way. Despite that fact, Roxas is still a boy enjoying the last days of summer vacation in Twilight Town... or so we assume.

The first chapter of the story is a glorified tutorial disguised as a really long introductory cutscene. Fans of the series are divided when it comes to the validity of the scene. Some say that it detracts from the enjoyment and delays what people really want; Sora and friends visiting Disney worlds. Others say that by focusing on Roxas, it creates a fascinating mystery that elevates Sora's character development to a whole new level. Now, I won't go into extreme detail about this chapter of the story, primarily because I don't want to spoil it for anyone that has not played the game. The joy of the game lies in the discovery of these plot points. However, I will say this...

Roxas and his friends
Roxas and his friends

At the end of each of Roxas's days, he meets with his friends at the top of a clock tower overlooking Twilight Town. There, he relaxes with his friends, discusses the events in the story, and feels right at home. They do that while enjoying a tasty ice cream treat. But not just any ice cream treat: it's sea salt ice cream! It is their favorite flavor of ice cream as everyone has one Popsicle at the end of the day. This may seem like a random choice of ice cream, especially since they could have just made it the standard chocolate or vanilla kind, and the scene would have remained the same regardless. However, the seeming strangeness of sea salt ice cream was so alluring that it became an important icon of the Kingdom Hearts franchise. How did it start out? At a Disney theme park, of course!

In an interview with series creator and character designer Tetsuya Nomura, he was asked about the significance of sea salt ice cream in the series and how he came up with its usage in the story. He claims that he came up with the idea when visiting Tokyo DisneySea at Tokyo Disneyland. He enjoyed the exotic treat so much that he decided to turn it into an important story element in Kingdom Hearts II. Its usage was so effective that it defined the character of Roxas, as well as the series in general.

Kingdom Hearts
From left to right; Axel, Roxas and Xion enjoying their ice cream

Players would again see the characters enjoying sea salt ice cream in Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 days for the Nintendo DS (and as a movie in the recently released Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix edition for the PS3). The game chronicles Roxas's backstory prior to the events of Kingdom Hearts II. Now he is a member of a secret cult called Organization XIII. At the end of each mission, Roxas meets up with his friends and fellow organization members, Axel and Xion, at the top of the clock tower overlooking Twilight Town, enjoying sea salt ice cream. Sensing a pattern yet?

Scrooge McDuck ice cream
Even Scrooge McDuck loves sea salt ice cream

Without delving into spoiler territory, the significance of sea salt ice cream is that to the characters, it represents a crucial moment in their lives, a moment where they can be together and enjoy their lives, and take a break from the drama surrounding them. As Kingdom Hearts fans will let anyone know, despite its whimsical connection to the Disney company, it is a series filled with a lot of dramatic character moments, moments where friendships are questioned, people are betrayed, friends lose each other, sometimes for good, and everything is sacrificed for the well being of their respective worlds. In other words, these characters need a break from their emotional turmoil. In Kingdom Hearts II and 358/2 days, that is presented through these scenes involving sea salt ice cream. They are not fighting monsters, they are not carrying orders from a malicious entity, they are not questioning their existence. They are relaxing, being friends, and embracing the quiet moments that are often so fleeting in their lives.

Kingdom Hearts II
The treat would make cameo appearances in some scenes. In this scene, Ansem the Wise is having one for himself with his young apprentice.

I didn't realize what it all meant until now. I didn't get why they only ate sea salt ice cream. I didn't get why people create blogs out of Disney theme park food. I didn't get why something so small meant so much in the grand scheme of things. But having been to the two Disney theme parks in North American, and being able to enjoy them with very dear friends and tasting these snacks for myself, I can clearly see why these things matter, and I see why those scenes in Kingdom Hearts II matter. Much like Kingdom Hearts itself, the parks trump its epic rides, stories, characters and attractions, and all the fun you will experience in a day. And yet, the moments that always stick with people are those small moments, those 'magic happens' moments that may be small in magnitude, but are completely important in someone's story. It completes them.

Sometimes, there is no need to lose your mind because you want to ride an attraction so badly. Sometimes, there is no need to rush from attraction to attraction so you can claim you did a lot of stuff in a day. Sometimes, there is no grand desire to be at a park at rope drop, or be the last guest to close the park at night. Sometimes, you don't even need to ride any attraction at all to make your day fulfilling. Sometimes what you really need is to sit down and embrace the beauty all around you, just like Roxas and friends did at the end of their days. If you have best friends to share those moments with, even better! It may even bring you closer to your friends. And the perfect snack is the cherry on top that completes the moment.

Tokyo Disney Sea Salt Ice Cream
Tokyo DisneySea sea salt ice cream

Now, you may be wondering, how can this treat be tasted if a trip to Tokyo DisneySea is not an easy possibility? Many online sites have dedicated themselves to chronicling their adventures in sea salt ice cream creation. There are many recipes that attempt to recreate the same recipe as seen in the parks, much like some people have set out to create their own variations of the Dole Whip recipe. So if you are indeed very curious as to how sea salt ice cream tastes like, it is all a quick Google search away.


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