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Gamer Tuesday

November 13, 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

'Princesses! Sidekicks! Villains! Original characters! Final Fantasy characters! It's a regular character cavalcade!'

And now...

Part 11: The worlds and their fate lie in the mighty Keyblade

In every good story worth telling, a hero is always carrying himself a weapon. The uses and symbolism of the item changes from story to story. For example, the mighty Excalibur was a sword that defined the journey of King Arthur. In another, more recent example, the Star Wars saga features the Lightsaber, a weapon wielded by both the light and dark side of the force. But regardless of who wields the weapon, it is a representation of what the characters stand for, and often defines the journey the characters will embark upon. Kingdom Hearts not only follows this loyally, it extends it even further into the Disney worlds we are about to visit.

The Keyblade in its original design

So, what exactly is a Keyblade? As the name states, a Keyblade is a fusion between a sword and a key. Square Enix is no stranger to fusing different weapons in order to create something that ties directly into the narrative of their games. In Final Fantasy VIII, the main character Squall yielded a Gunblade, a sword whose handle was shaped like a gun. Doing this also led to many silly looking weapons, the Keyblade being no exception.

During the development of Kingdom Hearts, both Sora and the Keyblade went through several designs. Sora was originally presented as a lion boy, and the Keyblade resembled a chainsaw

But as silly as a Keyblade may be, its significance in the Kingdom Hearts mythos is a very extensive one, one that yields many years before the story actually begins. A Keyblade is a weapon used to combat the forces of darkness, i.e. the Heartless. It is the one thing that will cut between the pure darkness these creatures emit. Being the designated weapon to confront these beings, its wielder needs to be someone special and pure of heart. Such is the demands of the Keyblade that way before events of the first game started, many Keyblade warriors had to learn about its power and become masters. This quickly lead to the fabled Keyblade War, an event chronicled in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.

The Keyblade ties itself tightly to its wielder based on both the actions of his heart and his beliefs. In the first Kingdom Hearts, Sora seemingly gets the Keyblade as it appears out of nowhere. Clever gamers have realized how and why the Keyblade became Sora's weapon (beyond the fact that he is the main character and thus needed a weapon in a combat heavy RPG). The first time Sora gets the Keyblade is when he meets Riku just as Destiny Islands is being destroyed by Heartless. Riku has embraced the darkness that has fell upon his home, and Sora desperately tries to save Riku. A large cloud of darkness engulfs them both, showering them completely in negative energy. Just then, a burst of light appears and sends Sora back with Keyblade in hand.

Later on as we confront Riku, now a full servant of darkness, he confesses to Sora that the Keyblade was meant for him from the beginning as the Keyblade somehow knew that Riku was the more valiant of the two. Yet, the Keyblade was still Sora's. After a few battles, Riku has now accepted darkness into his heart, meaning that the Keyblade must now find an owner with a pure heart of light. Guess who it goes back to... that's right, Sora!

Like with any good RPG, the Keyblade is key (no pun intended) to the character development of Sora. The Keyblade Sora starts with is the most basic weapon of them all. It serves as an introduction to the real time combat mechanics and the power it yields upon its wielder. As the story progresses so does Sora. The more he levels up, the more powerful he becomes. The Keyblade will also grow in power as Sora gains keychains that level up the weapon and even changes the appearance of the Keyblade.

The Keyblade also ties itself into another big part of the narrative story: the Disney worlds. Why is that? Because Sora has the chance to save the worlds that have yet to be consumed by the Heartless using his Keyblade to, quite literally, lock the world's heart away from them. When selecting the worlds, Square Enix made sure that the selections represented Disney in the past, present and even the future. They also were selected to fulfill a certain need in gameplay design and variety. Much like with the story and characters, these worlds also needed to keep the Disney spirit alive in its digital form.

The worlds as featured in Kingdom Hearts are as follows:

Wonderland: Based on Alice in Wonderland (1951), this is the first Disney world Sora and friends encounter in their journey. As they enter, they see that Alice has been put on trial for the alleged theft of the Queen of Hearts' heart. Hoping to clear her name, Sora goes around the maze that is Wonderland in hopes of finding evidence that will save Alice's head.

Deep Jungle: The first Disney world based on a modern day Disney film, Deep Jungle is based on the 1999 movie Tarzan. Much like in the film, Sora meets Tarzan as Professor Porter, Jane, and Clayton make a campsite in order to study the gorillas. Clayton, however, wants something more out of the expedition.

Olympus Coliseum: Unlike the two previous worlds, Olympus Coliseum (based on the 1997 movie Hercules) is actually a tournament based world in which Sora faces off against Heartless enemies and rivals hoping to earn the name of hero. Even if it is a coliseum, you will still meet the likes of Hercules, Philoctetes and especially Hades. Other characters from Final Fantasy also make appearances here.

100-Acre Wood: One of the most charming aspects of the 1977 film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (it being a collection of shorts that were produced then edited to make a feature film) is that we actually see the characters live within a storybook that is just as alive as they are. In Kingdom Hearts, the 100-Acre Wood is not a battle based world, it is actually a mini-game based one, all wrapped around cute encounters with the denizens of the forest. Unfortunately, the pages of the book have been torn off by the Heartless, which means you must first find the pages in order to fully continue the story.

Agrabah: Much like in the 1992 movie Aladdin, Agrabah is a scorching city of mystery, of enchantment... and the finest merchandise ever! All kidding aside, in here you get to meet Aladdin as he goes all the way to the Cave of Wonders, rescue Jasmine and do battle with Jafar.

Monstro: In Pinocchio, Gepetto sets out to find his boy Pinocchio and ends up in the belly of a whale named Monstro. In Kingdom Hearts, you do get to travel down the entrails of the giant whale. While this is the first time a Pinocchio-based world appeared in any Kingdom Hearts game, it would take till the release of Dream Drop Distance for a full world to make an appearance.

Halloween Town: In what many consider to be the oddball choice, Halloween Town is based on the 1993 stop motion animated classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was a world that was completely unexpected as originally, the film was still under the Touchstone Pictures banner, while the majority of the worlds came from the Disney animated canon. This is a world that sees its characters transform into Halloween icons. Storywise, this takes place way before Jack discovers Christmas Town and takes over the holiday.

Atlantica: A movie that many consider to the be starting point for the animation rennaisance of the 90s, The Little Mermaid inspired this world. This is an unique world in that it takes place completely underwater, turning Sora into a merman, Donald into an octopus, and Goofy into a turtle. Fun fact: Atlantica is considered to be by many the worst world you visit in the game due to the controls. For the sequel, the world was changed into a musical based world that followed the story of the film even closer.

Neverland: What is peculiar about this world is that even though it is called Neverland (based on the 1953 film Peter Pan) it actually takes place on the Jolly Roger, Captain Hook's ship. There is also a brief scene that takes place at Big Ben. It also hosts a very hard battle with a secret boss.

The design of the Keyblade changes according to the keychain equipped

To tie itself even more with the worlds, at the end of each world Sora receives a keychain that can be attached into the Keyblade. This changes the Keyblade into a design inspired by the world and the characters he experienced. There are many more Keyblades to discover, each one with different stats and abilities.

And that's the Keyblade and the Disney worlds of Kingdom Hearts in a nutshell. There is a lot to talk about them, both in terms of gameplay design and how it presents the original Disney stories. But rest assured, these are indeed some of the most creative attempts at keeping the Disney magic alive in video game form.

The last entry of the series will be upon us next month, and instead of diving into other aspects of the Kingdom Hearts concept, I will be talking about what the game and the series as a whole means to me as both a gamer and a Disney fan. Stay tuned!


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