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Gamer Tuesday

December 11, 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

'Wow, a sword shaped like a key! Let's us go to Wonderland, Neverland, the jungle, Agrabah and more!'

And now...

Part 12: A Legacy

During this retrospective, I have talked about the overall Kingdom Hearts experience. From the creators involved, the influence from the Disney mythos, the story, characters, and gameplay mechanics to the Disney references and how effective it was in telling classic Disney stories through its own narrative. For the very last entry of this retrospective, I decided to talk about two very important aspects of Kingdom Hearts: my memories of the game and its overall legacy.

To quote Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls...

Picture it, Puerto Rico, 2002. I was experiencing my second year of college, and despite the difficulties one would expect out of college life and the world around me, I was having a blast. At home, I had the very awesome GameCube and the cool PlayStation 2 with some excellent games, along with friends to play them with. I couldn't have asked for a better life then. And yet, there was something that was always there, but I kept it hidden well within my heart: my love for all things Disney.

Playstation 2
Little did I know that this little system would harvest some of the best Disney memories ever

I am sure most of you know what I am talking about when I say that many of us go through a phase in our lives in which we drop the things that we loved as kids in favor of something more 'mature' and relevant to our age. For me, that thing was Disney. Only, I never really dropped my love for Disney. I still watched the movies, played the games, tuned into the Disney Channel every once in a while, listened to 'A Whole New World' endlessly among other things. It's just that with college life still being so cool in my mind, my focus lied on everything else that seemed far more engaging, interesting, and significantly life changing.

Kingdom Hearts' original logo
In 2001, Kingdom Hearts was still in its beta phase, meaning that a great deal of it, the logo included, would undergo various changes before release

I remember the first time I caught glimpse of Kingdom Hearts... It was in during the 2001 Electronic Entertainment Expo (or E3 as it is widely known). In that year, the Nintendo GameCube was fully shown off for the first time, same with the Xbox from Microsoft and a lot more games. Square Enix (back then known as Squaresoft) released the very first and very early trailer for Kingdom Hearts. My impression upon first viewing was... boy was that DUMB! I mean, you had these kids with big heads, silly hair, clown shoes and weird accessories running around killing shadows with Donald and Goofy, and even Dumbo showed up! What else was there to make of it? So I ignored its development completely, Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. Melee being the game that captured my attention.

I was, however, taking a very closer look at everything else Square did. At the time, I was into their main series, Final Fantasy, a love which started way back in 1999 when I first played Final Fantasy VII on the PC (it came out on the PlayStation first in 1997, though). Needless to say, I loved this game to pieces, flaws and all. I then followed it with Final Fantasy VI, VIII, IX and X, which created a deep appreciation towards all things Final Fantasy. What I didn't know then, though, that it was all a preparation for the things coming my way.

With me enjoying Square's efforts so much, I decided to keep tabs on their game development. That's when I stumbled once again into Kingdom Hearts, a game I completely brushed off earlier in 2001. By this point, the game has advanced greatly in its development, allowing a Japanese site to go up in its honor that had a lot of details regarding the game.

Back in 2001 when I saw the game, I didn't know that you could visit various Disney worlds and meet the characters. That was hook number one for me. When I saw that The Nightmare Before Christmas had a world to call its own, my curiosity grew stronger in size. Hook number two were the summons. As I mentioned in an earlier entry, you can summon the likes of Simba and Dumbo at any time. Hook number three was the appearance of Final Fantasy characters.

'That's it!' - I said to myself. I HAD to know more about this game and tell my friends about it. And that I did, and most gave me weird looks. 'A Disney-RPG where you can meet Disney Princesses AND Final Fantasy characters? How could THAT be any good?'- most of them replied. But even with all of that, I still followed its development till the very day of its American release. Note that this was before the days of YouTube, so video footage of the game was very limited to what game sites had to offer.

Kingdom Hearts artwork
Fun fact: On the same day that I picked my copy of the game, I picked up the latest issue of the Official PlayStation Magazine, which featured this image as its cover. The magazine gave the game a glowing review and praised its story and characters

September 2002 finally came around, and after saving up for the game I picked it up during its release week. Needless to say, my first time playing the game was nothing short of magical. From the minute Utada Hikaru's 'Simple and Clean' starting playing I knew that this was going to be one of my favorite games ever. Unfortunately, I had class later that day, and class the next morning so I didn't get to play it 24 hours straight.

However, play it I did. No other game has captured my attention in the same manner as Kingdom Hearts. It was one of the few games I replayed what seemed hundreds of times from beginning to end. I leveled up Sora till level 100, beat all the secret bosses, got all the Keyblades and even went as far as to record the cut scenes on a VHS tape so I could watch the game like a movie (again, this was before YouTube was around and no one had edited the cut scenes into one convenient movie).

Yet, above all of that, Kingdom Hearts did one thing that I am thankful for to this day: inspire and wake up the near dormant Disney fan in me. Like I said, I still loved Disney, but it was Kingdom Hearts that reminded me that it was an integral part of my life and my personality. It shaped my childhood into something worth remembering despite its ups and downs. So effective was Kingdom Hearts that after I beat it I would go to the video store after school and rent many Disney movies on VHS, and got me to invest on several Disney DVDs, too.

In my circle of online friends, I quickly became known as the rabid Kingdom Hearts fan due to my enthusiasm with it. I couldn't get enough of it. I wanted more... and more I got. Just a year after I had played Kingdom Hearts they announced not one but TWO Kingdom Hearts games: Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories for the Game Boy Advance and Kingdom Hearts II for the PlayStation 2. I was actually in the school's computer lab when I read the news online and I YELLED in extreme happiness. I wanted to see the story continue, I wanted to see more of the characters, I wanted to see more Disney movies turned into worlds. I just wanted to return to Kingdom Hearts again and again...

And now here we are, 10 years later. I got my wish of more Kingdom Hearts games. Since its release in 2002, Kingdom Hearts has become a third pillar franchise for Square Enix after Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. Admittedly, the novelty of a Disney RPG has waned. But what hasn't waned is the desire to see the story grow and evolve. Both Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II confirmed that the first game was just a tease of what we could expect out of the story. It has since become a complex web of betrayal, faith, light, and darkness. We have gone to the past of Kingdom Hearts to see how it all began in Birth by Sleep, we have seen what events happened in between Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, we cleared up character motivations and why they act the way they do... and there are still many questions waiting to be answered.

The biggest question of all is... when is Kingdom Hearts III coming? Yes, we have seven games in the series, and yet none of them have the number 3 at the end. That is because the original Kingdom Hearts development team is hard at work at a Final Fantasy XIII game that, unfortunately, has not seen the light of day since some footage was released. It has been said that the innovations they created in that game will be seen in Kingdom Hearts III, but again development has seen delay after delay, and no release seems to be in sight.

This leaves fans speculating about what we can expect out of Kingdom Hearts III. Tetsuya Nomura has stated in several interviews that Kingdom Hearts III will see the end of the now dubbed 'Xenahort Saga,' and every game that has been released have been created to fill in the spaces left by the main games in the series, promising to deliver a powerful conclusion to the saga that has been in the making for 10 years. When will it happen? No one really knows.

Nintendo's Wii U system was released last November, kicking off the next generation of games. People expect both Microsoft and Sony to reveal their newest systems next year. The question in everyone's mind is: will any continuation of the Kingdom Hearts saga see release in any of these new systems? Will the game finally be the conclusion people have been waiting for, or will it just be another chapter that both raises and answers questions? Once again, people don't have an answer for that, except the folks at Square Enix.

This goes to show just how far Kingdom Hearts has come since 2001, when everyone and their mother thought that this was a dumb idea, much like how in the 30s when Walt Disney was producing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, they called it 'Disney's folley.' But also like Snow White, Kingdom Hearts, flaws and all, went on to impress many people in the industry. It came out at the right time when video game technology was blooming into what we see today, utilizing some of the best technology ever along with the perfect combination of artists, designers and musicians. Kingdom Hearts was a project that was unique for the Disney company and has forever made its presence known in the industry.

In other words, this is why I write Gamer Tuesday: video games can be enriching methods of storytelling. It is still a very rough way of storytelling, video game companies still have ways to learn, but as Kingdom Hearts proved, when done right it can engage people in the best way possible. Disney has more than an amazing presence in pop culture. Even with people lobbying against them, Disney simply knows how to tell a story and make it permanent in the minds of many. New Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom is an excellent example of that. Video games can have that kind of legacy, and when combined with Disney's characters and story, something worth remembering will happen. That's why I believe Kingdom Hearts stands as one of the best examples of how Disney and video games can further push the ideas both industries can create.

After all of what I've said in the last year, the only thing left to say is... Happy 10th anniversary, Kingdom Hearts! Thank you Square Enix for believing in such an oddball project. Thank you Disney Interactive for letting Square create something under your label that more than lives up to the high standards people have towards Disney. And most importantly, thank you to ALL the men and women involved in the creation of Kingdom Hearts, whose hard work and determination created one of the most memorable Disney video games of the last decade.

Kingdom Hearts Santa Sora

Thank you all for joining me on this Kingdom Hearts retrospective. It wasn't an easy journey, but it was a journey worth taking. Hope it was as fun for you as it was for me.

Kingdom Hearts End Screen


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