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Gamer Tuesday

July 3, 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...

'Classic fairy tales! Adaptations! Original complex stories!'

And now...

Part 7: Themes of light and darkness

In literature, themes are bound to make appearances time and time again. These themes are often based on beliefs created by societies throughout the ages that reflect how we have evolved since the beginning of time. Some were founded on a basic truth, while others were created with the belief of a higher being controlling us all or an unseen force that walks amongst us. One of the most common themes found in literature is that of good and evil, two equally powerful forces that are constantly at war over who gets to reign over the thoughts and actions of humanity. Even real world history has often been told with a clear good versus evil perspective. This concept has influenced some of the greatest literary works of all time in various mediums, from books like J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Ring series to George Lucas's Star Wars franchise.

Some of the most iconic battles of all time are those between good and evil, involving the people consumed by these forces. In Darth Vader's case, he is a tragic figure forced to fight his son because in his younger days, he was tempted by the dark side

Both Disney and Square Enix have presented us a vision of what evil could be and how it would always seem to be at war with good since their inception. No matter who the protagonist and the antagonist was and how their respective stories ended in one story, the war always seemed to continue on another story with another set of characters and events. Disney in particular has put a clear effort in presenting the idea of good and evil. Good was always portrayed as always being a one of kind nature, courageous, innocent, and always willing to learn. Evil, on the other hand, was always jealous, pompous, arrogant, greedy, and selfish. These themes have received such a clear definition that whenever a character presents any traits from any of these two factions, people begin to wonder if they should be called heroes or villains.

As an example of how Square Enix has developed the concept of good and evil, in Dissidia: Final Fantasy for the PSP, this world is ruled by two opposing forces: Cosmos, the goddess of harmony (left) and Chaos, the god of discord (right). Both have a faction of warriors that fight in their name

The stories that fuel the Final Fantasy/Square Enix Japanese have also been inspired by the struggle between good and evil. They, however, go even further as they have presented us clear manifestations of these two forces, often in the form of crystals, natural elements, and defined representatives of good and evil such as gods, monsters and legendary heroes. The Final Fantasy series have also been influenced by everything from pop culture (such as in the design of the characters themselves to the music), to world mythology. As an example, one of the themes their critically acclaimed hit Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation One) is that all of us are connected to the spirit of the earth, and as we move onto the next life we return to that spirit, but if we abuse it thanks to our greed we will create an unbalance that will hurt all living beings.

The fabled Disney RPG the two companies would be producing would have to tell a story with these themes set in motion, especially after they decided that the game had to be appealing to the same gaming audience that loved the Square Enix RPGs before it. The end result is Kingdom Hearts, a game that has clear representations of good and evil while giving us characters and events that are in a clear shade of gray in terms of morality.

In Kingdom Hearts, the worlds are ruled by light and darkness. In any form of fiction, good is often represented as being light, as in the light we can see the world around us, understand its beauty and find our paths easily. Evil, however, is darkness. You can't see anything, you lose yourself and you are confused as to what you should be. These two elements are often said to be found within one's soul, or as Kingdom Hearts explains it, our hearts.

When Sora meets Leon for the first time as the game is starting its first chapters in Traverse Town, Leon tells him that there is darkness within every heart. What he says then is that all of us are ruled by light and darkness as they are natural parts of our beings, yet only we are the ones that can control them by our decisions. In literature, the hero is often forced to choose between these sides as they struggle between what they must do versus what they want to do. It is an internal struggle that has fueled the adventures of many a character; our hero Sora not being the exception.

Maleficent, from the 1959 Disney animated classic Sleeping Beauty, is the leader of the Disney villains and the representation of Disney's dark side in the Kingdom Hearts games

Kingdom Hearts set out to pay tribute to Disney in almost every manner, the themes of light and darkness being one of them. The best characters that represent that ideal are the Disney Villains, and Kingdom Hearts gathered some of the most iconic characters that were ever created. In the Disney films, these characters have a clear motivation often fueled by the things I mentioned earlier, inspired by darkness within their being. It makes sense that they were picked to be the main antagonists of Kingdom Hearts, but Square Enix decided to go further. The Disney characters already have a legacy behind them. The good guys are good guys and the villains are villains. That's why in Kingdom Hearts the original characters exist as they allow them to tell other sides of the story that couldn't be possible with some of the Disney characters.

While an analysis on each main character will be coming soon to this retrospective, let's take a brief look at the character of Riku, Sora's best friend and rival. He is a character that is full of confidence, charm and a sense of maturity that surpasses that of Sora's. Yet, he is a character that is quickly persuaded by the darkness. He didn't accept it because of the power it would bring him, but because he wanted to save his home and his friends. As he allows the darkness to take over, he slowly de-evolves into a puppet that exists only to fuel the desires of a far bigger threat in the Kingdom Hearts universe, a threat that we are still fighting to this day.

Much like Darth Vader before him, Riku was tempted by darkness with promises of his world and friends being rescued, but instead became an unwilling servant. It is the light seen in friendship, however, that is able to save him in the end

Riku represents the theme that sometimes good and evil aren't always as clear as they appear to be. Sometimes the nicest of intentions can become the most evil of all, and just because someone presents a better sense of leadership it doesn't mean that they are capable of wielding the power of good. Sora is a character that represents that. In contrast to Riku, he is more like a young child that has discovered a very fun, new thing. And yet, it is Sora that gets to wield the mighty Keyblade (more on that on the next installment of the retrospective). He wasn't the absolute bravest, courageous and physically fit character to take on the role of the hero, but it was his heart's light that made him fit to be the keyblade's wielder.

As you can probably see, Square Enix took a very clear concept of good and evil as developed by Disney throughout the years and gave it a better sense of development, showing that people's actions are not as clear cut as we believe they are. Story-wise, the Kingdom Hearts franchise is complex to the point where people have criticized it for taking the story down new paths rather than developing and finishing the ones it already has. But at the same time, it is also one of the reasons why the franchise, after ten years since its creation, still has a great fan following, thanks to the classic themes of good and evil and unforgettable characters that rule this world.

Next month, I will be discussing the Disney worlds that have been chosen in the first Kingdom Hearts game and how they were adapted into this clearly defined world torn by good and evil.


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