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Kingdom Hearts FAQ #15: Re Mind and DLC

So Kingdom Hearts 3: Re⏀Mind is DLC that is now available. What’s KH’s first DLC like?

I refuse to answer a question that comes from an incorrect premise.

Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Goggle Bob?

In a way, Kingdom Hearts has never not had DLC. The original Kingdom Hearts (1) had three different versions before we ever saw a sequel. It started with OG Japanese Kingdom Hearts, and then graduated to Kingdom Hearts: USA Version. Yes, in the original version of Kingdom Hearts, there was no Sephiroth, no sequel-teasing special movie, and a distinct lack of Kurt Zisa (don’t ask). This inevitably led to Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix, a Japanese version of the game that included all of the American content, a handful of new enemies/challenges, a smattering of mute cutscenes, and, most importantly, a secret boss and secret reports that more distinctly alluded to plot points of Kingdom Hearts 2, then still three years away from release. Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix even set the standard of sticking the next game’s final boss in a nondescript coat, and turning him (inevitably “him”) into a super difficult, super confusing battle. Yes! It was “DLC” that established KH’s love of zippered coats!

Wow! DLC in the bygone year of 2002? Wasn’t that pretty great?

Slice 'n DiceHell no. Unfortunately, this was the bad ol’ days of “full game ‘DLC’” releases (see also: Devil May Cry 3). If you wanted to see any of the new content (or, at least, any of the content that was actually worthwhile), you had to replay the game from scratch again, because every new version was technically a whole new game. It didn’t matter if you had a Level 100 Sora in Kingdom Hearts, you needed to grind all over again in Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix. No way you’re going to conquer that “bonus content” otherwise…

So you’re saying no one responsible for the Persona series’ last three entries ever suffered through Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix?

Yep. More’s the pity.

But at least you got more Kingdom Hearts content!

Well, not so much, either. Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix was initially never released outside Japan, so if you wanted that “Kingdom Hearts DLC”, say, because you were a bored college student sinking fast in the merit-based quagmire of the American educational system and you required Kingdom Hearts to bring your life meaning, you were pretty much out of luck unless you wanted to learn Japanese and pay exorbitant import fees.

Well, at least that only happened to Kingdom Hearts 1… Right?

Nope! Kingdom Hearts 2 had a similar trajectory. In fact, Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix had an even more alluring collection of “DLC”: it featured an all-new dungeon, rematches against the significant bosses of KH2, the prerequisite mysterious bonus boss battle, and all-new 3-D models of all the Organization XIII baddies that died alone and 2-D in the previous GBA game (Chain of Memories), so you could fight them “for real” in the Kingdom Hearts 2 engine. Oh, and the game included a full 3-D remake of that GBA game, too.

Wow! That is a lot of content!

Yep! And it didn’t make it across the Pacific, either. We did eventually get that GBA-PS2 remake on the PS2, though… but only as its own, separate budget release. No Kingdom Hearts 2 Lingering Will super battle for American folks.

Boo! Boo I say!

Stupid WhaleBoo indeed! And this continued to be the new normal for the franchise. Birth by Sleep (the PSP one) Final Mix featured upgrades like a battle against Pinochio’s Monstro, Coded got Re:Coded, and, in the end, it seems that poor Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days was the only Kingdom Hearts title to not see any gameplay changes after its initial release. … And that is the case only because it was repurposed as exclusively cinema scenes for the inevitable HD release. I shudder to think how many secret boss battles could have been squeezed in there if someone decided to properly convert the DS game.

So did America ever see any of this “DLC”?

Not for a very long time. But we did eventually see all of this content with the 1.5/2.5 HD remasters that were released in 2013/2014. Now, as of 2017, you can play all of this bonus content on your Playstation 4 as part of the Kingdom Hearts Complete compilation. So it only took an extra console generation, a whole new title, and XIII years for America to see Kingdom Hearts DLC. Seems about right!

So you’re saying we should consider ourselves lucky that this DLC is a worldwide release and only $30?

Yes. Please bring Nomura gilded zippers as an offering of goodwill.

So how does Kingdom Hearts 3: Re¤Mind shake out?

KISS!Your mileage may vary, but, as these things go, this seems to be pretty beefy DLC. First of all, there’s the signature “Final Mix” difficulty mode, this time allowing for some interesting challenges or lack of challenges. You can make the game more difficult by adding conditions like a HP drain, or make the game easier with one-hit kills for your opponents. It’s like a built-in Game Genie! There’s also a boss rush of some significant opponents, and the requisite secret boss du jour. And there’s an expansion to the “photo mode” of the original game, with the ability to set up dioramas so you can see what it would look like if Riku and Sora kissed in new and interesting worlds. We’ve also got additional keyblades, Oathkeeper and Oblivion, that were conspicuously absent during the initial release, and some additional battle options that manage to change the entire feeling of Sora’s combat. … Actually, I think those items are free as part of the DLC’s update, but it’s really hard to keep track of what is what. I know for certain that the new plot elements are part of the DLC, though!

A new plot?

Well, “new” is kind of a misnomer here. On one hand, for the first time in a Kingdom Hearts “Final Mix” situation, there is a significant amount of entirely new voice acting, new cinema scenes, and wholly new scenarios (you get to play as new characters!), on the other hand, almost all of this content is in some way “recycled” from the main game. Most of what you’ll find in ReØMind is either something that was already in KH3 but now seen from a different perspective, or a battle repurposed from its original context. The first bit of gameplay in KH3: RM is a struggle against what was previously the only wholly optional heartless in KH3, and that seems to be stating an opening mission statement of repurposing many of KH3’s “scraps” into complete meals.

So it’s just warmed up leftovers?

Yes, Kingdom Hearts 3: Re⍟Mind is leftovers. But they’re super delicious leftovers. This is some prime rib going in your lasagna leftover repurposing.

Is… is that something you actually eat?

With gusto.

So do the new plot details at least offer something new for fans?


What the hell!?

I know, right? Kingdom Hearts 3 ended on a very confusing finale. Here’s where the spoilers for the franchise start in earnest…

FGC #117 Felix the Cat

A good chuckleThis game has no right to be this good.

Felix the Cat is a Nintendo (Entertainment System) game that was released in 1993. Yes, this was late in the Nintendo’s lifespan, and was the same year we saw gems like Gaygoyle’s Quest, Little Samson, and Panic Restaurant. But it was also the year we saw GI Joe: The Atlantis Factor, Contra Force, two mega buster-based Mega Man games, and Wizards and Warriors 3. Say what you will about such games, but it’s hard to argue any of them were better than their previous installments (W&W3 is a game so bad it made a young Goggle Bob weep). My point is that, even though the NES had probably hit its highest echelon (evolving from “can barely support Donkey Kong” to “Castlevania 3”), there was no “guarantee” of decent NES games, even from established studios. Hell, once we hit Kirby’s Adventure, even Nintendo moved on to greener pastures (albeit after briefly taking a detour through Wario’s Woods).

Though one thing remained consistent through much of the NES’s lifespan: licensed games sucked. Yes, we had Capcom churning out some great Disney games, but for every Ducktales there was an Adventures of Bayou Billy or Road Runner. This continued into 1993, when we saw amazing licensed titles like Monster in my Pocket, The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, and Hudson Hawk. Nobody ever wanted a licensed Hudson Hawk game, but here it was, tricking children and grandmas alike into letting such an abomination into their NES collection. One may or may not enjoy the final offering of the Ninja Gaiden franchise, but it is at least a playable experience. You didn’t have that luxury when you popped in a game featuring The Addams Family.

So now we have Felix the Cat. For those of you not well versed in animation history, Felix the Cat is an animated character that is old enough to soon hit the century mark (1919), and hails from the era when talkies were still an unimaginable future. Felix the Cat predates Mickey Mouse by nearly a decade, and, Cairowhile he might not be anywhere near as popular as ol’ squeaky, he has had a pretty extensive career. He was voiced by Jack Mercer and Dave Coulier! How many animated characters can say that?

But by 1993, Felix the Cat didn’t exactly have the star power he once possessed. Like Betty Boop or Droopy Dog, I want to say the average child had a glimmer of recognition for the frenetic feline, but I was the average child back then, and… how did I know Felix the Cat? He didn’t possess anywhere near the popularity of The Real Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as far as modern merchandising goes, and he wasn’t Bugs Bunny’ing around as some omnipresent corporate mascot. It must have been that weird kind of cultural osmosis that also accounted for me understanding Gilligan’s Island despite avoiding that show like a coconut-based plague.

I had a friend who summered in Portugal. I remember he was really excited about Felix the Cat.

Whatever the case, obscure franchise plus NES licensed platformer was in no way a recipe for success. Felix the Cat should have been yet another terrible NES game that substituted “one hit and you’re dead” for challenge and awful level design for stage variety. Not having much recall about this game (I probably purchased it for a couple bucks at a random EB Games), I was dreading this play session when ROB rolled it in. “I’ll play it at least ten minutes,” I told myself. “Then I can be done with it, and go back to overthinking Xenosaga.”

But you know what? This game is pretty great. I played it for ten minutes… and then another fifty more to finish the sucker. I liked it.

PRESENTS!First, and probably most importantly of all, Felix the Cat has an excellent powerup system. Collect ten floating Felix Heads (distributed like Super Mario’s coins), and you’ll earn a heart. A heart will “upgrade” Felix by one level, and (in most stages) there are four levels of powerups. In the first stage, for instance, a heart will upgrade Felix from “basic” to “magician” to “car” and, finally, to “tank”. Pretty natural progression. Each upgrade has a different attack, and, as you can guess, the tank’s attack is a little more effective than that of the magician (sorry, Atlanta). If Felix takes a hit, he’s reduced to the previous powerup stratum, and, should he take damage while he’s at the zero level, it’s life over.

What makes this system all the better is that it maintains a level of tension, even when you’re rolling around in your own tank. There’s a sort of “timer” associated with each powerup level, and, should it tick down to nothing, you’ll revert to an earlier form. To stop the clock, though, all you have to do is collect further Felix Heads, and then you can keep your advanced armaments. While I wouldn’t recommend it for every game, I really like this system, as it encourages the player to keep dutifully collecting everything everywhere, as opposed to many early NES games where, once you’ve got the best powerup available, all you have left to do is book it to the right. There’s gameplay in that gameplay!

And your powerup selection changes according to stage hazards, so your tank can become a sub in underwater stages, or… a dolphin? Sure, why not?

Sing along!But a sensible powerup system is only one part of the Felix experience. Let’s see here: the level design is thoughtful, with many later stages successfully hiding bonus areas and multiple routes. Enemies are predictable but attentively distributed, so a few “bunching up” can make a difference in strategy. Bosses are difficult but fair, and, unlike many NES games, powerups can be found in boss rooms, which makes all the difference in a pitched battle. And, amusingly enough, the final boss is a battle against a mad scientist buzzing about in his private flying saucer. That just makes me feel right at home.

My only complaint about the game is that Felix is kind of… slippery. This seems almost appropriate, as half the time he’s in a vehicle that shouldn’t have precise brakes, but it’s not the kind of thing you want to see in a game with floating, moving platforms. But past the first level, you just plan your jumps accordingly, and hopefully Felix won’t need more than nine lives.

Ultimately, I want to say what most impresses me about Felix the Cat is that it feels like a modern “return to 2-D gaming” type of game. There have been a number of 2-D platforming revival games in the last five years or so (with Shovel Knight being the best), and the finest of them show a genuine understanding of the genre and what makes it tick. Eat it, EccoFelix the Cat feels like that kind of experience, to the point that I can nary believe that it was produced twenty years ago by the same guys behind Adventure Island. It’s not a perfect game, but it genuinely seems like something produced with more care than should be afforded to a primordial cartoon cat.

Felix the Cat is the best licensed NES game of 1993. Sure, that may sound like some faint praise, but give Felix a spin, and I think you’ll agree. Or don’t. I mean, Wizards and Warriors 3 is always available.

FGC #117 Felix the Cat

  • System: NES, though I understand there is a Gameboy port as well. It’s the same game, but with fewer levels, so that might be good for a car trip if you ever find yourself stuck in 1995.
  • Number of Players: There can only be one Felix the Cat.
  • Favorite Powerup: It’s not the most powerful ability, but Felix randomly gaining a hot air balloon is delightful. And Felix’s attack in this form is… a Frisbee? Sure, that makes as much sense as anything.
  • WINNERAn End: So the sorta point of the game is to “rescue the princess”, who, in this case, is Felix’s girlfriend, Kitty. Kitty is tied up in classic vaudeville fashion for all of the “what you fight for” cutscenes that show Kitty and her mad captor. When you finally rescue Kitty, well, I guess someone blew the budget on making a first-class video game, so no one got around to animating an “unbound” Kitty. She hops up and down, elated at her rescue… but still hogtied. I guess, even with the villain defeated, cats aren’t very good with knots.
  • Tanks for the memories: Felix’s tank is very reminiscent of Kid Chameleon’s own Juggernaut tank. It’s a weird similarity, particularly given they both shoot heads of one kind or another. Kid Chameleon fires chattering skulls, Felix the Cat launches smiley faces. Slightly different ammo.
  • Did you know? Actually, Jack Mercer and Dave Coulier both voiced Popeye, too. And both Popeye and Felix the Cat had unusually fun NES titles. That’s oddly specific.
  • Would I play again: Probably, yes. It’s a short game, and, having been surprised at the fact it’s, well, good, I think I’ll give it another go sometime to see how well it holds up. Or maybe I’ll never play it again, and keep the dream alive.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Catherine for the Playstation 3! You ever have that dream where you have to play The Adventures of Lolo against a bunch of sheep? No? Well, you’re going to. Please look forward to it!

3 2 1 Let's Jam
3-2-1 Let’s Jam

FGC #109 Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom

Kingdom's KeysOf the entire NES library, this is the game I most want to see revisited with modern sensibilities. Sorry, Karnov, but Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom might be the best concept for a video game that has just been sitting trapped in an eclectic game from 1990.

Disney Land and Disney World are, in modern times, practically legendary. Through a fluke of evolution, modern children are born with an almost homing pigeon-like desire to one day make a pilgrimage to the Magical Kingdom and spawn more ridiculous photos with “real life” gigantic rodents than should be allowed. Find your nearest child and take a good, long look into their eyes. While you’re scaring the youngster, consider that somewhere in that meaty little kid brain, there are nearly a million synapses, at any given moment, generating a desire to eat waffles with Donald Duck. And a youth’s longing for Disney can never be sated! Eating, farting, and basking in the loving glow of the House of Mouse is all a child needs to survive. Note that I didn’t list breathing…

And it’s funny how the happiest/magicalest places on Earth aren’t exactly… kid friendly. No, I’m not saying Disneyland started offering sharp, pointy things on the promenade or Epcot’s giant golf ball is now a sex farm; what I’m talking about is how Disney attractions are very… regulated affairs. For all the talk of it being a child’s paradise, kids aren’t exactly allowed to be kids at a Disney park. Children want to run around, be free, and maybe break everything that has ever been considered valuable. Disney is all about sitting quietly and watching the play. Here’s a haunted mansion, here’s a pirate attack, here’s a runaway train… now sit there and enjoy it. Make no mistake, I’m not saying Disney is boring, simply that it is not the first thing I would expect as a child’s dream attraction.

Incidentally, if pressed, I’m thinking of a city-sized combination ball-pit/tunnels o’ fun/bouncy castle for the ultimate in juvenile fun. Unfortunately, I’m well aware that such an attraction would, possibly within minutes, lead to more broken, bloodied children than Jurassic Park (also exactly what I’d expect to be the decisive kiddy attraction). This is, in a way, one of the chief reasons video games are so appealing to children: you can do whatever you want, without fear of reprisal or injury. Gold for all!Super Mario basically lives in a bouncy castle kingdom, and those pipe mazes have more in common with a McDonald’s Playplace than any real sewers. And while many “old school” video games are more regimented, challenge level affairs (what fun is a game without winning?) more modern “open world” games offer the exact kind of free-wheeling freedom children are denied every time they’re grounded for something as insignificant as lighting the living room on fire.

Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom is one of those rigid NES games. The concept is that you are… a cowboy? Cow child? Come to think of it, why didn’t they stick a Mickey hat on this kid’s sprite? I guess the ol’ ten gallon signifies adventure? Bah. Okay, in the interest of making this tangent eventually end, let’s call this guy… hm… brown hair… big yellow shoes… Sora? Yes, you’re Sora, friend of Mickey (not a euphemism), and Goofy has “accidently” dropped the golden key to the Enchanted Castle, so it’s up to you to explore the Magic Kingdom and reclaim the six silver keys (and reassemble Kingdom Key B?) from particular attractions. As far as plot excuses go, it’s not that bad, and it allows the game to have stakes (help Mickey!) without going too dark for a Disney licensed product (the Pirates of the Caribbean are not eating the tourists).

It may be restricted, but the gameplay is pretty diverse for a NES game. The Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion stages are both 2-D platforming affairs, and this is a Capcom game, so those areas are fairly thoughtfully designed. They’re no competition for DuckTales, but they’re better than anything ever seen on Adventure Island. Also, despite both levels using the same basic gameplay, Haunted Mansion is more “carefully time your jumps across moving platforms” while Pirates is “avoid all these enemies”, though there is a bit of overlap. Autopia (the go-karts) is an overhead car chase stage in the style of Spy Hunter, and Big Thunder Mountain is a minecart stage (ugh) where controlling your cart’s speed and guessing at the right path are the only challenges. No one can hear you careFinally, there’s Space Mountain, where the best damn ride in the park has been reduced to a completely random Simon Says event. Alright, yes, Space Mountain kind of sucks, but the rest of the package is pretty alright, and, with unlimited continues and the ability to trade collectible stars for health refills, pretty doable for a NES game.

While the game isn’t all that exciting, it does boast a pretty amazing concept: what if you could actually participate in the Disney attractions? Watching a pirate is pretty alright, but how about actually fighting pirates, and pilfering their booty? Touring the Haunted Mansion is a lot more interesting when ghosts hop out of mirrors, and escaping a collapsing mountain is a skosh more fun when there’s actual danger from those tumbling debris. And who doesn’t want to explore space, even if it’s limited Space Mountain space? Mickey, I really want to grab that silver key on Asteroid F, but can I just enjoy having my own freaking space ship for like five minutes?

Now if I’m being realistic, pretty much everything in this game has been revisited in some game or another in the last few decades. The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean both had complete games (mostly based on their movies), and any number of games have taken those archetypical ideas and ran to interesting places where heroes may or may not be able to hold their breath for ten minutes. vroomWe explored well beyond Space Mountain with the Federation of Space Loonies. As fun as Big Thunder Mountain can be, we are not lacking for tense minecart stages after Donkey Kong Country Returns. And as far as racing time, not only have we had a racing game or two in the last few years, the whole “ride” was adapted into a minigame within Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, complete with the race against a dastardly Pete.

But worrying about the levels or attractions is immaterial to what could be “the real thing”. What I want is what this game could be in the modern era: Grand Theft Auto: Magic Kingdom. Okay, no, I’m not suggesting you should be able to carjack your way around Disney World, I just want to see a game where you have control of the park, and I mean complete control. Ride It’s a Small World or jump off the rails and see how many cultures you can toss into each other. Soar over the entire park with Dumbo. Scale the Tower of Terror. Hunt the Jungle Cruise. Hall of Presidents boss rush. Take Mr. Toad on a truly wild ride. The possibilities are endless, and we have the technology to do it! Both Disney Parks are already designed like video game levels anyway!

Ask most kids where they want to go on vacation, and the answer is going to involve Disney. And that’s doable. But the secret wish? What that same kid wants but will never have? Complete control over Disney. No lines. No waiting. No rules. Just unbridled, unfettered fun.

It might not be possible in reality, but what else are video games for?

FGC #109 Disney Adventures in the Magic Kingdom

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System. And, like the majority of the Capcom/Disney library, I wouldn’t be expecting a rerelease anytime soon.
  • SpookyNumber of players: One lil’ kid in his lil’ cowboy hat.
  • Favorite Attraction (in game): Haunted Mansion is some good ol’ Capcom style NES platforming. Pirates would come close, but it seems a little too anxious to deplete your piddling health within its first five seconds, leaving the poor hero inching along in fear of that final hit. It’s hard to enjoy anything when you’re deathly afraid of skeletons.
  • Favorite Attraction (real life): Space Mountain. How did this game make the most fun part of the park into the most dismal? Oh, right, Simon Says has never been fun.
  • Disney Memories: I actually went to Disney World annually with my family for most of my childhood, thanks to a combination of disposable income (being an only child is awesome!) and far too many relatives living in Orlando and surrounding areas. Honestly, and I even said this at the time, I always enjoyed going to Universal Studios Florida more than Disney World. The rides were… more adult? Ah, who am I kidding? I was just that much of a freak for Back to the Future.
  • Capcomian: This is the third Disney/Capcom game, so this was before the likes of Talespin and Darkwing Duck. DuckTales was the first, though, and it’s kind of amazing that Capcom never hit that dizzying high ever again. Then again, there aren’t any statues trying to rob me in this game, so maybe we broke even.
  • Did you know? I neglected to mention that one of the silver keys is available through a trivia game played throughout the park. The questions asked are wildly insane in their varying difficulty. Who are the chipmunk leaders of the Rescue Rangers? Think I can handle that one. But “What was the first Academy Award winning cartoon?” (Flowers and Trees), “What year did the Mickey Mouse Comic begin?” (1930), or “What is the name of Hook’s ship in ‘Peter Pan’?” (None) are all questions that I’m not sure anyone would ever know the answer, particularly pre-internet. At least “What Yummyis the name of the Evil Fairy in Sleeping Beauty?” has only gotten easier in recent years.
  • Would I play again: I admit I have a certain fondness for this title… but I think I have more fondness for other Capcom/Disney games I can actually play to completion without cursing at Space Mountain. Sorry, Proto-Sora, you’re going back in the drawer.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Primal Rage for the SNES! And I was just talking about Jurassic Park and bodily harm….Please look forward to it!

Kingdom Hearts FAQ #06: Mickey Mouse

SIGHQ. So what’s Mickey Mouse been up to?

A. Let’s talk about mice, baby, let’s talk about King Mickey.

Mickey Mouse is a real anomaly in the Kingdom Hearts mythology. To touch on it briefly, approximately 90% of the Disney characters in Kingdom Hearts are amazingly flat, as if some random guy listened to any given character’s introduction jingle and then made that the entire basis for every action the character performs. Aladdin is a street rat. Belle is a funny girl. Ariel ain’t got no legs. Etc. Meanwhile, Mickey Mouse has nearly a century of history, has appeared in over 100 films, constant random television shows, is the mascot for one of the largest corporations in the known universe, and has been consumed as ice cream on a stick more times than every super hero combined. Despite all of this real life and fictional history, Mickey Mouse is not pigeonholed into some easy story telling slot, and may actually be the character in Kingdom Hearts with the most development.

He also might be an immortal trickster god.

First of all, two of Mickey’s most famous films, Steamboat Willie and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, officially happened in the past of the Kingdom Hearts Universe. According to some light time traveling in Kingdom Hearts 2, it appears most of the old black and white Mickey shorts occurred in one fashion or another, which is relevant, because it means Mickey was kind of a giant dick. Go watch Steamboat Willie, right now, and marvel at how Mickey doesn’t even make it to the two minute mark before brutally abusing some defenseless bird. And then the cat? Copyright Disney 1930 or soOh God, the poor cat. Then, of course, there’s the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where it is revealed that Mickey is so lazy, he may destroy us all. Also part of Mickey’s past is a general version of The Three Musketeers, where Mickey, Donald, and Goofy all rescue Princess Minnie from the clutches of Pete the Cat and The Beagle Boys (not the cool Beagle Boys, though, sadly).

Princess Minnie, eh? Huh. I guess “King Mickey” married in to royalty as opposed to earning his crown in any real political or aggressive way. Suppose that’s just as well, most of his subjects in Disney Castle kind of outrank him on the food chain…

Also worth noting: the actual years involved in the “Kingdom Hearts Past” are really nebulous. No numbers are given for how long Mickey has been a “sorcerer’s apprentice”, and, while there was a time before Disney Castle was an actual castle, nobody is talking about how many years it took to build the place, left alone how long it has been occupied. That gorgeous pastFun fact! In Kingdom Hearts, Birth by Sleep, Huey, Duey and Louie all appear to be ducklings helping out at Disney Castle, and Sora, Riku, and Kairi appear to be five year olds. Ten years later, in Kingdom Hearts 1, Sora Riku, and Kairi are all approximately 15 years old (and look like teenagers), while Huey, Duey, and Louie are all… ducklings. I realize this all may simply be a way for the universe to forestall the prophecy of the Quack Pack, but still, kind of unsettling.

By the time of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep there are three significant keyblade masters. The first is Xehanort, who I am contractually obliged to mention at least once a post. The second is Xehanort’s metaphorical brother, named Eraqus (rearrange the letters in his name and it spells “devoured by Enix”). Eraqus has three apprentices, and they all equally contribute to unwittingly destroying the whole of existence. Good job, Eraqus. The third keyblade master, who has officially stepped down as a keyblade master, but can’t retire from meddling, is Yen Sid (which sure isn’t backwards for Ub Iwerks). Yen Sid you may recognize as the fairly generic wizard from Fantasia, and pretty much has a place in the Kingdom Hearts canon because Merlin had already been used by the time “Sid” made his introduction in KH2. There are only so many Disney wizards to go around! Mickey is the apprentice of Yen Sid (the sorcerer), and, despite already being a married man (mouse) and ruling monarch, Mickey is trying to learn how to use a keyblade to protect not only his own world, but every last living creature.

Except that cat from that steamboat that one time. Fuck that cat.

Look out for that mouseMickey has good intentions, but a short attention span. When Yen Sid mentions that he senses a disturbance in the Force, Mickey grabs a random magic rock called the Star Shard, and bounces around the universe like a ping pong ball, going wherever the deus ex machina plot Star Shard takes him. He successfully saves the life of Ventus on one occasion, then tries to do it again, and gets his little mouse ass kicked. Aqua saves him, the he saves Aqua and Ventus again, sorta, and then Mickey’s involvement ends just as everyone’s lives get much worse. Mickey thinks he’s a big fat failure for saving a couple of kids that then wind up either comatose or completely missing, so he hands in his Star Shard and keyblade to Yen Sid. Yen Sid, showing that ol’ Yen Sid compassion he’s known for in all his many appearances through the years, returns Mickey’s keyblade, and declares that Mickey is now a keyblade master. Yen Sid probably didn’t promote Mickey because every other keyblade master is effectively dead at this point. Probably.

Most Kingdom Hearts characters get some time off between Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 1, but not Mickey. This leads to the first event where I can ask the question: King Mickey, most caring creature in the universe or dangerous lunatic? King Mickey meets Ansem the Wise. This is not a random occurrence, as King Mickey has to distinctly travel to an entirely different world to pull off this maneuver. Damn rodentBy all accounts, King Mickey visits Ansem the Wise on multiple occasions, and they talk about being philosopher kings, the multiple worlds that exist in their universe, and their shared mutual hatred of river-faring cats. Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you know that at some point not long after this meeting of the minds, Xehanort performs his coup, shoves Ansem the Wise into a blackhole, replaces all of Ansem the Wise’s staff with a bunch of Nobodies, goes the extra mile by stealing Ansem’s name, and then signs the deed to the whole planet over to noted wicked witch, Maleficent. By the time of Kingdom Hearts 2, Mickey speaks fondly of his “old friend” Ansem the Wise, but doesn’t mention at all why he never bothered to check in on his “old friend” around the time his whole planet started radiating evil like a KISS Karneval. Not like Mickey could do anything, he’s just the only active keyblade master in the universe and commander of an entire planet’s armies.

Kingdom Hearts 1 doesn’t have much Mickey Mouse, but what’s there adds a few more ticks to the “dangerous lunatic” column. First, Mickey leaves a note that Donald and Goofy are supposed to strike out into the universe and “find the key”. Mickey’s most trusted companions must know Mickey already has a keyblade, right? They probably spent a solid week trying to parse out if Mickey had just found some new, weird way to refer to his royal self. Also, according to later materials, Mickey is IN Traverse Town at the same time as Sora (“the key”). Just as a reminder, Sora has lost his entire planet along with everyone he has ever known, and has a brand new weapon that he has no idea how to use, and, oh yeah, Mickey is a literal master of said weapon. But, no, Mickey just waves his hand (paw?) and moves along, presumably deciding that he has his best men on the job, Belligerent Bird and Dopey Dog, or whatever their names are. At least he didn’t send Horace Horsecollar to help, that dimwit has been wearing a toilet seat on his neck for eighty years.

King Arthur got nothing on thisTurns out the reason Mickey couldn’t be bothered with the trifles of the kid who is saving the universe is that the diminutive mouse had to venture into the realm of darkness to retrieve the Kingdom Key D, the dark counterpart to Sora’s Kingdom Key (of light). This little story factoid has only made less and less sense as the Kingdom Hearts plot has spiraled out of control, but with all the talk of the χ-blade in BBS, and the fact that the χ-blade in question looks like two crossed Kingdom Keys, well, that plot point is kind of due for a comeback. Or maybe it’ll be ignored so Xehanort will have time to start his own boy band (proposed name: Skyboxes Tet Crab). Hard to say.

So King Mickey uses that Kingdom Key D in conjunction with Sora’s Kingdom Key, and the duo seals the Door to Darkness, with the only issue being that King Mickey (and Riku) are stuck on the darkness side of the door. The problem is quickly solved, however when… well, something happens.

After that undefined something, Mickey becomes Riku’s cheerleader for Chain of Memories. Riku is grappling with his new dark powers, and begs Mickey to kill him should he fall back into the darkness. Mickey, who practically just met Riku, claims he cannot make that promise, because Mickey values Riku’s life far too much. Days earlier, Sora, Riku’s best friend, beat Riku to death like three consecutive times. Riku and Mickey march out of Chain of Memories, and even make a new friend who wears bandages all over his face and isn’t suspicious at all.

Fabulous gameboy graphicsMickey identified Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days as a big steaming turd well before it even was released, so he basically takes those 358 days off. At one point he almost killed Riku? It’s not worth mentioning. Oh, wait! This is where Riku infamously makes Mickey promise not to reveal what happened to himself to Sora. This will be important in a moment (40 hours of game time).

Kingdom Hearts 2 is really where Mickey comes into his own. First of all, Mickey is working closely with Riku (currently looks like Ansem, Seeker of Darkness) and bandage freak DiZ (Dude, it’s Ziggy!). These three know the plot, and while Riku and Dizzle Dawg have their own reasons for keeping Team Sora in the dark, Mickey has no such hang-up, and will explain everything just as soon as he feels like it, which is at approximately the half way point of the entire game. Prior to that he was… doing his laundry? He’s only recently gotten into wearing shirts, and his whites are very important to him. Mickey basically does weird, shadowy-but-ultimately-good things in the background of the first half of the game, then explains the plot, helps out for like an hour, and then ducks out until the big finale. Also, during this time, because he’s keeping that promise to Riku, Mickey refuses to tell Sora anything about Riku’s whereabouts. While it’s never outright stated, given Sora’s reaction to Riku upon their reunion, and his general concern prior to that, Sora pretty much assumes Riku is dead. Sora assumes Mickey is holding back some brutal truth to spare his feelings, so Sora wanders from planet to planet, probably crying into his gummi chair, mourning his imagined-dead friend. Dammit, Mickey.

That’s the general gist of Mickey’s involvement in Kingdom Hearts 2, but we’ll circle back to that in a moment, as I know some of you are throwing up your hands right now with, “But you didn’t mention…” We’re getting to that.

Also, the mouse is highAnyway, Kingdom Hearts 2 eventually gives way to Kingdom Hearts Re:Coded, an upgraded cell phone game where, technically, Mickey is the main protagonist, as the Sora of that game is a virtual Sora avatar with Mickey playing the role of the player/controller. Long (stupid) story short: Mickey hooks up Jimminy’s Journal to a scanner, and all hell breaks loose, but at the end the day is saved, and Willow learns a very valuable lesson about mixing technology and magic, which will be completely ignored come Season 6. Wait, may be some bugs in this paragraph…

Now, an interesting thing happens in Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance. By Kingdom Hearts chronology, KH3D comes immediately after Kingdom Hearts 2 (or Re:Coded if you’re nasty), but in real world, how these games are produced chronology, KH3D was released on the heels of Birth by Sleep, aka the game where Mickey inadvertently lets three fellow keyblade apprentices die (or close to it). Just prior to the events of 3D, Yen Sid informs Mickey that, excellent work everyone, you just paved the way for Xehanort returning, and the last time we saw that guy, you nearly got killed twice, you silly mouse. While Mickey barely actively does anything during KH3D (he does rush in and save everybody with a well timed Stop spell at one point), he spends the majority of KH3D in a perpetual state of concern, as the last time he saw some teenagers go up against Xehanort, they kind of got wiped off the face of the universe. Eventually, Riku and Sora prove they can hold their own (because of course they can), and that seems to cheer up the mouse in the end.

Which brings me to a crazy game design theory section.

Not very strong...Video games are important. You’re reading this on a video game blog, so you likely agree with this to at least some point. One thing that I feel video games can do more than any other medium is grant the player some level of control over the “mood” of the cast in any given story. Yes, it’s all fake, and no, no matter what you do, you can never save Aeris just the same as you can’t “save” Sephiroth. But, you can feel responsible. When you complete every last sidequest in Colony 9, and see the “happy meter” for the entire town has skyrocketed, yes, it’s all fake and the gauge is no different than your experience bar, but it likely will convey a sense of accomplishment that you’re just not going to get from booing Hans Gruber in Die Hard, no matter how hard you yell at the screen.

And then there’s Mickey Mouse, and Mickey Mouse should be happy.

Mickey Mouse is Mickey Mouse in Kingdom Hearts. This isn’t a case of “Leon” or Cloud or Aeris where “here’s your beloved character… but with bat wings!” Kingdom Hearts even goes out of its own way to confirm that, yes, that short you saw with Mickey Mouse happened in this universe, it was just a while back. My grandfather, my father, and myself all saw the same Mickey Mouse cartoons, at one time or another in the last century, and we all think well of the rodent, and the same goes for much of the planet. Three generations of this world, all with the same shared good vibes. Say what you will about Disney the corporation, but Mickey Mouse is gold.

One of the absolute dumbest moments in Kingdom Hearts 2 is the “death” of Goofy. For those of you that haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this scene, Goofy is hit by a large rock lobbed by some random heartless (not even a named villain, just some arbitrary debris), and Goofy falls over, apparently dead. Obviously, there’s no blood. There’s no real effort put forth by the game or direction to convince the player that “Goofy isn’t coming back” whether it be a party member switch (think Galuf to Krile) or even a cutscene with anything approaching an Aeris level of effort. Though Goofy’s equipment is returned to your inventory, which seems to suggest Donald looted his best friend’s corpse. In maybe 15 minutes of game time, Goofy will return to the party, no worse for wear, and the event is never spoken of again.

But all of that doesn’t matter, because the bad guys just killed Mickey Mouse’s friend.

He gonna killMickey is there for Goofy’s death. Mickey can be interpreted as a capricious jerk for a lot of Kingdom Hearts’ run time, and he seems to act this way simply because he can, and he knows it. But there, in that moment, Mickey is reminded that there is a cost to this war, it’s not just some game, and it’s time to beat some heartless like a cat on a boat.

And it’s a silly little cartoon mouse with a silly little key sword and it should be just as ridiculous as it sounds, but it’s not. It’s a beloved childhood icon who should be all smiles and happiness who cannot be happy right now because his friend is dead. Mickey Mouse is going to kick ass, and you, player, are going to help him.

And it’s God damn exhilarating.

So you, Sora, go on to slay over 1,000 heartless (the game counts, you must kill, at least, without hyperbole, one thousand) with the blessing of Mickey Mouse. A century old symbol of joy cheering you on to slaughter an army of pure evil bugs? There’s nothing more simple and clean than that.

I could make a giant post about how Kingdom Hearts (1) is one of the most important games I’ve ever played, how it hit at just the right time in my life, and, while none of the sequels have lived up to it, KH1 will always hold a place in my heart and my brain, and thus these posts; but the real thing that makes the Kingdom Hearts series so amazing, and something that I would argue makes KH important even to the entire of medium of video games and storytelling in general, is how it can “take” a fictional character, one well known the world over, and use him and his motivations to enable the player to do and feel things that would be impossible in any other medium or situation. When Kingdom Hearts does it, and does it right, it is awe-inspiring.

COMING UP NEXT KH FAQ: Donald and Goofy, or when Kingdom Hearts completely fails.