Q. So how about Donald and Goofy?
A. Before any of the Kingdom Hearts games, Donald and Goofy teamed-up with Mickey Mouse as “The Three Mouseketeers”. Mickey was primarily the star here, with Donald and Goofy playing dedicated sidekicks.
In Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Donald and Goofy hang out at Yen Sid’s tower and wait for Mickey to return. He does, and the whole gang heads home.
Donald and Goofy kick into high gear for Kingdom Hearts 1, where they are sent on a quest to assist Sora with that whole “save the universe” thing. Technically, they’re following the keyblade, and whoever wields the keyblade, so when Riku steals Sora’s keyblade for a hot minute, Donald and Goofy begrudgingly follow Riku. Then they get over it, go running back to Sora, and all is well.
Donald and Goofy continue to follow Sora through Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, where the duo does not actually participate in battles (mostly), but are basically Sora’s cheerleading team. Donald, unfortunately, does not wear a skirt. At the finale, Sora, Donald, and Goofy all hop into cryogenic sleep for a year.
Everybody wakes up in Kingdom Hearts 2, and Donald and Goofy continue to follow Sora, generally still under Mickey’s orders. At one point, Goofy dies. Then he gets better. Then the game eventually ends.
Kingdom Hearts: Re:Coded sees Mickey steering a virtual Sora through a cyberspace reenactment of Kingdom Hearts 1. Like before, (real) Donald and Goofy prove they are Sora’s friends at Hollow Bastion. Of course, in this case, “Sora” is a computer program, so… I don’t know. It’s a weird game.
Sora and Riku are the only playable characters in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, so Donald and Goofy have to busy themselves with King Mickey when Maleficent invades Disney Castle. In an event that you’d think would be interesting enough to warrant some gameplay, Maleficent nearly gains the upper hand over the three toons that have proven to be practically invincible in the past, and (ugh) Axel saves the day. Shortly thereafter, Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Axel, and Riku have to rush in and save Sora from almost certain Xehanort bumbling.
And that’s about it, thanks for reading!
Wait a tick…
I got like 4,000 words out of Mickey Mouse, while Donald and Goofy, who at least have really exceptional Kingdom Hearts attendance records, get a whole seven paragraphs? They’ve been to nearly every world Sora has visited, they’ve got crazy Halloween Town, Tron, and Lion King models, and they even have their own ultimate weapons, so how the hell do they barely warrant a page worth of story information?
And this brings us to The Great Sins of Kingdom Hearts. In no particular order:
- For a crossover series, it is terrible at crossovers (which we’ll be looking at today)
- Cowardly level design post Kingdom Hearts 1
- Original Character: Do Not Care
- Let’s Talk Women! What are they? Is there more than one? We just don’t know.
- Donald’s Hat
Donald and Goofy are victims of, basically, JRPG writing. In most JRPGS, and, heck, most fiction, the supporting characters are just that, supporting characters. This means they get a few defining characteristics (Goofy has a surprisingly keen eye, but is otherwise a complete dope; Donald is prone to anger and greed, but is otherwise dedicated), a few accomplishments (going “against orders” and following Sora in Kingdom Hearts 1), but, otherwise, it’s the protagonist’s story, sidekicks gonna side. Heck, you could make a pretty good case for Donald and Goofy following the same general arc in Kingdom Hearts 1 as Wakka and Lulu in Final Fantasy 10, complete with Wakka/Donald being the guy who has to explain the world(s) at large to Tidus/Sora, but then defaults to Tidus/Sora being the leader, because that guy who didn’t know what planet he was on five minutes ago sure seems pretty on the ball.
And that’s the problem.
Wakka and Lulu are supporting characters created as supporting characters; meanwhile, Donald and Goofy are immense entities that have existed for decades, and have had entire movies and franchises built in their name. Even Donald Duck’s rich uncle had an entire series and a handful of video games, and his nephews have had at least one television series all their own. Hell, Donald Duck’s Uncle’s pilot has appeared in three different television series and multiple comics and video games.
Right from the beginning, Donald and Goofy are walking a tightrope (note: would like to see this), as their mere presence in the plot threatens to swallow “generic spikey haired protagonist” whole. And to Kingdom Heart’s credit, the franchise does an excellent job of establishing Sora and his myriad of issues, so he isn’t just another Max in Goofy’s life. But, as perhaps a necessary measure, nearly everything that is important about Donald and Goofy gets lost in the shuffle. As an easy example, while Donald is generally a little temperamental, unless I’ve forgotten (and please remind me if I have), Donald never has one of his trademark “rage attacks”. Donald has plenty of reasons to be pissed off throughout the franchise, but even when Goofy dies, it seems like the focus is more on Mickey’s rage than Donald’s. As I covered in the previous post, it works really well for Mickey, but it still means Kingdom Hearts Donald is generic as all get out. Which brings me to an unfortunate point: Donald and Goofy could be replaced with nearly anyone, and the Kingdom Hearts story would be almost exactly the same. Seriously. They’re sidekicks, and, don’t get me wrong, they’re very good sidekicks, but nearly everything they do could be done by anyone in the KH universe, assuming they’re the generally loyal type. Final Fantasy’s Fighter and Black Mage could as easily be tromping around the universe with Sora, and, aside from the King Mickey connection, everything in KH would be unchanged, save for some excellent voice acting being lost.
And speaking of The Universe, this problem applies to almost every franchise involved in Kingdom Hearts. Nearly every world in Kingdom Hearts is based on a different Disney theatrical release. There is one direct-to-video movie referenced, but not a single planet based on a “lesser” work, like a television series, because the world isn’t ready for Sora meets Darkwing Duck. This means that every “hero” Sora meets is someone with enough gravity to hold an entire film, if not franchise, if not hundreds of years of storytelling. So, once again, Aladdin, the Little Mermaid, and Mulan all have to be razor thin in their characterization, lest they threaten to reassert their main character cred, and why am I playing as this nobody with a keyblade, anyway?
I also feel like I should mention that in KH: 358/2 Days, a game that features a nobody that is such a nobody that it has become his title, Roxas, seems to feature the least Disney presence, with characters like Aladdin and Beast pushed well into the boundaries. KH: Birth by Sleep similarly features a cast of three newcomers, and the Disney protagonists encountered throughout that game are either pre-assembled super light on characterization (Cinderella, Snow White, and bonus points if you can actually remember Sleeping Beauty’s name), in a pupa state (Young Hercules, Peter Pan pre-Wendy), or, in one case, pre-verbal (Stitch, pre-Lilo).
Now all this serves to strengthen Square protagonists’ characterizations (and, by the time of Kingdom Hearts 2, the [Square produced] villains), but the Disney franchises suffer. There’s two kinds of Disney worlds in Kingdom Hearts:
- Wherein Sora is an assistant to the main protagonist in his/her plot. For instance, Sora “helps” Aladdin navigate the Cave of Wonders, or Sora joins Mulan during her time in the Chinese army.
- Wherein Sora is the hero of the world. In Tron world in KH2, Sora replaces Flynn as the User. In Pooh’s 100 Acre Wood, Sora effectively is Christopher Robin.
And that’s it. In either case, Sora is the protagonist or is promoted to the same level as the (original) protagonist. As the obvious counterweight, the original protagonist is either eliminated (you’ve been derezzed, Jeff Bridges), or demoted to being Sora’s sidekick. Which leads to other problems…
Nobody gets to leave their planet. The central rule of Kingdom Hearts, as explained by Donald right from the start, is that Sora and his fellow world-travelers are not supposed to “meddle”. Nevermind the fact that Sora usually shows up to a world and murders at least one inhabitant (Clayton, Oogie Boogie, Ursula). And even beyond that, certain characters (Simba, Genie, Mushu) are aware of the whole universe by the time they’re encountered in their respective worlds. But even with all these factors, you are expressly forbidden from, say, leaving Donald on the Gummi Ship and taking Mulan along to slice ‘n dice some heartless.
And the franchise is worse for it.
This game is a crossover game. That is the entire point. But there is more to a crossover than simply “Jack Skellington and Hercules are in the same game”. It’s all for naught if Jack and Hercules don’t get to interact. We’ve already seen Hercules fight Hades, we’ve already seen Jack Skellington bogart Christmas, let’s see them do something new! No, fighting a series of dark abominations is not new, we already had a pretty good guess at everyone’s battle prowess since everyone already defeated at least one villain. Let the Disney universe breathe. Hell, let Cloud get battle tips from Mulan, let Cid compare technical notes with Dr. Finkelstein, and oh my God would someone please let Yuffie and Captain Jack Sparrow annoy each other into oblivion? But no, it never happens, seemingly because Sora and the Originals have to have the spotlight, through any means necessary.
A lot of fans claim that Disney has tied Square’s hands here, and somehow have blocked anything interesting from happening. And while it’s clear Square has no authority to turn Aladdin into a materia summon or introduce Mulan to Aya Brea’s tailor, they have done the actual crossover thing on a couple of occasions. Cloud, Auron, and Zack Faire have all worked for Hades against Hercules. Scar turned into a heartless (twice). Maleficent certainly gets around the universe, and founded her own Council of Evil in Kingdom Hearts 1. And speaking of evil, any number of Nobody jerks in KH2 seem perfectly able to toy with the rules and inhabitants of the various worlds. I’m not one for Ultimania or interviews informing what can or cannot be done, so I can’t speak to that notion, but there are plenty of examples of “deviation from Disney canon” in all of the games.
And the sad thing is, it doesn’t even have to be straight character crossovers, either. One of my favorite scenes in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep is when Aqua, hardened warrior and the only member of her generation to achieve the rank of “Keyblade Master”, has to stall Prince Charming’s entourage while Cinderella sneaks out of her room. Aqua, who should be drenched in the entrails of her opponents at this point, has to temporarily assume the mannerisms of a debutant and basically “play Cinderella” for a few moments to save a friend. It’s not that complicated, and at worst, the scene is merely amusing; at best, it uses a contemporarily created character to draw a contrast between the roles women could play in 1950 and today. A crossover built to entertain and elucidate? Who would think such a thing possible?
Which leads to the excitement about the possibility of Star Wars, Marvel, or even Frozen worlds in the forthcoming Kingdom Hearts 3. Don’t get me wrong, I want to see all of these things, but it’s likely they’re going to be as limited as ever. Luke Skywalker temporarily joins your team while Sora and company rescue Princess Leia, Darth Vader is a boss fight. Iron Man temporarily joins Sora to stop Loki. Sora and company join Anna on her trip up the mountain to “rescue” her sister, boss fight with Marshmallow. The end. It’s fun to “play movies”, and thanks for the great screenshots for the back of the box.
So there’s the problem. Crossovers are fun, but since nigh everything is sacrificed at the altar of “Axel needs more character development”, beloved characters get the shaft, and the audience is forced to fill in the blanks with (ugh) imagination. Donald and Goofy, like Mickey, probably had exciting pasts involving amazing adventures, and, to be generous, maybe they’ve evolved past their original “one note” characterizations of rage-machine and… Goofy to become the well-adjusted sidekicks they are as of Kingdom Hearts 1. But, after meeting Sora, poor Donald, Goofy, and practically the entire rest of the Disney universe is just there to make original Kingdom Hearts characters look better. And the Disney Universe is worse for it.