So it’s time to talk about Disney, Kingdom Hearts 3, Google, and whether or not I am afraid for my very existence.
By my reckoning, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first “pure” Kingdom Hearts title since Kingdom Hearts 1. No, I’m not talking about how the cast of Kingdom Hearts 3 is as white as freshly Frozen snow; what I am referring to is that the “worlds” of Kingdom Hearts 3 are, for the first time since the original Kingdom Hearts, entirely dictated by the directors of the title. Okay, yes, that was technically always true, but there were mitigating factors in other titles. Kingdom Hearts 2 clearly reused a number of Kingdom Hearts 1 worlds/models/actors to save on production time. Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days, and (Re)Coded all remixed worlds from 1 and 2 for plot purposes. Birth by Sleep featured Disney worlds that were either
really old classic films (like Cinderella), or “prequel” situations (like a Lilo & Stitch world before Stitch finds Lilo). And Dream Drop Distance may have once had a chance, but its world choices (Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tron, Fantasia, Three Mouseketeers, Pinocchio) felt like a series of vignettes someone (likely Nomura) just wanted to see “done” before the franchise wrapped up in “real” Kingdom Hearts 3 (dude has been trying to get Chernabog to fit in somewhere for decades). So, with literally every other title out of the running, it is pretty safe to say Kingdom Hearts 3 is the first Kingdom Hearts title in quite a few years that wasn’t dictated by an overwhelming need for everyone to pal around with Aladdin for the fortieth time.
This creates an interesting math opportunity (a nerd’s favorite opportunity!): what is the median age of our featured Disney franchises?
For Kingdom Hearts 1, we have…
Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Peter Pan (1953)
The Little Mermaid (1989)
The Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Disney’s Tarzan (1999)
And, for the sake of completion, let’s note that Kingdom Hearts 1’s earliest release was March of 2002 (America saw it by September).
Kingdom Hearts 3 is a little different…
Toy Story (1995)
Disney’s Hercules (1997)
Monsters Inc. (2001)
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)
Big Hero Six (2014)
And Kingdom Hearts 3 itself was released in January of 2019.
Now let’s crunch some sweet, sweet numbers! Kingdom Hearts 1 seems to contain three worlds based on “classic” properties, and the rest are for 90’s kids. If we include all of the worlds, the average world/franchise was 25 years old as of the release of its featured game. If we eliminate the “classic” titles, though, the average world is 8 years old as of Kingdom Hearts’ release. The reason I note this is that we have stupid monkey brains, and, for most people reading this article, The Little Mermaid feels like it was released a hundred billion years ago, and maybe being reminded it was slightly more current when we first saw Kingdom Hearts (1) is important. Also worth noting, the absolute oldest franchise involved is 62 years back, but of the “current” crop, it’s only 13 years. The newest title involved is only 3 years old.
Applying the same calculations to Kingdom Hearts 3, we see an average age of 14 years for every franchise involved. Dropping the classic worlds (anything over fifteen years old… and man, it hurts me to refer to Disney’s Hercules as “classic”), we see an average age of (rounding up from 6.66) 7 years. That is very close to Kingdom Hearts 1’s average of 8. And the preceding average makes more sense with its oldest game being only 24 years old (Toy Story a bit more contemporary than Pinocchio), and our most recent movie is 5 years old.
What does it all mean? Well, allowing for outliers, on average, the worlds of Kingdom Hearts 1 and Kingdom Hearts 3 cover roughly the same time frame of movies relative to their release. Or, put in SAT form, The Nightmare Before Christmas : Kingdom Hearts 1 :: Tangled : Kingdom Hearts 3. On average, both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 3 feature roughly the same range of refugees from the Disney Vault.
And what does that mean? It means Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t for me.
Kingdom Hearts 1 spoke to my childhood. Kingdom Hearts hit a college-age Goggle Bob, and said, “Hey, remember when you were six and had a crush on Ariel? Remember when you wanted to be Aladdin? Remember when Tim Burton inspired your decade long mall-goth phase? Remember going on one of your first dates to Tarzan? And how you probably would have gone on more dates at that point in your life, but you still were stuck in that mall-goth phase? ‘Member?” Kingdom Hearts was an amazing game on its own, but its Disney Cast was summoned almost precisely to satisfy my own childhood nostalgia. And, given I was just the right age where I would start fondly remembering childish things (as opposed to being the cranky teen that totally wasn’t into that cartoon crap, mom), Kingdom Hearts hit the serotonin sectors of my brain faster and harder than any kid with a keyblade and a turbo x-button ever could.
Kingdom Hearts 3? Not so much. I did not gape in amazement when Elsa bust into Let it Go. I did not feel any excitement when Baymax flew onto the scene. And I certainly didn’t give a damn when Rapunzel tromped around the forest carrying an impossible amount of hair. I saw all of these movies. I liked all of these movies. But did I feel anywhere near the same level of joy at seeing these characters now realized in current-gen Playstation graphics and palling around with me, the smart and handsome player? No. It was another level. I may have been interested in what was going to happen next, but it was less “Oh boy! It’s Oogie Boogie!” and more “Oh, I bet we’re not going to get the tavern song, because, while that was enjoyable, it is not essential to the overall plot or the broader themes of Kingdom Hearts 3.” The featured movies of Kingdom Hearts 3 are merely pleasant, they are not my singular, can-never-be-replaced childhood.
And that’s fine! Not everything in the world needs to appeal to me or my generation! It’s good that Kingdom Hearts as a franchise is moving forward, and we don’t have to rehash why Jafar is back for the third time. It’s good that a whole new generation gets to see their heroes and villains up on the Square-Enix stage. This is, ultimately, a good thing.
But it’s not a good thing that the other half of the Kingdom Hearts equation got kicked to the curb.
Yes, I’m talking about this dork.
Kingdom Hearts hit all the right beats to make me revel in the joys of my childhood. While I would have never admitted it at the time, it also hit the “childhood nostalgia” I had for a mere handful of years prior: the golden age of the Playstation JRPG. Final Fantasy 7 and Final Fantasy 8 were as much my teenage years as The Little Mermaid or Aladdin defined the years prior. So when Squall, Cloud, and even wee Tidus popped out of the post-ending void of their respective titles and back into even a cameo-based role, I was elated. All my old friends were back! Bring it in, guys! I’d even put up with a horribly-mangled reinterpretation of Setzer Gabbiani if it meant I got to see any luminaries from my beloved Final Fantasy 6 cast again. And this carried through to the interesting bits of The World Ends with You in Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, too. It was always fun to see some Square nostalgia, even if it didn’t add up to much. It was textbook fanservice, but it wasn’t like anyone was playing Kingdom Hearts for the plot (cough).
And now it’s gone. Kingdom Hearts 3 only features characters that were either created by Disney, or were created within the confines of the Kingdom Hearts universe, so they’re just legally created by Disney. Mind you, that’s a whole separate thing from how Disney never “created” Pinocchio or Aladdin or Rapunzel; it just created a version of that timeless character, copyrighted it, and decided to sue anyone that tried to use that character ever again. I’m sorry, what is the hair color of your chosen mermaid? Red? Yes, we’re going to have to issue a cease and desist.
Wait a tick. Maybe this isn’t a whole separate thing. Maybe it’s the only thing.
And it’s the only thing because now Disney is the only thing.
I am writing this
puke o’ words essay shortly after Disney’s nigh-complete acquisition of 20th Century Fox. Disney now owns the film rights to The X-Men. Disney already owned the print rights to The X-Men, as they acquired Marvel Comics ten years ago. And do you remember a time that “the latest Marvel movie” wasn’t just the latest Disney release? Iron Man (the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that would eventually earn all of the money with The Avengers) was not a Disney release. That history is gone, though, now, and, soon enough, people will imagine Logan or Deadpool started as Disney properties. You’ll certainly be able to buy Deadpool plushies at Disney World. And the same will be thought of Star Wars. The Simpsons. The entire city of Atlanta, for some reason. Definitely the entire state of Florida. Disney lashes its tentacles wide, and writes contract after contract until it owns the very seas. Also, please look forward to The Little Mermaid 4: Ursula Wasn’t So Bad, coming Winter 2022.
And Kingdom Hearts 3 reminds us all why this is a bad thing. If Disney doesn’t want something, then damn tradition, the audience, or even the creators having a say in the matter. Do you think anyone at Square-Enix wanted to drop its de facto mascots Cloud or Sephiroth from the proceedings? Do you think they didn’t want to promote the star of their latest Final Fantasy title? Could we live in a world where even the slightest hint of NieR: Automata, one of many of Square-Enix’s top selling games from the last five years, exists in the Kingdom Hearts universe? Could we please include Emil, the good boy? We could, but Square-Enix was not going to disagree with Disney for even a second. Sure, there may be DLC or remixes or whatever in the future, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fine example of how it is going to be now: Disney is in charge, Disney would like to see its needs met, and no one cares about literally anything but Disney. Cloud has to tie-off a plot decades in the making? No he doesn’t. We want that one Disney rat to have a cooking game, and that’s where resources are going to go.
And that’s why Google Strata scares me.
Wait, crap, sorry, got ahead of myself on that point.
The other thing that happened just recently is the announcement of Google’s new gaming console, the Strata. Or maybe just Strata? Have I become my grandmother, and I can only say “The ‘Intendo” from now on? Regardless! The Strata is Google’s latest attempt at conquering a brand new market, and, by all accounts, it is going to be a streaming-based experience. Like the abandoned original plans for the Xbox One, it will have absolutely zero physical media. And, like Netflix, you will simply use the service to stream a digital library, and will never “own” a distinct game on the platform. Essentially, the Google Strata will be a super-amazing gaming console perfect for the radical gamers of the 21st century… and the minute Google stops supporting it (or your internet connection drops out), it will be about as useful as a toaster. Oh, wait, my bad. It will be less useful than a toaster, as a toaster can at least warm up my mittens on a cold morning (Editor’s note: Goggle Bob does not understand toast).
And, while I am certainly upset that Strata will do nothing for my videogame hording habits, my biggest issue with the service (that only exists in a theoretical state as of this moment) is that it will be completely beholden to the whims of Google. Like the Apple app store before them, Google will inevitably have complete control over who is able to publish games to its storefront. Google will also have absolute control over when those games may be removed. And if this sounds like some kind of Big Brother-based paranoia, and you would like to imagine a world where Google “does no evil” and is completely hands-off in its monopoly of its own service: consider that Google will have technical control over what games can stream, but, more importantly, it would have complete control over how this content is monetized and advertised (at least within the service). And, let’s not kid ourselves, no one is going to keep a game up on a streaming service if the service has literally made it impossible for said game to make money.
And once a game built for a streaming service is gone from said streaming service? Well that’s gone forever.
Just like Squall and Cloud and all of Sora’s Square brethren.
Look, I know I’m being overly apocalyptic here. Even using Kingdom Hearts 3 as my example seems disingenuous on some level, because there are pretty good odds literally anything missing from Kingdom Hearts 3 could be added as DLC (that, incidentally, I will pay cash money for, because I want my nostalgia back at any cost). And it’s not the end of the world that a game or two gets lost from a streaming service, because there’s always another game to play, and Kingdom Hearts 4 Princes for 258 Brides is just around the corner to keep me occupied. But… well… I care about videogames. I care about the forgotten. God help me, I care about Squall “Leon” Leonhart, and I care about that all those arcade games we’re never going to see again because their technology is too annoying to emulate. And, yes, I preemptively care about all the Google Strata games that are going to be exclusive to the system, and then lost to time because Google will eventually decide Gmail ads would be more profitable. It may sound crazy, but, yeah, I care about crazy things. I care about the plot of Kingdom Hearts.
So… uh… what was this article about? Oh yeah! Kingdom Hearts 3! Yeah, I liked the game. It might not be made for my age group, but it was a fun experience. And, incidentally, the mere fact that Sephiroth wound up on the cutting room floor apparently made me doubt my beliefs and very place in the world. Cloud skips one game, and my brain feels like some manner of burned bread.
Gee, it’s almost like videogames are important.
FGC #425 Kingdom Hearts 3
- System: Playstation 4. And I guess some arcane magics summoned it to the Xbox One, too.
- Number of players: I still say that Kingdom Hearts could be the next Secret of Mana, and its “childish” appeal would be ideal for siblings or friends playing the title together. But, nope, just one player.
- So it has come to this, a Kingdom Hearts FGC entry? Hey, after 400 or so, I can bend the rules a bit. This started out as a sort of Kingdom Hearts FAQ addendum from the question (that I only asked myself): “Why does Big Hero 6 make me feel like an old man? Is Kingdom Hearts 3 for babies?” From there, I decided to address the lack of Square-Enix characters, and… things kind of snowballed. I feel like this essay is a little too heady for the light and plot-based tone of the Kingdom Hearts FAQ entries, so here we are. Categorizing things is hard!
- Favorite World: Big Hero 6 felt like it received the most fully-realized world. It felt like an appropriate “sequel” to the movie, all the memorable characters were included (really did not think Honey Lemon or Wasabi would make the cut), and its general geography allowed for a Crackdown-esque level of gameplay not seen elsewhere in the title. And, if Big Hero 6 is visited as the last world, it actually makes thematic sense that Sora is now experienced and training other heroes like Hercules did with Sora on his first world. Symmetry!
- Completionist: I enjoy playing Kingdom Hearts games, but it is going to be a while before I revisit every damn world looking for hidden mickeys or ingredients. This game really needs an Arkham-esque informant system that is going to at least point me in the right direction to find where some teeny blood oranges wound up amongst multiple planets.
- Shoot ‘em Up: The new Gummi Ship levels are cool! And micromanaging my ship to make sure it is always the proper level to actually survive some of the random encounters is not! Zero-sum Gummi Ship!
- Did you know? I did not note Winnie the Pooh’s appearance in the timeline of Kingdom Hearts worlds because Winnie the Pooh is omnipresent, and all bask in his ever-burning glow. His desire for honey will outlive us all.
- Would I play again: You know what I really want to do? Replay every Kingdom Hearts title in in-game chronological order. I would also like infinity time to do such a thing. It’s… not gonna happen. But I might replay Kingdom Hearts 3 at some point. It’s mostly fun!
What’s next? I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. The next few titles covered on the FGC will be games I don’t technically own, because they are impossible to own. We’re going to spend some time looking at games that are generally unattainable due to various copyright, distribution, and emulation issues. First up, Spider-Man: The Video Game. Please look forward to it!