Sunday, July 16, 2017

I Love Marvel and Star Wars. I Don't Want Them in Kingdom Hearts. Here's Why

Forewarning: this is essentially a bunch of opinions in an edited stream of consciousness; essentially my cleaned up thoughts about the subject discussed herein. Do with this rant what you will. Also, I know that it's been a long time since I've posted anything on this blog...but I guess I just found myself to be less of a blogger than I expected? Whatevs, on to opinions

There are a lot of people who play the “Kingdom Hearts” series of video games (in the millions, I believe), an awesomely weird mixture of Disney films and SquareSoft (now Square-Enix) characters and storytelling, and there’s a special feeling (at least to me) that comes from finishing one of the games and getting excited to play the next one. One of the reasons why? New Disney worlds (no, not the amusement park.)

No game has exactly the same Disney-themed worlds as another, though there are some games (mainly “Chain of Memories”/”Re:Chain of Memories”, “358/2 Days” and “Coded”/”Re:Coded”) that are mostly retreads of previous worlds. Thus, a player who isn’t already intimately knowledgeable about the series is probably really curious to see what worlds are in the next game, as well as how those worlds will be designed, mostly in terms of level structure and story.

And as of now, with the D23 2017 trailer for “Kingdom Hearts III” showing us the (much anticipated) reveal that “Toy Story” will be one of the featured Disney films given a playable world (I believe it’ll be named “Galaxy Toys”?), there is a resurgence of speculation of what other Disney films will find their way into the new game. And with speculation, come wishes.

For a lot of people, they wish for the “Kingdom Hearts” series to have characters from and worlds based on the “Star Wars” and “Marvel” franchises. So many people want to, for example, fight the Sith by using a Keyblade. They want Sora to team up with Iron Man, or Donald and Goofy to be accompanied by Luke Skywalker.

I am not amongst them. I never have been, and I feel that I never will be. This is not to say I would be angry or disgusted were either franchise represented in the “Kingdom Hearts” series, but I would definitely be disappointed.

Probably the first and foremost reason I disagree with the potential decision of including those two intellectual properties is that they universes that are far too large for “Kingdom Hearts”, in meta as well as narrative ways, and this would, in my opinion, heavily detriment the creativity as well as social reputation of the series (which is already questionable.) The moment you put either “Star Wars” or “Marvel” in the “Kingdom Hearts” series, that franchise is immediately going to overshadow the rest of the game it's in. As much as I love “Kingdom Hearts,” it’s absolutely dwarfed in its popularity by “Star Wars” and “Marvel,” and for good reason: both of those franchises have been around for...a long time: 40 years for “Star Wars” and almost 80 years for the multitude of “Marvel” comics and subsequently inspired creations, and over those many years, they both have kept their popularity. They also have both had exponentially more stories and characters than any individual Disney film. To include the worlds and characters and stories of either franchise would inevitably lead to many people seeing “Kingdom Hearts” as “another Marvel game” or “another Star Wars game” rather than as the Disney film & Square-Enix design crossover I feel it should stay as.

In terms of writing, including “Marvel” or “Star Wars” further confuses the (already extremely loose) mythos and internal consistency of “Kingdom Hearts” when you bring in things like genetic mutations and Force abilities, Infinity Stones/Gems and galactic civil wars. Why wouldn't Sora ask for his own suit from Tony Stark? Or try to learn how to use a Lightsaber? And where do you place the boundaries of the worlds for each of them? The “Marvel” universes, be they in film, comics, animated series, video games, etc. have multiple dimensions, alternate universes, stories that span from New York City to Wakanda to the far reaches of outer space, mutants and human mutates (there’s a difference), super soldiers, clones, various gods of various pantheons, demons, spirits of vengeance that ride on motorcycles, murderous vigilantes who wear shirts with skulls on them, genetically engineered talking mammals, living planets for Pete’s sake (heh, Disney joke.) “Star Wars” is a similar case, possessing dozens of vastly different planets, a ton of unique species of life forms be they civilized or animalistic, and stories that span thousands of years away from each other.

There’s also, at least in my opinion, far more (potential) depth and moral ambiguity in the writing of “Star Wars” and “Marvel” films (at least, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe) that would create a weird imbalance of focus as well as tone in a “Kingdom Hearts” game.

Say, for example, a “Marvel” inclusion in “Kingdom Hearts III” meant a world where Sora teams up with Tony Stark. This alone is going to pose a lot of weird moral issues: Sora, as a character, just doesn’t jive well with someone like Tony, a man who built his fortune off of capitalizing on his gift for technological innovation and, at least for some of his life, selling high-powered weaponry around the Earth. Tony also fights and kills many villains, notably the Chitauri aliens in the 2012 “Avengers” film. The guy also used to have a bad alcohol addiction, and slept around with women a lot before settling down with Pepper. Can people really see someone like that fitting in a game like “Kingdom Hearts” about such broad concepts as light and darkness and doing such lighthearted tasks as completing chores to make Munny to go on beach trips or stacking ice cream scoops? Of course we could just ignore those things that are parts of Tony Stark’s character, but then wouldn’t that be a disservice to him?

Now “Star Wars”? There already exist so many parallels in “Kingdom Hearts”: the Gummi Ship is basically an X-Wing (with the final story Gummi Mission in “Kingdom Hearts II” being an unsubtle homage to the assault on the Death Star), Xemnas basically uses Lightsabers, the Nobodies are kind of like Sith (they both even wear primarily dark cloaks), and the concepts of light and darkness are written very similarly. Having two stories crossover that are this similar is a creative sinkhole to me. Nomura’s already made the “Kingdom Hearts” story close enough to “Star Wars;” we don’t need the actual thing that heavily inspired the series (and, honestly, generally does many of these concepts far better.)

And at that; how do you decide who’s going to even show up from those franchises? Purely hypothetical situations here, but do you really want to deal with the tidal wave of rants from people asking why someone like Rocket Raccoon gets into a “Kingdom Hearts” game instead of Black Panther? Or, why do Anakin and Obi-Wan get the representation for “Star Wars” instead of Rey and Finn?

Another big issue I have with these potential inclusions is a very subjective discussion, but I feel that the popular films of “Star Wars” and “Marvel” aren't the Disney teams’ creations, creatively at least. Disney owns “Marvel” and “Star Wars,” yes, but those films don't come from Disney the same way something like “Beauty and The Beast” and “The Lion King” do; neither “Star Wars” nor “Marvel” owe the inceptions of their respective series to the House of Mouse, even if Disney’s the one footing the bill now. And before anyone uses the retort that “Disney films aren’t original either!” I’m not claiming that the Disney films are completely original. I am saying that it’s through the efforts of Disney’s various animation and live film studios that the world knows the story of “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” in their most popular incarnations, because most of them feel like Disney films in a way that “Star Wars” or “Marvel” films for the most part don’t.

A lot of people who disagree with the idea of keeping “Star Wars” and “Marvel” out of “Kingdom Hearts” often point to the inclusion of a “Pirates of the Caribbean” world in “Kingdom Hearts II” and say that it likewise stuck out and, thus, that there’s no reason to not have “Star Wars” or “Marvel,” but I find this point...silly, even if I do feel that “Port Royale” in “Kingdom Hearts II” does feel slightly mismatched with the tone of the “Kingdom Hearts” series. For me, however, it’s not because of how the characters look, but rather due to narrative things like Sora teaming up with someone as unscrupulous (though ultimately sometimes heroic) as Captain Jack Sparrow and dealing with curses from an Aztec culture. This was a bit exacerbated by the censorship of violence and blood in certain localizations (such as the one for the United States,) which made that “Pirates” world feel a bit less genuine to the film.

The universe of the “Pirates” films, even with five live-action releases as of earlier this year, is comparatively miniscule in comparison to either “Star Wars” or “Marvel.” At that, the “Port Royale” world in “Kingdom Hearts II” honestly felt inoffensive in terms of its story, mostly because it was a nutshell of the story of “The Curse of the Black Pearl,” ultimately a story about one Aztec curse, a bunch of medallions, and some pirates who are immortal due to said curse. No Davy Jones and his bizarre, surrealistic locker dimension...thing. No Kraken to make us question the existence of other such massive sea monsters. No weirdly realistic mermaids (which would make quite a weird situation with the inclusion of Disney’s version of “The Little Mermaid” in the “Kingdom Hearts” series.) “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl” was able to fit well enough because it was small enough. The same way that about every other Disney film’s world was about to fit in the “Kingdom Hearts” games.

Another retort I expect is “Well, ‘Big Hero 6’ is in ‘Kingdom Hearts III’ already, and that’s Marvel!” at which I want to ask them when’s the last time they’ve even seen what the “Big Hero 6” characters originally looked like, and what their story originally was. What Walt Disney Animation Studios did when they adapted “Big Hero 6” into the 2014 film was a very liberal adaptation that almost completely divorces itself from the source material. Go ahead and read synopses of the “Big Hero 6” comics. When do people expect the new film’s cast to ever crossover with the Marvel Cinematic Universe? For all intents and purposes, “Big Hero 6” is now far more recognizable for the Disney film than it has ever been or will ever be recognized for the original comics. And it just feels like a Disney film to me: it’s for the most part very light-hearted, more family-friendly, more optimistically written and directed, and it’s also animated similarly to “Tangled” and “Frozen.”

One last huge reason I don’t want “Marvel” or “Star Wars” represented in “Kingdom Hearts” is that both franchises already have so many of their own high-quality video game releases. This November alone, “Star Wars Battlefront II” (well, the DICE developed first-person shooter iteration) is coming out, with a character and planet roster spanning the franchise’s multiple generations, and good “Star Wars” games have been releasing since 1982, on basically every platform imaginable.

“Marvel” has the fourth iteration of its iconic crossover fighting game series “Marvel vs Capcom Infinite” coming out in September, the PlayStation 4 exclusive “Spider-Man” action-adventure game releasing sometime in 2018, constant content updates for “Marvel Heroes” (now donning an “Omega” subtitle) which already has over 30 playable “Marvel” characters, various mobile games, a new VR game just announced at this year’s D23, and an upcoming game developed by Crystal Dynamics (who created the well-received 2013 reboot of “Tomb Raider” and its sequel “Rise of the Tomb Raider.”) I’m not even going into the “X-Men Legacy” games, the “Marvel Ultimate Alliance” games, the various “Spider-Man” games, and dozens of other video games to scratch an itch for the many “Marvel” series.

There’s absolutely no scarcity for quality playable “Marvel” or “Star Wars” content. There is for Disney’s own animated and live-action films, especially with the cancellation of “Disney Infinity,” which allowed characters from all sorts of Disney films and television series to team up and play around. To me, Disney films such as “Moana” and “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” and “The Incredibles” should be what “Kingdom Hearts” continues to capitalize on: high quality films that are, in the end, ultimately self-contained with characters that neither keep crossing over into each other’s stories nor have multiple films over years before their stories can find completion.

At the end of the day, I want to reiterate don’t think the inclusion of worlds themed after the “Star Wars” or “Marvel” franchises will “ruin” “Kingdom Hearts III,” but I do feel that such inclusions would severely sour the spirit of the “Kingdom Hearts” series, as well as create missed opportunities to represent films produced by Disney that I feel to be far more deserving. To me, that spirit is the truly odd yet definitely unique possibilities created by bringing worlds and characters created by the artists and directors of Disney’s films into an action-role playing game directed by the man who used to be best known as the character designer for “Final Fantasy VII.”

I’d maybe be ok with a singular minor cameo appearance from either “Star Wars” or “Marvel” though. Say, an optional boss fight with Darth Vader, or an attainable weapon used by one of those franchise’s characters (imagining Goofy’s secret best weapon is Captain America’s Shield.) But honestly I’d rather we stick to Disney’s non-Marvel and non-Star Wars franchises for Kingdom Hearts.

You aren’t right or wrong for wanting or not wanting “Star Wars” or “Marvel” represented in “Kingdom Hearts,” and I would like to feel that way as well, yet I’ve been chided and insulted for my opinion. People have legitimately tried to prove me wrong “objectively” for what I think. Instead of going for that route, I simply hope threads like mine can help move the discussion toward understanding other people’s opinions (and maybe our own; it helped me refine some of my own) rather than yelling at each other at being wrong or what have you.