Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thinking Of You, Wherever You Are...

What started as one of the strangest crossovers in history ended up as one of the best selling and one of my personal favorite video game franchises of all time.

Kingdom Hearts turns 10.

The idea of a Final Fantasy and Disney Animation crossover seemed ludicrous to nearly everyone who heard it, myself included. If it's one selling point for me hadn't been how I found out about the game, I may have laughed it off.

However, in 2002 I was starting to rediscover the works of Tim Burton, for a long time afterward my favorite director (George Lucas may just have that crown now, though Tim is certainly still in the court). I had been lurking in my very first message board at The Tim Burton Collective (don't look for me there; I haven't posted since High School, though it was the debut of my frequent and mostly retired handle "Cobblepot27"), and I found out that The Nightmare Before Christmas was going to be one of the films adapted and featured as part of this video game.

Well, that was it. I had to have it if I could play as (or with, as it turned out) Jack Skellington.

So, I saved up all my holiday money that December, and I bought a PS2 (something I had been putting off for a long time in the same way that I'm still lacking in the current generation of systems) and the game.

And I devoured it.

Yes, it was fun. It was more action-oriented than the Final Fantasy games (which I loved to watch but seldom liked to play, VI and IX excluded), had beautiful graphics for its day (and ages relatively well), and was challenging without being inaccessible. But there was more.

Just the story was well-conceived for a crossover event. I found myself caring more for these characters and their journeys more than any game I've played before or since with the possible exception of WoW. Even WoW doesn't get me choked up the way the ending to Kingdom Hearts does.

The music is pitch-perfect too, one of my favorite scores of all time for any media (right behind the Star Wars Saga, Gremlins, and the collected works of Danny Elfman).

But this game had a profound effect on me that I didn't expect: it made me fall back in love with the Disney Animated Canon.

Most early teenagers tend to write Disney off as "Kids Stuff" and not worth their time, as well as becoming jaded by Disney's modern corporate nature. I did have fond memories of one or two of the films, but I was still firmly in that camp when Kingdom Hearts came out. Playing through the game made me want to give them all a second chance. I had forgotten what a damn good film "The Little Mermaid" was on its own merits until I was inspired to watch it again after watching Ariel beat up heartless beside me.

The series had walked a fine line since then, becoming more and more confusing in its plot and continuity in the games that followed: Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts II, 358/2 Days, and Birth By Sleep. But, as I previously said, the newest installment Dream Drop Distance answers enough of the questions the rest raised that I'm still excited for where the eventual Kingdom Hearts III will take us.

And I felt like crying at the end of each and every one of those games, just like their predecessor. That's a powerful franchise.

Normally I end these reviews with another quote from the piece. Instead, I leave you with the opening credits montage (which you would see if you waited at the Menu screen before starting a game):

And, as an added treat, the opening cinematic to the latest installment Dream Drop Distance, as it's an incredible retrospective on the series as a whole (it uses the same music as the video above - and it still gives me goosebumps):

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