Four weeks till Kingdom Hearts III releases! Well, ish. Four Sundays at least, which means we’ll be doing a Kingdom Hearts Raptor 6 for every Sunday the rest of this month. Ready to go? No, of course you’re not, but read on anyway. This week’s theme is the best adaptations of characters in Kingdom Hearts—that is, they must originate in Final Fantasy or Disney properties before their Kingdom Hearts appearance.
Okay, hear me out. I realize that Mickey Mouse has been adapted more times than most teenage boys change their socks, and he’s been everything from a musketeer, to a plane pilot, to a nightclub owner, to a band conductor. He’s basically run the gamut and turned around and run the other way back again, just for the heck of it. But that is exactly what makes his appearance in Kingdom Hearts so good.
Instead of being the hero, Mickey takes on a role that’s quite different to most of his previous iterations—he’s the teacher, the mentor, the guide, and he’s not even in the first game until about 30 seconds from the end. Mickey isn’t the focus—he’s the quest reward. Even in future games, Mickey is still never the sole focus, and yet he’s funny and wise and brave and loyal. But he’s not infallible, and we see his character grow and develop throughout the games, notably after his experiences with Riku in Re:Chain of Memories. Mickey manages to keep his quintessential charm and rogueish demeanor, his cheerfulness and innocence, and still fit into the world of Kingdom Hearts. While the games are fun and lighthearted most of the time, he still needed the extra oomph to fit in, and this was managed excellently. Now, can we see Oswald in the last game please?
Jiminiy Cricket – Pinocchio
I’ll admit, I’ve never been a fan of the movie Pinocchio. I saw it once as a kid and never watched it again, and when I attempted to watch as an adult I felt like the first 10 minutes were a prelude to a serial killer story and promptly turned it off. So, much of my experience with Jiminy Cricket comes from periphery Disney materials. Yes, everyone knows how he’s Pinocchio’s conscience and guide, he’s the one who’s supposed to keep him on the right path.
What works so well in Kingdom Hearts is that he serves the exact same purpose as, essentially, navigator but in a completely different way. Sora, Donald, and Goofy don’t need a moral compass—though Riku could probably do with one—but what they do need is someone who’s nono-nonsense and can, as the phrase goes, keep their head on. By documenting everything that occurs and keeping everything in order, Jiminy basically keeps the story from dissolving into a messy mire led by two of Disney’s least er, bright, characters, and a 14 year old. He’s basically the adult supervision without being overbearing, while at the same time fitting in perfectly with his original movie counterpart.
Auron – Final Fantasy X
Spoilers ahead for those who have not played Final Fantasy X! Although I played the game after playing Kingdom Hearts 2 where Auron appears, so it would be a tad hypocritical of me to warn people off. The world of the Coliseum seems to be a magnet for Final Fantasy characters in these games, as we see everyone from Cloud, to Zack, to Sephiroth pop up outside of tournament appearances. What makes Auron’s adaptation one of my favorites is that it plays with the rules of his original appearance in X, where he’s basically a ghost. Sort of? I was never quite sure on the exact definition of what he was, but it was vaguely ghost-esque remnant/unsent thing. (It’s also been a while since I’ve played Final Fantasy X, so bear that in mind.)
While it would’ve been easy to have him pop up as a regular character or even as a ghost—Haunted Mansion level, anyone?—instead, he’s been resurrected, which keeps the duality of his living/dead character while keeping the same personality as his previous iteration. He then proceeds to go on and sass the god of the dead, encourage the main party to fight and take control of the situation like an absolute boss. He’s the entire reason why the Coliseum level in KH2 actually works. It’s not just Hades showing up with a hired gun and trying to pull the exact same thing he did last time, though the story runs a similar course. This time, the stakes are higher, the underworld is involved, and Sora and Co get a little taste of Final Fantasy X with their very own guardian.
Beast – Beauty and the Beast
Full disclosure, Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney movies. So I’m slightly biased. But, particularly in the first Kingdom Hearts, he runs through an interesting emotional arc that we never really see in the movie, which is why he makes this list. Yes, he’s still cranky and angry and loyal—we get it. But the fact that he moved through the void between worlds through sheer force of will (and loooove) is impressive, for starters.
He’s basically on a revenge rampage, albeit a focused one, and while he is a good ally to Sora, we don’t really get to see much of the learning, repentant Beast that emerges in the movie. He’s pissed and he is here to stay, at least until he gets Belle back of course. It’s a really nice change of pace from the mostly tame Beast who tends to appear in Disney comics and other adaptations. Besides, of all the Disney princes to fight beside, I’m pretty sure he tops almost all of the lists. Even in the second game, when he’s manipulated by Xaldin into turning against Belle and his staff, it’s something different from the movie yet at the same time matches how he was manipulated by Gaston in their end battle and plays up his underlying fear and insecurity that we see throughout the film, put to a different purpose.
Yen Sid – Fantasia
“But who is Yen Sid?” I hear people asking. “And why is his name Disney spelled backwards?” That, my friends, is because he was given the name in homage to Walt Disney, and he is better known as the Sorcerer aka Mickey’s boss, from the iconic Fantasia short The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There wasn’t a whole lot to draw from, hence why they had to grab even his name from a book of Fantasia narration, but that’s one of the reasons why he’s on this list.
How do you take a character who’s nameless, voiceless, and most notable for his absence and turn him into a fully-formed character who has an impact on the plot? You start from what you know—that he’s Mickey’s mentor. He takes the role of Merlin from the first game as explainer of all things magical and expands on that, being one of few characters to have witnessed most of the Kingdom Hearts timeline, and, I’m convinced, quite possibly the only person who actually understands what’s going on at this point. He’s almost the lynchpin of the side of light, as he’s the steady presence who hopefully knows what he’s doing and perhaps is mastermind enough to counter Xehanort.
Leon – Final Fantasy VIII
I’ll admit, Leon is my personal favorite Kingdom Hearts character (sorry Aqua) but he’s not on this list for that reason. For those who don’t know, he originated from Final Fantasy VIII, which was, shall we say, a game of mixed opinions. And he, in turn, was a protagonist of mixed opinions. Mostly negative, if the internet is to be believed. A try-hard, Cloud-wannabe who couldn’t be bothered to say more than three words at a time, Squall wasn’t winning everyone over with his personality. Sure, he has a character arc and gets development by the end of the game, but he starts out as whiny and surly and it takes a very long time to get where he’s going.
Unlike someone like Beast, who it’s easy to reconcile with his being unrestrained and angry for a good cause, it’s a little harder to take apart Squall/Leon’s character. So what to do? Set Kingdom Hearts after the end of Final Fantasy VIII, keep his character development and leadership skills and instead have him mope and change his name to Leon because he couldn’t save his home. Writing that out, I realize it sounds like a stupid idea on paper, but for some reason it actually works well in the game.