June 7, 2018

Kingdom Hearts III NEEDS A Goofy Movie World (Part 1)

I just love how this started off as a joke post, then became a hypothetical Top 10 list of worlds that need to show up in Kingdom Hearts III (which would cap off with a joke), and finally morphed into something serious.  So here I am, going all in.  And yes, you read that title right.

Nothing would make Kingdom Hearts III better than having a world based on A Goofy Movie.  This is the hill I’ve chosen to die on -- and now it’s time to explain why.

With audiovisual aids, of course.  How else can I take advantage of the medium?

Given that the game is actually in playable (albeit early) form now, hopefully it won’t be much longer before the full release of Kingdom Hearts III.  In spite of the…uneven…nature of the series, I’m eager to see what’s next in the third chapter.  Maybe this will be the one to give us the best story yet -- a fitting conclusion to the so-called Xehanort saga.  Granted there are 8,752,109 ways things could go wrong, but for now?  Fingers crossed.

Right now, though, my main concern -- or rather question -- is which worlds we’ll be seeing in the new game.  Sure, a decent number of them have been revealed already; Olympus Coliseum/Ancient Greece is back for specific story-related reasons, at a bare minimum.  And past that, we’re getting stuff from Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Tangled, and Big Hero 6.  My jaw would be agape for weeks if KHIII DIDN’T have a Frozen world, so maybe we’ll see that once E3 reaches its top speed.  While that may be the most obvious -- if obnoxious -- choice, I’m actually okay with it.  The idea of having Elsa in the party and doing her best impression of Vergil with ice versions of his Summoned Swords is too glorious to leave on the sidelines.

The thing I’ve come to understand about the franchise is that it banks heavily on nostalgia -- on warm feelings of movies past, given weight through their presence in the Disney cadre.  Fair enough.  But I want to see more worlds.  We need to see more worlds -- an effort to channel all of those memories into the perfect quintessence.  Plus, KH (execution aside) is no different from any other story; its setting is a crucial character in itself, so every world has to offer up something substantial to boost the final product’s quality.  How do you do that in 2018 and beyond?

Squeenix has tapped the majority of the Disney Animated Canon, I think.  Given that the past is finite, the devs are in a situation where they have to choose to spend resources on Treasure Planet or Home on the Range -- which isn’t to say that either of those movies are bad (I haven’t seen them in full, so I wouldn’t know).  Yes, they still have choices, so the situation isn’t too dire.  Live-action stuff, CG entires, and the Pixar catalog are all fair game now, not to mention the animated movies that still haven’t gotten a proper treatment.  (How ‘bout a little love for The Princess and the Frog?)  But if they really want to shock the world and get that good press -- all while catering to the “mine for nostalgia” mindset -- then few movies are a better fit than A Goofy Movie.

Reminder: this is not a joke post.

It’s been a hot minute since I sat down and watched A Goofy Movie from start to finish.  Going purely by hazy memories and cursory internet searches, I don’t think it’s worth an automatic rejection from the canon (Disney or KH).  Yes, it’s clearly a product of its time.  Yes, not-insignificant chunks of it are awkward and cringe-inducing.  Yes, it’s unflinchingly, aggressively devoted to being as cheesy as possible.  We’re talking about a movie where the hottest music sensation is a guy with a zigzagging pompadour and a yellow jumpsuit.  But you know what?  You know what else is cheesy and awkward and a product of its time?  KINGDOM HEARTS.

As far as I’m concerned, KH cannot go any lower than it has now.  Not in terms of quality, oh no; that lower limit scrapes the bottom layers of Hell.  In terms of reputation, its fate is sealed.  It’s confusing, it’s poorly written, it’s blah blah blah blah blah -- there are a ton of insults you could throw the franchise’s way, and at this point I won’t even try to deny them.  So given that we’re not exactly dealing with fine art here, why not go ham with an out-of-nowhere choice?  The Black Cauldron?  Nah, son.  Have a road trip movie where the two leads meet Bigfoot and save themselves from certain waterfall-based doom via fishing skills.

And yet, how is that any more outlandish than the very premise of KH?  A spiky-haired child with massive feet uses a giant key to smash abyssal hellspawn, with the help of a talking dog and a talking duck.  Best to steer into the absurdity rather than try to sidestep around it; the time to do so passed on September 17th, 2002.  Further, this is a franchise that saw fit to pair said talking dog with a flamboyant zombie pirate in one of the biggest visual clashes in video game history.  You can’t tell me that A Goofy Movie wouldn’t fit in a game where there is no such thing as a “fit”.

It’s not as if you could do a straight, one-to-one copy of the movie, though.  Like I said, A Goofy Movie is -- for the most part -- a road trip movie that follows close behind a father and son, and the bonding/danger/hilarity that happens in transit.  KH games tend to rely on constrained areas instead of sprawling landscapes, so adapting the Goofs’ trip would present some serious challenges, even with the power of Unreal 4.  Still, I don’t think it’s an untenable situation.  Remember the Gummi Ship?  Imagine that, but with a hatchback.

Or if the devs are feeling really gutsy, they could go the sandbox route and expand massively on the scope of the world.  Think of it as a compartmentalized version of GTA or Breath of the Wild -- threaded together by waypoints and landmarks, but capable of rolling out regardless.  I don’t expect that scale, or even necessarily need it; then every world would need a similar scale, and then we’d be waiting 10,000 more years for the game to come out.  Also?  “Focus” is key here, and it’s a coin flip on whether or not you’ll get that in a sandbox game (or KH in some cases, but don’t worry about it.)

With the franchise being the way it is, nobody has to comb every last wrinkle of his/her brain to figure out who Sora and crew would be fighting.  Throw in some road trip-appropriate Heartless, and you’re set.  Not those car assholes from KHII, though.  Maybe some monster tourists who can parry by pulling out their maps, and an AoE attack with flashes from their cameras.  Need a boss?  Send in Bigfoot to cause a ruckus -- or, better yet, have Bigfoot get taken out by an even bigger, meaner Bigfoot Heartless to stomp his way across woods, roads, and the occasional motel.  So in terms of gameplay, everything you need is there.

But what about the story?  I’m glad you asked.  See, it’s not the gameplay stuff that’d make A Goofy Movie a perfect fit.  It’s the story -- the one thing that, more than anything else, could elevate KHIII to the next level.  And we have this guy to thank for it.

Here’s the thing about KH as a whole: it’s basically a dumber Star Trek.  Sora, Donald, and Goofy (and Riku, and King Mickey, and multiple Organization XIII members) travel across the Disney multiverse at their leisure.  Donald pays some lip service to the core trio needing to avoid meddling in the affairs of the worlds, so there’s basically a Prime Directive in place.  Good luck getting anyone to abide by it, though.  The only part of the Directive that’s honored is that you’ll never see Tarzan in Agrabah; other than that, everyone does whatever the hell they want.  I mean, this story wouldn’t even exist in its current form if Terra hadn’t decided to randomly indoctrinate a five-year-old he just met into an ancient war against the hordes of darkness.

It’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, though.  (If I haven’t given up on KH yet, I guess I never will.)  The reason I bring up Star Trek is that my perception of it paints a rosy picture -- one in which the new characters, worlds, and scenarios dealt with on an episode-to-episode basis challenge the characters that a straight-up fight just can’t.  Because of those challenges, we’re able to see these characters not only resolve a situation, but have our understanding of them be supported or changed over time.  Some instances have more staying power than others (Worf vs. Barrel is a 0-10 matchup, and just one of several), but there’s substance in one episode after another.

Now let’s think about this in terms of KH canon -- and we’ll use Goofy as an example.  The dippy dog has been there since day one, with his laid-back attitude and his trusty shield.  But in the 16 years since his franchise debut, what has he done to push past his parameters as the Goof of Goofs?  He turned against Riku that one time when the Keyblade chose him over Sora -- after betraying Sora in the first place, granted.  And in KHII, there was that random sequence where he gets clocked by a falling boulder and “dies”.  He does get a moment in 3D, but A) he shares it with Donald, and B) it’s like 15 seconds out of a 30-hour game where he barely moved from one spot.

What I’m getting at here is that Goofy does just enough to establish himself as a key component of the core trio…but only just.  In the worst case scenario, he’s basically an accessory to Sora (and Donald to a lesser extent); he has his personality quirks and mannerisms, yet he’s missing traits that could make him the full-fledged character he deserves to be.  And yes, maybe I’m asking too much out of a character that risks a trip to the emergency room just by heading to the corner store.  Maybe I shouldn’t expect too much from the least threatening side character in history.

I shouldn’t.  But I want it regardless.  20 years ago, A Goofy Movie showed what happened when you give a quasi-sentient joke character…well, a character.  Goofy was an idiot there, but he was well-meaning and loved his son, who did everything in his power to nurture and bond with him.  But in doing so, he ended up catering to his greatest flaw: a staunch refusal to let his son be more than just his son, forcing overreach that drove a bigger wedge between him and Max.  Only through concentrated effort -- that magical thing called a character arc -- did Goofy learn to ease up and let Max act on his own, and trust him as an equal instead of coddle him like a week-old puppy.

And then this happens.

Okay, I have to be honest here.  Now I’m starting to get really mad.

Not at A Goofy Movie, of course.  Again, it’s been a while since I’ve seen it, but even then I still remember that sequence -- something that’s so oppressive and heavy, you’d think it came out of a Netflix drama.  The real issue I’m having is that it retroactively makes KH pale in comparison.  The question I have to ask now is a simple one: where’s the substance?

Okay, sure.  I’ll be fair to the canon and say that there’s stuff like that in there.  Roxas’ circumstances in their entirety, Days or otherwise, force you to carry some semblance of weight.  What about the rest, though?  What about the Disney stuff?  Did the House of Mouse force the devs to hold back on the shockingly-mature and potent content that various Disney productions have woven in for decades?  That seems like the only viable explanation…except for debilitating incompetence, but there’s no way that’s at play here.


True, KH isn’t always about glib whimsy (Game #1 started with an ominous nightmare sequence), and it’s managed to be serious at points.  But as the years go on and the story gets more convoluted, the drama gets distorted because it’s regularly predicated on utter, incomprehensible nonsense.  On the macro level, it’s impossible to take Birth by Sleep seriously as a tragic downfall because in order for that tragedy to happen, everyone had to become a blithering idiot.

But on the micro level, the drama that’s supposed to come naturally from the characters…generally doesn’t.  Riku’s foray with the darkness across multiple games?  Sure, I’m down for that.  But what else is there?  Roxas “Born to Die” McRoxasson gets his licks in, but that’s only because he’s seemingly been created just to have someone the plot can dump on.  Sora’s only just entered a position where he’s ready to start showing the cracks in his goofball facade, partly because he’s been absent/downplayed for multiple spinoff games.

So given that the Disney characters that appear are basically just fleeting attractions to meet and greet, they’re not exactly prime candidates for any in-depth explorations.  That’s especially true in some cases, given that some worlds can’t even properly display the flare of their movies of origin (*stares daggers at La Cite des Cloches*).  The only viable option is to start working with assets that are readily available at almost all times.  Considering the situation?  You’ve got Sora, Donald, and Goofy.  Tapping them would be the smart thing to do.  So why not tap Goofy, the guy who’s gotten the shaft again and again?

We’re getting more KH games.  That’s a given; in this era of gaming, Squeenix would never let one of their biggest, most recognizable brands bow out gracefully and retire with dignity.  But KHIII still represents a chance at redemption -- a way to prove that there’s real talent and well-directed effort going into more than raw graphical power.  No matter what flaws and foibles have been present before, the upcoming game can help us overlook those problems.

Goofy’s existence as-is stands as proof of that.  Just because he’s not a main character, spiky-haired, or an OC doesn’t mean that he’s unimportant.  He exists, and thus can prove why he should be in the story as long as he’s handled properly.  Why not give him a playground to let him stretch his legs?  Why not feature a world with so much potential -- the chance to be funny, crazy, touching, and tear-jerking in a single stroke?  Why not infuse the game with actual, meaningful content instead of workmanlike rigidity?

I guess what I’m getting at here is simple.  Kingdom Hearts III needs a world based on A Goofy Movie -- particularly if it means giving us a Goofy gaiden chapter.

So imagine this scenario…next time.  With any luck, you and I will be seeing it eye to


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