Kingdom Hearts is a mash up of two legendary companies. Disney and their myriad of iconic animation super stars, and Square Enix and their power house of Final Fantasy characters. It began as a pairing of two imagination juggernauts. However, as the games continued to come out, Disney characters appeared fruitfully while the myriad of Final Fantasy characters began to dwindle.
Disney's characters stay true to their world and story arcs. Sure Mickey, Goofy, Donald, Minnie, and Daisy all dress differently, and live in Disney Castle, but they're still essentially the same characters. The rest of the in game scenarios that you play are taken straight from a moment in the actual movies. A lot of careful consideration was taken into account to ensure that characters, and their unique stories, were completely faithful to what fans remember.
Not so for Square Enix's roster. Final Fantasy characters are depicted as different from their first appearance. Squall calls himself Leon, and hangs out with Yuffie and Aerith? Not going to lie, I thought this was amazing! I still do, since it was awesome to see them all come to life in another game. Sephiroth and Cloud's new designs were wonderful. I can let the character changes slide, but this is only the beginning of how Final Fantasy has been given less consideration. According to Kingdom Hearts 1, every Final Fantasy character once lived on...
A SINGLE WORLD
Disney Characters have their own worlds, dedicated to their story. Their plight. A world for every animation that you visited in the world of Kingdom Hearts. Aladdin and Jasmine in Agrabah, battling Jafar and Iago. Peter Pan and Tinkerbell in Neverland, fighting against Captain Hook and his Pirates. Each world was unique.
As I said, according to Kingdom Hearts 1, every Final Fantasy character comes from a single world. I don't mind this much. I was always excited to see where they came from, to see how Hollow Bastion looked before all the chaos began, when it was known as Radiant Garden. I mean, how can you go wrong when the members of Organization XIII, before their fall into Nobodies, and the whole cast of Final Fantasy all lived in one world? The grand scale and excitement of visiting it would be mind blowing!
But it's just that: one world, while Disney characters get their individually tailored realities. There isn't a Final Fantasy VII world, where you explore Midgar, and face off against Sephiroth. Aside from Hollow Bastion/Radiant Garden, there's nothing else.
RADIANT GARDEN NO SHOWS?
Yet, when you finally get a chance to visit Radiant Garden in all its former glory, you're left with not a single Final Fantasy character in residence. At all. Instead, you're greeted by members of Organization XIII, before they became the dark, cloaked villains we all know and love in the previous installments. But once again, you meet Disney characters. Disney! You come across Scrooge McDuck, of all characters, and Merlin. Seriously? Not one single Final Fantasy character.
In Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2, all Leon and the Final Fantasy crew talked about was Radiant Garden and how they lived under Ansem the Wise. Their world is where it all began! It was such a grand opportunity to give the Final Fantasy universe its due and show characters we may not have seen before.
Show us Leon, Yuffie, Cloud, and the rest of the cast from the first two games, and maybe throw in some brand new faces from the franchise! Zidane, Garnet, Kuja, Rydia, Kaine, Cecil, hell I could even go for a cameo from some of the bad guys like Kefka, Edea, and Garland. It could have just been as background decoration. Just seeing them walking around, populating a world dedicated solely to Final Fantasy, would have been amazing. Something?
But in the end, they give us Scrooge McDuck and Merlin? Merlin I can kind of get, since he's magical and has the ability to poof from place to place. Sure, I'll let that go. But when I saw Scrooge I was like come on! They could have placed Scrooge in any other world. Disney Castle of even Disney Town perhaps? He had no reason to be in Radiant Garden.
Which brings me to Disney Town in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep. Not only do the Disney characters get their own, individual worlds, their own unique stories, and extended lore, but you also get passes to a place known as Disney Town. It's a zany world that looks like an expanded area of Toon Town. Not the movie Toon Town from Roger Rabbit, but the one that exists within the actual, real life park. You need to have a ticket and need to be accompanied by an adult. They made a Disneyland equivalent within the Kingdom Hearts universe.
With each new installment in the series, brand new Disney characters are introduced. Once again, with their own world, their own version of the Keyblade, and story arcs that build upon their original stories.
However, the cast of characters from the Final Fantasy verse begins to dwindle in each new game. Most of them are returning characters from previous games. Kingdom Hearts 1 had: Squall, Yuffie, Aerith, Cloud, Sephiroth, Tidus, Wakka, Selphie, Cid, and the moogles. Kingdom Hearts 2 was amazing, since it added Auron, Seifer, Rai, Fuu, Setzer, Vivi, Tifa, Yuna, Rikku, Paine, and gave you a brief section where you fought alongside the Final Fantasy cast. Truly epic!
Then, Birth by Sleep had one Final Fantasy Character, two if you count the moogle. The beloved Buster Sword wielding Zack made an appearance, but he looked nothing like the FF7 hero everyone knows. He was knocked down to a rookie fighting in the Hercules Coliseum. Once again, great to see him, but disappointed he had no real purpose or ties to his actual character history. Which goes to say about every Final Fantasy character in Kingdom Hearts. They're all stripped down and serve no real purpose to the overall story. They do things here and there, but their impact isn't as substantial as the Disney characters.
DREAM DROP DISTANCE
Disney once again takes the helm with new characters and worlds. The cast of Final Fantasy is nowhere to be seen this time. With the exhaustive roster of Final Fantasy characters to choose from, some fan favorites yet to be seen, they opt to add characters not even from the same franchise. Now, while I like the designs from The World Ends with You, I felt like it was, once again, a missed opportunity to present new Final Fantasy characters within the realm of the Kingdom Hearts Universe. Only the moogle is left to represent the entire Final Fantasy line.
The whole Kingdom Hearts series ends up being an ode to Disney. Their characters are shown proper respect, staying true to their origins, and expanding their lore in a fashion that works within Kingdom Hearts. Final Fantasy is all but cut out of the tale and never given a proper spotlight, instead relegated to shadow versions of their former selves.
I don't mind the new incarnations and I have to admit that some of the new designs are pretty awesome! I love revisiting the beloved characters from the Final Fantasy franchise, even in their altered forms, but I wish that they were shown the same respect that has been shown to the Disney cast.
In the end, as much as I adore the franchise, it's upsetting to see such a disregard for the Final Fantasy characters. I have high hopes that Kingdom Hearts III will see a valiant return to Final Fantasy, but I highly doubt it. Such a shame.