When industry luminary Warren Spector was offered the helm of the project that would later become Epic Mickey, so the story goes, he initially refused on the grounds that nobody cared about Mickey Mouse anymore. Surprisingly, the Disney suits agreed. Disney was as aware as anyone that the famous cartoon mouse was painfully obsolete in the age of SpongeBob SquarePants and Mario, and wanted to reinvigorate the character - and specifically, to do so through a videogame, the Disney executives told Spector.
Sadly, Disney's quest to rescue its iconic mouse from the pitfalls of obsolescence with Epic Mickey didn't quite pan out. The game received mixed reviews upon release, Spector claimed that critics didn't understand the game, and while it eventually moved over a million copies, it hardly topped best-seller lists. Still, it's hard to understand why Disney was banking on a game like Epic Mickey to propel the Mouse to modern relevance when already established videogame property could have done just that: Kingdom Hearts.
In the world of crossovers, the Final Fantasy-meets-Disney mix of Kingdom Hearts was our version of "Archie meets the Punisher." On one hand, you had the angsty, melodramatic casts of the modern Final Fantasy games who fought world-ending monstrosities; on the other, you had the upbeat and colorful Disney cartoons whose worst trials involved getting stuck in the door of Rabbit's house. And yet, when all was said and done, the first Kingdom Hearts proved that the mix was more like dipping French fries in a milkshake - a combination that sounds bizarre on paper, yet proves to be strangely appetizing.
While Kingdom Hearts' main protagonist and primary antagonists were all original Square-Enix creations, the supporting cast and in-game party members were Disney icons one and all. Goofy was the stalwart knight who bashed enemies with his shield, Donald was the wizard blasting foes with fire and lightning, and the likes of Peter Pan and Ariel the mermaid joined you as temporary party members. As for Mickey, well, he was an enigma - an intrepid king off to save the multiverse from a mysterious new threat. He never even appeared in the first game until the very end, but it was a memorable moment all the same.
What was surprising was how well the cheery Disney universe meshed with the darker underpinnings of Kingdom Hearts. The game never lost its idealistic bent - this was a ship that ran on smiles, after all - but it had plot twists, betrayals, and epic duels, and it worked. The fangirls and fanboys might have squealed for Cloud and Squall, but it was the sinister machinations of Malificent along with Goofy and Donald's heroic choice to stand by their comrade in defiance of orders that made the game more than just a generic JRPG.
With Kingdom Hearts, Disney certainly had a game that made Goofy and Donald cool. Donald's nigh-unintelligible quacks were as present (and hilarious) as ever, but watching the duck clear a room full of baddies by invoking the tremendous power of a thunderstorm gave players a newfound respect for the pantsless waterfowl.