The year is 2006 and Goofy is dead. Well, he’s not really. But everyone thinks he is. Towards the end of Kingdom Hearts 2, instead of pushing daisies, we find out our canine friend just got knocked unconscious. I’m sure that was followed by him saying something moronic, Donald Duck quacking and the two of them hugging Sora. I’m assuming all of this of course because I don’t want to even go on Wikipedia to read what actually happened. And the answer why is simple – I do not care about Kingdom Hearts. I haven’t cared about this franchise since the closing credits of the sequel, thirteen years ago. And when the third game in the series was announced and finally released this past January, I started feeling a sense of deja vu. The long wait, the anticipation, the fear of disaster. That was a long time to work on something and an even longer time to expect people to still care. And then it dawned on me and it made me mad I didn’t figure it out sooner. I saw a mirror image of another situation, one in which I myself had some stake in. Once I realized I was part of a group of people that grew out of the franchise, I saw things from a different perspective. Being a fan of something carries a responsibility that not even the creator can fathom. As a fan, you decide whether something will live or die. And what were the odds that a character from the Kingdom Hearts games already had an undeniable connection to something that took just as long to create? The opportunity to dissect was too good to pass up. Kingdom Hearts 3 took well over a decade to be released. And so did Guns N Roses’ notorious 2008 album “Chinese Democracy”.
If there was no new Kingdom Hearts game made between 2006 to 2019, would people still have cared? Who knows? But Square Enix and Disney didn’t want to take that chance. The companies released game after game, expanding the mythology until there was no stone left unturned. There have been a total of 14 releases spread across a myriad of systems. I’ll admit I liked the series in its prime. The first entry released in 2002 was a breath of fresh air and an easily digestible way to get people who normally don’t play RPGs into that sort of thing. A young boy goes on a quest with Walt Disney’s most famous characters – what’s not to like? When the sequel came out in 2006, I still cared. Fun story, fun characters. Then I waited like everyone else for an official sequel that never came. What did come was an endless number of prequels, spinoffs and remasters. That is where I felt they would lose people and in turn that is where they lost me. Things became too complicated to care about. Too many games, too little focus. The endless amounts of press I’d see about the potential release of the third sequel did nothing but fan my apathy. I grew out of it and couldn’t tell why everyone was still hype as shit about a series that abandoned any sense after trying to murder Goofy. In the process of accepting I was in the minority with this, a comparison popped in my head that was similar in scope but perhaps for all the wrong reasons. Two years after Kingdom Hearts 2 released, and a good eleven years before the next numbered entry, the rock band Guns N’ Roses faced a similar dilemma that polarized fans and challenged the very definition of what it meant to be patient.
Even to the non-fan of rock music, story of the 2008 album “Chinese Democracy” is one of the most interesting tales across any medium. It regards an album whose legend overshadowed anything that came before or after. There are so many details about its development but I will try to keep it short. Guns N Roses started work on an album at some point in 1997. Lead singer Axl Rose was an eccentric, prima donna perfectionist. This attitude cost him his band mates, his friends, his fans and give or take $13 million. It was and still is the most expensive album ever produced. In 2008, he felt the world was finally ready to hear his opus. During the span of its non-release, the album became an urban legend, a myth, the music equivalent of vaporware – something that Kingdom Hearts 3 had the unfortunate potential to become.
I have been a huge fan of this band since I was 14 years old and I rabidly waited for that album with no regrets. But for over a decade, Axl Rose tried to make up for the lack of new music by touring nonstop with new band members, releasing a greatest hits album, and putting out a live concert. And I was there for everything. But no one else seemed to care. When it did come out reviews were not kind and sales were disappointing. Expectations are an impossible thing to shake. But too much time went by, and the landscape of music altered at a rapid pace. No one really cared about an old band making new music years later, let alone one that only had one original member left. Would Kingdom Hearts 3 suffer the fate of that ill-received album or would it rise to the occasion of promise? The parallels to Kingdom Hearts 3 are easily summed up in the mythical nature of it purely existing. We were two generations of video game consoles removed from the last true sequel. Where was the finish line? I wondered how many more people there were like me that just didn’t want to wait around anymore. Even though they had a better contingency plan than Axl Rose, Square Enix still bet the farm on the hopes fans would show up with open arms.
I believe every fan deserves a happy ending, regardless of their preference. Thankfully both parties in this situation currently are experiencing a deserved resurgence in the spotlight. Much to my surprise, Guns N Roses became the biggest band on the planet again in 2016. After 23 years apart, Axl Rose reunited with old band members, including guitarist Slash and embarked on the immensely successful “Not in this Lifetime” Tour that lasted almost 3 years and now sits as the second highest grossing tour of all time at $562 million. Disney and Square Enix’s long gestating sequel Kingdom Hearts 3 was released on January 29th, 2019 to critical acclaim and astronomical sales. As of this writing it has shipped 5 million copies worldwide in its first week in retail. Those are insane numbers. And it reiterated one thing – people still cared. Chinese Democracy might not have been what other people wanted. And a bunch of side games about other spiky haired kids might not have been what I wanted. In the end though it didn’t matter. The fear that people will abandon all hope is a scary notion, but if you weather the storm good things will come. I finally understood what it was like to be on the other end of fandom and even though I still don’t care I’m glad Kingdom Hearts fans got what they deserved. And remember when I said that someone from Kingdom Hearts shared a connection with the infamous rock band? I shit you not but there Is a character named Axel in the games. Of course that is one of the few things I remembered from the series that I didn’t have to look up. Granted it is spelled different but c’mon? How could I NOT write about this? Things could have been worse. If I didn’t have that I would have easily just drifted into pun territory. Even though the animated classic isn’t in the games, I would have wrote about an imaginary music video for “Welcome to The Jungle Book” with Sora as Axl and Slash as Baloo. Now that seems like something both parties would have waited well over a decade for. Don’t you?