J’s Design Corner: Kingdom Hearts and Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Since its release in 2019, The reception for Kingdom Hearts 3 among its fans has been hot and cold due to the complaints of several game design issues. To its benefit, the game included new and intriguing forms of combat, which allowed players to make Sora into a more than capable protagonist with additional abilities and skills that ups the young keyblade warrior’s strengths for this long-awaited sequel. However, on the other hand, the presentation of narrative throughout the title tends to feel rushed in certain parts of the game’s story. Even though the “ReMind” DLC does a fair job of filling in the plotholes from the main game, it still doesn’t make up for the lack of absent narratives that could’ve improved the final product.

However, I’m not here to banter or go off the deep end about what has happened with Kingdom Hearts 3. Instead, I’m here to discuss what the future of Kingdom Hearts worlds could look like through my creative game design crafting and narrative design implications. Kingdom Hearts 4, or any other title that seemingly connects us to Kingdom Hearts 4, is probably a long way off from being announced or even in production. While it would be ideal to say that we know where the story is going, even after the teasers of a world based within “reality,” there’s not enough concrete evidence to determine what comes next within the series.

For whatever may come, or whatever may not come, the wellspring of ideas for which worlds Square Enix focuses on is, unironically, a mystery. However, I like to put my hat into the ring and suggest a world that holds elements of fantasy linked through mythology and works as a world that’s split between fictitious and non-fictitious realities: The Lost Empire of Atlantis.

Source: Walt Disney Pictures

This design article will elaborate on Atlantis’s history and significance with other Disney worlds and the mythological implications within the current Kingdom Hearts mythos. The narrative design elements that appease or displease Disney’s brand, the gameplay elements, the crafting around its story, teammates, areas of exploration, and bosses. By the article’s end, a detailed and elaborate design for the world of Atlantis and what it could look like within the following entry for the series will be present. My creative analysis will highlight game design elements from Kingdom Hearts alongside the narrative design aspects, accompanied by visual examples and cues from the film.

History and Signifiance: The World That Never Recovered

Source: Walt Disney Pictures

From the beginning of Atlantis’s story within the film, the premise for war, the loss of life, and the mystery behind the city of Atlantis’s destruction can create an intriguing narrative that Kingdom Hearts can quickly introduce within their mythos. While most of the worlds in the series were restored via the destruction of the Heartless, Kingdom Hearts, or seemingly exist within the Realm of Dreams, other “worlds” exist as fragments of a former reality.

For example, Pinocchio’s world from KH1 and Dream Drop Distance are two exclusive examples of a world that exists on two different plains of reality. In Kingdom Hearts, the monstrous whale of Monstro exists in traveling the vast void of outer space without water, air, or a world to inhabit. Without any explanation, Monstro should cease to exist. Additionally, Monstro exists within the Realm of Dreams – the realm that seemingly has living worlds that are continuously slumbering until a certain keyblade wielder awakens them – which takes place at different times and ignores the anomalies of time for plot purposes. Are you still with me? No? Yes? Hang in there, it’ll make sense in just a moment.

Source: Walt Disney Studios

Now, regarding the status of Atlantis and where it resides between the realities of fiction and non-fiction, let’s assume that the world existed at some point within the game’s universe. The world was destroyed, much in the way the empire had been within the film; however, let’s interpret that the world still exists within the “spaces between worlds” in which the Gummi Ships have to navigate. By regulating the world to live, yet not occupying the space within one reality or the other, the empire continues to be “lost” in more ways than one. Is it in the world of fiction? Non-Fiction? The Realm of Dreams?

To answer this question that eludes future narrative inquiries, we must first answer how Square Enix and Disney can narratively design this world.

Narrative Design: Creative Liberty vs Disney’s Hierachy

Source: TheThings

Now, let’s address the abundantly giant, annoying elephant in this discussion: What will Disney do to muck up this imaginative, creative, and awe-inspiring world for a dream project such as Kingdom Hearts? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?

As the years have progressed, Disney has evolved from what it initially was back in 1923. As a result of its progressive progression, the world’s eyes are now on Disney. Unironically because of its status as a global superpower gatekeeper in the world of animation, this translates into Disney giving the people what they want and what they thought they didn’t need.

Disney and Pixar’s blossoming relationship has created hits like Toy Story, The Incredibles, and the latest film (At the time of writing this article), Encanto, with a watermark of family-friendly expositions packaged with intricate and subtle story initiatives that speak to all ages. On the other hand, Walt Disney Animation Studios are creating shows that speak to the other side of the public and social initiatives. Shows like “The Owl House” have brought awareness to the LGBTQ audience through character interactions and developments that aren’t forced or inherently driven by fan speculations or wanting. Overall, the coin that is Disney has two sides to it; one that keeps the status quo appropriate and one that experiments with what could be the status quo.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire” has enough “Disneyiums” to stand alone as its own world without altering the story. However, some discrepancies that the current Walt Disney Company might not find suitable for today’s audience could promote a few changes for a variety of reasons:

Source: Fanpop

Death

The death count in Atlantis is pretty high for a Disney movie in the 2000s. Still, The implications of death in other movies pale in comparison to this film, with it stating that at least 200 died in the first act with the Ulysses scene, possibly over 100,000 more with the destruction of Atlantis, 9 Atlanteans near the final act, and 22 members of the surviving crew that sides with Rourke. So while I’m sure Disney wouldn’t have any troubles in allowing death to be present within Kingdom Hearts, despite altering certain scenes in other worlds with Disney properties, the general understanding of death is continuously played around within the Kingdom Hearts series. Also, yes, KH isn’t shy to let you know that people across multiple worlds are either dead, killed, or deceased – hence the Heartless.

If Atlantis was allowed to be a world in the next game, I believe this world would be the best exhibition for death. The Atlanteans have lived for over 8800 years. Given that they could die without the Heart of Atlantis – something demonstrated in the film – the healing properties of the stone and how it affects the king of the empire after being roughed up by the villain, Rourke, would teach the audience and Sora about the sad reality that an immortal life doesn’t equal happiness. Not only would this be a valuable lesson for Sora, but it fits into the wheelbarrow that Tetsuya Nomura uses in most of his titles, using a simple concept that links to a complex idea that requires thought and perception. Combine this with a memorial for the king, Kashekim Nedakh, and the actor who played the king, Leonard Nimoy, and you’ve got a world that seemingly does two things: It celebrates the concept of life and acknowledges the reality of death.

Source: Tumblr

Sex Appeal

American animation and 3D Polygons have come a long way since the early 2000s to present this topic. While Kingdom Hearts isn’t mainly known for making their characters into sexpots, early age Disney has some explaining to do, and Atlantis might have a couple of issues. The most obvious wouldn’t be any of the crewmates – one is too young, the other is too old, and the last one is evil (Which may or may not give her a pass for a tank top reveal). The most obvious is Kida and her Atlantean garbs before ascending the throne as the queen of Atlantis.

Kida’s Atlantean apparel isn’t the worst when it comes to censorship. You could argue that Kida is modestly covered where it matters outside of a particular swimming scene. Plus, I doubt Disney would be on the warpath to ignore that Kida, an 8800-year-old woman, doesn’t have curves, breasts, or some cleavage while wearing her traditional garbs. Outside of Sora and company, the Disney characters – excluding Mickey Mouse and his affiliates – – are given just enough sheen and shine to impress at a glance, but they won’t be the game’s main attraction; only the attraction of their world. Much like Ariel and Jasmine, Kida should be fine and untouched by Disney’s ethics department for this virtual exploit.

Source: Tumblr

Tobacco (Smoking)

This issue is pretty obvious for those that know what Disney wants and doesn’t want within their movies. There are two simple fixes for it: Packard has less screentime alongside the other crewmates, OR you never show Packard smoking in the first place.

At the time, I could imagine that Disney’s idea for Packard was something along the lines of an “old woman in her 60’s that’s assisted the military in many joint operations but has a tendency to slack and be a bit of chatterbox. Rourke and the others recruited her for the first expedition to Iceland to recover the Shephard’s Journal with a certain professor by the name of Thatch.” A no-nonsense, candor attitude that’s “too old for this shit” demographic.

Her inclusion within the story would be as part of the crew—nothing more, nothing less. If you take away her cigarettes and not her personality, it’s still the same Packard.

Gameplay Elements (Abilities): Deep Sea Diving and Flowmotion Expansion

Source: Buzzfeed

Deep Sea Dive (Atlantean Lungs):

Like many other water worlds after Atlantis, Sora needs some exclusive ability to swim without limits. In Kingdom Hearts, he was turned into a merman and learned how to swim against the rushing currents of a pressurized water hole. When KH3 came around, Sora just knew how to swim, fight and open treasure chests with relative ease.

Source: Giphy

For the adventures he would have in Atlantis, Sora would need something akin to his KH1 adventures that mesh well with his natural ability to swim in KH3. Therefore, I propose that he learns how to swim faster and deeper within the depths of the ocean by the Atlanteans. While Milo was able to keep up with Kida in their swimming escapades, it was clear that Kida had more practice, experience, and vitality to perform the task without injuring herself. Therefore, allow Kida to teach Sora how to perform a deep-sea dive and allow Sora to adapt and create an ability that enables him to swim deep within the crevices of the Atlantean waters. Not only will this ability be exclusive to the world by its moniker “Atlantean Lungs,” but it can be included into his list of significant abilities when he is off-world, by the name Deep Sea Dive.

The introduction to a significant skill while in a world mostly covered in water sounds appropriate and narratively makes the character stronger regarding their advancing skills with swimming. After all, Sora is an island boy.

Flowmotion Expansion

The presentation of abilities and skills with Flowmotion has been well-received for the most part. A mechanic that allows you to run up walls, spin on poles, dash back and forth with swift strikes while also performing unique and genuinely extraordinary feats has become a staple for the series.

Flowmotion’s expansion needs to happen in the next Kingdom Hearts title. While it was introduced to us through Sora and Riku in Dream Drop Distance (DDD), the mechanic also appears in A Fragmentary Passage with Aqua. Suppose Aqua, an official keyblade master, is capable of using Flowmotion. In that case, it’s not impossible to say that she, and most likely others, can use more Flowmotion techniques that have yet to be shown or discovered within the games. For example, many parts of the world in Atlantis have high cliffs, steep canyons, frozen wastelands, and even an active volcano segment.

I propose that through the arduous journey Sora and the gang have through these different sections, Sora recognizes he can expand his skill with Flowmotion. Perhaps he learns a little more about Flowmotion through Milo and the Shephard’s Journal? Maybe he realizes it on the fly? Maybe both?? Whatever the answer might be, I believe a lesson or a chance to upgrade his abilities on one of his adventures is pivotal to future battles and a better understanding of Flowmotion as a mechanic. As a new staple within Kingdom Hearts, it should be improved and expanded upon through experimentation throughout other worlds. Atlantis would be one of many worlds that teaches Sora how to develop, improve, and use it.

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Dive to the Heart – Kida. Source: Pinterest

The Story: The Search for Atlantis (KH Edition)

Now, regarding the story of Atlantis, I will be taking creative liberties in narratively constructing the beginning, middle, and ending sections of the world. Since I have outlined the possible lore implications with Atlantis earlier and how it could fit within the Kingdom Hearts series, let’s take a collective breath and say: “This won’t be a scene-by-scene retelling or reimagining of the film.” My narrative construction is based heavily on the scale of the story and how narratives can modify it within a set of circumstances orchestrated by interactive-fiction storytelling techniques.

The Beginning: An Expert in Gibberish

Source: Fanpop

Milo, our main protagonist and resident linguist of the film, runs into Sora and the gang at some point in their adventures, primarily in the world or section of that world considered a home base for the characters. After introductions and a looming worry by Sora and others about Milo, the group follows Milo and accompanies him visiting Preston B. Whitmore. The scene that plays between Milo and Preston goes off without a hitch, even with the inclusion of Sora and others present; however, there is something different about the state of Atlantis.

Change #1: The City of Atlantis Was Destroyed Earlier Before Milo’s World.

Suppose the world of Atlantis’s destruction predates the destruction of Milo’s world, which we’ll nickname “Earth-1912,” that sets the narrative timeline for Milo’s world and the “rules” behind knowing the existence of other worlds. This moment ensures some wiggle room regarding the existing plotholes of different Disney characters that have appeared throughout Kingdom Hearts without good reasons as to why or how they got there.

Additionally, Preston’s importance holds a significant change in this adaptation and builds upon a notable foundation that, more or less, isn’t talked about enough in the series.

Change #2: Whitmore is a Competitor in The Production of Gummi Ships.

While it’s clear, or not clear enough, how Scrooge McDuck is responsible for the procurement of Gummi Ships, it is not an impossible thought to think that there’s a rival company that wants to do better than the richest duck in Duckburg. Outside of magic, dark portals, and the occasional “I’m just here because the plot demands it” excuse, Whitmore’s endeavors with machinery could be the reason why he’s rich in Kingdom Hearts. Furthermore, you can’t deny that the Ulysses looks a bit like a futuristic spaceship.

Everything that follows after this conversation remains faithful to the film, albeit it takes place within a Gummi Ship hangar, which leads to the following events:

  • Milo and gang sees the Ulysses for the first time.
  • The crew is introduced.
  • The Ulysses is under attack by the Leviathan (Gummi Ship Battles).
  • The Great Escape (Downplaying the excessive amount of death).
  • The Entrance to the Ruins of Atlantis.
  • The Great Cave Offensive (No, not the Kirby game).
  • The Great Campfire Offensive (No…at the time of writing this article).
  • Milo is found by Kida and the Atlanteans.
  • The discovery of Atlantis.

The Middle: Separated by Time and Reality

Source: Fanpop

Once Sora and the gang have arrived at the entrance to the castle, the events of the movie continue:

  • Everyone is introduced to the King of Atlantis.

Oh, right, I almost forgot. There’s a couple of changes to introduce:

Change #3: The King of Atlantis Knows About Other Worlds and About The Keyblade.

In much the same way King Triton of Atlantica knows about other worlds and the keyblades, it’s not a stretch for another king to know that vital secret as well. The idea that royalty, Disney or not, knows about other worlds and keyblade wielders would be the best-kept secret and trope that KH could have in regards to its lore. It doesn’t have to be confirmed; however, it would be clever if they brought it back after so many games with it being unmentioned.

Change #4: The Atlanteans are Aware of Their Situation

Well…Kida and her father are aware of it.

Events continue, again, in an alternate fashion:

  • Milo spends time with Kida (Featuring Sora from Kingdom Hearts).
  • They overlook the city and discuss about its culture (Fishing minigame, Ancient discoveries).
  • Evening Swim (Underwater Dungeon).
  • Deception, Disgrace (For those that get that reference, I appreciate your Disney showtunes knowledge).
  • The Heart of Atlantis.
  • A Change of Heart (Good Crewmates Return)

The End: In The Eyes of Our Kingdom’s Heart

Source Walt Disney Studios

Let’s skip along to the final climactic moments of the film:

Change #5: Rourke’s Defeat Immediately Begins Another Boss Battle: His Heartless

Imagine this: Sora, Milo, and the gang have caught up with Rourke and Helga at the base of the inactive volcano. Fighting off soldiers on the ground and in the skies, Rourke tosses Helga off, Helga shoots a signal flare at the rising balloon, and the party fights against a deranged Rourke with an ax.

After defeating Rourke with a final cut from an enchanted piece of glass from the containment unit, Rourke realizes that his life is about to end, and you see his “heart” leave his body. The balloon lands on the ground in a fiery explosion, a pair of bright red eyes pierce through the combustion of flames. It’s a Heartless!

Milo anchors/tethers Kida to one of the flying vehicles, and they rush through the cave while avoiding the giant Heartless. The lava overtakes Rourke’s Heartless, seemingly killing it, as Sora and the gang reach the city’s top to release Kida. After successfully freeing her, Rourke’s Heartless suddenly appears, and the final battle is on between our heroes. Finally, the Heartless goes down, the city is revitalized, and the nightmare has ended.
  • Kida is safe.
  • Milo stays in Atlantica with Kida and says farewell to Sora.
  • Whitmore reads the last letter from Milo.
  • The World’s Title Card Appears – End of Story.

Teammates (Characters)

Five Party Members; 2 AI Partners – Source: Walt Disney Studios

Milo Thatch

The Coolest Nerd Alive – Source: Fanpop

KH Milo&Company (One For All and All For One): Milo Thatch is an interesting case in developing a character that’s primarily non-combative for a game based around combat. Milo is more book smart than street smart and more of a grammar nazi than a street fighter in the films. Despite this, Disney has yet to fail in making any of their peaceful, non-combative protagonists into some form of combative or highly underestimated party member from their game catalog. In the 2000s, Disney Interactive Studios created multiple games about Atlantis: The Lost Empire. The two most popular versions of Milo were a jack of all trades without combat experience OR a combative tinkerer with hazardous equipment. 

Source: Fanpop

Honestly, Milo’s past video game exploits could determine Milo’s capabilities for battle. Sadly, from a narrative design aspect, that doesn’t work. However, Rourke says something that, metaphorically, works as a combative plan to make this version of Milo critical and aggressive. Rourke says, “From here on in, everyone pulls double duty. Everyone drives, everyone works.” In the beginning, Milo is just a simple character that can attack with his wrench and use items to heal party members. After a couple of character moments, gaining the crew’s trust, he slowly gains access to three other party members: Vinny, Dr. Sweet, and Mole.

Vinny will be in charge of explosive techniquesMole will have control over dirt and ground attacks, and Sweet will have better healing techniques, all while Milo wields the Shepherd’s Journal like a pseudo wizard. As the story progresses, Milo will lose and gain these techniques for primary reasons; however, he’s still a linguist. So, while reading Atlantean, you’re going to have to pull double duty when others do not accompany him.

Kida

The Heroine, Not the Princess – Source: Fanpop

Kida tends to be a hand-to-hand fighter in most of her gaming depictions. However, despite how great she is at close quarters combat, I believe that Square Enix would have fun incorporating one of their most iconic job classes into Kida’s combat style: Dragoons.

In Final Fantasy, the Dragoons are knights iconic for their speed, jumping prowess, and spear work. Kida is first introduced to audiences while wielding a spear of some kind. Give her a spear, some CQC attacks, and some magical attacks – courtesy of the Heart of Atlantis – to make her unique and, respectfully, give her the credit she deserves with a weapon that she’s had plenty of years to practice with on previous intruders.

Source: Walt Disney Studios

Furthermore, Kida would be a unique character as a party member. As mentioned with Milo’s combat, he’ll lose specific abilities when he’s unable to have specific crewmates near or around him in the story. Kida would fill in the gaps for those missing abilities, next to Sora and the gang, and when removed from the party for story purposes, Milo will be back at full strength with all of his abilities/crewmates by his side. A push and pull relationship between the two-party members as Milo needs Kida when he has no one else, and Kida needs Milo when she’s the one in danger.

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Areas of Exploration (Levels)

{1} – The Great Expanse/ The Ship Graveyard

This is where most of the Gummi ship minigames/battles will take place. The Leviathan will be fought here for the story and possibly as a Superboss.
Source: Newsedgepoint.net

{2} – The Great Cave: Ruins of Atlantis (Entrance)

{3} – The Great Cave: Ruins of Atlantis (Canyons)

{4} – The Great Cave: Ruins of Atlantis (Subzero Wastelands)

Source: Fanpop

{5} – The Great Cave: Ruins of Atlantis (Firefly Lanterns)

{6} – The Entrance to Atlantis (Outskirts)

Source: Fanpop

{7, 8, 9, 10} – Atlantis (Harbor/Town, Throne Room, Forests, Evening Shore)

{11} – Underwater Temples (With or without water)

Source: Google Images

{12} – Heart of Atlantis/ The Crystal Chamber

Source: Atlantis: The Lost Empire Wiki

{13} – Volcanic Ash Caverns

Source: Walt Disney Studios

{14} – Proving Grounds

The battlegrounds that Sora and others will fight on when battling against Rourke’s Heartless.
Source: Fanpop

{15} – Atlantis; New Outskirts

Source: Fanpop

Bosses

Source: Fanpop
  • Leviathan (Gummi Ship Battle; Possible Superboss)
  • Heartless Bug (Based on the giant bug seen in the movie)
  • Heartless Fireflies (Based on the Atlantean Fireflies seen in the movie)
  • Rourke and Helga
  • Rourke’s Heartless

Conclusion: A Rare Uncut Gem for Kingdom Hearts

Atlantis: The Lost Empire brings elements of action, story, conflict, and exploration as a world for Kingdom Hearts. Atlantis, amongst many other films by Disney, can be utilized to create fantastic worlds and re-introduce old characters to an entirely new generation of viewers.

If Disney plays nice with Square Enix and vice-versa, the potential for new worlds is limitless. However, the corporate side of businesses is fundamentally heavy regarding the use of another company’s work and current IPs. However, I believe that it is still possible to make Atlantis into something that would be a success and not a flop. Though we don’t know where the road begins for Atlantis, hopefully, this article is the first stone in the paved road towards its conception.

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