Whitewashing a Japanese Game

Console Game: Kingdom Hearts

Is Kingdom Hearts Whitewashed?

“I find it problematic that in the Kingdom Hearts series, Xehanort/Ansem/Xemnas is the main villain and he’s dark-skinned while all the other original Kingdom Hearts characters (good and bad) are light-skinned. I don’t think there’s an original KH character who is dark-skinned and good.” (http://stopwhitewashing.tumblr.com/post/31303774224/i-find-it-problematic-that-in-the-kingdom-hearts)

Ahem… so there’s something else I noticed while playing Kingdom Hearts. It’s something I noticed when I was younger as well, and which must be addressed. Although SquareEnix is a Japanese company, all of the characters have white European features. For example:

Sora, the main character, has blue eyes and brown hair. None of the characters portray Asian features, which might make sense if the companies working together were targeting Western children on purpose. It’s somewhat disappointing, however, that the main character had to fit the stereotype of what young gamers were perceived to look like. That’s really the motive behind this, right? The target audience is young adolescent white boys living- being white is the norm. By the way, this is how the villains look:

This is how the villains look in the Aladdin world:

Yep…

Back to the main point, as one author points out:

“Racial representation is still a thorny issue. And while there have been a few articles I’ve read that deal with race issues in gaming, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: the writers often suggest that whites and Asians make up much of the workforce in the gaming industry, but then they skip directly to a conversation about the lack of Black, Latino, and Native American characters in games.”

Apparently, this is because so many Asians make up the work environment of the video game industry. Nevertheless, this begs the question: “if there are so many Asians who work in the game industry and play games, why are there so few Asian characters?”

“Asians are perceived as being too foreign to be American.” In issue #245 of Game Informer there is an article about localizing Japanese games for American audiences. One of the producers admitted that the staff was concerned that some of the characters were “too Japanese” and would end up “alienating Western consumers.” In the case of the game, Persona, the two Asian characters were changed into African American characters. (https://thenerdsofcolor.org/2014/02/24/missing-polygons-asians-race-and-video-games/)

In our class we’ve often discussed how the issue of identity is critical to gamers – think Gamergate. We have not, however, discussed solely Asian American identity and portrayal in video games, which would open a lot of new doors. Asian Americans are portrayed in a stereotypical light whether it’s the Oriental princess or the nerdy sidekick. Why can’t there be more Asian characters? Specifically, why can’t there be more Asian characters in a game made by an Asian company?

Crossing into the Disney Brand

Console Game: Kingdom Hearts

Crossing into the Disney Brand

SquareEnix worked with Disney to create Kingdom Hearts.  SquareEnix gained popularity by creating unique characters and appealing to a teen audience. Although SquareEnix gained popularity for creating the Final Fantasy series, it received criticism over not creating games with sensible story lines. Disney, on the other hand, is known for creating touching story lines and cute kiddish characters. When these two companies collaborated, they created a game that took over the market for several years. Originally released in the early 2000s, Kingdom Hearts still has sequels that are being released. The original Kingdom Hearts made approximately 4.68 million dollars in revenue. It sold 3.45 million in US, 1.23 million in Japan, and shipped 5.9 million worldwide. Needless to say, it was a huge success.

The game uses cross overs to bring SquareEnix characters into contact with major Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse, Goofy, and Donald Duck. This goes a step further when other Disney characters and worlds are introduced into the story and open for exploration such as the Little Mermaid, Alice in Wonderland, and Tarzan. By using these common and famous Disney stories, the game offers a sense of familiarity for its players. The player knows that Ursula, the Red Queen, and the black panther are all antagonistic characters. The player is also familiar with the cunning nature of the Cheshire Cat and the loving nature of Jane and her father. This becomes an advantage for the player, because the player knows what to expect. All of the worlds follow in accordance with their original stories. SquareEnix just added a twist.

The Disney brand was essential to the success of this game, because without it there would be no Kingdom Hearts. Without it, the game would lose a ton of marketing especially towards younger kids who enjoy Disney. By slapping Mickey Mouse and other recognisable figures onto the cover, the game was able to reach a broader audience and sell out quickly.

The King of Cutscenes

Console Game: Kingdom Hearts

When cutscenes run longer than movies

All of the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts were compiled in this YouTube video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNdcyOLuZMs). The runtime of all of the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts is 3 hours, 21 minutes and 32 seconds. This was the first video game I ever bought, but my brother played it since I was so terrible at defeating villains. Even though I did not play it all the way through on my own when I was younger, I remember watching all of the cutscenes in between. These scenes were so well made that I didn’t mind not playing. Even now, they still captivate me.

Still… being forced to rewatch all of those cutscenes and not being able to skip them made the game seem longer. I wasn’t able to finish the game in an hour and a half like other games, because I needed to watch all of the cut scenes and that extended the time from one and a half hours to five plus hours. The cutscenes are essential to the storyline and to the overall character development, and the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts are very well made, however, not every gamer likes cutscenes. My brother, for instance, would rather play the game instead of getting to know the different characters and their motivations. Personally, I love cutscenes because I’m a terrible player and I get to take a break and just watch what happens. Also, I’m a total sucker for love stories as in the case of Kingdom Hearts. 

I was shocked by how long the cutscenes were. I was able to get up, make a snack, leave the room and come back with the cutscene still going on. Of course, I lost some valuable information in the meantime, but it’s hard to sit and watch a game for hours on end. Nevertheless, Disney and SquareEnix worked together to craft a reasonable storyline and intriguing new world. The opening scene of Kingdom Hearts and its sequels have been viewed millions of times, because they are so well developed. They are full of easter eggs and foreshadowing that don’t become clear unless you finish the game and trust me – they make you want to finish the game!