After thirteen long years, the Disney world-hoping adventure, Kingdom Hearts 3, finally released to the delight of its many fans. The game starts off slow, bogged down by long cinematics and a surprise prologue, Kingdom Hearts II.9. That’s the roman numeral II with a decimal point. I mean, I love Kingdom Hearts and you can really miss the game’s heart of gold if you spend too long focusing on its bizarre choices but come on. I do want to focus on the prologue’s content, namely its shiny Olympian hero and the gruesome, tawdry, and down-right messed up parts of his legend that Kingdom Hearts’ Disney world painted over.

Kingdom Hearts II.9, the bridge connecting the story so far and the anticipated final series installment, is built on the gleaming marble columns and fluffy magical clouds of a Disney-friendly Greece. That’s a great move. Hercules is a familiar character to both Sora and likely to anyone who has picked up Kingdom Hearts in the past. The Coliseum was one of the first world’s we visited in the original game all the way back in and featured in all but one game afterwards. The setting is a great choice to recapture the fans’ nostalgia from the series while ushering them into new worlds. The only thing is the guide, that good-hearted wonderboy just looking to be worthy of the gods, has horrifying roots.

Hercules Murders His Wife, Megara

We start off with one of the more macabre things Kingdom Hearts hides way under Hercules’s wonderfully revamped environment. Breaking free from the limited Coliseum grounds, the gameplay begins in the city of Thebes where raging fires and crumbling buildings threaten the innocent townsfolk. Art imitates life here because, according to legend after defending the city, the King of Thebes wed Hercules to his daughter, Megara. In the game, Meg seems to appear after every major battle to build up the heroes and give Hercules some shallow comfort.

Herc’s spirited love interest makes her first entrance atop the supernatural Pegasus in a notably quick scene that serves two purposes. One, it’s a character refresher – a Kingdom Hearts heavy-handed way of saying “hey, you might have forgotten, but these are the main players in this world.” Two, it establishes the stakes. Hercules, in a slightly chauvinistic way, shows his love by rushing Meg out of danger with a quick word to his trusty steed to protect her. If history is any indication though, she’s in the most danger next to Hercules than trapped in that smoldering city.

The mythical Hercules was driven temporarily mad by Hera queen of the gods and, in his rage, murdered his wife and children. Far from the gleaming do-gooder in Kingdom Hearts, Hercules of ancient myth was motivated to complete his famous deeds not to please the gods, but to wash away the guilt of this heinous murder. Puts a little bit of a shadow on that picture above, right?

Womanizing Father, Womanizing Son

Okay, so now the question is why would Hera, Zeus’ wife and Hercules’s mother do such a thing? The answer to that lies with Zeus and the hero’s conception. In the game Zeus is Hercules’ proud papa and Olympus is home to his welcoming family. A home Hercules chooses not to live in because he would be separated from his mortal love. In Kingdom Hearts III, the king of the Gods is our motivation to enter the gleaming world. really, Square Enix outdid themselves with how beautiful the game looks. The clouds look like solidified gold-tinted cotton candy. The marble floors have a sheen you could probably blind enemies with. It’s a stunning set, but not everything is lovely in the mountain seat of the gods.

The Zeus of mythology is a legendary philanderer. A fact that frequently cast suffering on his, mostly unwilling, paramours. True to form Hercules’ real mother is Alcmene, not Hera, and Zeus’ attentions only caused her grief. Zeus appeared to Alcmene disguised as her husband. The trick worked and Alcmene, not knowing anything was up, happily conceives a demi-god. When her real husband realizes that the new-born snake-strangling Hercules isn’t his son, Alcmene runs to an altar to pray for safety, where her husband burns her alive. (To give Zeus credit, in most versions Zeus does save her from burning.) As one of Zeus’ illegitimate children, Hercules grows up with the constant threat of Hera’s wrath. It is completely unfair, but unfortunately Hercules doesn’t become better than his father and grows up to be just like his womanizing old man.

Pegasus Is Not Hercules’s Friend

Even Hercules’s blue-haired companion wasn’t what he seems in Kingdom Hearts 3 and he certainly wasn’t created from the clouds of Olympus to celebrate the happy occasion of a new gods’ birth. Even though in the game, Pegasus is the one friend that always sticks with Hercules, in ancient myth, the two didn’t even cross paths.

Kingdom Hearts’ Pegasus is a tame winged stallion that swoops down towards Sora and Hercules to drop off Meg for her dialogue and then cart her away again. Before the creature departs, Hercules takes a moment aside to pat the creature – like he is trying to pump up his horse-bonding level in Red Dead Redemption 2 – and instructs his silky white friend to keep Meg safe. And that seems to be his overarching life goal in the game: happily hauling people around.

When things are looking iffy on Mount Olympus, Hercules whistles for his faithful flying ride and ditches the earth-bound Sora. Unfortunately, the creature disappeared somewhere once Sora and the gang reunite with Hercules. It would have made the epic battle against gigantic Titans a little easier, but probably less dynamic. The multi-part boss fight pit you against the forces of nature. Fighting the enormous rock Titan feels like taking on the earth the whole Earth, the creature is so big. It’s especially fun because Sora, Donald, and Goofy can climb straight up the rocky cliffs of Olympus to challenge it, which makes you feel unrestricted and powerful – as long as you dodge any boulders coming at you. It still would probably have been safer and easier to approach the Titan via flying horse.

Ancient geeks, however, would have been completely baffled by Pegasus in Kingdom Hearts. Not only is Pegasus not a proper name, it’s a kind of creature, but the most famous one hung out with a guy named Bellerophon, not Hercules. Also, the Pegasus of legend doesn’t trace his parentage back to some animated clouds. The stallion flew into the world when his mother, the gorgon Medusa (you know, the ‘turns people into stone’ monster), was decapitated. The horse sprang out of her neck as she lay dying; it’s a pretty gory birth, even for mythology standards.

Suicidal Path To The Gods

In his last scene with Hercules on Mount Olympus, Sora realizes he has to find something worth fighting for “with all his heart'” and this is the only way to become a true hero like his pal, Herc. It’s an important epiphany that spurs Sora and the gang onto their next adventure. But Sora might not want to emulate Hercules’s real mythology to find his inner strength. The Hercules of ancient myth didn’t ascend to Olympus because he put others first, it was because, at the end of his rope, Hercules committed suicide.

Kingdom Hearts 3’s cosmic fight won, and comedic Hades soundly rebuked for his naughty outburst – you know destroying Thebes and trying to overthrow Zeus – Hercules shares a touching moment with Meg and returns to Sora’s problem. The environment is again, stunning. The triumphant glow emanating from the golden gates of Olympus shines over the characters while the familiar heart-lifting Olympus theme song plays in the background. The scene is positively brimming with uplifting motivation and made me eager to play the next part of the game. Hercules’s mythological visit to Olympus, however, was very different.

Because the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, Hercules’s second wife,
Deianira, was jealous of her husband’s infidelity. So, like any (totally normal) wife, she attempted to infuse a shirt with a powerful love potion. Unfortunately, the main ingredient in this potion was deadly Hydra poison. When Hercules donned his gift, the shirt clung viciously to him and burned his skin like acid. Unable to bear the pain, Hercules cast himself into a fire, which coincidentally burned away his mortal flesh. Having shuffled off his mortal coil, Zeus was able to make Hercules a real god.

It’s easy to see why Disney or Kingdom Hearts wouldn’t have used the original source material as is. Killing and womanizing isn’t exactly kid friendly but, making my way through the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 3, I can’t argue that a little of the darker tale would have sped the game up. After completing the prologue, regrouping, and learning the new – and more intrusive – ways of the Gummi ship, Kingdom Hearts 3 starts Sora’s exciting adventure in earnest.

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