Games. Culture.

How Mario Odyssey Captures The Feeling of Kingdom Hearts

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When we look at the history of Mario titles, all of the worlds seem to have a similar art style. While we do have many examples of memorable looking levels in past games, none of them look like they don’t belong in the Mario franchise.

Enter; Super Mario Odyssey. The game where everyone’s first comment upon seeing it is, “Woah, this looks weird.” A game where a familiar character is put in many different situations and places you would find strange to see them in. A theme of oddity follows Mario on his adventure throughout the foreign kingdoms he visits, some seeming to fit, and others where our hero seems out of place.

It is this theme of oddity where I found myself harkening back to a franchise that is quite beloved in my eyes, and I am only now seeing that their similarities bring me the exact same feeling of magic and joy that this VERY different franchise has provided me throughout my entire life.

That series, is Kingdom Hearts.

Joy, fun, and contrasting art styles are a big part of Kingdom Hearts. Main characters stylized to look like Final Fantasy characters, teaming up with a wide (and strange) range of characters and art styles. It all comes together into what at first glance can look like a mess, but ends up being perfect in it’s own right.

You, a stylized anime boy, teaming up with an anthropomorphic dog and duck, jumping from world to world to solve the various problems their unique environments provide, all add up to something that is quite strange, and at many times, seems out of place. Putting these characters alongside ‘cartoony’ Disney properties like Little Mermaid and Winnie The Pooh can seem strange on their own, but going the extra mile and putting them into ‘live-action’ worlds based on films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Tron: Legacy brings the oddity up even more. Donald Duck and Sora hanging out with Captain Jack Sparrow, a strange sight to behold. So yes, Kingdom Hearts is weird, but there is something magical about visiting a world as a character that obviously doesn’t belong there.

Have you ever visited a new city? Country? Continent? Visiting places can give you such a sense of wonder about any given place. You may notice the people in this new place act differently than you do, or that they have a different style than yours. The whimsical sense of discovery and wanting to see more fun and magical things is something that rings throughout the entirety of Kingdom Hearts, and its something I haven’t felt in another video game; until Super Mario Odyssey.

Mario leaves the comfort of his art style and travels to different kingdoms throughout his journey in Super Mario Odyssey. While some kingdoms look like they could fit in the Mario universe, others contrast the cute and friendly tone of the Mushroom Kingdom with strange and fantastical realism. Similar to Sora Meeting Jack Sparrow, Mario assisting businessmen looks out of place, but somehow it works.

What Kingdom Hearts has taught us is that unusual mashups of characters from different visual styles can bring a unique joy that comes from the unfamiliarity of visiting a place. Super Mario Odyssey succeeded in replicating the feeling that Kingdom Hearts has solely provided me in video games for years; something I didn’t think possible.

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