A Fan’s Look Back on the Kingdom Hearts Franchise

I don’t remember the exact day it happened, but one day as a kid, I was flipping through channels on the TV. Then, I saw a commercial for this video game called Kingdom Hearts. It looked like the strangest thing I’d ever seen. There were heroes and villains from different Disney movies talking to these strange looking people that looked like they didn’t belong. I didn’t think much of it at the time, though, because it didn’t make much sense to me.

Fast forward to 2005, I see a commercial for another game titled Kingdom Hearts II on the TV. I’m a little older by then, and looking for newer games to play. So, getting to play one with all the Disney characters I grew up with sounded pretty appealing. One trip to my local Blockbuster later, and I’ve rented Kingdom Hearts II for my PS2.

The Gaming Series That Did the Impossible

I’m glad I got it, because it turned out to be one of the best video games I ever played. This boy, Sora, only a few years older than me, seemed to be living a kid’s dream. He got to hang out with Donald and Goofy, traveled to the locations of classic Disney films, and fought off these strangec creatures made out of darkness. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen, and it turned me into a lifelong fan of Kingdom Hearts.

Kingdom Hearts could be considered an anomaly in video games. Look at the premise: combining characters from Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series with ones owned by Disney? On paper, It seems silly; like a self-insert fanfic. In addition, the overarching plot between games is so convoluted that it’s become the butt of many, many jokes. Yet, despite the implausibility of it all, Kingdom Hearts works.

Everyone Loves…What Disney Makes

Kingdom Hearts IV Teaser-Donald and Goofy
Source-Square Enix

Firstly, there’s the surface level to it. Disney is an entertainment juggernaut that was coming out of what’s called the Disney Renaissance. They doled out hit after hit film that my generation ate up. Thus, by partnering with Square Enix, they could capitalize on that success by letting kids insert themselves into the plot of their favorite films. They even went the extra mile by having most, if not all, of the voice actors reprise their roles. It worked like a charm, because I got hooked on it. Plus, the main villains we had to fight looked so cool, and the boss fights equal parts fun and challenging.

As I got older, though, and got better at understanding complex themes and subjects, I started to look at Kingdom Hearts from a new perspective. Yes, it can be called a self-insert fanfic, and the plot can be so convoluted that even a longtime fan like myself has trouble understanding it. However, throughout the franchise, the themes about Kingdom Hearts have been consistent. It’s a story about the importance of our emotions and the bonds we have with one another.

Real Messages About Our Emotions

Humans can be very emotional beings. Even when our brain is telling us that something’s right because it’s logical, our hearts can tell us the exact opposite. More often than not, it’s what we feel in our hearts that can dictate our actions and how we affect the world. The main characters place emphasis on friendship, camaraderie, and positive feelings, enabling them to overcome any obstacle. In other words, the light. Yet it’s not black-and-white.

Besides Sora, one of the other main characters is Riku. He starts off the franchise as the stereotypical friend turned rival, who ends up letting his own darkness (jealousy, anger, etc) briefly consume him. Subsequent entries initially had him abhor that same darkness as something to avoid. However, he eventually realizes that he can channel his negative emotions into something positive, turning his darkness into a source of good. It’s a good message on how even the parts of ourselves that we may not like can still be useful.

Kingdom Hearts Is Awesome

Kingdom Hearts IV Teaser-Sora vs. Giant Heartless
Source-Square Enix

The bottom line is that Kingdom Hearts is an amazing series of video games. It took things that most people wouldn’t think would be possible to combine and did just that. While some games have been better than others, one cannot deny that it’s a remarkable series as a whole. And as the recent announcement regarding Kingdom Hearts IV proves, it’s not done telling stories, yet.

Dedicated to the Memory of Gilbert Gottfried, AKA the Voice of Iago