Saturday, February 9, 2019

My Road to Kingdom Hearts: Part 1

Like many people my age, I played a weird video game called Kingdom Hearts when I was younger. A few years later, I played the second one. Then a few spin-offs came out while waiting for the third one. Then a few more spin-offs. Then remasters and collections. Still no third one. Kingdom Hearts is a long and complicated adventure that jumps across time and space. There are tons of videos and guides out there on the games themselves, but I thought I’d write up my own personal journey through Kingdom Hearts

The first time I saw a TV commercial for Kingdom Hearts, like many, I thought it was a joke. Donald and Goofy in weird outfits hanging out with Peter Pan and Aladdin and running into Ursula and the Oogie Boogie. And in between all that is this weird looking kid with big shoes and big hair. I am pretty sure that, at the age of eleven, this was the first time I was like, “What the fuck?”

Back then, my best friend and I used to have almost weekly sleepovers and we’d always stop at the video store - which was attached to the grocery store - and we’d rent a game for the weekend. We had both seen Kingdom Hearts on TV and being the curious little fifth graders we were, we decided to pick it up.

At that point in our lives, we were used to traditional collect-a-thon platformers like Crash Bandicoot, or arcade fighters like Tekken II. Our closest encounters with RPGs were Paper Mario and Pokemon. We honestly thought Kingdom Hearts was going to be like a Super Smash Bros. game but with Disney Characters.

That night changed our lives. Kingdom Hearts wasn’t just our first true plunge into JRPGs, it was our first dive into cinematic gameplay. The opening cinematic told a story of its own with a catchy pop song - it didn’t even show credits.

We weren’t even bothered by it being a single-player game either. Usually with something like Spyro we’d take turns whenever one of us died. But most players don’t die in Kingdom Hearts until they get to a real boss battle. Kingdom Hearts was such an experience that we actually just made popcorn and watched whoever was playing it for the whole night.

Eventually, we both bought our own copies. It was all we could talk about at school and all of our N64 friends had no idea what the big deal was. They had no idea that the world was different now.

All of my friends and I were fans of anime. So for us, Kingdom Hearts resonated the most with us as an adventure with the writing and character designs of something like Digimon or Dragon Ball Z. But with Disney characters.

We were young enough at that point to still appreciate the connection to Disney animated classics, and not old enough yet that we dismissed that stuff as “kids stuff.” In fact, our first weekend with that game ended with us stuck in the Tarzan portions of the game which was fitting since that same best friend and I had seen Tarzan together at the drive-in.

It took me years of playing and restarting Kingdom Hearts before I actually made it to the final cinematic. It was an amazing journey that opened our eyes up to JRPGs and cinematic storytelling in video games.

After discovering Kingdom Hearts we all actually went back and realized the connections to the Final Fantasy franchises. It prepared us for other favorites of mine, like Final Fantasy X, .hack, and Xenosaga. In fact, Kingdom Hearts is probably what started my use of popcorn as a primary gaming snack. Video games and movies started to blend together.

Kingdom Hearts opened a door to a whole new universe for me, but it was just the beginning. Join me in Part 2, when things start to get complicated and my memories come to life.