It is incredibly weird to think of Kingdom Hearts as a 20-year-old series. That feeling probably comes from the fact that that’s the majority of my life, which means I’ve been playing the games for as long as I can remember. A lot has changed in that time. Something I reflect on a lot is how my relationships have changed in my life. Like anyone, people have come and gone, friendships have deepened or softened, or even just fallen apart. Which ultimately, is what Kingdom Hearts is about.
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Understandably, people like to take this piss out of Kingdom Hearts. It’s fairly hard not to when long-established characters like Mickey Mouse say things like, “Say, fellas, did somebody mention the door to darkness?” The games are certainly a bit out there, and it can be hard to get used to. But, while so many people have this preconceived notion that Kingdom Hearts is just a bit silly, that many don’t realise the emotional gut punch that the Kingdom Heart’s games can deliver.
The plot of the first game is fairly simple. Sora, Riku, and Kairi live in a place called Destiny Islands together, alongside some Final Fantasy characters. Kairi came from a different world, and that idea – that there’s more out there – inspired Sora and Riku to go out there and find something more.
Though really, Riku is the one that’s serious about it. And it’s his seriousness about everything that throws a spanner in the works. Because he’s very clearly jealous of Sora and Kairi’s relationship in that ‘I’m 12 and I don’t know how to properly express the fact that my best friend has another friend that I also want to be friends with is making me jealous’ kind of way.
Of course, this leads Riku to submit the Destiny Islands to darkness, setting the three of them off on a journey that none of them were prepared for. And in turn, Sora makes a new pair of friends: Donald Duck and Goofy Goof. With some influence from Sleeping Beauty’s Maleficent, Riku’s jealousy expands until he ends up possessed by the game’s true antagonist. Classic teenager stuff, right?
In the end though, Riku gets his act together and accepts that if a relationship changes, that’s OK. No matter your age, that’s a tough thing to accept. Forming bonds at a young age can be surprisingly challenging, mostly because you haven’t learned enough about how the world works, and the different ways you can upset people. Kingdom Hearts helped me understand that it’s fine that I’m not still friends with every single person I ever met, or that even some of the friendships I do have aren’t what they used to be.
Occasionally I’ll think about a friend that I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. They might be someone that I know how to get in contact with, but wouldn’t – because we’re different people now. It may be someone I met on holiday, and wouldn’t even know where to look for them. Which is kind of something one of the spinoff games did.
There’s a moment in the prequel game Birth by Sleep where fan favourite character Axel meets one of the game’s protagonists Ventus. It’s a heartwarming moment for a lot of reasons, but in particular because later in Axel’s life he befriends another character called Roxas, who for reasons that are much too complicated to explain, looks exactly like Ventus. While Axel and Roxas are best friends, Axel and Ventus only share a brief moment of time together, but it’s enough to form a bond.
Axel never found Ventus again, but he never forgot him. And when they finally do reunite in Kingdom Hearts 3, well reader, I shed a little tear. Upon their reunion, Axel is surprised Ventus even remembers him. In that absence, Axel almost certainly changed as a person, and even if their bond might be different now, it’s still there. Which is the main reason I know it’s fine that many of my relationships aren’t what they used to be.
The thing that makes Kingdom Hearts special is because of moments like that, which are predominantly about how bonds stay in our hearts no matter how stretched out they might get. Sure, I get it, it’s a bit cheesy. But man, I don’t care. Because for me, even for the people that I look back on less fondly, there’s still a connection to them. Everyone I’ve met in some shape or form will have had a positive influence on me in some regard, and that’s enough.
And hell, the ludicracy of Kingdom Hearts is more like real life than you might expect. Recently, I found out that a friend I’ve made through writing happens to live with a good childhood friend of mine I don’t speak to any more. If that isn’t a bit of ‘what the hell is Kingdom Hearts’ magic, I’m not sure what is.
I don’t think this idea of how much relationships can evolve would necessarily work as well if Kingdom Hearts hadn’t gone on for as long as it has. There are plenty of series that have been around for a long while. After all, Final Fantasy is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. But there isn’t another game series as long-running as Kingdom Hearts that also boasts a single, long-running storyline.
For some, the series has probably run its course, and I don’t blame them. The Disney aspects can be off-putting and JRPG fans might find the dialogue hard to adjust to. However, with an announcement of a new Kingdom Hearts game likely not far off, there will come a time when I’m ready to move on from it. But the impact it’s had on me, and the way I’m able to view past, present, and future relationships in a more healthy light, makes those long 20 years worth it.