Every once in a while, my scouring of Google, IGN forums, Youtube, and Gamestop discount bins leads me to a game or series that forces me to redefine myself as a gamer. When I was 11, I played The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess and would proceed to incorporate my love for that game into my description of myself as a gamer for the next 10 years. Later, I would discover my favorite game of all time, The Last Story, a game about which I have never extensively written. Most recently, I have added to my collection of self-redefining games Kingdom Hearts. Over the summer, after coming to the sad realization that I have played quite literally nearly every single Gamecube and Wii game I have had interest in, I acquired a Playstation 2. My flourishing love for quality RPGs produced an itch that could not be scratched by the Gamecube, so I decided to finally try my hand at a series that I had watched capture the hearts of some of my friends and millions of gamers everywhere: Kingdom Hearts.
There are seven main installments in the Kingdom Hearts series, and in order of release date, they are listed as follows:
Kingdom Hearts (originally PS2)
Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories (originally GBA; re-released on PS2)
Kingdom Hearts II (originally PS2)
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (Nintendo DS)
Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep (PSP)
Kingdom Hearts Coded (originally on Japanese mobile devices; re-released on Nintendo DS)
Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance (Nintendo 3DS)
Most people don't realize that the majority of this series actually is released on Nintendo handhelds, but I suppose marketing has gotten the best of this series with regards to that information. Gamers expect their JRPGs to be on proper consoles, and without a T.V. in front of them and a controller-in-hand, it can appear as though the hand-held side-stories of the Kingdom Hearts lore lack legitimacy, though this is entirely untrue. This series rose to fame thanks largely to its popularity on the Playstation 2, and without that symmetrical controller to comfort those who first played the series when it began over 10 years ago, it can be easy to forget that Kingdom Hearts games are released on handheld devices often, with new installments of impressive quality and scale for us to enjoy being made every few years.
I have not finished all 7 Kingdom Hearts titles yet, though I intend to. I have finished the first 4 aforementioned titles, and am making my way through re:Coded as I wait for my friend to lend me his PSP so I can begin Birth By Sleep. Despite my having not completed the series so far, Kingdom Hearts has left an impression on me by which I am profoundly inspired and moved.
Initially, Kingdom Hearts tells the story of Sora, a boy who decides with his friends Riku and Kairi that they wish to see everything the world has to offer, even if it means leaving their peaceful and quiet life on Destiny Island behind. The night before the three friends plan to sail away from their home, a supernatural storm tears their island apart and engulfs its ruins in darkness. The three friends are then cast to different corners of a universe comprised mostly of famous Disney worlds, and are left to spend the rest of the game exploring each Disney world, searching for each other. We play as Sora, who with his new friends Disney's Goofy and Donald Duck, eventually finds both Riku and Kaira, but not before learning that his adventure to new worlds is part of a much, much bigger story to be explained and experienced through the subsequent games.
My friends insisted that if I were to become genuinely interested in playing any Kingdom Hearts game, to play the titles in order of their release date despite moderately aged and worn gameplay seen in some of the older games, lest my enjoyment of the series be diminished by my failure to appreciate the links between each game with regards to story. Playing each game in this order produces what can seem like a massively convoluted story often leaving the player wondering if certain details were meant to be enigmatic, or if those same details were simply lost in the blitzkrieg of lore presented by each game. Following each nuance of each twist throughout the series can be difficult at times, but those who pay attention and follow the story closely are rewarded with a masterfully crafted narrative currently contending for the top spot on my fake list of best video game stories ever.
Though the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts and all of its sequels is fun and varied enough, this franchise is here to tell a story filled with exceptionally realistic and convincing characters, plot-twists that have at times relieved me of my ability to keep my bottom jaw attached to my top, and the battle between inner demons and our purest, most divine inner strengths.
While extensively abundant, the characters of Kingdom Hearts all contribute to a story that describes the battle of good vs. evil within ourselves. The message of Kingdom Hearts, while told in a fantasy setting, is very real, especially to me. The ever-growing struggle between Sora, a warrior chosen to symbolize hope, and Riku, a warrior symbolizing darkness while struggling with his own inner-turmoil, teaches that there is no extinguishing of light or dark within the world nor within ourselves; rather that the coexistence of both is necessary to achieve inner peace, but the light can be as powerful as the darkness is seductive, and without a careful balance between the two, we can lose ourselves, and fail in protecting those we love.
Power sleeps within you-
if you give it form, it will give you strength.
if you give it form, it will give you strength.