Quick disclaimer: The following blog post tells the story of a 15-year-old girl who grows up to love a video game franchise. This post is in honor of the 20th anniversary of Kingdom Hearts. For those of you who have visited my home, you got a clear idea of what these games mean to me. I am a total dork and own it!
BRONX, NY – In 2006 Papi had gotten the Play Station 2 (slim edition) for me and Alondra. He asked if there were any games I had an interest in. I had remembered watching my little cousin play a game where Donald and Goofy were fighting alongside a kid named Sora. It had caught my attention, especially the music. My friends had told me about it as well, so I let Papi know I wanted to try out Kingdom Hearts. This was the beginning of my adventure with a video game franchise that would impact my life.
The Boy Who Holds The Key
Kingdom Hearts was first released in Japan on March 28, 2002. It hit shelves in North America in September of 2002. The collaboration between Square Enix and Disney became a big hit. Square Enix was already popular for their Final Fantasy series. Tetsuya Nomura, the creator of the franchise, was always fascinated about the concept of the light vs. the darkness. He wrote out an adventure in where a child is aided by Disney characters to find his friends and bring balance back to the worlds he visits. This was before the era of live-action remakes, so the Disney worlds are based on the animated classics.
The Kingdom Hearts franchise revolves around a boy named Sora. When dark forces destroy his island, Sora discovers he has the power to use a weapon known as a keyblade. After defeating a giant enemy (a heartless), Sora wakes up in Traverse Town and realizes his best friends, Riku and Kairi, are missing. He meets Donald Duck and Goofy, who were tasked by their King, Mickey Mouse, to find the keyblade wielder and seal the keyholes in different worlds to keep the darkness from spreading. Hoping to reunite with Riku and Kairi, Sora joins the duo on their quest to find their king and boards the Gummi Ship.
Sora learns many life lessons from the characters he encounters. He builds strong connections with the friends he meets and that is what drives his inner strength. You help him fight epic battles and watch him grow up (literally) in the other games like Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts III. There are also appearances from the characters of Final Fantasy and other Square Enix games.
I admit the storyline can be very confusing to follow considering the release order of the main games and side games (Birth By Sleep, 358/2 Days, Dream Drop Distance, etc.), but it is a great ride. The main villain is an intriguing and complex character. Also, just visiting the Disney Worlds is a fun dose of nostalgia. It’s never too late to join Sora, Donald, and Goofy on this adventure.
Boarding The Gummi Ship
Fun note: I played Kingdom Hearts II before going through the original game.
I know what you are thinking:
“You started out with Kingdom Hearts II? You must have been so confused with the story!”
In my defense, I didn’t see when Papi had bought it. Alondra was a spunky four-year-old at the time and my job whenever we went shopping was to make sure her curiosity did not get her into trouble. I assume Papi had asked the person at the register for the game, and he was given the latest one. I noticed the game once we had finished setting up the PS2 in the room my sister and I shared. I didn’t mind though. I was just excited to play it.
Kingdom Hearts II begins with a character named Roxas. My initial thought was “hey, this isn’t Sora. Who is this kid?” I went with the flow. Through Roxas I learned about the keyblade and the game’s combat style. It didn’t take me long to catch up with the Kingdom Hearts storyline since parts of Sora’s memories were shown in flashbacks. I got a basic concept of what had happened in the previous adventure.
Even though I did not fully understand Roxas’s role in the beginning, I was sad to see him go when it was time for Sora to return. I completed the rest of Kingdom Hearts II with Sora, Donald, and Goofy once they departed on the Gummi Ship. It was an emotional experience. I immediately ordered Kingdom Hearts and Chain of Memories.
Playing the Kingdom Hearts games was a fun way for my sister and I to bond. Alondra was fascinated with Kingdom Hearts because of all the Disney characters and worlds that were featured. As she got older, she learned how to play the game on her own. Alondra did leave most of the boss fights to me though. During the run-throughs when we would try to 100% the games, Alondra would help me navigate where Sora was supposed to go to find all the treasure chests, Dalmatian puppies, and hidden items by reading the guides off my laptop. I can say that due to the combat style, Chain of Memories was our least favorite. On road trips, we stayed entertained playing 358/2 Days and Re:coded on the Nintendo DS. By the time all the Kingdom Hearts games were remastered for the Play Station 4, my little sister had lost interest. It was good while it lasted. She doesn’t play video games as much as I do, and that’s okay.
The story is what made me stick with the franchise. All the characters like Sora, Riku, Kairi, Roxas, and Mickey Mouse have their own goals that they want to achieve. The backstories of these characters have resonated with so many people. There are also strong female leads like Aqua in Birth By Sleep which was important to me. Although I was confused about Roxas in Kingdom Hearts II, he became my favorite character once I got to know about his origins. If you are interested in the Kingdom Hearts story but do not want to play the games, I highly recommend reading the mangas and light novels.
Big tip for those of you who have already played the games: read all the books in chronological order if you can. The story flows a lot better and there are more details within the books.
One of the biggest reasons I love the franchise is because of the music. Yoko Shimomura has composed most of the score for the Kingdom Hearts games. “Traverse Town” was the theme that caught my attention when I first watched my cousin play the game. My past gaming history at the time included Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, and Medievil. Hearing the theme for “Traverse Town” was the first time I heard an orchestral piece for a video game. I loved it! I play the soundtracks as background music often. “Dearly Beloved” is rearranged for every new title screen and it always sounds like something new. The opening sequences paired with the visuals are amazing as well. This one from Kingdom Hearts 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage is on the top of my list.
Gil and I got to experience the Kingdom Hearts Orchestra when it came to NYC at the United Palace. It was one of the best concerts I ever attended and just like Sora we got to meet some new friends who share the same love for the characters as we do. I have so many favorite themes. Making the top cut are “Vector To The Heavens”, “Roxas”, “Aqua”, “The Afternoon Streets”, “Traverse In Trance”, and “Welcome To Wonderland”. Melody of Memory is a great music-based game to play along with the score and catch up on the story. There are even Disney songs included like “Circle of Life” and “Under the Sea”.
I admit Gil and I have gone a little overboard when it comes to the merchandise. Do we regret it? Nope! When we have guests over, they can tell Kingdom Hearts means a lot to us (I am lucky my husband is also a Kingdom Hearts geek). It’s rare now to find any swag outside of stores like Hot Topic or Box Lunch. You just got to know the right places to look. The funko pop collection has grown thanks to our amazing and supportive friends. The fan community is great too. All the fan art I have been seeing on social media leading up to the anniversary is so sick! I really believe Kingdom Hearts has something for everyone.
For all the fans of the franchise: Happy 20th Anniversary! We got so much exciting news yesterday, including the upcoming Kingdom Hearts IV. I can’t wait to see where the next arc will lead our favorite characters. For my readers who have not played the games, give it a shot. It’s a lot more than just Disney character fighting the forces of evil.
Photos: Rosa Elena Burgos
Video: Kingdom Hearts YouTube
Last Updated: April 11, 2022