I got into Kingdom Hearts fairly late. I never even had a Sony console until I got a PS2 near or after the launch of the PS3, so 2006 or 2007. The system was a gift from my friend Kyle, the same Kyle from the Final Fantasy Marathon you can find on this blog. Assuming this happened in 2007, Kingdom Hearts 1 was five years old, and KH2 closer to a year and a half. This puts me out of step with the average Kingdom Hearts fans. Not as extreme as Kyle and I playing Final Fantasy 1 some twenty-one years after its original Japanese release, but still not the same. When you see them talk, these days, most Kingdom Hearts fans seem to have grown up with the series, having played it in their preteens or teens. It’s hard to find a discussion of Kingdom Hearts these days that isn’t touched by childhood nostalgia… be it honey-touched or broken.
That wasn’t me in 2007. I was an adult, wrapping up my first shot at postsecondary education, studying to be a programmer and still wanting to be a game developer (and I would be for a while, but that’s a long story and ahead of the one we’re telling). I’m not sure I would have even picked up Kingdom Hearts if I had not found copies of both KH1 and KH2 next to one another at the local Electronics Boutique, and going for cheap. I mis-remembered an ad from the early 2000s for the original game (I swear it said there were regular musical numbers in the game) and figured it sounded like fun. I liked and like Disney, even if I wasn’t so self-aware about it at the time, and still hadn’t played a Final Fantasy game. And if they turned out to be kids’ games, who cared? I had two younger brothers and had helped my mother’s work at the Children’s department at the local library for years. I’ve played more children’s games than most children and most parents. Children’s games can be fantastic, even if many aren’t. Maybe we’ll talk about that some day too.
All in all, Kingdom Hearts struck just the right chord at just the right time, and had me tracking down the GBA sequel, griping about Japanese exclusive versions, and waiting for future releases, all within a few hours of play.
This Retrospective is a series about joy. Kingdom Hearts marks the first of our In-Depth Retrospectives, a series about the games that have meant the most to me over the years. The games that have moved me, the games that have made me think, and the games that have worked perfectly from moment to moment to moment. We’ll be looking at the early games that held a place in my heart, like Link’s Awakening, recent games, and also my personal crown jewels: the Soul Blazer trilogy on SNES. But that’s in the future. For now, we’re looking at Kingdom Hearts.
This is going to be a fairly detailed retrospective. I take my inspiration from the old text days at The Agony Booth, as well as deriving influences from more modern sources like Jeremy Parish’s Anatomy of Games, Jon “ChaosD1” Burkhart’s style on MMO Grinder, or some of Linkara’s more in-depth work. These Retrospectives will be detailed write-ups, with a look at game design, narrative, art and art direction, with an attempt to capture both the perspective of an experienced fan and what I remember of being a new one. To better facilitate the latter, I try to discuss only what’s in front of us and what’s come before, to see what mysteries a new player could solve. Not so much “no spoiler” as “low spoiler.” With any luck, someone unfamiliar with a particular game could read along and get almost as much from it as an experienced reader.
So with that all on the board: hello! And welcome to the Kingdom Hearts retrospective. We’re going to be talking more about this series than seems at all reasonable. And if you’re not careful, you just might learn something.