The best way to approach the Kingdom Hearts games is not as a series of video games but as a collection of moments. It might be tempting to try to find some sort of plot or meaning behind those moments, but down that path lies madness. Madness that we are about to explore. That madness is my madness, and soon it shall also be yours.
The Kingdom Hearts games have been the butt of jokes ever since the third one came out and was called Kingdom Hearts II. (I feel like it’d get along with Gal*Gun – Ed.) Unlike Final Fantasy, which has a similarly confusing numbering system but is a series of mostly unrelated stories in different worlds that share a similar aesthetic, Kingdom Hearts insists that each game is equally important to the ongoing plot. They released a rhythm game last year that was meant to simply recap the story so far, but they couldn’t help but throw new plot and lore into the ending.
Over the last two decades, it has spawned titles on multiple consoles across three different generations made by multiple companies, including a web browser and a mobile game. Kingdom Hearts is a seemingly incomprehensible, impenetrable mess of tangled plot holes, shaky mythology, and confusing character development and I have no doubt that somewhere Disney regrets signing on to be a part of it. And yet, much like the detective in Knives Out, I am compelled by the confusion of it all.
The beauty of Kingdom Hearts lies in the individual moments of absurdity that come with putting classic Disney characters in the kind of JRPG tropes that fans have come to expect. Its in watching Mickey Mouse mourn the death of his loyal soldier, Goofy, before grimly setting his face toward the battle ahead. Or seeing Toy Story’s Woody tell an anime boy that no one has ever loved him and that is why they must fight. Or listening to classic Mickey hopping noises be cut short by him being choke slammed by a man with blue hair and a black cloak. These are the moments that breath life into the series.
Placing the usually innocuous characters of the wider Disney properties in positions of JRPG style peril creates these moments and it is where the payoff for the story’s shortcomings come from. There is a kind of accidental genius that comes from moments like these, where the adorable characters we have known and love for generations are suddenly thrust into a situation their shared history has never prepared them for.
The message behind Kingdom Hearts, that friendship is something that can transcend space and time, comes through in the characters despite the strange places and situations they find themselves in. There is a sweetness to how the games show these friendships and how they develop over time.
Of course, with the Kingdom Hearts series spanning ten titles since its first release in 2002, my suggestion for potential fans looking to get into it for the first time is simple. Don’t. Not because I want to keep people out of the series or don’t want new fans to come in and do new things with the property that has been such a big part of my life for almost twenty years, but because it is the right thing to do.
Save yourself. It is too late for me.
If you’re desperate to delve into the chaos of Kingdom Hearts, I would suggest the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue collection as a way to get caught up and ready to tackle Kingdom Hearts III for the PS4. The full series has also recently launched for PC on the Epic Games Store.
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