Kingdom Hearts, a beloved franchise published by Square Enix, became a world-wide sensation back in 2002 for the PlayStation 2 with its whimsical story, catchy soundtrack, lovable characters, and its worlds heavily intertwined with various Disney universes. Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories released soon after on the Gameboy Advance, then Kingdom Hearts II back on the PS2 in 2005. Then, the world as we knew it unraveled in the most peculiar way. In addition to the Heartless, we now had Nobodies. And what about Organization XIII? Despite interim titles, it wasn’t until 2019 when the third installment of the “mainline” Kingdom Hearts game was released.
A total of 13 games have been released for this series, detailing what may be hands down one of the most complex storyline(s) in gaming history. What has a convoluted story spread across several titles and consoles over an extended period of time done to their fans? In the wake of Kingdom Hearts’ 20th anniversary, LeRon and I share why Kingdom Hearts broke our hearts in a Q and A format.
What hooked you to the Kingdom Hearts franchise?
SK: I was in high school when the first Kingdom Hearts game released, and at that time, I still only owned an N64 and Gameboy Color. To solution this issue, I would frequently hang out with my best friend, and we would take turns playing each world. I am a huge Disney fan, so to see this incorporated in a Final Fantasy-like world, was like a dream come true. The music was on point, and the story caught my full attention.
LD: When I first heard about the ambitious collaboration that was Kingdom Hearts, “elation” is the word I’d use to describe my feelings about it. At that particular time in my gaming “career”, I was an AVID Final Fantasy fan, and JRPGs were my serious schtick back then. But we elevated this experience by announcing this game would be a crossover with DISNEY! You’d be playing in a mashup of original location and worlds inspired by Disney properties and fictional locations from things that were my childhood. And, my favorite Walt Disney World character, Donald Duck was going to be a member of your party!!! Basically, my entire aura was like “SIGN ME UP!!”
When did Kingdom Hearts break your heart?
SK: While Kingdom Hearts 2 wasn’t as enjoyable to me as the first mainline game, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. Nobodies and Organization XIII were introduced, and I struggled conceptualizing the growing complexities of the story. Who was Roxas? I wanted to play as Sora! However, the worlds were still dynamic and tons of fun. I enjoyed the bosses and new enemies. However, it was after that where I just couldn’t keep up. Several titles were released on various consoles, and as I moved into my college years, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to follow what I considered a rabbit-hole of a story. Finally, Kingdom Hearts III was announced–set to release on the PS4, which I did own. Before purchasing the game, I did my homework and watched some Youtube videos to explain the story thus far. Even a video explaining the storyline between the first game up until now confused me to the point where I shut my laptop. I figured I could just fire up Kingdom Hearts III, and I could get by. What I didn’t realize was that 14 years was a long time between games for me…and I didn’t even make it to the end of the first world.
LD: While a lot of gamers will point to a specific part of any particular Kingdom Hearts game or a twist in the plot of the overall story, my heartbreak with Kingdom Hearts all boiled down to how the project was planned. I had thoroughly enjoyed KH1 and was pretty fond of KH2 despite the storyline getting a little muddied. Both games were fun, entertaining, and scratched my itch for RPG games. What made me fall out of love with Kingdom Hearts was a promise from the devs that would get broken. While it can surely be said it is not truly their fault, the devs and executive producer, Tetsuya Nomura, had made an announcement (an announcement which they now admit was way “too early” at that moment in time) that pointed to Kingdom Hearts 3 continuing into the next console generation (the PlayStation 3).
I also have to add, while we waited for KH3, spinoff titles and side-stories of the franchise began popping up on handheld consoles and mobile devices. Gamers received confusing messaging about those games and their place in the overall storyline (the majority of the titles weren’t going to bear weight on the Kingdom Hearts franchise), and a core group of gamers would come to ignore experiencing those games because we either didn’t own those platforms (the Sony PlayStation Portable, Game Boy Advance, the Nintendo 3DS, iOS, and Android OS) or just didn’t take too seriously the fact that they were mobile games. In this day and age, a core group of gamers still have trouble considering “mobile games” as TRUE games. So, an entire console generation comes and goes, and we get “side stories” but no Kingdom Hearts 3. We wouldn’t get the next “numbered sequel” to Kingdom Hearts until late in the life cycle of PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That’s where my heart break came in. They took too long. They released, in my opinion, “filler content” for the franchise. And they (mistakenly) broke a promise.
What did you wish Kingdom Hearts did differently?
SK: While not a game developer myself, I wished Square Enix would take their own song in the franchise to heart (no pun intended): Simple and Clean (pun intended). I felt they built the world at breakneck speed, introducing so many elements too quickly that it felt half-baked. Sometimes publishing on separate platforms for different games can also be a barrier to people to play them all. And finally, the release of Kingdom Hearts 3 just took too long. Of course, with that being said, there will be a 20th anniversary celebration some time next year in 2022. My disappointments won’t stop me from enjoying and appreciating what used to bring me joy. Could I possibly buy the collector’s edition of all the games in one (or two) bundle(s)? Perhaps. Like some bad relationships, it’s hard to keep yourself from coming back.
LD: I wished that the teams responsible for one of the most beloved franchises in gaming had just stayed on task. I am aware that there were major shake ups within Square Enix and that other projects would need attention, all of which ultimately led to the delays in the development of Kingdom Hearts 3. Kingdom Hearts, from a production side, suffered from inconsistent messaging. Once I realized that the various “offshoot” titles that bore the name Kingdom Hearts were going to be swallowed up and canonized into the main storyline, I learned that I was going to be terribly equipped to play and understand Kingdom Hearts 3. I’m not a true fan of Kingdom Hearts, but I did consider myself invested in the series. A 14-year gap to get a major sequel really hurt the franchise for me, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only fan that felt that way.
The fan base for Kingdom Hearts is one of the biggest and most loyal out there. They’ve stuck with a franchise that is set to turn 20 years old next March and has amassed a library of 17 titles. It’s my opinion that the fans deserved a little better.
The Kingdom Hearts 20th anniversary edition (Cloud version) released on the Switch with news of an event sometime in 2022. We are hopeful the developers are concocting something amazing for their fans in hopes they can regain momentum and keep the franchise fresh.
Wanna hear more? Check out this brief podcast clip where the Boss Rush crew discuss what video games made us emotional.
Have you played all the Kingdom Hearts games? Let us know your thoughts on the franchise on the Boss Rush Discord channel.
Image Source: GameIn Post