Happy 20 Years to Kingdom Hearts, My Favorite Video Game I’ve Never Played…

Okay, given the fact that I’m technically the one who got my brother into Kingdom Hearts because I picked up re:coded for the Nintendo DS all those years ago, the title of this post is a little misleading. However, it is true that I haven’t played all of the Kingdom Hearts games. Just re:coded, Kingdom Hearts I (over the course of at least a year), and a small portion of Chain of Memories. Yet I feel like I know this franchise’s story very well, as I have watched at least half of my brother’s play through of the saga, read a lot of the manga series, and listened to my brother talk about the lore. (And, of course, debated with him over whether or not the plot of Kingdom Hearts actually makes sense.) I love the story and original characters of this franchise, and easily consider it my second-favorite video game series (after The Legend of Zelda).

If you have no clue what Kingdom Hearts is, buckle up for this explanation: it’s Disney meets Final Fantasy, an epic Japanese RPG series. Okay, maybe that doesn’t sound too crazy to you if you don’t know what Final Fantasy is, but imagine futuristic Lord of the Rings anime, and I think that should paint a decent picture for you. Kingdom Hearts was released on this day, twenty years ago, and has had several sequels and spin-offs since then. So, in honor of the franchise’s twentieth anniversary, allow me a few moments to explain why I love this weird mash-up of a video game series to you.

It is a little odd that I have so much fondness for a video game series that has been primarily my brother’s main interest. But I think the reason for my fondness is in that statement itself: Kingdom Hearts has been a bonding experience for me and my bro. The hours we’ve spent together with him playing and me commentating (mostly on how many times he dies in a boss fight), random moments where I attempted to play it myself, and even FaceTiming with my brother to watch while he played through the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III while college separated us. Many of my birthday or Christmas gifts for my brother have also oriented around Kingdom Hearts. This franchise is one of the many things that he and I have shared over the years, all starting with me buying re:coded and letting him play it after me.

My brother and I celebrated Kingdom Hearts’ 20th Anniversary this Saturday by eating homemade sea salt ice cream and playing the game together.

After so much time spent with this story, it’s no surprise that it has also inspired pieces of my own books and writing. One of my fantasy series’ origins and character design stems from Kingdom Hearts. I also rarely wrote fanfiction, yet I have complete and incomplete scripts for Kingdom Hearts skits (one several tiny sketches on life in the Organization XIII, the other Kingdom Hearts meets High School Musical—which included parodies of High School Musical’s songs, I might add). These scripts were for my brother, but also reflect my own appreciation for the story and characters of the game.

Speaking of characters, my favorite are the Organization XIII. Any plot surrounding them has always intrigued me, and 358/2 Days is my favorite Kingdom Hearts story (and, in my opinion, the saddest). My favorite main trio is Roxas, Xion, and Axel. The Organization, their various weapons, and how they interact with each other have inspired multiple elements of my own fantasy series, too.

Moving onto aspects of the franchise’s story, I personally find the themes of Kingdom Hearts to be compelling. As the whole conflict revolves around clashes of Light and Darkness, I often notice biblical undertones through the stories and themes of the games. A few of the heroes fall into Darkness and must overcome it; their stories often bring to mind our own struggle with sin and how we overcome Darkness through the power of the Light (Jesus). I certainly don’t think the game is intentionally presenting Christian allegory by any means, and there are places where the story’s themes get a little muddied, but the hints of Truth are something I’ve always appreciated about the franchise. I love stories that clearly portray Light overcoming Dark, as they reflect the ultimate reality of Good conquering Evil. Sometimes Kingdom Hearts is cheesy in its dialogue about Light versus Darkness, but I find it more endearing than cringy, personally.

A final aspect of Kingdom Hearts I adore: the music. Kingdom Hearts music is the music I most often turn on while I’m writing. It’s comforting, it’s beautiful, it’s sentimental, it’s action-packed, it’s moving–it hits all the right notes, and there’s always a setlist to fit the writing mood, regardless of scene. I’m so glad the Kingdom Hearts III soundtrack is on Spotify. Also, Project Destati, a Kingdom Hearts cover artist group, has beautiful orchestral arrangements of some of the most well-known songs, and I particularly love listening to their renditions. 

I’ll admit, I would like to play through the entire Kingdom Hearts franchise someday. (Though not the cloud versions they put out for the Switch…too many possible internet connection issues and questions about how long they’ll be available for, no thanks.) But for now, I’m content to watch and enjoy from the couch as my brother attempts fighting the Lingering Will and failing for the fiftieth time… (Heh heh). 

With that, I declare: Happy 20th Anniversary to Kingdom Hearts! I’m thankful that this story has been such a sweet thing for my brother and I to share, and that it’s been a huge source of personal writing inspiration. Now I’m off to make sea salt ice cream and sit on a clock tower, staring off into the eternal twilight with my brother to celebrate the day.