I love Kingdom Hearts. I mean, I legitimately love this gosh darn series of games. I’m not entirely sure exactly why I love it so very, very much, if I’m being perfectly honest; it’s one of those things that’s just sort of got in my brain and stuck there.
When I was a kid, I loved my Game Boy Advance. It was the only console I had for most of my childhood, and I was fine with that. Eventually, though, I wanted to upgrade. For some reason, I decided that the upgrade I’d really like to make was from GBA to the coveted Game Boy Advance SP. Anyone remember the SP? It was sort of like a pre-DS: a Game Boy Advance, which didn’t play any differently or have any upgraded specs or anything, it just had a flip screen and a backlight. Still, it seemed like a magical step up into more exciting and advanced hardware, so I saved up all the money I had for a few months until finally I could persuade my parents to contribute the final few pounds and I could have my beautiful SP.
Now, there was also this fancy, new-fangled thing called the PlayStation 2 around the time that I was building my little fortune. I say new-fangled, all my friends had had them for years. (Just looked it up and the PS2 was first released in 2000, which is absolutely mental to me. I didn’t get one until I was at least ten, which was in ‘04, and it still seemed like an amazing new piece of kit at the time.) Anyway, I was aware of the PS2. I’d played stuff like Theme Park World and Lord of the Rings: The Third Age on my friend’s console, and been astonished by how unbelievably amazing the whole thing was. ‘This is so much better than a GBA!’ thought nine-year-old me, nevertheless continuing to save towards getting a new version of the GBA that was absolutely no improvement over the old one.
The long and short of all of this is that I ended up getting a PS2 instead of the coveted SP, having decided that actually a PS2 was just generally much more better. The very first game that I played on that PS2 was the first Kingdom Hearts.
Back in those days, I lived just down the road from a shop called Choices, which was a magical place. You could buy or rent DVDs, games and all sorts; I think you could pay something like £3 and get a GBA game for the weekend. It later became Blockbuster, and now I think it’s a charity shop. I miss those times. Naturally, the first thing I did after getting my shiny new (second-hand) PS2 was to mosey on over to Choices and pick a game pretty much at random. I had just spent all my earthly wealth on the console itself, after all, so I couldn’t afford to buy any games. I spent a while living off rented copies and various demo discs scrounged from neighbours or magazines. In fact, one of the only games I managed to get a full version of in those first few months was a copy of This is Football 2004, a game which was by that time about two years old and which I was given by a friend who’d written ‘THIS GAME SUCKS’ on the disc in permanent marker. It wasn’t too bad.
My first choice turned out to be a good ‘un. I searched the shelves, having no idea which games were likely to be any good, until I saw one with an interesting-looking cover. ‘Ooh,’ said I. ‘Kingdom Hearts. Sounds fancy.’ So I picked it, because I had no better idea of what I might want to play.
I got home, stuck the disc in, and watched the opening cutscene.
‘Holy shit,’ I breathed, as my tiny mind was blown by what must have seemed like the most incredible graphics ever. ‘THIS IS THE BEST THING AND I WILL LOVE IT FOR ALL TIME.’
I’m pretty sure that those first few moments of watching the opening – and hearing the theme; the music of this series made me love game music, J-pop and indeed music in general to a greater extent – were all it took to sell me completely on Kingdom Hearts as a series and as a passion. I instantly loved it. It was kind of weird in hindsight, because I’d only played a limited few fragments of Final Fantasy games on friends’ PS1s before then, and wasn’t a massive fan of Disney, but for some reason the combination of the two lured me in.
All of this backstory about my own personal history with the Kingdom Hearts games is really intended to illustrate that it’s a series that means a lot to me, even if I can’t fully explain why. It’s just one of those things that I consider a part of my identity as a player of games and lover of stories.
And yet, it’s still a series that can piss me the hell off.
I expect that anyone who’s followed the series to any extent will have some idea of where I’m going with this, and perhaps a bit of shared rage. The games themselves are wonderful and I love them all very much (even the ones that are generally considered a bit shit), but holy crap the amount of waiting this thing puts me through. Let’s run down a quick timeline.
In 2002, Kingdom Hearts comes out. It’s great. Everyone loves it. Woo-hoo.
In 2004, Chain of Memories is released. I didn’t even know CoM existed until just before Kingdom Hearts 2 came out, because it was a virtually unhyped (at least in the UK) GBA game that acted as a sort of intermediary between the first two ‘main’ games.
Then, in 2005, Kingdom Hearts 2 happens. Its UK release was way later than its Japan and US release dates, which was the first instance of Young Overthinker getting a bit hacked off at how long this series could take to make its way to me. I even tried ordering a US copy, which didn’t work because I had a PAL-region PS2, so I spent way too much money for literally nothing. Ugh.
A couple more years pass, and in 2007 Re: Chain of Memories makes its way to PS2. It was a remake of the GBA game, and never actually came out in the UK. Strike two.
2008 saw the release of Kingdom Hearts: Coded, which was a mobile game that I was barely aware of and have still never actually played. It started a trend of games with the Kingdom Hearts name that were becoming less and less related to the events of the main series.
In 2009, 358/2 Days comes out on the DS. At this point, fans started to realise that the series was opting for some weird naming conventions in order to dance around the fact that they had no real plans for a third main game. As I recall, it was public knowledge since KH2 that there was going to be a KH3, but it started to turn into a Half-Life 3 sort of situation. Games that were part of the series, but had weird subtitles in order to avoid being one of the ‘main numbered’ games, became the norm. As an aside, this one’s title is apparently pronounced ‘Three-Hundred Fifty-Eight Over Two’. It’s probably the most reviled game of the series, primarily for containing one particular character, but I still liked it. It acts as a sort of prequel to some of the events of KH2, filling in characters’ backstories a little bit.
Moving on, the next game to be released was 2010’s Birth by Sleep for PSP. Again, it was a prequel, but it’s deceptively important to the series as a whole. This is something else to be aware of, by the way: some of these side entries can be skipped at no real loss to your understanding of the overall story, but some are absolutely critical. If you went into KH3 having played nothing except the two main games, you’d probably have absolutely no clue what was going on. Anyway, BBS is probably one of the best games in the series. It refines the combat by putting the player in the shoes of more experienced fighters, fills in some of the most mysterious gaps in the mythos and, perhaps most impressively, has both Mark Hamill and Leonard Nimoy voicing characters. It’s a legitimately great game.
The other game to come out in that year was Re: Coded. Similar to Re: Chain of Memories, it was an updated remake of Coded, but this time on DS instead of PS2. I still haven’t played that one, either. I don’t think it’s important.
Then we get to Dream Drop Distance, 2012’s 3DS entry that returns to the main characters’ story for the first time since KH2. It still feels very much like a non-main entry to the series, but it acts as a direct continuation of KH2’s story and builds up towards KH3. Again, skipping it will result in enormous confusion.
In 2013, the remixes start happening. Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMix is a PS3 game containing two remakes of previous entries – Kingdom Hearts Final Mix and Re: Chain of Memories – and a lengthy cutscene version of 358/2 Days intended to provide the story without having to actually play the game. I should observe that I’ve not even mentioned the Final Mix versions yet: KH1 and 2, as well as Birth by Sleep, got (previously) Japan-exclusive re-releases including some extra bosses and secret cutscenes and whatnot. The PS3 ReMix games brought these to non-Japanese audiences for the first time, as well as HD-ising them. Essentially, 1.5 brings nothing new, but it does collect a few of the early entries in one convenient place.
2013 also gave us Kingdom Hearts X. It’s not actually a letter X, but the Greek letter chi. I still usually pronounce it ‘X’, to be honest. X started life as a browser-based multiplayer game which seems to have relatively little connection in gameplay or story to the rest of the series, but if the rest of the series is any indication it’ll probably prove vitally important when 3 finally comes out.
HD 2.5 ReMix came out in 2014, and brought with it PS3 versions of Kingdom Hearts 2 Final Mix and Birth By Sleep Final Mix, plus the cutscene version of Re: Coded. I haven’t watched it.
In 2015, Unchained X comes to mobile devices. It’s actually not bad: a fun little port of X which feels more like a sort of mascot game, owing to the gameplay focusing on medals depicting characters from the rest of the series.
So far in 2017, we know of two releases, both for PS4: Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue and 1.5 + 2.5 ReMix. 2.8 actually came out today, which is why I thought about writing about it, and includes the obligatory remake of Dream Drop Distance plus a cinematic called X Back Cover which is apparently not quite just a cutscene remake of X, and for the first time a short new game using the engine in which KH3 is being developed. This new piece has the lovely title of Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage. 1.5 + 2.5 is exactly what it sounds like, just everything that was in the two PS3 bundle remakes stuck on one PS4 disc.
And that, for now, is it!
I just spent 1,012 words just explaining the chronology of the damn series. You can see why it’s a frustrating thing to love.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving Kingdom Hearts. The day KH3 releases is going to be one of the most exciting days of my life, as sad as that is; it’s currently in development and theorised to be coming out some time late this year or early next. I can’t wait to play 2.8 either; any new content is kind of amazing when you spend so long getting remixes of remakes of compilations of updated versions… in HD. I’d like to spend some time talking about the series itself, as opposed to just every darn game that’s come out, but that’s probably best saved for a different article at this point.
As a fan, I feel in a better situation than a Half-Life fan. That game went 1, 2, then a couple of episodes and then just sort of… stopped. Half-Life 3 is little more than a pipe dream at this point, whereas the E3 trailer that confirmed KH3’s development gave us heart-heads (not an official name) something concrete to hold on to. But it’s still pretty dang annoying clutching for any sort of new content and coming up with nothing but versions of what’s come before. You can’t help but feel that it’s largely money-motivated, since churning out remakes for newer consoles does nothing to further the series except cost the fans more to have the latest version.
I’ll always forgive them, though, because I’m a sucker.