In the days of the rental store, designers made games especially difficult in the beginning so players could not complete the game in just one rental cycle.
Players cannot escape the system around them.
I first stumbled upon Kingdom Hearts at my local Drug Mart. I was 9-years-old. After recognizing some Final Fantasy characters on the back and sweet-talking my parents for 3 bucks, I had 5 days to beat all of Kingdom Hearts.
To those who know what they’re doing, the first KH can be completed at a regular pace in about 30-or-so hours. Me? I got stuck in the first level (Destiny Islands) then the next level (Traverse Town) for at least 5 hours each. Suffice, to say, I didn’t make it past the first rental cycle.
I remember when I was 11-years-old, I had a sleepover with my friend Ben and he was stuck on the Aladdin level when you fight the animated tiger’s head that guards the magic lamp. I bet him I could not only get past the fight for him but I could win with just one hand.
KH2 came out 3 years later and in that time, another KH game to bridge the first and second came out. It was for the GameBoy Advance, and I didn’t get to play it until one year after I played Kingdom Hearts 2.
Kingdom Hearts 2 released in North America 3 months after it did in Japan.
In those 3 months I would spend dozens of hours on the GameFAQs message boards under the moniker “AsianGamer93.” Fans with imported copies played in modded PS2’s or Japanese fans who frequented the English version of the boards would post photos of the game (take pictures of their TVs with a digital camera). This fueled wild fan speculation pieced together with shoddy translation work done by actual 13-year-olds. We developed shorthand to refer to mysterious new characters (ex. Roxas was once just BHK (Blonde Haired Kid).
When KH2 finally did come out, I convinced my oldest brother to buy it for me as a birthday gift (two months before my birthday), then I convinced my mom to lie to my school that I was sick.
If I had rented KH2, I would’ve beaten it in that first rental cycle.
When I was 13 and finally had birthday money, I bought an old GameBoy Advance off John K. so I could play Chain of Memories. He sold it to me for $20 because it no longer had the battery door. People had already moved on to the GameBoy Advance SP, anyway. This is the same John K. who once prank-called my house by leaving a message, posing as a neighbor, saying that I kicked their dog and the dog died. My mom thought it was startlingly real, but when the truth eventually came out, John’s mother forced him over to apologize in person. Our friendship never quite recovered.
In a much-anticipated review of Kingdom Hearts 3, Adam Sessler of Xplay said the only reason people loved it is because “it’s the game that taught your 12-year-old-self about depression.”
Xplay was canceled in October 2012, came back in July 2020 (the era when it reviewed KH3) and shut its doors again in 2022.
In between the North American release of KH2 and the world-wide release of KH3, thirteen years passed.
A lot has changed in video games, and a lot has changed in me.
In that thirteen years, there was one mobile game with a Japan-only release. That game, Coded, was later re-released world-wide on the Nintendo DS. There was a Facebook browser game that was released in an episodic manner then later collected and re-released (with a sort-of sequel) on smartphones. There were 2 additional portable games (another for the DS, one for the PSP.) All of these contained crucial plot details. In order for a fan to grasp the plot of Kingdom Hearts, they needed to play both original games on PS2, play both portable games (for two different portable consoles), and play the smartphone game.
How much nonsense can any one person handle?
In those thirteen years, I graduated high school, college, and moved 8 times.
In those thirteen years, my mom got her Master’s, got a job as a social worker, left that job, got a new one, left that job, was diagnosed with cancer, and after a year of treatment that cancer went into remission (until it didn’t remit any longer).
In those thirteen years, my dad obliterated his knees working a full-time and part-time job. After being wrongfully fired and out of work for months, he was finally re-hired.
My dad was fired the morning of my 23rd birthday (still no Kingdom Hearts 3). My mom was crying. She said “Your father was fired this morning. Happy birthday,” then handed me a copy of The Purpose Driven Life, which I still haven’t read.
The first line in Kingdom Hearts is “I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately. Like, is any of this for real? Or not?”
This line is repeated for the first time in a secret movie at the end of Kingdom Hearts 3, 17 years later.
Kingdom Hearts melds together popular characters and themes from Final Fantasy and Disney magic (and IP’s).
It has been called “Anime: The Game” and also just one long Disney World advertisement. Admittedly, it is basically a capitalist fever dream about loneliness and friendship.
How much nonsense can any one person handle.
Is any of this for real? Or not?
Players cannot escape the system around them.
One year and one month after the release of Kingdom Hearts 3, my mom would no longer be alive.
In Kingdom Hearts you must save yourself by saving others, not the other way around.
Geramee Hensley is the Poet Laureate of Kingdom Hearts, Editor-in-Chief of Sonora Review, and Poetry Editor at Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Their work has been featured in Button Poetry, Poets.org, Indiana Review, The Journal, The Margins, and elsewhere. Their work has been supported the Tin House Summer Workshop, and they've received several awards including a 2022 Academy of American Poets Prize and Booth Journal's 2022 Beyond the Margins prize.
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