Saturday, February 2, 2019

Looking Back On Kingdom Hearts

I can't believe it. Kingdom Hearts III is actually out, and I've played it! A part of me still thinks this is some hoax, but it's not. The game is real, and our long wait is finally over. While a lot of newcomers to the series may not understand just how big of a deal this is, many of you out there do. This is more than just another big name game, it's something only those who have been there since the beginning can understand... (Well, maybe there are some exceptions.) Kingdom Hearts is a series that holds a special place in many of our heart's, and each one of us has our own "chain of memories" (yes, I went there) surrounding it. As for me, this series holds nothing but good memories, and every time I pick up and play one of the entries I'm brought right back. So in honor of KH3's release, I figure it's about time I share my story.

The first time I saw Kingdom Hearts was when I was at my mom's work. I was sitting there watching TV in the living room, and suddenly I heard a (now familiar) song playing. It was the theme music for some new game coming out on the PlayStation 2, and for whatever reason it had Disney characters in it. Around that time was when I first got into watching anime as well (thanks to Toonami), and as I watched the commercial I couldn't help but notice the characters of Sora and Riku. Without knowing anything about the game I already thought they were the coolest characters ever, and I wanted to know more about them. Sadly I didn't have a PS2, and before long the commercial faded from my memory. Until Chain of Memories came along that is.

When CoM came out once again I was seeing commercials for the series, and even Nintendo Power was covering it. Again I thought the idea of having a Disney game was cool, but it wasn't something I could just run out and get. My parents would only get me specific games, and I didn't know enough about Kingdom Hearts to ask for it. Plus considering I only got a handful of games a year during special days (like Christmas or on my birthday), Kingdom Hearts on the GBA wasn't something I was going to ask for over the likes of Mega Man Battle Network. (Fun fact: Netto is the main character's Japanese name, and where NGR's name originates from.) Anyway because of that I once again passed on the KH series and went on with my day to day life.

Jump ahead to high school and things began to change. I got a PS2 for my 8th grade graduation, and now I was starting to hear more about the series once again. I can still remember sitting in band class as one of the senior girls was talking about trying to get the ultimate weapons in Chain of Memories. Hearing the things she had to say got me a bit more interested again, but I wasn't quite ready to run out to get it.

After Animal Crossing Wild World came out on the DS, me and a friend both got it for Christmas and we spent a lot of time playing it online. This is when out of nowhere (I have no idea where) he started bringing up Kingdom Hearts II. So once again I started asking questions about the series, and my interest grew more and more. Now that I had a PS2 I could actually get into it, but I wasn't sure how I would or where I should have even started. I remembered Chain of Memories on the GBA, but after doing some research I found that it wasn't a good idea. So instead I started reading the original KH manga, and began talking about it with other friends. Shockingly most of my friends, who had never mentioned the game before, loved it, and they were all trying to get me to play. This is when my friend Keith invited me over to his house that weekend, and he had me start up the game for the first time. And it blew me away.

Although I didn't get to play too much that day, the whole thing was still exciting for me. Here I was playing as this kid named Sora, and I was sitting at the start of some grand adventure that awaited him. It was an adventure I REALLY wanted to take on myself, and I couldn't wait till I could buy the game and do just that. Then the unexpected happened. "You know you can barrow it right?"

The next two weeks were simply amazing. It was getting close to the end of my freshman year, but the only thing I remember about that time was playing Kingdom Hearts. School work, studying for finals, etc... I can't recall if I even did any of that. All my memories are of me waiting for the school day to end so I could rush home and see what new adventure Sora would get into in the next world he visited. Then as I cleared each stage I'd come back to school to talk about it with my friends, and then head back home to repeat the process. Eventually I did finish KH1, and I returned the game to my friend before the end of the school year. And that's when I began thinking of a way to get Kingdom Heart's II.

I don't remember exactly how I went about it, but at some point I did get the money for the game. Up until then though I spent weeks looking up information about the game, and I kept trying to come up with a way to get my parents to let me have it. Before then I had been telling my dad about the first game, but I think he felt it was a bit too kiddish for me. As for my mom she knew nothing about the series, and I knew some of the game's content would bother her (mainly the whole darkness thing). It drove me crazy that I wasn't able to continue on with the series, and to make matters worse it seemed like the whole world wanted to rub that in. In fact at one point I was at Walmart and I saw this little kid run up to me with the Kingdom Hearts II guide book. He then proceeded to open the pages, and shook it in front of me as if to show off what he had and I didn't! Of course in reality he was just a kid excited to have the guide book, but still. It was a game I REALLY wanted to play, and not much I could do to get it. As an almost 15 year old I was limited in funds, and my parents had the final say in what I could or couldn't do. It wasn't easy for me... But then one day things changed. I took the leap of faith, and managed to come home successful.

Looking back on that Saturday morning, it was weird. I had spent the night at my mom's work on my roll away bed, and the first thing I thought when I woke up was "I'm going to get Kingdom Hearts II today." I remember laying there looking at the ceiling for a little bit before I got up, and shortly after I got dressed and ready to go my grandma showed up for her shift. Afterwords me and my parents went home, and we started our normal weekend. Which thankfully normally involved shopping.

I'm not sure why we decided to go where we went, but later that day we drove a little over an hour away from home, and ended up going to Target. That's where I found it. Sitting on the shelf was a copy of Kingdom Hearts II, and I wanted it. I had the money to buy a single game, and that game was going to be it. It's kinda funny actually. I remember asking my dad "do you think I should get that one?" And he told me "why don't you get something better?" Again I'm pretty sure he thought the series was for little kids, and not something I should waste my money on. However I didn't listen to him, and I bought it.

The car ride home afterwards wasn't the best. I was excited to play KH2, but I was starting to get a headache. I remember my mom asking to see the game I had picked up, but when I told her I didn't feel good she dropped the subject. Guess things worked out there too? Anyway because of how I felt, even after I got home I wasn't able to start up KH2. I remember laying on the sofa for awhile before I started feeling okay again, and then after my parents went to sleep I finally started up the game. This moment was something I'll never forget. I know a lot of people hated the long intro 2 had, but personally I loved every second of it. I became interested in Roxas' story, and I wanted to see where this character would go next. Then when I finally got to play as Sora again I was in full on hype mode. Sadly it was around 1:30 to 2:00 in the morning though, so I had to stop playing and save in front of the mansion in Twilight Town. Although Roxas' summer vacation was over, mine was just beginning.

For the next few months KH was a huge part of my life. I'd talk about it with friends online, post in message boards, and even convince others to give it a try. I loved that game, and I couldn't wait to play it every chance I got. But then it ended, and I joined the many other fans that were waiting for a sequel.

After KH2 was over, Kingdom Hearts news became pretty scarce. We had a secret ending that teased an upcoming game, but we didn't know when that would happen. Heck I still remember watching this ending at my mom's work, and thinking that I would be playing it on the PS2. I couldn't think that far ahead into the future with how much technology would change, and all I was concerned about was the here and now. So of course I was wrong about what the next game would be, but I'm pretty sure we all were.

When KH2 Final Mix + released in Japan the news from the game quickly flooded the internet. All of us here outside of Japan were able to learn about new pieces of story because of this, and we even got our first look at the FULL secret ending teasing "Kingdom Hearts 3 The Keyblade Wars." But then even more news leaked out, and we learned of the Birth By Sleep, Coded, and 358/2 Days projects. These were the next three KH games to be released, and none of them were what we expected. BBS would be a PSP title and the next "mainline" entry in the series, while 358/2 Days would be a DS game about Roxas, and Coded would be a cell phone game. Although they weren't KH3, most of us fans were just glad to hear something was coming, and the fact that it was actually THREE somethings and not one made us pretty happy. Then to top it off Re: Chain of Memories (which came with FM2+ in Japan) was also being released in the US so we had something to hold us over until the next new game came out. And thus started my Kingdom Hearts filled college years.

The first game I got of course was none other than Re Chain of Memories. It came out during my senior year of high school, and during the time I was branching out and trying new game series. I had got an Xbox 360 the summer before and was mainly spending time playing that, but the release of a new KH game was something I couldn't pass up. I still remember going to Walmart with my parents and picking it up, and I still remember the awkward conversation I had with my mom's coworker shortly after. They were standing there at the front of the store when I walked up, and her and her husband (who were both Xbox 360 gamers) asked me what I bought. When I told them it was Kingdom Hearts and not something like Call of Duty, they really had no idea what to say. "Oh um... That's cool. Yeah, ok." It was just strange... But I didn't care! It was a series I loved, and I couldn't wait to play it.

Jump ahead a year or so and college me was once again in the same boat. 358/2 Days was releasing on the DS, and I was waiting for classes to be over for the day so I could go to GameStop and get it. Spent a lot of time talking to friends on MSN in between classes about it as well. Then when I was finally able to come home and play it, the moment I turned it on I got a call from my grandpa asking me to come help him close his pool. So I lost another hour or so that day before I was actually able to play it, but thankfully I had the day off from school the next day so I was able to stay up as late as I wanted playing. Then that weekend I was sick with a cold, so I was able to stay home from working at the bakery to continue playing. Needless to say I blew through that game in no time, and I couldn't wait for the next to come out. That wouldn't be until a year later though.

Birth By Sleep released in September of 2010, and wouldn't you know it? My grandpa needed help closing the pool again. That day I was off from school so I was able to run over to GameStop to get it as soon as they opened, so things actually worked out better for me that time. I had most of the day to myself to play, and I was able to go help him close the pool later on. The game did take me a bit longer to get through though since it was longer than 358/2, and I wasn't sick that week. In other words I had to actually work on the weekend, and I had classes throughout the week. Of course I did finish it however, and once again I was sad to see it be over... On the plus side I did get a cool Kingdom Hearts BBS theme for my PSP, and it's something I STILL use to this day.

Re: Coded wasn't too far away shockingly. January 11, 2011 was when I picked it up, and that's about all I remember. I got it from GameStop after college, but the only thing I really remember about that day was playing it in the car at night as me and my dad drove to see my mom who was working at a different home at the time. I believe I was still on winter break from school, but for the first time I wasn't that motivated to play the game. I just wasn't a big fan of the block and bug system, and the levels got repetitive. I did beat the game pretty quick, but it felt more like a chore than anything. That's about all I can say about it really. The ending had me excited for the release of KH3, but that's about it.

When Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance was announced I was filled with excitement. Finally a NEW KH game I didn't know about, and apparently the final game to come out before the release of KH3. I was sitting at college in the math building when I came across the articles, but it wasn't until July of 2012 that I was able to play it. Thankfully I had the Nintendo 3DS Circle Pad Pro for the right analog stick (making it the first KH game to use the classic controls since KH2), and I wasn't going back to school for quite awhile still. This gave me plenty of time to finish the game nearly 100%, and it also was the game that finally got me to play The World Ends With You. It was the perfect way to end my final summer vacation, and it was a great way to start my final year of college.

That summer Kingdom Hearts III was announced for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and everyone went nuts. On top of that the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 collection was coming to the PS3, with a 2.5 collection coming out sometime after. I knew it would be quite some time before I got to play either, but it was a great way to start that summer, and a great way to end it before I started my first real job. In fact I bought 1.5 HD on September the 10th, the day before I started work. Little did I know what the future held for me...

Anyway jumping ahead to today and KH3 is FINALLY here, and thanks to our historic cold I was able to stay home from work to play it! Funny how things sometimes work out that way for me, especially when concerning Kingdom Hearts. It's been a LONG journey to get to this point, but I'm glad I can now experience the "ending" to what I started way back then.

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