Kingdom Hearts Turns 17 in the West Today and I Feel Extremely Old
It's been 17 years since I was first exposed to Kingdom Hearts, even though it all feels like it happened just last week.
Somehow, I still remember exactly where I was the first time I saw Kingdom Hearts. I was on vacation with my family–I want to say around August 2002–and we had stayed the night in a hotel somewhere. As we were getting ready to leave the next morning, the TV was on in the background. I was probably watching cartoons, I assume. Out of nowhere, this commercial for something I had never heard of in my life popped on.
I didn’t know what it was, but I just knew that it was a video game that featured Disney characters and some wild sounding music. As an 8-year-old kid who loved Disney and playing PS2, I knew I had to have whatever this game called Kingdom Hearts was.
In the ensuing weeks after I first saw that commercial, I couldn’t get the game out of my head. Since I was younger, I didn’t really know specifically when games would release. I would just go to my local Target or Wal-Mart with my parents and scour the video game aisle for the games that I was interested in. It’s not like today where I clearly have release dates circled on my calendar for the games I want to play right away.
Eventually, I think it was some point in October, a few weeks after Kingdom Hearts had formally released, I went to what I’m pretty sure was Meijer with my dad and brother to finally see the game sitting on the shelf. The only problem with this trip to the store is that we were explicitly going to look at potential birthday presents for my brother. You see, his birthday is in October, so my parents were specifically looking to get him some presents. I wasn’t supposed to be the kid asking for toys and games on this trip.
So what’d I do? Well, I do what any little kid does who can’t get their way: I cried. I didn’t throw a tantrum or anything because I couldn’t get Kingdom Hearts at that moment, I was legitimately crestfallen at the thought of not being able to play it. This 30-second commercial that I had since seen on TV dozens of times captured my imagination as a kid. I wanted to play this weird Japanese game that featured Simba and Goofy even though I hardly knew what it was. It wasn’t even until years later that I figured out Kingdom Hearts was tied to some other series called Final Fantasy.
Luckily for 8-year-old me, my dad ended up taking pity on me and actually decided to buy Kingdom Hearts for me right then and there. If I remember right, he made it clear that this was the last thing I would be getting until Christmas rolled around, which I was fine with. After getting home, I started running around Destiny Islands and building a boat. It wasn’t what I expected the game to be like based on the commercials I saw, but things eventually picked up.
I played Kingdom Hearts quite a bit over the next four years but I never actually beat it until probably a week before Kingdom Hearts II came out. There was a span of 2-3 years where I got stuck on the Hollow Bastion boss fight against Riku for some reason. I watched this stupid cutscene where Sora says, “There’s no way you’re taking Kairi’s heart!” probably a couple hundred times. I likely still subconsciously have all of the lines of dialogue from that scene buried somewhere in my brain because of how often I was forced to watch it. Thank goodness the series eventually let you skip cutscenes later on.
I write all of this to say one thing: I feel really old today. Kingdom Hearts was one of the most memorable games of my childhood and to think of it releasing some 17 years ago just doesn’t resonate in my head. Obviously, I feel older and realize that I’m now an adult, but the memories I have as a kid don’t feel that far off. The fact that I was able to recall the entire story of how I ended up even owning Kingdom Hearts in the first place makes it seem like something that happened to me a couple of weeks or months ago, not nearly two decades back. Time and memories are strange like that, I suppose.
Anyway, happy birthday, Kingdom Hearts. Here’s to 17 more years of weird, nonsensical anime storytelling mixed with Disney properties. Let’s just hope that whatever comes next is better than Kingdom Hearts III.