With March being the 20-year anniversary month for Kingdom Hearts, it’s an ideal time for an anecdotal reflection of the series. While the first game was released when I was just a year old, my earliest gaming memories are associated with this title. So, it’s only natural that I would possess a robust sense of nostalgia for it. Still, as I began to ponder more extensively, I realized that this nostalgia far surpasses my feelings for other games I played at the time. Further, my sentimentality for the original Kingdom Hearts far outweighs my feelings on any of the following entries. I found this contrast bizarre until I began to inwardly take note of just how…different the first Kingdom Hearts is.
The first entry of any media franchise will always be notably different than subsequent installments for the sheer fact that the possibility of being a marketing and sales failure is always in the cards. The first Kingdom Hearts is highly evident of this reality. Despite the hints to potential future developments from the open-ended closing and Secret Ending, the core narrative felt conclusive. It felt solely affixed to itself without the necessity of teasing future installments as every later entry did. I think it’s primarily because of that difference in storytelling that I view the first Kingdom Hearts in its own, almost self-contained bubble. Of course, the title is obviously tied to every other entry, with elements such as the Lifeboat (Ark) from Union Cross originating from it. However, there is a certain sense of displacement when considering the original game, which isn’t necessarily a negative.
It’s easy to view many of the later Kingdom Hearts games collectively, yet I never find myself doing that with Kingdom Hearts I. I do sometimes wonder if that’s at least partially due to me growing up with the series and not binging through the games like newer fans. Regardless, the worlds of the original Kingdom Hearts are another core aspect of my nostalgia, thanks to their designs being more…consequential for lack of a better term. They’re far more based on navigation and platforming than any future games’ are, and the failure of falling is sometimes severe. Hollow Bastion, Agrabah, and Oogie’s Manor in Halloween Town are prime examples of this design choice. Yet, when looking back on those locations, an undeniable sense of fulfillment arises, knowing I conquered them.
Consequence can be a beneficial basis of reflection, providing comfort for knowing you prevailed against particular challenges. On the other hand, comfort can arise from serenity and peace, like the hub world of Traverse Town. No other world in the franchise has managed to reach the level of homeliness Traverse Town emits. While the Second and Third Districts are fields of danger, they amplify the warm alleviation of the First District’s residents and abodes. It’s a genuinely stellar location that sits at the top of my favorite settings in gaming. For a game so void of NPCs, it knows how to correctly utilize their occasional presence for greater effect.
There’s no game like the original Kingdom Hearts. Its identity is simultaneously sturdy with and without connective tissue for future entries. Further, at least for those who grew up with it, its immense nostalgia grants unparalleled comfort. I am far more of a Kingdom Hearts fan than ever before, and Kingdom Hearts III is my favorite entry. Still, the whimsical magic the original game managed to instill will never occur again, and I’m honestly fine with that. Not everything has to be reimagined or recaptured since their initial existences have already done their job.
If you missed them, check out my appreciative pieces on the following data fights:
- Check out the fully playable Riku mod for Kingdom Hearts III, titled “Project EQUINOX.”
- Check out the fully playable Kairi mod for Kingdom Hearts III, titled “Project Embrace.”
- Check out the fan efforts to create Traverse Town within Kingdom Hearts III.
- The Kingdom Hearts community is hosting 2 ambitious fan-led events next month, March Caprice and KH20.
- Regarding artwork, view the official Kingdom Hearts media accounts sharing art of Sora commemorating Final Fantasy VII’s 25-year anniversary.
- Check out the unironic simplicity of the Kingdom Hearts timeline.
- Check out the legendary fan-made videos, titled “The 13th Clash”.
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