…And the Party Never Exited the Maze (My Long Adventure in Kingdom Hearts)

Here is the story of how my Kingdom Hearts journey began, and how it ended. 

Two years ago my then 15-year-old son Zag insisted to me that I should play Kingdom Hearts. Now, I’m not a Disney fangirl, not at all. In fact I found the prospect of playing in a gameworld where the King is Micky Mouse to be very off-putting. To say the least. But Zag assured me that this game was a true RPG. And even though Zag himself was more of a Fortnite and Madden football kid at the time, he had played and enjoyed Kingdom Hearts. Therefore, went the logic, I would like it too. 

I gotta give him props; the kid was convincing. You don’t play as Goofy or Donald Duck, he assured me. Those guys just join your party. And it wasn’t, like, for the whole game, he said. Kingdom Hearts is a collaborative affair between Disney and Square Enix, he explained. Kingdom Hearts has Final Fantasy characters, he told me. There’s moogles and potions and Cid is there too, so it’s basically Final Fantasy, he said. It’s Final Fantasy, but set in Alice’s wonderland, and Tarzan’s jungle, and the Beast’s castle, and… Et cetera. What more convincing do you need, Mom? 

Still, I wasn’t there yet. 

Only when Zag agreed to play through the Kingdom Hearts series along with me did I agree to play at all. Because, as all parents know, our children are not ours to keep. And as our little kids become teenagers, they prefer (sometimes, often, usually or always) the company of their friends. But here was my youngest, a teen, agreeing to venture with mom into the sprawling gameworld of Kingdom Hearts. So yeah, I took the bait. Of course I did. 

Well, we played a lot of games, and it took a long time. And there was one game in particular which we did not play, because it was a video card game (yuck), but we did watch a video of the cut scenes, in order to keep up with the story. And then there was another that was only available to us as a movie. Now, some time has passed since we did all of this, and I wish I took notes! But I didn’t, so as accurately as I can recall, these are the games we played and the videos we watched. Listed here in the order we followed, as accurately as I can recall: 

  • Kingdom Hearts.
  • Kingdom Hearts II. 
  • Re: Coded.
  • 358/2 Days. 
  • Birth by Sleep. 
  • Dream Drop Distance. 
  • Birth by Sleep, Fragmentary Passage. 
  • Union x. 
  • And finally, Kingdom Hearts III.

We never did finish Kingdom Hearts III, but I know we were close to the end. I could sense it. Just minutes away, maybe an hour or two, but we were close. We were past the keyblade graveyard, in a maze-like structure in the desert, with high walls, and groups of old enemies, like mini-bosses, waiting to fight us in different rooms. I’m explaining all of this in case you know the game and recogize the location. I want you to believe me, we were close to the end! 

Then Zag and I… just… stopped playing. And never went back. And so many months have passed that I know we will never return. I imagine our virtual characters still in there, perhaps, trapped in those high-walled corridors in the desert maze beyond the keyblade graveyard. 

So Kingdom Hearts? What did I think of it? Let’s start with the negatives. First of all, Zag was wrong. There was way too much Disney for my taste. Way, way, way too much. Too much Disney, and too little Final Fantasy. Also, I didn’t like the isolated worlds, I didn’t like the gummi ship, and I didn’t like the fights. And the story! Good grief, what a mess! I did try to make sense of it, I did! But it’s a complicated, convoluted, confused tangle-heap of nonsense. 

Now for the positives. Did I find anything good in Kingdom Hearts? Yes! First of all, I played Kingdom Hearts III with Zag not long after playing Final Fantasy XV on my own, and I quickly became obsessed with the brotherly connection between the protagonists of each game, Sora and Prince Noctis. Turns out, both characters were created by Tetsuya Nomura, and the similarities are deliberate. Look it up! Fascinating stuff, and fun to research. I also loved some of the other characters. Not the main ones, as you might expect, but I loved Axel, Roxas and Aqua. Also, Zag and I made sea salt ice cream. I’ll share the pictures I took, along with the recipe we followed. Stay tuned for that! 

But of course the One Single Important positive I take away from Kingdom Hearts is the memory of sharing this adventure with my son. We played some of the games on my user profile, and some of the games on his, and we both earned trophies. So now, if I look at my trophy list, I am reminded of the time I played Kingdom Hearts with my son. I hope the same holds for him, that in the future when he spots those trophies, as he will on occasion, he will be reminded that as a teenager he played through a videogame series with his mom, who loved videogames. I hope he will remember it fondly. 

Trailing Sleeves gives the Kingdom Hearts games 7 / 10 bowls of soup:

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