The other day, I saw an advertisement for the release of Kingdom Hearts III on a red, double-decker bus passing through Gower Street.
Later, I came home to write my essay on the religious allegories in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe due the upcoming Wednesday. But, I could not get the release of Kingdom Hearts III out of my mind. I remember, after I had finished Kingdom Hearts II for the first time in the winter of 2006, I had checked a couple of times during the subsequent months in hopes of finding news about the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Because Kingdom Hearts II had been released three years after Kingdom Hearts, I expected them third installment to come within a couple of years at best. But, now it’s 2019, which is 14 years after Kingdom Hearts II, and Kingdom Hearts III has finally come out.
Despite owning a PlayStation 2, which I remember to be a gift, my parents did not let me play video games growing up. During 5th grade, which was the first year I was not involved in an after school program, I remember coming home at around 3 PM and play Kingdom Hearts II until around 5:30 PM, which was around the time my mom returned from work; I remember calculating through adding a 30 minute commute to a 5 PM end time. When I would hear the wheels of her Honda Accord pulling up to the driveway, I would rush up two flights of my stairs back to my room. Since the basement had been barren at the time, the only reason I could possibly be in the basement was to play video games.
I did not own many video games. On PlayStation, I only owned Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II along with a racing game called Need for Speed Carbon that got bland within minutes of playing. Especially with the absence of guides and my primitive reasoning faculties, I remember playing Kingdom Hearts endlessly because I did not have a conception on how to finish the game. The first Kingdom Hearts had been especially difficult, so I would frequently re-play Kingdom Hearts II on a couple of occasions. I remember finishing the game twice, once in 5th grade, and then again in 8th grade. Then high school and college happened, and I forgot that Kingdom Hearts existed at all.
But seeing the advertisement for Kingdom Hearts III on the bus passing by me, I could not help but to replay some of the scenes from the previous few games on YouTube when I got back to my flat. I started with watching the ending to Kingdom Hearts III, which I did not appreciate as much as I could have probably because I did not play any of the several other Kingdom Hearts games that came out between Kingdom Hearts II and III, but I found the ending to be a bit underwhelming, perhaps because I have higher expectations now than I did in the past about the qualities of a good plot that did not necessarily fall within as wholesome of a game as Kingdom Hearts.
But, in reflection, the series of Kingdom Hearts was more melancholic for me to understand at the time. The entire premise of the first and second Kingdom Hearts game is about a comfortable world that is shattered by environmental disruption. The first Kingdom Hearts starts on a place called Destiny Island where a trio of three children blissfully live in untainted happiness until the island is attacked by the Heartless, which results in Sora and Kairi never getting to share a paopu fruit (which is actually so sad). The second Kingdom Hearts starts in a place called Twilight Town where a kid named Roxas is raising money to go on a summer vacation with his friends before his body and identity is acquired by Sora. Real happy stuff.
It seems that even all those moments of happiness are adulterated by a bittersweetness that mirrors the progression of life. In the ending of the first Kingdom Hearts, Sora splinters his heart and body in order to release Kairi’s heart and save her, which results in the creation of Roxas, whose life is ruined by the player within the first hour of the subsequent game. The moment Sora and Kairi have the opportunity to be together once again is the moment they are separated again. The reunions are corny as usual, but behind every moment is an understanding that all events are caused through an undeserved expulsion from Eden. And, similar to their exit from Destiny Island, I too miss the time when I had lived in Eden.
It is not that my youth had been blissful. In fact, I consider my childhood and adolescence to be some of the most difficult years of my life, but I also believe my difficulties back then had lacked the complexity of the problems that I have now. I could conceptualize love in respect to having a crush on any Asian girl in my class without the emotional baggage of a couple of instances of shattered love that I have now. I could conceptualize success through getting straight As in school without even reflecting on the nature and reason for success. I could not even conceptualize meaning because I had no concept of meaning back then. All of my problems had solutions, and I miss those moments of ignorance.
The dialogue in Kingdom Hearts is meme-like in how bad it is. But, when I had played this game as a child, I did not take notice of the dialogue. Now, watching the same scenes again as a college student, the exaggerated inflections and stiff body motions evoke a yearning for the time that I could watching the same corny phrases of hearts and souls without a cynical lens. From my current point in my life and onward, I probably could never play Kingdom Hearts and have the same patience with the dialogue as I once could as a child. I do not find the same jokes funny anymore, but I occasionally let out a bittersweet laugh at the warmness shared between Sora, Donald, and Goofy.
But perhaps the most sentimental part of Kingdom Hearts is the music. “Dearly Beloved” by Yoko Shimamura, the title track of the game, is a song that I listened to every afternoon in some years of my life when I booted up Kingdom Hearts in my clammy basement and sat on my blue-gray carpet with my back against my leather black couch. “Treasured Memories” evokes those occurrences that will never happen again in our lives, regardless of how joyful or hurtful the memory has become. “Roxas’ Theme Song” recalls the yearning for a summer vacation that never happened, the melancholy that follows the acceptance of an unrealized goal, the beauty of ephemeral relationships in our lives.
I almost cried when I clicked on a video of the short film in the introduction to Kingdom Hearts II. Even by myself in my room, I had an emotional response. The shimmering sound of “Sanctuary” by Utada Hikaru is met with the electrifying wave of my spine. The cutscene mirrors the sentiment of the game but also life: a chase discovered in our childhood that propels us to fight for reclamation only to have our obsession slip away when we have reached the point of possession. I recall all those instances of cringe and loneliness that that permeate my experiences in my compulsory education, but for some reason, I miss the same years of my life that have caused me so much of the suffering I continue to experience now.
It almost seems that Kingdom Hearts is a game created with the design of being sentimental. I have clearly fallen into their sentimental trap. And, seeing as it is relatively impossible for me to enjoy the third installment of the series as I did the previous two, I can only reminisce on how Kingdom Hearts has shaped me to become the person I am now. Oh, how I miss those afternoons alone in the darkness of my basement. My lonely past unadulterated by all those moments of disillusionment that have followed when I could truly hold the simplicity of life into my hands.
Because, like the fate of Destiny Island, the Heartless came, and I will never return to Eden ever again, no matter how lonely Eden was in the first place.