In case you missed it, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue was revealed just last week. If that name doesn’t mean anything to you beyond the fact that it’s part of Square Enix’s long-running collaboration with Disney, don’t worry: you’re not alone.
It’s complete nonsense, and anyone that’s played the games would likely have to Google it just to figure out what’s included. (It’s Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance HD, Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, and Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep - A Fragmentary Passage. The last two of which are pretty much just new entries in the series.)
But it didn’t start off so far out there.
My first memory of the franchise that would become Kingdom Hearts traces back to high school. We were in a computer class, likely typing or something similar, and a couple friends and myself were ogling some of the game’s concept art. We all loved the Final Fantasy games, and I’ve a totally healthy appreciation of Disney. My friends were cautiously optimistic, but I was excited. Way excited. It seemed almost too good to be true. And in a way, it was.
The first installment in the series, released in 2002, was one of the final games to come out under the specific Square umbrella, rather than Square Enix. It pretty much met every expectation I had, thoroughly exciting me while introducing new ways to love old characters. Plus, the music! The orchestral version of “Simple and Clean” is in my top five video game themes. It’s ridiculously powerful.
But the actual gameplay, the narrative… It’s all a bit odd. You play as a kid that gets sucked into a world-spanning adventure about Disney villains and more that want to… control hearts? Gain power? And keys stop them by… unlocking points of power? Locking them? Keeping hearts safe? It’s not super clear, but it also kind of doesn’t matter. It’s an enjoyable romp with fun characters dealing with dark problems.
But then they started releasing sequels. And prequels. And spin-off games. And… With each new release, the game’s narrative somehow became more convoluted than before, twisting and stretching to accommodate whatever it was that the designers had in mind. There used to be a bunch of people that had keyblades back in the day? There’s an organization made up from weird disciples that no longer have hearts? This protagonist looks like that antagonist because of another game’s protagonist fighting an ancillary NPC? It’s so ridiculous that there’s a popular graphical breakdown of the lore that explains, chronologically, how everything went down.
I’m not going to pretend I’ve kept up with all the twists and turns to the story, or why somebody erased somebody else’s memories, or how the various mind control bits meant that so-and-so wasn’t actually they person they said they were. I’m also not going to pretend that I think any of this matters, because it doesn’t. Square Enix certainly seems to think so, and maybe, to a lesser extent, Disney does.
What Kingdom Hearts does best, in my opinion, is give new stories for characters like Pooh, Jack Skellington, and Mickey. Heroic adventures and explorations on a level not really explored by their usual Disney fare. They get to fight the bad guys in their own way, which sometimes means using a shield in a peculiar manner.
So am I looking forward to another installment of Square Enix Does Weird Stuff With Disney Characters, And Mostly This Is a Rehash of Older Games? Even with everything I’ve said above, which could be taken as incredibly disparaging? I absolutely can’t wait. In spite of everything goofy (see what I did there?) about the games, they’re always absolutely dripping with fun and creativity. I’d take a million colorful messes like Kingdom Hearts before another completely bland, by-the-book shooter.