Dusting off my copy of Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t exactly out of character for me, but I’ve recently felt a real urge to return. Whether it’s because this week marks the series’ 20th anniversary, or because I wanted to find comfort in revisiting something familiar, I decided to replay the third instalment of the mainline series over the game that started it all.
For 20 years now, the long-running RPG series has so effortlessly blurred the lines between the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy, often in ways that shouldn’t work but absolutely do. And while so many of you are reminiscing about Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s earliest adventures together, there’s something about Kingdom Hearts 3 that makes me feel overwhelmingly sentimental.
Perhaps it’s because I first experienced Kingdom Hearts when I was six years old. While I’m surprised by how much of an impact the series is still having on me, 20 years down the line, it’s the release of Kingdom Hearts 3 that really resonates with me today. I know now that the thing that has kept me coming back to Kingdom Hearts time and time again isn’t the complex story, the goofy (pardon the pun) setup, the loveable characters, or the kinetic combat – it is the memories I associate with each of the games.
I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to rewatch any of the opening or closing cinematics without feeling overwhelming emotional. That’s why I will often turn to the series whenever I need a pick me up, or want to get nostalgic for years gone by. And it’s why I’m back playing Kingdom Hearts 3, and reminiscing about the excitement it generated along its road to release.
Watching the years go by
So I booted up a new Kingdom Hearts 3 save. I watched as dark clouds swept across the screen, followed by the Disney and Square Enix logos, and that same feeling of excitement quickly washed over me once again. It might have been three years since the release of Kingdom Hearts 3 but that opening cutscene, soundtracked by Hikaru Utada and Skrillex’s iconic song ‘Face My Fears’, has lost none of its power over me.
The opening cinematics are always among the most memorable parts of any Kingdom Hearts game for me. It’s during these sequences that we get a glimpse into the adventure we are about to embark on, and receive flashes of memories from previous instalments of the series. After so much anticipation and waiting (Square Enix has a tendency to leave a bit of a gap between the mainline games) it’s no surprise that they’re an element of the experience we can get the most sentimental about.
The opening cinematics found in the three mainline games are almost indistinguishable – but why mess with a good thing? Each cutscene consists of a voiceover from Sora at the outset, fast-paced transitions between familiar characters, settings, and iconic moments in the games, and an original song by Japanese pop star Hikaru Utada. Whether you’re in for your first adventure or coming back again for more, there’s a charm to the presentation that’s difficult to ignore.
Although very similar in appearance, there is something unique about Kingdom Hearts 3’s opening cutscene that makes it stand out amongst all the others. If you weren’t aware, the Kingdom Hearts series starts with Sora, Kairi, and Riku in the first game but we also get to meet other important characters in the sequels and spin-offs along the way. All of these individual stories told throughout the games lead up to the events of Kingdom Hearts 3 – hence why it was such a big deal for fans who had been waiting 17 years to find out how the Dark Seeker saga would come to an end.
As the song builds and we are reintroduced to characters and locations we haven’t seen in a while – for example the Wayfinder Trio, Destiny Islands, Roxas, and more – it’s hard not to get soppy thinking about how far the series has come and how much I’ve grown since first encountering them. The only thing I can compare it to is like the first day back at school after the summer break. You’re excited to see your friends again and, despite them looking different from when you last saw them (whether it’s due to a new game engine or growth spurt), you just can’t wait to pick up where you left off.
A far off memory
While Kingdom Hearts has always been a big part of my life, the release of Kingdom Hearts 3 was the first game in the series I was really present for. Given the 14 year gap between Kingdom Hearts 2 and its direct sequel, plus the fact a lot of the spin-off titles flew under the radar, this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. This meant that I was able to relish in the excitement of following the game from reveal to release, for the very first time.
Originally announced as in development back in 2013, we had to wait a long five years until Kingdom Hearts 3 was actually playable. Almost immediately after its reveal, it seemed like fans of the Final Fantasy x Disney crossover game were coming out of the woodwork; people I didn’t even know had played a Kingdom Hearts game were now eager to talk to me about the sequel, which came as a bit of a shock after spending so many years not really knowing anyone who had played them.
That’s a part of what makes Kingdom Hearts 3 so special to me. There was this sense of camaraderie and community around the game that I fear will be difficult to replicate. I have all of these fond memories associated with that time, be it freaking out with strangers on social media over the release of any new bit of information or the countless hours spent online theorising about what would happen to Sora in the upcoming adventure. And that excitement spilled over into real life too, be it attending the Kingdom Hearts orchestra to meet up with other fans in the flesh or the time I spent planning to get a Keyblade tattoo with one of my new friends once we had finally played the sequel. I look back on that period as if it were some kind of life-changing event, and I know I’m not alone in that.
Thankfully, Kingdom Hearts 3 didn’t fail to deliver by the time it did eventually release. Once I had gotten through the first few cutscenes, and fought Titans on Mount Olympus, it was time to revisit Twilight Town. This hub world has always felt like a second virtual home for me. The terracotta coloured buildings and cobblestone paths had been upgraded from its first appearance in Kingdom Hearts 2 and, while not every monument made the final cut (I’m still mourning the clock tower), it still gave me the same feeling that I felt when hopping in the gummi ship and flying towards it for the very first time.
Twilight Town is such a pivotal place in Kingdom Hearts 2, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, and now Kingdom Hearts 3 so it makes sense for it to hold a significant place in my heart. Upon first experiencing it in Kingdom Hearts 3, I remember taking Sora around to all my usual favourite spots and exploring the new attractions Square Enix had added in the sequel. I also found myself reminiscing about my old adventures in the world – as if I actually was Sora or Roxas and really did spend my summer vacation looking for the Seven Wonders of Twilight Town.
All of these memories are why replaying Kingdom Hearts 3 now, three years on, is still an emotional experience. Yeah, I also have great memories of the other games in the series but I can’t help but reminisce in particular about everything that happened both inside and out of Kingdom Hearts 3. The friends I made, the fan-events I attended, the online discussions I got into each time a new trailer was released. All of this is for me to simply say; Happy 20th anniversary Kingdom Hearts, thanks for all the memories.
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