Video Games: ‘Kingdom Hearts’ Is Disappointing

Screenshot from the ‘Kingdom Hearts 3’ opening. Copyright goes to Square Enix and Disney.

Hey! Hallie here!

My favorite game growing up was ‘Kingdom Hearts 2’. It was given to my family randomly because we loved Disney and because we had a dusty PS2 that we never used. None of us had played the first ‘Kingdom Hearts’ game. None of us played video games at all. However, it interested me enough that I became the only gamer in my household, and my love of it has fueled a love of video games in general. The current series ended with ‘Kingdom Hearts 3’ back in 2019, with the promise that Square Enix was going to continue the games but leave behind the characters that led the series. Naturally, my excitement led me to play all of the ‘Kingdom Hearts’ games and revisit the series I loved so much. I was disappointed. This isn’t me saying ‘Kingdom Hearts’ is a bad series. Millions of people talking about their excitement for the next ‘Kingdom Hearts’ game despite no official announcements would argue that point. But the series has so many problems that it can’t be considered one of the best things I’ve ever played. I’ve even openly laughed at dramatic scenes, which isn’t necessarily a glowing review. While nostalgia attaches me to these games despite their faults, here are the things that I found disappointing, and sometimes laughable, about the series.

The Dialogue:

This one is a really obvious one. I don’t know about the Japanese dialogue because I have only ever played the English dubs for the games, but the English dialogue is eye-wateringly cringy. None of the characters speak like normal people. Most of the dialogue can’t go two seconds without mentioning “darkness” or “hearts”. At one point, a character watches another character die and proceeds to lament that he doesn’t have anyone else to eat ice cream with. While the line is meant to demonstrate the character’s narrow view of friendship, it’s so absurd that it takes the player out of the scene. It would be one thing if just the dialogue was bad, but most of the voice actors don’t do the dialogue much favors, either. Many of the voice actors have proved to be good actors and voice actors in various other media, which makes the wooden delivery of the dialogue frustrating. Every line is spaced out oddly by every voice actor. Stoic characters sound the same from scene to scene. Excitable characters scream all of their lines. Aqua, who was my favorite character in the series for quite a while, uses the same inflexions for every line, making her emotions difficult to discern. Meanwhile Sora, our main character, is the most over-the-top protagonist I’ve ever encountered in a video game, and it’s because the dialogue and voice actor work together to make every line overly cheesy and loud. This isn’t just a case of cheesy dialogue. It’s disjointed and often hard to understand.

The Plot:

The dialogue deserves some points for confusing the audience, but it’s partly because the plot of the entire series is such a mess. It seems like it would be simple. Final Fantasy-esque characters visit lands based on Disney movies and have fun with the Disney characters. Except Square Enix decided to add an overly complicated plot on top of it that is so convoluted most fans don’t understand it. In the first game Sora somehow absorbs his friend Kairi’s heart when darkness literally starts taking over his hometown, causing her body to disappear. For some reason. Sora realizes that, though this situation has caused him to keep her heart safe, it also is preventing her from returning to her body. So he stabs himself in the heart. He turns into a Heartless, some of the main villains of the game, because the event causes both his heart and Kairi’s to leave his body. Kairi hugs him, though, and he’s magically cured!

Confused yet? Well, the first game does have some confusing parts, but it was somewhat straightforward at least. When humans are consumed by darkness they lose their hearts, becoming Heartless. But the power of hearts can accomplish a lot, which is why several Heartless were after Sora when he had Kairi’s heart. Her heart was strong and, because of that, desirable. Kingdom Hearts 2 is where your brain REALLY starts to hurt. It introduces the idea that people without hearts also develop Nobodies, an alternate version of them without a heart. Except every character we meet who is a Nobody is actually just the original person they were before, just without a heart, like Heartless were in the first game. Except for Sora’s Nobody who is a completely different character from Sora and looks like yet another character Sora has also absorbed. I’m not even going to try to explain that one. And I won’t keep going either because the use of hearts, Nobodies, Heartless, and sometimes even clones becomes so confusing that it’s useless to explain. If they would have continued to develop the rules of the universe they established in the first game, the games might have made more sense. But every game had some new gimmick, leaving the plot almost as useless as if there wasn’t one in the first place.

The Female Characters:

The main female characters in the ‘Kingdom Hearts’ series are a small bunch and none are well handled. Kairi serves as a damsel in distress for the series. The first game is driven by Kairi’s disappearance and the second game sees Kairi captured by several different people. She’s given a keyblade at the end of the second game, but she barely uses it, instead using Riku as a protector. She learns how to use her keyblade at the beginning of the third game, but she barely uses it before she’s taken away again, effectively removing her from all final battles. Namine is, once again, the damsel in distress of her game. She’s also a very brief presence in all games she’s in, either helping Sora or Roxas and then leaving without a trace. The two female characters who get full plots that don’t involve these things are Xion and Aqua. Xion dies to further the character arc of Roxas, and though she does come back, she isn’t in most of the third Kingdom Hearts game. Aqua receives the best treatment. She sacrifices herself for Terra, a male character, but it isn’t to further his plot. If anything it furthers her own and she was given an entire solo game based off of the events that followed. ‘Kingdom Hearts 3’ is what sets her character back. She’s brought to the forefront of the group, as if she will play as big of a role as Sora and Riku, but she is always the first to give up hope and lay down her weapon. Because of this, she ends up in much less of the game than most fans hoped. That, on top of the fact that the amount of main female characters pales in comparison to male main characters (See the two female characters in the Organization XIII plotline consisting of twelve men), isn’t the best look for the female characters in this series.

What kills me about ‘Kingdom Hearts’ are the openings to each game. The openings to every ‘Kingdom Hearts’ game are far superior to any I’ve ever seen. They’re beautiful, and while Disney characters are present, they imply that each game has a very deep meaning. When you get into the games, however, you get cheesy dialogue and a message that sums up to “yay friendship”. This would be okay if the games embraced the Disney silliness you encounter as the main portion of the games. Instead, each game has an extremely confusing plot that attempts to be deep but ends up in the same “friendship” boat as all the other games. As I said before, I’m very nostalgic about this series. I still enjoy playing these games. But a part of me was definitely disappointed when I realized I’d have to turn my brain off to get the most enjoyment out of ‘Kingdom Hearts’.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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