Kingdom Hearts 2: New Perspectives on an Old Favorite

I thought this class would be a great opportunity to replay Kingdom Hearts 2 before the long-awaited release of Kingdom Hearts 3 at some point this year. On top of having many years of separation from this game, this play-through will likely be a completely different experience for me in that I’m playing the revamped version: Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix for the first time rather than returning to the original Playstation 2 version. This means I am likely to encounter slightly different mechanics, visuals, and bonus story content that I am unfamiliar with.

 Source: Promotional photo for Kingdom Hearts 2.5 Remix

To start off with, something that has always been unusual to me (and to most people) about Kingdom Hearts is how it blends two incredibly popular and very different worlds with an entirely new one. From the image above, many characters are easily identifiable to nearly any audience: Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Jack Sparrow, Mickey Mouse, Mulan, etc. These core Disney characters are ones that most people either grew up with or had their children grow up with. Similarly, characters such as Cloud Strife and Zack Fair are just as identifiable to an audience of gamers, since they’re both major characters in the iconic Final Fantasy 7. With these familiar characters and franchises in mind, my first question about my replay in regards to our class was to wonder whether or not Kingdom Hearts as a whole is dependent on “Evocative Spaces” as defined by our Game Design as Narrative Architecture reading. In the specific case of Kingdom Hearts 2, I would say no, but the familiar imagery plays a major part in making the game even more strange than it already is.  Since the franchise in general was released out of chronological order, adding two vastly different universes to an entirely new plot line creates seemingly endless plot-holes and points of confusion.

Based on the very beginning portion of KH2, neither the Disney or Final Fantasy worlds do much but fluff up the Kingdom Hearts world. The first two to three hours of the game require that you unwittingly play through a summer vacation simulation from the perspective of a never-before-seen character (Roxas) while receiving flashbacks from the first game’s protagonist (Sora) – it becomes obvious fairly instantly that these two characters are related, but none of the other connections between characters of universes is immediately clear. This being said, it almost seems as though the “evocative spaces” present in Kingdom Hearts are almost pointless to understanding the actual plot.

I’m also interested in how opposite all of these worlds are thematically. In general, based off Jasper Juul’s interpretations of a game’s “fiction”, Disney is very positive, Final Fantasy has a tendency to lean into a darker, more negative zone, and Kingdom Hearts is overwhelmingly vibrant and colorful to disguise an overall depressing plot about darkness engulfing the human heart. Though I don’t believe Kingdom Hearts falls into either the “casual” or “hardcore” game categories by the polarized definitions, I think it’s strange to consider it as somewhere in between – especially since it’s technically a game aimed at a longer audience but is completely stocked with dark themes.

Source: Kingdom Hearts 2: New Perspectives on an Old Favorite