Today’s recommended listening: Dearly Beloved, specifically the version from Kingdom Hearts III, by the Goddess herself, Yoko Shimomura.
I’m a little late, but – happy 3rd birthday, Kingdom Hearts III. Three years! It feels like an eternity. I have some incredibly fond memories of waiting til midnight the night it came out, booting it up, and hearing this version of Dearly Beloved that sounded… different. For those of you who don’t know, Dearly Beloved is the theme that plays on the title menu of every Kingdom Hearts game, but it’s always a slightly different arrangement between games. I’ve listened to this song a thousand thousand times, whether through playing and replaying the games, or just listening because I like it (the KHII version is particularly nostalgic for me). And so when I heard this at first, I was confused – it must be Dearly Beloved, it can’t not be, but it… doesn’t sound like it? And then, as the picture of Sora standing in the waves faded in, and the logo appeared with the rest of the menu, that oh-so-familiar refrain kicked in, with the most perfect timing. This was a game I’d been waiting a LONG time for. There had been other games in the series since 2, of course – “of course”, I say, as if the history of the Kingdom Hearts series is common knowledge to everybody. Well, my history with these games is not the most well-defined, but if you’d like to join me, I’ll try and talk about them for a bit.
A little backstory – Kingdom Hearts started out with a team of developers at Square Enix (or, SquareSoft, at the time) wanting to create a 3D game following on from the success of Super Mario 64, but with the popular characters of various Disney franchises instead. Shinji Hashimoto, a game producer at Square, happened to be in an elevator with a Disney executive and pitched the idea – and they agreed. SO the project began, with Hashimoto as producer, and Final Fantasy staff member Tetsuya Nomura as director. The series is set in its own universe, containing a multitude of Disney characters, as well as some from Final Fantasy, and an original cast as well.
The first game introduces us to Sora, a boy living in the Destiny Islands. He, along with his friends Kairi and Riku, plan to build a raft and sail from their small island to another world. However, on the night of their departure, their island is consumed by a mysterious darkness, and there are attacked by creatures called the Heartless. Sora finds himself named the beared of an equally mysterious weapon – the Keyblade, an oversized key-shaped sword – however, despite its effectiveness against the Heartless, his world is eventually overrun by darkness. He wakes up in an unfamiliar town, with Kairi and Riku nowhere to be seen. After meeting up with a few Final Fantasy characters, Sora meets Donald Duck, court wizard, and Goofy, the captain of the King’s knights. They reveal that they’re looking for their King, who left them a note saying he’d gone out to try and stop the encroaching Heartless, and that they should find the “key” to stopping them for good. Satisfied that Sora and his Keyblade are in fact the key they’re looking for, they join forces to travel to other worlds – Sora in search of his friends, Donald and Goofy in search of their King (who, btw, is Mickey Mouse). They go to all sorts of Disney worlds – Tarzan’s Deep Jungle, Alice’s Wonderland, Hercules’ Olympus Coliseum, Aladdin’s Agrabah, Ariel’s Atlantica, Peter Pan’s Neverland, Jack Skellington’s Halloween Town, Pooh Bear’s 100 Acre Wood – and even, at one point, getting swallowed whole by Pinocchio’s Monstro, the great whale.
Along the way they make plenty of friends, in the form of the Disney characters from their respective works. But, they also run into a few villains – not just the many and varied Heartless, but the Disney villains, too. Maleficent, seemingly their leader, has corrupted Riku into thinking that Sora abandoned him, and won him to their side. Eventually their plan is revealed – by taking the hearts (not literal, flesh-and-blood hearts – “hearts” in the Kingdom Hearts universe are more akin to, like, a soul) of the seven “Princesses of Light”, they will be able to open the door to Kingdom Hearts, “the heart of all worlds”, and attain power, dominance, etc etc. You know how it is. After travelling to all the worlds and sealing their Keyholes (thereby preventing them from being destroyed by the Heartless), our gang makes it to Hollow Bastion – a great and terrible castle where Maleficent seems to be hiding out.
Riku confronts our heroes at the entrance, stating that Sora relies too much on his friends, and that he wasn’t enough to save Kairi. He also reveals that the intended bearer of the Keyblade was, in fact him, and not Sora. Donald and Goofy, having no choice but to follow the key, leave Sora to fight for himself. After making his way through the castle with the help of Beast (of Beauty and the Beast, of course) Sora confronts Riku again, stating that his friends are his power, and his bonds with them give him strength. Spurred on by this, Donald and Goofy rejoin his side – and so does the Keyblade, leaving Riku of its own volition and rematerialising in Sora’s hand. After an epic battle with Maleficent’s dragon form, it is revealed that Riku has been possessed by Ansem, Seeker of Darkness – who has also been manipulating the Disney villains into capturing the princesses and opening the way to Kingdom Hearts. So far they’ve gotten six of the seven: Belle (of Beauty and the Beast), Jasmine (Aladdin), Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), and Alice (of Wonderland). Turns out, though, that Kairi is our lucky number seven. And her heart has been sleeping within Sora’s since the Destiny Islands were destroyed. Knowing that the Keyblade has the power to “unlock” hearts, Sora turns it on himself and, with a big cheesy grin, self-impales, releasing Kairi’s heart and turning himself into a Heartless (briefly, Kairi’s light makes him better).
Sora and the gang follow Ansem to the End of the World, where all the remnants of the worlds destroyed by the Heartless go, and an epic boss battle ensues. After they nearly take him down, Ansem calls upon the door to Kingdom Hearts, believeing it to be a source of endless darkness that will empower him. However, Sora knows, without a doubt, that Kingdom Hearts is light. And lo, when the door opens, it is indeed pure light. Ansem is destroyed by it, and they all lived happily ever after, right? WRONG. The door needs to be sealed – Kingdom Hearts itself may be light, but it’s within a world of darkness, teeming with Heartless. But despite how hard they push, they just can’t close it from this side. Luckily, on the other side are Riku and King Mickey! Through their combined powers, they manage to close the door, with Riku managing to get a final line to Sora:
The door disappears, leaving a long, winding road which leads off into the distance. Sora’s just seen his best friend sacrifice himself, and he knows he’s going to go and find him, wherever he is – Donald and Goofy feel the same about their King. The worlds begin going back to where they’re supposed to, and Sora runs over to Kairi. However, the ground beneath her feet begins moving away – she’s on a patch of beach headed for Destiny Islands, and Sora… isn’t. He can’t. He has to go find him. Then, we get one of the greatest ending sequences in a game.
Then credits, then a brief glimpse at the new adventure for Sora and the gang, chasing Pluto over a hill in search of Riku and the King. THEN a completely indecipherable sequence of events featuring people in black hooded cloaks, a dark city, and some phrases which mean absolutely nothing to anybody at this point (starts around 17:18 in the above video, if you’re interested). Fun fact – this was put in the game in the hope that it would lead fans to want a sequel, and the actual meaning of, uh, any of this stuff was made up later and retrofitted to the secret video. Cool, huh?
Kingdom Hearts starts simple, but it gets much, MUCH more complex. It’s not as difficult to follow as people tend to make it out to be – heck, maybe I’ll keep going over the sequels in future blogs! We’ll see. Thanks for reading.