Kingdom Hearts is...important to me. The games are fun to play, the story is fantastic, and I love almost every character a great deal (except like, Vexen. ew). If one thing has formed me into the person I am today, Kingdom Hearts is it; once it came into my life, it infiltrated my being and...well, maybe I should start at the beginning.
My first introduction to the series came when I found a volume of one of the manga on a friend's shelf. I can't recall which one it was or from which game, but that's where it all started. They didn't have all of them either, so I read disjointed bits from the first three games in the series (and became very confused in the process), thinking that parts of II happened during the original. Weeks (months?) later, while on vacation with my family, I stumbled across something at one of the many generic airport stores that have snacks, books, and weird curiosities; the May 2009 issue of Nintendo Power, the one that had Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days on the cover. Suddenly I had something to look forward to, and as a young teen with only Nintendo systems, a game I could actually play.
358/2 Days released in September 2009 in North America, during the middle of the swine flu pandemic. I came down with something during that (doctors said it was just a normal flu, but the swine flu stands out in my mind as being a current event at the time so I always frame it that way), and ended up being at home for about two weeks. Just before that illness hit me, my family had taken a trip to Blockbuster (R.I.P.) and I found something that had haunted my conscious since summer; a copy of 358/2 Days. Yes, Blockbuster let you rent DS games. That was a weird thing.
So, those two weeks were my first real time playing a Kingdom Hearts game, and my world became warped. I cried for a long time after beating 358/2. Within a few months, I had saved up money and gotten a PlayStation 2 along with a copy of 1 and re: Chain of Memories. II would happen with a year or so, but my memory is a bit hazy of when this all goes down. The point is that Kingdom Hearts quickly became everything I cared about.
A year before 358/2 Days came out, my family and I moved countries. It was a really hard change for me, as someone who has just turned 13 and had to adjust to a new middle school where everyone already knew everyone. Looking back I don't think I ever truly fit in. Sure, there were lots of people I considered my friends, but it feels foreign in hindsight, even though I spent six school years with all of them. The introduction of Kingdom Hearts gave me a safe place, something to rely on. I certainly played and experienced numerous other properties during high school, but Kingdom Hearts was a constant. A neverending thing I could return to when I needed it. This was especially true once I realized how much more time I could invest in just reading fanfiction. In my lifetime, I would not be surprised if I have devoted as much time to reading Kingdom Hearts fanfiction as playing Kingdom Hearts games. That's what I came home and did after school sometimes; they gave me comfort in a world where friends didn't respond to my messages and I had a hard time being social in any capacity.
The years that followed saw me continually chasing an understanding of what the series was. I spent copious amounts of time reading wikis, finding weird old quotes from Nomura, and reading more fanfiction. Sure that last thing wasn't about the actual canonical timeline, but it helped me just...continue to take it all in. Have somewhere for my thoughts to go. To get who Sora and Roxas were. Maybe it was all to try and comprehend what a heart was, because my naive little brain had a tough time understanding life and relationships, and reasoned that this series that had "Heart" in its name could give me answers.
New trailers for Kingdom Hearts titles were like a drug for me. Seeing low-res uploads of stuff like the first bits of footage for Birth by Sleep were mesmerizing, and in time I put them on to function more like music than something to inform me about the product or story. Lines like "You can't save Aqua or Ventus!" tore at me, and were enough to stand out years before I got the chance to even play the games they were from. It was as if I lived in this weird dreamscape where I couldn't properly experience the series yet, but absorbed it in every little way I could.
When people speak about the first Kingdom Hearts game, it seems like they talk about the series being this special collaboration between Disney and Final Fantasy. That that's the main thrust of the series, and they'll sometimes express disappointment in how little those factor into the actual story. For me, though, the series is it's own thing. It borrows from both of those a lot, but it's so unique. It's cliche in its themes of light and darkness, but the way it explores them has always fascinated me, and it was never about Disney. Those are just ways to explore the light and darkness of the series; Beast fighting his own darkness inside him, how falling to darkness could corrupt a person, make them lose their memories, or tear apart families. The Disney stuff was really cool, but it was never the first thing I thought of when I thought of "Kingdom Hearts:" I thought of Sora, of Master Xehanort, of people fighting to get back the peace that had been disrupted, and save their loved ones. Or to discover themselves.
But at the same time, Kingdom Hearts is the only lenses I can properly view most Disney properties now. Seeing Donald Duck and Goofy in their KH attire is normal: Those incarnations of them stand out much more than the others to the point where they're defined by KH to me, despite existing for decades prior to the series. Even Tron, a series I love deeply (and consider Legacy to be my possibly favorite Western film) is marked by a really weird and fun inclusion in II and DDD, with 3DS-level polygon Jeff Bridges, which is...rad? Really rad.
There are still several old[er] Disney films I've never seen: Hercules, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pinnochio...those worlds exist for me in Kingdom Hearts. The idea of finally seeing them is one that's been on my mind forever, but at the same time I don't feel as if I need to. They have their place in my heart already.
So, to get to an actual point: what am I supposed to do now? Kingdom Hearts III is a week away. Less than a week away! How do I reconcile with that fact, when my life feels like it's been building to this for a decade now? When the thing that captured my heart and held it together while I struggled to stay afloat is about to have a definitive end to the arc that they've been building towards the whole time? Yes, it isn't the actual end to the series, but at this point we have no idea what a theoretical IV would hold. Will it still have Heartless? Nobodies? Will it still have Sora? None of that is known at this point, and neither of those scenarios would (likely) change that this is the end of Kingdom Hearts as we all know it. What do I do once I beat it? How much will I be able to revisit older entries, knowing this is the end?
I have so many questions that are forming around this experience, and the idea of this ending still hasn't set in. I'm this worried already but I feel like I could be so much more. There's no telling what this conclusion will bring, both in terms of the actual story (...OK no there're lots of hints to that, but I feel like there'll be surprises too) and the closure to me as a fan who will almost definitely be left feeling some sort of emptiness at the end. That emptiness would still be there it III had come out years ago, or in a decade; it's just how much the series means to me. Any ending will cause sort of gap. I absorbed all of Yakuza in about a year and a half, and all of Mass Effect in a month: the endings of those series both greatly affected me, but I took them in in a relatively short time frame. Kingdom Hearts has dominated by thought processes for a decade...and now it's about to come to an end.
God, I'm gonna need to read more fanfiction this weekend to hold me over.