So I cannot claim real OG status on being a Kingdom Hearts fan, sadly. I was first given a copy of this game after it had already gone platinum. But damn, damn I loved the absolute hell out of this game. I’ve 100% finished it twice through – which is uncommon for me. I don’t think I will ever forget the first time I faced off against Ansem in that void, hearing Sora shout out that “Deep down there is a light that never goes out!!”. That simple message has been a crutch for me at a bunch of points in my life. I have said before that I have struggled with depression at stages in my life – this is the story of how Sora, Riku, Kairi, Donald, Goofey and King Mickey taught me how to stay strong when everything else seemed dark.
So at age 12 I was going through one of the most challenging times in my life. I’m not going to go too far into it but my trust was betrayed in a huge way. My entire world was fairly well turned on it’s head and nothing made a whole lot of sense. I began to self harm and nothing seemed to ease the pain.
I was already a fairly avid gamer and so when I was given a copy of Kingdom Hearts I ate it up.
The touching love story between Sora and Kairi melted me. Being a depressive and angsty teenager it was even more effective back then. A lot of this comes down to ‘Simple and Clean’ it grabbed me from the opening of this game and forced me to pay attention to the emotional side of the tale. The song still causes me to get goosebumps to this day (played it while I was writing this just to check) that song came to be a shorthand for the 60 hour epic for me. When I was feeling threatened or pushed by the world I could put that song on and re-live the entire emotional journey the game took me, it would make me feel strong when nothing else could.
It really was this process of empathizing with the struggles of Sora – seeing his personal angst being reflected and juxtaposed in this most amazing and grandiose struggle of Light and Dark. Seeing the true power of love not only in a romantic sense but also the love of friends and the love of duty. The game handles these topics in a fairly basic way – but it is still touching to me.
The fall of Riku and his eventual redemption showed me that we can all struggle in a way that nothing else had – it never felt didactic that he was so heavily contrasted against Sora to show the value of true emotional strength. For me this was the first experience in media that had reached me on this level; and it was inspiring.
Donald, Goofey and Mickey fighting with everything they had to save something so much larger than themselves, most of the time so much larger than they realised – showed me the value of duty and friendship and the love and support tat is available to all of us from those around us who share in our struggles and really understand us more than we give them credit for.
When I finally got to the closing moments of the game, when the hero was at his most powerful but still brought so low. When the whole of his world was literally engulfed in darkness and fear – seeing him stand up, seeing that the strength to do so came form inside him was invaluable to me – it helped me find the courage to face those things that i didn’t feel I could.
I look back on it all now and see that it really is rather a moralising and simple story but I’ve never lost touch with that first raw and naked experience with the game and it’s message. I’ve never felt truly alone since that moment – I’ve been sad, horribly depressed I’ve made terrible choices that I regret while in those low states, but it has always been that sense of inner strength and the knowledge that those around me want to help me that has pulled me back up out of the inky blackness.
Kingdom Hearts helped redefine the emotional landscape of my childhood in a way that has never left me. Hours of struggling with another, albiet virtual, person showed me a whole new way of looking at my problems a whole new set of tools to help me fight my demons – and for that I will always love it.