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Stay a while… you can’t go wrong with Kingdom Hearts music.
The Games That Define Us features carefully chosen music and remixes from the franchise of the game represented. Music is a key component of sharing the emotions one feels about a game, so we hope you will press the play button if you’re in a position to do so.
Just a brief summary if this is your first time here: This collaboration is a 34-day long adventure through video games. Each piece is its own unique audiovisual experience, complete with artwork, designs, music, and (most importantly) amazing works of prose by brilliant bloggers around the world. This adventure will take you through nostalgia, joy, ambition, self-discovery, regret, anxiety, frustration, mourning, and every human experience in between. Video games exist as fragments on the timeline of our lives, and each one of us have chosen the adventure we feel most defines us.
What can I say, Chris from OverthinkerY, today’s featured blogger, is awesome! If there’s one thing you can always count on with Chris, it’s that you’ll be exploring the outer limits of the English language experience through his text. For example, Chris is the first blogger to ever successfully pull off a double-bracketed parenthetical sequence on Normal Happenings. I won’t spoil it for you. If you’re in the mood for more witty wordplay, you should absolutely check out his blog. He’s working on a novel at the moment!
- This is not the greatest hiatus in the world. This is just a tribute. (It’s not even really a hiatus, actually.)
And here are a couple of other recent favorites!
- Five Reasons to Embrace Diversity in Fiction, Even If You’re an Incorrigible Bigot
- Games are for everyone: what does ‘accessibility’ mean to you?
Today’s game is one of the most emotionally influential games ever, so we hope you enjoy the next chapter of The Games That Define Us!
– Matthew, Normal Happenings
Chris @ OverthinkerY
For scattered dreams…
Game: Kingdom Hearts
System: Playstation 2
Release Date: March 28, 2002
Even though I can admit Kingdom Hearts has its faults, I can’t help but love it, and it strikes me that perhaps loving something in a way that encompasses all its flaws is the purest form of love.
Imagine, if you will, a boy of around nine or ten years of age. He’s into books, cartoons, movies; he enjoys experiencing stories in different ways and regularly coming up with quasi-Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-style tales on the fly for his friends. Video games have been around for a while, but this lad’s never really had the opportunity to experience them — to understand what it is that they do. Being an enormous fan of the Harry Potter franchise, however, when the Game of the Film of the First Book is released, he knows he simply has to have it.
Plot twist: that boy’s name was Barack Obama.
Nah, it was me. It was obviously me. C’mon.
My first ever gaming experience, then, was Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone on Game Boy Advance, the console that was at the time just new enough to be exciting and just old enough for my parents to conclude was not stupidly expensive. I had a good time with that game, thinking that getting to actually be Harry Potter was just the best thing, and then I finished it.
‘Where do I go from here?’ I wondered: I couldn’t afford to buy myself more games, and I wouldn’t have known what to get even if I had. Fortunate I was, then, that a shop called ‘Choices’ had just opened up down the road: a store where you could pay two or three quid and actually take a game home with you for a weekend! It was amazing; through that store, I discovered the endless charms of Pokémon Silver, experienced the adventures of Link for the first time with Oracle of Ages, and met Spyro in Season of Ice. I was learning how to play games, how to dive into these worlds and go on incredible journeys, and I was beginning to appreciate that video games could tell stories in ways that other media simply couldn’t. You had beautiful visuals, music, the ability to pick your own way of overcoming obstacles, and that was pretty incredible to me.
During these formative years with my little GBA, I had a couple of friends lucky enough to own a PlayStation 2, something I thought I’d never be able to achieve. Going to their houses to play — well, watch them play, mostly — Dynasty Warriors or Lord of the Rings: The Third Age or even something like the Robot Wars game (surprisingly good, actually) was starting to open my eyes to this new world of possibility: games that were even more beautiful, that had the power to tell even more expansive tales. I’d been saving for a little while to get myself a Game Boy Advance SP (a cute little folding GBA with a backlight, if you can believe such a thing) as an upgrade to my friendly old regular GBA, but I decided in fairly short order that I had to have a PS2 instead. It took some convincing, but my parents eventually agreed that I could have one, not least because my neighbour ran a games store and had a cheap second-hand one.
Thus it was that I eventually found myself bringing home a PlayStation 2 for the first time. I imagine my fingers were probably literally shaking as I plugged the thing in, and then – ah.
I didn’t have any games for it.
Right, well then, back over to Choices we go. Not only do they have GBA cartridges, but they have PS2 games and even DVDs too! I miss that store — it was subsumed into Blockbuster fairly shortly after this tale concludes, and is now a charity shop. I scanned the shelves and picked out a title called Kingdom Hearts.
If you asked me why I picked out that game, I’m not sure I would be able to tell you. The cover was kind of dark, suggesting perhaps a level of maturity that I was eager to achieve, but the back of the box had some colourful Disney characters on it, so perhaps I was drawn to the balance: the idea that I could go above my reading age, as it were, while safe in the knowledge that if it was Disney it couldn’t be that scary. I wasn’t even a Disney fan; I’d seen maybe four or five Disney movies, but not all that many. As for whether the box mentioned that Kingdom Hearts also featured Final Fantasy characters, I don’t remember. I wouldn’t have taken any notice if it had: I had only the faintest conception of what Final Fantasy was, I should think.
I trundled back down the street with the game in my hands, having acquired possession of it for the next few days. Me, a complete non-Disney, non-Final Fantasy fan, clutching what was actually quite a historically significant crossover between those two titans, without a clue as to what I was in for. My first ever PS2 game, though! I was overjoyed at the idea that I would finally be able to experience a journey on an actual telly rather than a weeny little handheld screen; I didn’t really know or care what that journey was likely to involve, I was just ecstatic in the knowledge that I would get to do it at all.
Getting the disc into the console was, I was relieved to discover, fairly self-explanatory; with that hurdle cleared, I worked out that I had to press X on the PS2’s root menu to open the game, and then we were off.
From the moment the main menu loaded up and I began to hear ‘Dearly Beloved’ for the first time, I knew that this was something completely different to anything else I’d come across in my burgeoning gaming experience. I don’t know how I could have known that; it was a title screen, for heaven’s sake.
Maybe it was just that most GBA games didn’t really have title screens, so I was easily impressed!
Over the next couple of hours, I played the opening sections of the game (taking an awfully long time because I’d never really used a controller like this before), and couldn’t believe what I was seeing, what I was experiencing, what I was doing. The beginning sequence of KH is an exercise in setting the tone: you begin in a dark world, standing on stained glass platforms with an ominous chorus ringing out as a disembodied voice guides you through the first stages. Defeating shadowy foes and making choices that will, though you don’t know it yet, define how the rest of the game plays out, you finally ascend the towers in the blackness and defeat a monstrous being of pure darkness.
Then you wake up on a sunny beach, tropical tunes playing away merrily, and watch as the logo splashes up on the screen, realising that now the game begins in earnest.
It’s a truly impactful sequence – certainly it was doing it for the first time as a kid, and I still get shivers now. I felt that I’d touched something huge and terrifying, yet (for now at least) I had overcome it. I knew, though, that despite the holiday feel of Destiny Islands, the darkness would be back.
Looking back, those opening moments stick with me much more clearly than the rest of the game [although there are bits of it forever burned into my brain, thanks to the inability of vanilla KH1 to skip cutscenes (and a remarkable tendency to put the longest ones before the hardest bosses)], and it’s still the point from loading the title screen to defeating the first boss that I tend to think about when I think of Kingdom Hearts. That said, I think it did a lot to define me as a gamer in more ways than just to give me specific moments or memories: it exposed me to the idea that games could be both fast-paced and strategic; to the expanse that is Final Fantasy as a franchise (and indeed to a whole bunch of Disney movies); to the knowledge that video game music is, while its own breed, just as important and interesting and exciting as any other music; and to persistence and ingenuity in overcoming obstacles, however insurmountable they might seem.
Certainly, and as you might be beginning to gather, Kingdom Hearts has influenced my life in wider ways than simply being a game (later, of course, a series) that I enjoy. I can’t actually quantify just how much it’s defined me as a person; through being my gateway into gaming at large, it was the catalyst for what I know will be a lifelong love of stories told in the ways only gaming can achieve. I might never have touched a piano if it hadn’t introduced me to pieces that I’ve come to love; I don’t think I’d have started composing if I hadn’t learned that themes can be intertwined to create a story from nothing but wiggly air (which is all music really is, in some ways!). The courage of the protagonists of this story inspires me, and I often find myself consciously trying to be more like them; I even referred to characters and themes within this series when going through the often difficult transition from belief to non-belief, eventually finding myself on the other side as a proud humanist and, I think, a stronger and kinder person for it. (I know there will be some stories in this collection about people going in the other direction: finding or becoming more secure in faith because of a gaming experience, and I think it’s wonderful that we have this shared sense of affirmation as a result of our love of games, despite our different beliefs.)
Finally, I’m not sure I’d have found the love of writing that I now have – at least, not to the same extent or from such a young age – if I hadn’t started with an ill-fated attempt to write a novelisation of Kingdom Hearts and then realised that I could create my own worlds just as large and as confusing and as brilliant as this one I’d discovered.
I’ll always have a soft spot for this game, and this franchise. I put myself through joy and misery when Kingdom Hearts 2 released: I knew the release date, so walked all the way into town with all the money I could scrounge together in the hopes of purchasing a copy of this thing that I wanted more than anything, but it turned out that it had released in the US, not my native England, so I ordered a copy online from America which naturally didn’t work because I had a region-locked PAL PlayStation 2. It was agony, but Kid Me (looking at the release date, I would have been eleven) would probably have said it was worth it. Even though I can admit KH as a series and as each individual game has its faults, I can’t help but love it, and it strikes me that perhaps loving something in a way that encompasses all its flaws is the purest form of love.
I’m not about to claim that Kingdom Hearts taught me the meaning of love, but if that’s what you want to take away from this, I won’t stop you.
- 0 | Adventure Map
- 1 | Mr. Backlog · Mr. Backlog | The Bard’s Tale
- 2 | GG · Hungrygoriya | Faxanadu
- 3 | Kim · Later Levels | The Secret of Monkey Island
- 4 | Matt · Normal Happenings | Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- 5 | The3rdPlayer · 3PStart | Zombies Ate My Neighbors
- 6 | Amanda · Imaginating Life | Myst
- 7 | Justin · TWOTALL4UFOOL | Donkey Kong Country
- 8 | The Well-Red Mage · The Well-Red Mage | Breath of Fire II
- 9 | Shauna · HideNGoShauna | NIGHTS Into Dreams
- 10 | Murr · geeksleeprinserepeat | Pokemon Red/Blue
- 11 | The Gaming Diaries · The Gaming Diaries | Crash Bandicoot
- 12 | Ryan · Games With Coffee | Final Fantasy VII
- 13 | Luke · Hundstrasse | Resident Evil 2
- 14 | Ellen · LividLightning | Banjo Kazooie
- 15 | Megan · A Geeky Gal | Spyro the Dragon
- 16 | Victor · The Modern Gafa | Digimon World
- 17 | Alex · The Purple Prose Mage | Warcraft III
- 18 | Jan · The Life of Jan | World of Warcraft
- 19 | Heather · Just Geeking By | World of Warcraft
- 20 | Nikki · Normal Happenings | Animal Crossing
- 21 | Chris · OverthinkerY | Kingdom Hearts
*YOU ARE HERE*
- 22 | Ian · Adventure Rules | Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door
- 23 | Pix1001 · Shoot the Rookie | Guitar Hero
- 24 | Michael · Git Gud at Life | BioShock
- 25 | KT · Wintendo 64 | Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
- 26 | Kathy · Krysanthe | Wizard 101
- 27 | Khinjarsi · Upon Completion | Fallout 3
- 28 | Ruubin · FTWRuubin | Borderlands
- 29 | Will · geeksleeprinserepeat | DayZ
- 30 | Alyssa · Nerd Side of Life | The Sims 4
- 1 | Zerathulu · The Zerathulu View | Starcraft
- 2 | Imtiaz · Power Bomb Attack | Super Metroid
- 3 | Teri Mae · Sheikah Plate | Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- 4 | Skylar-Mei · gamergal.exe | Guild Wars 2
- 5 | Matt · Normal Happenings | Final Boss ► Stardew Valley
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This collaboration took an overwhelming amount of time and dedication from 34 exceptionally creative, incredible makers! Help us with the resources to make more, even better, collaborations in the future! We also have aspirations of developing a podcast called Normal Talks about optimistically appreciating everyday life! Please consider becoming a patron of Normal Happenings and help us try to make the world a better, more positive place!