KH asks more questions than it answers. But can it figure it out why I gave up on Kingdom Hearts 2?
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I am well aware that I will catch flack for this one, especially considering how beloved the Kingdom Hearts series is. With the plethora of appearances from Disney and Final Fantasy characters, I should be thrilled that the game exists. I even played the first one for the podcast (see Episode 54 of the podcast). But the series journey down the convoluted rabbit hole was where it lost me and led me to ultimately give up. Here’s why.
It’s a fairly simple reason, really. One that I think will resonate with a lot of our listeners: the narrative is extremely confusing. Now, I knew this going into Kingdom Hearts when we were prepping our episode. What I was not ready for was how jarring the experience would be to go from Kingdom Hearts 1 to Kingdom Hearts 2. Who was Roxas? Who were these black-robed characters? And what happened to Sora? These are all questions that should keep someone playing. But for me, I was more frustrated than intrigued. I still had lots of questions after the first game!
After a quick Google search, I learned that, in order to understand the story of KH2, I had to play (or have some knowledge of) Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days; one a game that discards the action combat for card battles and the other a series of cutscenes (on the 1.5 Remix anyway). Thankfully for me, these were all on one disc. Keep in mind that Kingdom Hearts 1 was originally released for the PS2 in 2002. Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days were released on the Game Boy Advance (2004) and Nintendo DS (2009), respectively. I can’t imagine how ridiculous following this series was for fans back when those games released. Especially considering 358/2 Days wasn’t released until 4 years after Kingdom Hearts 2 was released in 2005. What were Square Enix thinking?
As I sat down to subject myself to 358/2 Days (after reading an extensive wiki on Chain of Memories), I still had no answers for my questions, save for what happened to Sora in Chain of Memories. As Roxas’ story unfolded before me, I was convinced my brain had turned to mush. There was no explanation for anything in this world. What makes up a heart? What exactly was Kingdom Hearts? Why was it important? Who are all these new characters being thrust before me? What’s the deal with the sea salt ice cream bars? Three games in and I was left with more questions than I was given answers.
After finishing 358/2 Days, I was ready to start Kingdom Hearts 2. I was mentally exhausted, but I was ready. Thankfully, I understood the context of the opening to the game just a bit more. And then the game proceeded to show me more cutscenes. I’ll cut the game some slack here for subjecting me to more cutscenes. But it still didn’t help the game’s case either. After being given control of the game, I realized that I was not about to actually engage in the game proper just yet. Rather, I would engage in a tutorial poorly disguised as fetch quests and errands to earn money for a train ticket. I soldiered on through the wonky controls only to learn that my work didn’t matter because the money would get stolen anyway and I had to seek an alternate route. I could feel the frustration clawing up my neck and into my brain.
The game subjected me to a 20-30 minute tutorial of gathering only to laugh in my face and proclaim, “Your effort meant nothing”. And what a dull 20-30 minutes it was. All of this work and effort to get ready for KH2 and THIS is how the game starts? I couldn’t help but think this was some evil ploy of the developer to mock me and the potential hours I could have put into the game.
And that’s when it hit me: I simply didn’t care. I didn’t care about Roxas, Sora, or Kairi. I definitely didn’t care about Riku after the ending of KH1. I had no context for anything in the world of Kingdom Hearts, or why it even mattered at all. The game had not given me a reason to care or invest in this series, whatsoever. After three games, I still had no clue what was going on.
People claim that Metal Gear Solid has a nigh-unintelligible narrative arc. I claim that those people have not played Kingdom Hearts: this series that feels no responsibility to put anything of merit in their games to get you to understand, and care about, it’s characters, world, or inevitable Keyblade War. And that’s the critical flaw with Kingdom Hearts: it asks the questions without ever really providing the answers. Add to that the wonky, floaty controls, bad dialogue and voice acting and I couldn’t stomach it any longer. Suffice to say, the game has not aged well at all. Kingdom Hearts 2 was the game that broke the camel’s back for me. I had quit Kingdom Hearts 2 for good.
Have you played Kingdom Hearts 2? What are your thoughts? Feel free to change my mind in the comments below.