Kingdom Hearts is a game all about friendship. It starts off with Sora and his friends, Riku and Kairi, longing to venture away from their tiny island home. And when their home, Destiny Islands, falls to the darkness, Sora makes it his mission to find his missing friends. Everything he does through the entire story is driven by friendship.

When Sora finally does find his friends, they aren’t in the best of shape. Riku has fallen to darkness and Kairi has literally lost her heart. After defeating Maleficent, who you’ve been lead to believe is the final boss (she isn’t), Sora discovers that Kairi’s heart has been inside of him the entire time. In a moment of true heroism, Sora bravely sacrifices his heart so Kairi can have hers. And in the process, returns the hearts to the other seven Princesses of Heart, who were kidnapped as part of Maleficent’s plan.

You’re left wondering what happens next. What happens to Sora. Suddenly, a lone shadow appears, and it becomes clear that you are controlling it. Sora has become a Heartless, the very thing he has fought this whole time. I had never seen anything like it before. The hero sacrifices himself to save the person he cares about. It’s a moment that has stuck with me this whole time, and to this day, I still get emotional when replaying Kingdom Hearts.

My Friends Are My Power

“My friends are my power.” That’s what Sora says before he faces off against Riku, who has been possessed by Ansem, the true antagonist of Kingdom Hearts. And it’s true. Sora’s friends are quite literally his power. With each world he visits, each new friend he makes, he grows stronger and stronger.

Occasionally, an inhabitant of each world will join Sora in combat. Whether its Tarzan in Deep Jungle, Jack Skellington in Halloween Town, or Ariel in Atlantica, these characters lend their strength to help Sora. As a kid who only ever dreamed of seeing other worlds, Sora matures with each new location he sets foot (or fin…) in.

The summons Sora acquires as he progresses on his journey also signify the growth he goes through. In most cases, these are characters whose worlds fell to darkness, but whose hearts were strong enough to survive, turning into Summon Gems. Sora uses these gems to gain the strength of Simba, Dumbo, Bambi, and Mushu. Their worlds may be gone, but they will keep fighting to protect the light in any way they can.

kingdom hearts characters
Sora has made many friends (and plenty of enemies) on his adventures.

The other two summons, Tinker Bell and Genie, join Sora willingly, signifying the bonds he has forged. After Sora has sealed the keyhole of their worlds, they realize the importance of his journey, and give their aid.

Quite possibly the most important relationship in the game (besides Sora’s friendship with Riku and Kairi) is the friendship between Sora, Donald, and Goofy. And what better signifies their growth together than the Trinity Marks? Special markings that can only be utilized when the three are in the party together, signifying the bond they share.

As the adventure goes on, the ability to unlock the secrets of more Trinity Marks become available. This is a great indication of the deepening of their relationship. From starting out as simply joining together to complete a mission, to Donald and Goofy willingly sacrificing their mission to protect Sora, friends will do anything for each other.

A Moment Like No Other

I can’t remember exactly when I first played Kingdom Hearts, but I believe I was around the age of ten. Kingdom Hearts, released in 2002, had been out for a few years by the time I first played it. I had a fairly extensive gaming history by that point, but nothing was like Kingdom Hearts.

As part of a big Disney family, I was first attracted to Kingdom Hearts after seeing an advertisement on Disney Channel. All these Disney characters! In one video game! Even though I didn’t have a PlayStation 2 at the time, I knew I needed to play it. I figured it would be just like watching my favorite Disney movies, only as a game!

kingdom hearts princesses
The Princesses of Heart were essential to the plot of Kingdom Hearts.

It was, for the most part. It had all of the heart, all of the friendship of a Disney movie. But there was also a melancholy that underscored the whole thing. Kingdom Hearts is overall a very optimistic and hopeful game, more so than any of the others in the series. But there’s always an undercurrent of sadness that runs through.

In every game I had played prior, the main protagonist always triumphed. When I defeated Maleficent, I assumed the same would ring true. But then I needed to fight Riku, Sora’s best friend. And after that battle, Kairi would still not awaken. Sora knew what he needed to do.

With a rearrangement of ‘Simple and Clean’, the theme of Kingdom Hearts, Sora disappeared. I couldn’t believe it. Did Sora actually die? That’s not supposed to happen! All Donald, Goofy, and Kairi can do is flee. All that was remained was a single Shadow Heartless.

Playing Kingdom Hearts In a New Way

The segment playing as the Shadow is brief, but memorable. The UI has disappeared, and you could jump, but barely. Naturally, as a Heartless, no enemies will show up to attack you. There’s no direction given, all there is to do is move forward.

As a single Heartless wandering around the twisted castle of Hallow Bastion, I didn’t know what to do. I simply dropped down ledges, and progressed through corridors, until I made it to the Entrance Hall, where Sora’s friends had ran away to.

kingdom hearts hallow bastion
The twisted castle of Hallow Bastion is one of the most important worlds in the game.

As the very thing my party had been fighting, naturally they were wary of one approaching them. But Kairi could sense something special about this Heartless. She knew it was Sora. When a squad of Heartless came to attack the group, Kairi knew she needed to protect Sora, like he had protected her. And her sacrifice brought Sora back to life.

While Sora’s time as a Heartless was brief, it had a definite impact. Both on the story (in the creation of the Nobodies Roxas and Namine), but on me, personally. Never before had I seen a video game hero put his life on the line so willingly for the greater good. It showed that Sora would truly do anything for his friends, no matter the personal cost, fairly similar to one Harry Potter.

The Fight for My Friends

With Kingdom Hearts 3 coming in January, the franchise has a lot of eyes on it. Many are either revisiting the series or playing it for the first time. The Kingdom Hearts series has grown and evolve since then, but for me, nothing can beat that original game. Kingdom Hearts is my favorite game, and I think a lot of it has to do with its simplicity.

It’s a classic good vs. evil story. There’s none of the complexities that come with the later titles. While the whole series is about friendship, nothing exemplifies it more than the first Kingdom Hearts. And no better moment encapsulates that than Sora’s heroic sacrifice.

Let Us Know!

Have you played through Kingdom Hearts? If so, what moments from the game stuck out for you? Let us know, and be sure to follow Culture of Gaming on all of our social channels to stay up to date with the latest in gaming!

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