My Journey with Kingdom Hearts

This post contains spoilers for the series, but spoilers for the latest game are marked near the end.

So I played Kingdom Hearts Ⅲ.  In many ways, it was exactly what I expected it to be, so I can’t say I was disappointed per se.  For me, the series had gone off its rails early and quite thoroughly.  But even when you’re watching a train wreck for the spectacle, it’s hard not to feel a bit sad – after all, it had been such a nice train once.

The game had its moments.  The gameplay was fun and flashy, the worlds were full of satisfying details, the visuals were often gorgeous.  But ultimately, the entire experience felt like a string of semi-random Things that Happened.

It’s part of what I’m noticing as a larger trend, especially prevalent in recent Japanese pop media, were sequels to compelling works seem to disregard the very things that made those works compelling.

But to me, Kingdom Hearts is a particularly tragic example, because the original game got so much right.

There is a reason this series still has such a strong following, and I believe it has a lot to do with its first impression.  Of course, I can only speak from my own subjective experience. With that in mind though, this is a post I’ve wanted to write for years: an exploration of why the original game resonated deeply with me and why, instead of building on that resonance, its sequels trampled on it.

Why Kingdom Hearts Resonated

When I played the original Kingdom Hearts for the first time around 2010 (late, I know!), I was under no illusion that it was perfect.  The mechanics were clunky, the interface was unintuitive, the camera felt possessed. But none of that mattered.  The game hooked me from the moment I finished the tutorial – because it was keenly aware of its target audience, and I just so happened to be it.

What kind of audience could an early 2000s-era Squaresoft RPG about Disney and Final Fantasy characters have possibly been targeting?  Well, if you had strong Disney nostalgia or played JRPGs (or, in my case, grew up with anime), chances are, you probably liked a good story.  And if you were picking up a single-player PS2 game, you were likely looking to get lost in one yourself.

The creators knew this, and they provided.  They crafted a game that not only appealed to nostalgia by allowing the player to visit worlds and characters from great stories, they took it a step further and wrapped everything in an impressively solid frame narrative.  One that had the heartfelt optimism of a Disney Renaissance movie, yet also a distinctly anime complexity – in a good way. It was anime, after all, that once taught me that stories had a gray area between good and bad, that the best endings weren’t always the happiest, and that anyone could be a protagonist; not just princesses, superheroes, or destiny’s chosen.

And the choice of protagonist in Kingdom Hearts was very deliberate.  In every way, Sora was designed to be a stand-in for a (certain kind of) player – but not in the soulless “blank slate” sense.  He had his own life, his own history, his own personality. A messy room full of toys, a mom, a favorite hangout spot to explore with his friends.  Lazy but adventurous and a bit of a goofball, Sora was an absolutely ordinary kid. A kid who wanted to escape the mundane and feed his curiosity despite being trapped by a literal ocean.

Even though I played the game as an adult, it instantly brought me back to my childhood.  I was a dreamer who often looked for escape in narrative, my own or someone else’s. Those feelings became a big part of why I will always love good stories – especially those delivered through games I could feel present in.  It was easy for me to empathize with Sora; we both wanted to get away from the daily things.

The game took this theme of longing for freedom and ran with it.  Its motifs are scattered around every digital nook and cranny. Your weapon in the game is a key that can open any door – the ultimate symbol of freedom, if ever there was one.  Either you know that Sora’s name means “sky,” or you picture soaring through the sky when you hear it. The characters’ freedom is limited by the islands they live on. Then there are those ominous words: “You are the one who will open the door.”  And even the word “Kingdom” in the very title, when juxtaposed with Disney, immediately brings to mind Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom – a real-world escapist fantasy for children and adults alike.


Many of these motifs are right there on the box art, and many more show up within ten minutes of starting the game.  They are an unspoken acknowledgment and promise: “I know this is what you’re looking for. So trust me.”

Trust I did, and this is what I got: a story that gave me and Sora that very freedom – but in a way that reminded us both to be careful of what we wished for.  Because there would always be something more important: responsibility. By knowing exactly who I was, the game was able to give me both a satisfying experience and a gentle reminder that losing myself in such an experience wasn’t meant to be an escape, but a learning opportunity.

On the surface, the game’s story is about the battle between light and darkness.  The world was once whole, but the darkness in people’s hearts nearly consumed it. The remaining pieces were saved by the light in the hearts of children and became the stars in the sky.  Now, darkness is spreading, consuming the hearts of both people and worlds, one by one, by way of monsters made of shadow gunk. It’s a really simple premise, but also a fairly morbid one, reminiscent of The Snow Queen, which gave even Disney a headache.

Sora loses his world and his friends but gains the power to fight the darkness, as well as the very thing he thought he wanted: the ability to go to other worlds.  Except that ability is meaningless to him without his friends. Feeling lost without them, he goes on a search across the worlds that remain, but each one is on the verge of falling.  To salvage the situation, the only thing Sora can do is close doors – not open them.

The story may have been simple, but it was effective.  Every setup had a payoff. In hindsight, nothing felt random or contrived.  The charm Kairi weaves at the very start becomes one of Sora’s strongest keychains.  The slide featuring a castle feels familiar to Sora because Kairi’s heart is remembering her lost and forgotten home at Hollow Bastion.  Even the terrible fake smile Sora gives Donald and Goofy in Traverse Town comes back to give extra power to the most tear-jerking scene in the game.


Almost every element, every world visited, had a justification for being there.  Sora had a clear reason to go to these worlds, and in each one, something happened that moved the main story forward, be it plot-wise, character-wise or thematically.  Wonderland was a perfect metaphor for Sora’s sudden leap into the unknown. Ursula took advantage of Ariel’s desire for freedom the same way Maleficent used Riku’s.  And it was Tarzan of all people who taught Sora the very lesson about hearts and friendship that ended up saving him in the end.

Kingdom Hearts didn’t just insert Sora into pre-existing plots like bad fanfiction; it took the world of each story, expanded its scope, and tied it into the idea that something much, much larger was at stake.  As a result, each world felt like a chapter in a novel, rather than a stand-alone short story.  This was a crossover done right.

Every step of the way, the visuals underscored the concept of childlike innocence.  The character designs were cartoony and expressive, the animations dynamic and full of life, perfectly bridging the gap between disparate art styles.  The main cast was not designed to be attractive; their features emphasized their youth, putting the spotlight on the internal.

But the game went a step further by taking advantage of the synergy between the protagonist and the player.  In Kingdom Hearts, Sora was the only directly controllable character.  Because of this, I saw everything in the game and the story through his eyes.  I empathized with him because he was the true protagonist of both.

I especially empathized with his enthusiasm for exploration because in this regard, we were one and the same.  Everything in the game world was to scale, with nothing abstracted. The scope was small, but there were secrets around every corner.  There were no sprawling vistas behind invisible walls; in almost every case, if you could see something, you could reach it (eventually).

But I also empathized with Sora’s growth as a character over the course of the story.  By walking so many miles in Sora’s too-big shoes, I was in tune with his evolution from a codependent “lazy bum” to someone who embraced his responsibility.  When Sora lost the keyblade and, abandoned by everyone, realized he was never meant to be the hero, he didn’t take the easy way out the way Riku did.  He persevered, and that allowed him to earn the role properly.

Watching Riku’s evolution was just as interesting, if more painful.  Though the game never defined “darkness,” or what “falling” to it meant, it didn’t need to because Riku embodied it.  At first, his desire for escape seemed just as innocent as Sora’s. But it was clear that under the surface, his feelings about Kairi were complicating matters.  He could see her closeness with Sora, and he was jealous, afraid of being left behind. These ugly emotions were the exact “darkness” that once shattered the world.  It probably wasn’t coincidence that Riku is a little older than Sora, and a lot more of an “adult.”


Maleficent nurtured Riku’s misgivings, isolating him.  His downward spiral was grounded in his humanness, and it was this that ultimately allowed Ansem to possess him.  It was only after Riku lost everything that he realized – this very negativity was the poison that made him weak, not strong.  It wasn’t that Sora had none himself – he lost hope multiple times and had a pretty nasty fight with Donald – but he handled it differently.  Sora was able to learn from it as one does from life experience and move forward. That was why the keyblade chose him over Riku – twice.

And it was why the game’s ending felt like an inevitability.  It took Riku falling so far as to lose his body to realize how wrong he had been – so he stayed behind in the realm of darkness to close the door from the inside as an act of redemption.  He wasn’t looking for forgiveness. As far as he was concerned, that sacrifice was the last meaningful thing he could offer. That was just how his mind worked – in the very “adult” way we trap ourselves by the walls of our reasoning.


Sora, on the other hand, was having none of it.  Because of what he learned about connections, he was able to let Riku go – temporarily.  Going back to the island with Kairi, though, was never an option. Against all odds, he was determined to drag Riku home kicking and screaming and set things right.  Not because he needed Riku, not anymore, but because that’s what best friends did for each other.  He was taking responsibility.

In a way, it felt like the perfect ending.  Despite Yuffie’s insistence that travel between worlds would never be possible again, it implied that the journey wasn’t over, and perhaps never would be.  The world was already broken in a way that “fixing it” wouldn’t actually fix it. But it was a world in which Donald Duck fought eldrich shadow demons alongside Cloud.  It was imperfect, like the heart that held both light and darkness. On the surface, the story may have been simple. Except for when it wasn’t.

It was partly this messiness that emerged from something so simple and clean that made the game feel so iconic, memorable and complete to the me of nine years ago.  It was such a strange combination of things that melded seamlessly into a powerful feeling of finality, as though I had just gone on a journey to find long forgotten parts of myself.  But it was time to put the book down. My own responsibilities were waiting for me, and I felt refreshed and ready to tackle them.

Kingdom Hearts wasn’t a perfect game or even a perfect story by any stretch, but to a very specific audience, its elements came together to form a very powerful and resonant experience beyond objective judgment.  If you, like me, were part of that audience, chances are, you were swept up in the magic, and you probably didn’t even understand why.

Chances are, you attributed that feeling to surface elements like exploring worlds themed after Disney movies.  You’ve probably been playing some of the newer games and may have felt that something was kind of off, but blamed it on the story being “complicated.”  But hey, at least the combat is way more fun, and they fixed that damn camera.  Right?

Chain of Memories: How Not to Make a Sequel

It’s hard to argue that, with the way it ended, Kingdom Hearts didn’t need a sequel.  Even putting aside the most pressing question the ending raised, there was plenty of material to explore in one.

For example, we had just discovered that the true light of the world still existed, but it was buried behind massive amounts of darkness.  The obvious question to explore was whether it could be possible to restore that light and truly reconnect the worlds – and whether doing so was even a good idea in the first place.

Then there was the fact that the worlds were sealed off from each other once again, but if Sora was to find Riku, he’d have to go to other worlds somehow.  An impossible problem, until we remember – Ansem had broken the seals once already.  How interesting would it have been if, in order to find the light, Sora would have had to seek it in darkness?  Say, for example, in worlds that couldn’t fully come back because they held too much inherent negativity. Up until now, Sora’s objectives had been aligned, but what if he had to choose between saving a world and following it to the door by letting it fall?

Or!  What about Kairi, who spent the entire game being damseled?  What if, tired of being left behind, she decided to take matters into her own hands?  Find a way to be strong, be useful, on her own? We just found out she’s a princess of heart.  The other six had the power to hold back an immense wave of darkness. How interesting would it have been to explore Kairi’s growth into an independent heroin?

Any one of these and many more ideas would have worked because they all sprang from seeds that had already been planted.  They would all have explored some story question that had already been raised as a backdrop to Sora’s obvious new objective.

Unfortunately, instead of moving forward in a clearly visible direction, Chain of Memories – the actual direct sequel we got – took a sharp left off a cliff.

At the start of the game, Sora, Donald and Goofy wander into a place called Castle Oblivion.  How they even get there is unclear, but for some reason, they’re so convinced that what they’re looking for is inside that they unquestioningly follow the directions of a group of sketchy people in black coats and climb the castle’s many floors.  Shortly after embarking on this dubious journey, they completely lose their memories of the previous game’s events.

I can almost picture the meeting where the game’s designers made that decision.  It was clearly the answer to the problem, “Why does Sora start a new game from level 1?”  And while yes, having Sora lose his memory gave a nice and tidy reason for him to forget every single one of his abilities (twice), they threw the baby out with the bathwater.  Because the moment Sora lost his memories was the moment my empathy disappeared entirely.

Sora and I no longer had a shared set of experiences.  I was now an outsider looking in, watching with a grimace as Sora allowed his quest to be effortlessly sabotaged.  Instead of cheering him on in his efforts to save Naminé, I was banging my head against the table over how easily he was able to forget that Kairi – the most important person in his life – even existed.


Ironically, Chain of Memories was both about retcons – and filled with them.  Instead of exploring any number of existing story questions, the game presented completely new ones, many of which revolved around the machinations of “The Organization.”  What that meant was introducing a whole bunch of new original characters. Not only were they nearly impossible to keep straight because of their identical attire, but unlike with the Disney villains, I had absolutely no context for who they were.  Because the stakes were undefined, I had no reason to care about who betrayed whom or why.

The game’s structure didn’t help me care.  Each floor of the castle was a projection of a world Sora had visited in the first game – one that I could choose.  This meant, first of all, that I was revisiting plot points I had already seen, which was pretty boring. There was nothing new to discover.  Of course they were all new to amnesiac Sora, which meant I didn’t even have him to commiserate with. And second of all, because I could choose the order of the worlds, it meant that all actual plot advancement had to happen between floors.  This effectively walled off the story from the gameplay, whereas their intimate integration in the first game was a large part of the appeal for me.

Then there was the gameplay itself, which took me to a separate battle screen.  The card mechanics weren’t bad per se, but they were a complete abstraction of the direct battle system I was used to.  My familiar verbs were gone. This was the final nail in the coffin for the illusion of being present in the game’s world.

I couldn’t play it.  Chain of Memories took away pretty much everything that made the original game meaningful to me.  So I did what any reasonable person would do: I gave up and watched the cutscenes on Youtube.

I’d like to note that certain parts of that game weren’t objectively bad on their own.  After all, the mechanics inspired The World Ends with You, one of my favorite games of all time.  But taken together, they were too much of a deviation from what I’d been conditioned to want from a follow-up.  Chain of Memories made me feel like the resonant power of the original game had been a coincidence.  This was a heartbreaking realization because up until that moment, the creators had had my unwavering trust, both as game designers and storytellers.

As game designers, they eventually got back some of that trust.  Every game after Chain of Memories returned to direct control gameplay, each iteration more refined.  Building off the foundation of the humble original system, future sequels transformed it into a spectacular, streamlined light show.  It was fun, even though many of the objectives became arbitrary. With a wider range of motion came vaster worlds – and the necessity for invisible barriers.  Ironically, the price for having more to explore was a feeling of being less free. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Because as storytellers, the creators lost my trust completely.

Because in Chain of Memories, and every game after, there is no longer a story – only a plot.

Fixation on the External

For every new concept introduced, the creators put a painstaking amount of effort into making it viable – that is, something that can even happen in the world without undermining its internal consistency.  That effort was necessary because these concepts were often so far removed from anything in the story’s foundation that they otherwise would have undermined that consistency (and many still kind of do).  And while yes, consistency is important, the missing piece is the human part of the equation – the emotional consequences of the concept.

Ironically, in a series centered around the heart, the full emotional weight of anything that happens is almost never fully explored.  For example: after Naminé’s shenanigans, not only does Sora lose his memories, but everyone who ever knew Sora loses their memories of him.  For a full year.  Not just Kairi, but also his parents, the other kids from the island, and everyone he met on his journey.  And then suddenly everything is back to normal, and almost no one questions that anything was even out of place.  Other than some one-off nods from Leon’s gang, it’s practically never brought up again, which makes me wonder why it was even necessary.

But besides being unrealistic, that plot element was also damaging.  It completely undermined the strength of the Hollow Bastion folks’ message at the end of the original game: that though they may be worlds apart, they will never forget each other because their hearts are connected.  If it only took Naminé five seconds to break that connection, was it ever really that strong?


If that plot point was meant to explain why no one was worried about Sora going missing for a year, it certainly doesn’t explain why no one worries that Sora keeps going missing on a regular basis.  Sora started out as an ordinary kid with ordinary relationships. Even though he was totally cool with secretly running away on a raft, those relationships didn’t poof out of existence the moment he started whacking things with an oversized key.  Yet they are never so much as mentioned, which only furthers Sora’s transformation from a flawed, believable character into some kind of objective concept that everyone talks about and puts on a pedestal for reasons unearned.

That’s just one early example from Kingdom Hearts Ⅱ.  With every new game, it feels like more and more plot baggage is added, and the emotional debt accumulates.

Take, for example, Xion in 358/2 Days.  Roxas spent practically every day of the year he was alive either with her or worrying about her.  She had become such an integral part of his identity, that when his memories of her disappeared, It’s hard to picture what he even had left.  I came out of that game knowing less about Roxas than I did going in, which was impressive, given that showing us who he was was the whole point of the game.

Or the protagonists of Birth By Sleep.  Since the original game, it’s probably the most solid one story-wise – because at least the progression is based on clear objectives, and if you squint, you might see the semblance of a cause-and-effect trajectory (clearly, my standards have fallen).  But we are given far too little to go on for who Aqua and Terra even are. All we know is that they’re keyblade wielders and value their friendship with each other and Ven. That’s… about it.

It’s enough to make their fates feel tragic and interesting, but only kind of conceptually, because we don’t know who they are as people.  It’s as though they showed up in the world the day the game started.  We know they dream of being keyblade masters, but we don’t know why that would be meaningful to them.  Or really what mastery means, aside from sitting in a big chair in a castle on a rock somewhere.

Unlike Sora, with whom I could empathize immediately, Terra, Aqua, and Ven felt like strangers I was observing from the outside.  And because I was seeing all of their perspectives and had much more information than they did, it was obvious to me that they were being manipulated into a tragic misunderstanding.  So instead of being present in whatever tasks they were tackling, I was once again banging my head in frustration as Aqua was just a little too late and Terra continued his “fall to darkness.”

I’m using quotes here because by this point, “darkness” stopped meaning much.  It went from an easily understandable concept about vindictive emotions to some kind of entity with a texture and smell.  It became an outside force that could possess you, not something that came from within that you could understand and learn from.  The darkness Terra and later incarnations of Riku did battle with seemed to have nothing to do with their outlooks on the world. And this reduced the battle between light and dark to something entirely abstract – a pure good and a pure bad, both things that happened to you.  They had become almost arbitrary, and that rendered them meaningless.


By the time Dream Drop Distance came around, all of the previous enemies were back for a second (third? seventh?) round, rendering those hard-earned victories just as meaningless.  The mechanism of death had become a misunderstanding that made Axel’s once-tragic sacrifice even moreso. The rules had become so loose that nothing that happened was grounded in real stakes anymore.  It became impossible to anticipate what would happen, because in a world where time travel was commonplace and death was a minor inconvenience, anything was fair game.

How did we get here?  By fixating on the external and putting plot before story.  As Lisa Cron writes about in her books, the two are very different but easy to confuse.  Story is the journey of a character’s internal struggle, while plot is simply the series of external events that force him to face it.  Story is the part we actually care about. I strongly believe that these books should be required reading for storytellers in any medium.  I don’t take any how-to-write guide as gospel, but Cron’s books are the most digestible explanation of why we find certain kind of stories meaningful, and it’s crucial to understand those rules even – and especially – for those intending to break them.

In the case of Kingdom Hearts though, it felt like every new element was approached from the outside in.  It’s as though Tetsuya Nomura created “cool” scenarios that he got attached to, then massaged the existing world to accommodate them without much thought to what they meant in the context of what had come before.  Not before as in chronologically, but before as in already present in the mind of the audience.

Someone who liked the original game liked it for a reason – and was probably coming to the later games expecting something similar, perhaps without consciously knowing what that something was.  Those expectations can’t be changed by a prequel that retcons the game’s meaning after the fact.  They’re still expecting A and getting B – where in my case, A was a character driven story about childlike wonder, and B was a meandering rumination on the nature of existence.  Maybe there was a place for B in another game. But I don’t think it should have been this one.

Fast-Forward to Kingdom Hearts Ⅲ (Contains Spoilers)

Kingdom Hearts Ⅲ has an almost promising start.  Sora needs to regain his “Power of Awakening” (whatever that means), so he seeks out Hercules, who also once lost and regained his powers.  This is an immediately actionable objective for both Sora and me… except it’s a dead end. So after throwing a wrench in Hades’s plans a third time (how nostalgic!), Sora jumps on the only other idea he can think of: maybe he can get this power back if he can bring Roxas back.

This is also actionable, and it’s exciting!  Because on the growing list of characters with tragic fates in the series, Roxas was always near the top.  In spite of the plot’s best efforts, I care about him. So I’m willing to shrug off the fact that trying to bring him back never occured to anyone before this moment, and I go to Twilight Town.  This, however, turns out to be a contrivance to rope Hayner, Pence and Olette back into relevance. They’re all too quick to search for a person they never met based on a photograph that exists in a world with computers, and therefore, probably Photoshop.  Of course no one else recognizes Roxas despite his near-daily visits (was the ice cream vendor the one person they forgot to ask?), so this also turns out to be a dead end. And this is where the game grinds to a halt.


I want to actively do something for Roxas, or at least help search for Aqua.  These are the objectives I care about because it’s the characters that I care about.  But the game doesn’t give me that.  Instead, Sora gets put on a bus to go wander around aimlessly and hope his powers magically come back while everyone else does the Important Things – and I have to go with him.

The result feels like two completely unrelated experiences.  The game itself, in which Sora goes around helping the residents of random Disney/Pixar worlds, and the cutscenes in between, in which the overarching plot progresses.  Sure, Sora usually runs into Organization members in these worlds by sheer coincidence, but they’re… actually, I’m not even sure what they’re doing there? None of it seems to have an affect on the plot?  Well, at least I get to see Sully chuck Vanitas through a portal door. That’s actually almost worth the $60.

The worlds themselves are gorgeous and sprawling (invisible walls included), but none of them surprise me – they’re all right there on the back of the box.  Two of them are pure self-insertion fantasies, in which it’s the Organization that tells Sora not to stick his nose where it doesn’t belong.  I… kind of agree with them? But this trend started long ago, with Kingdom Hearts II.  The idea of the various worlds coming together to form a cohesive story died with the original game.

The plot itself promised to resolve most of the character arcs, and it does – sort of.  By the end of the game, that entire laundry list of characters is indeed rescued from their respective shitty fates.  But that’s a plot-level resolution.  Aqua cries some very justified tears, but ten years in a literal hell doesn’t seem to have changed her much.  She’s unwavering in her promise to Ven (who she couldn’t have known for more than a couple of years prior to her exile, by the way), yet hasn’t even given much thought to how she would wake him up.

And once both of them are back, it’s full speed ahead, as though they’d never been gone, as though their experiences hadn’t damaged them or taught them anything.  They’re not interested in how the world has moved on without them because they never fully participated in that world as human beings. The plot was too busy explaining how Mickey lost his shirt.  You would think Ven and Lea would have had more to talk about beyond “yeah, I remember you.” Lea straight-up replaced Ven with Roxas and lost both – you’d think the whole situation would have left him a bit conflicted.

Cue the final battle (why are we giving the bad guy exactly what he wants again?), and everyone else comes back like checkboxes being ticked.  Everyone is getting their reunion, each arc its happy ending. Except, once again, none of the consequences are explored from a grounded perspective – there simply isn’t time.  By showering me with these sudden and somewhat unearned resolutions, the game is denying me the weight of their meaning. I want Roxas and Sora to have a conversation. I want Roxas and Ven to have a conversation.  I want Riku to go adventuring with Terra.  This should have been the game.

There were so many missed opportunities.  We could have seen Lea’s struggle to reinvent himself – instead, his presence feels like a fan-servicey afterthought.  We could have seen Kairi grow into a badass – yet she just gets damseled a third time.  We could have seen Sora cope with and learn from being left behind – but he follows the script and still single handedly fixes everything.  Ven could have been the one to rescue Aqua through Sora. Roxas could have been the one to bring back Xion. Sora had so little to do with these characters that just hearing him say their names felt weird to me.  Any meaning gleaned from him becoming their hero comes from the other side of the fourth wall.

And whatever happens to him in the end is head-scratchingly arbitrary.  I’m not entirely sure what the game is going for or how it wants me to feel about it.  Seeing everyone hanging out together in the end drives home how none of them had enough personality to have personality differences.  All I feel is a bit hollow – and kind of hungry.

Let’s Tell Stories, Not Plots

As a series, Kingdom Hearts will probably continue for as long as fans still have patience with it.  That’s why each game will have unresolved “hooks,” whispers not for us to hear.  A setup for something we may not see a payoff for for years, if ever. While writing this post, I found out that despite my completionist tendencies, I managed to miss a crucial, yet completely optional explanation scene.  Yet the game forced me to watch another scene in the same section, purely to hint at something to come in a later game. Something I can’t work towards figuring out together with the characters because I always know too much – or too little.

This isn’t how meaningful experiences are crafted, and someday, the patience will fizzle out.  It’s unfortunate that the most meaningful game, the original, is also the most difficult to play.  Despite its uprez, the game just didn’t age well, and it’s so tempting to skip it and move on to one of the newer ones it’s packaged with.  It’s a sad fate for a game so unique and iconic, but it will be forgotten by future generations of players, conflated with its follow-ups.

You might not agree with me.  Maybe you love everything about the series in its current form – and if you do, that’s great!  Our reasons for liking anything will always be our own, and they can never be completely objective.  If something resonates, there’s no reason to have to justify it to anyone else (although analyzing why can be a beneficial exercise).  And at the end of the day, I still play these games – not because I want them to be something they never will be again – but because, occasionally, a bit of soul still shines through and makes me smile.

But I subscribe to death of the author.  If I didn’t, I’d probably lose my mind. Because I become deeply invested in the stories I like, but when it comes to telling me not to like them, the loudest voices are often those of the original creators.

I mentioned before that I grew up with anime – series like Slayers, Sailor Moon, and Cardcaptor Sakura.  Each one of those got a relatively recent reboot or sequel, and each one was a shiny but hollow facsimile of the original.  Games in the Tales of series once had so much depth and charm, but every recent addition has felt like a semi-arbitrary checklist Things to Do.  Obviously, this isn’t just an issue with Japanese media, and it breaks my heart to see so much time and money poured into productions with so little understanding of what once gave them their beating heart.

And that’s humanness.  It’s understanding how each character filters the world through his history, how his motivations drive his actions beyond simple nods at prior events.  It’s acknowledging that a lesson learned is more important than the flashy battle that teaches it. It’s realizing that the audience is paying attention to everything – and won’t be satisfied unless every setup has a well-earned payoff before the credits roll.  And all of that is about the questions we ask when we shift our perspective inward.

And maybe some things are that simple.