Chain of Memories, am I right?

I now own a copy of Kingdom Hearts 3. It feels weird to write that sentence, stranger still to say (which I did, for some reason). It’s been such an elusive title, that cherry on a winning franchise that’s seen me fall in and out of love with it over and over again. But as I stood in that GAME shop, copy in hand, and that wave of child-like ecstasy washed over me, the walk back to the car and the subsequent drive home gave way to a strangely numb retrospective of the role that Kingdom Hearts has had in my life.

Twelve years. Twelve years or thereabouts, that’s how long I’ve been waiting – like so many others – for Kingdom Hearts 3 to come out. I remember falling in love with the very first game; dragging one of those fat-back 14-inch TVs and my brother’s PS2 down into my mum and dad’s living room so I could play at the big table and still chat with my family in case, I don’t know, burglars were trying to break in through the back garden in the early evening or something. Kingdom Hearts was the first title that seemed to be mine. With two brothers, so many of the games that I liked growing up were dependant on what my brother’s liked but not Kingdom Hearts. They both tried it and it didn’t take but I stuck with it, ploughing hour after hour into the game, getting up early to play a bit before school and playing for as long as I could after. Other kids from my street would knock for me to see if I wanted to play football, and four out of five times, I’d say I was busy.

Once I’d squeezed every last drop from the first Kingdom Hearts life soon returned to normal. I missed Chain of Memories, I still had my Game Boy Advance but assumed I wouldn’t need to play it (such a simple, innocent thought at the time), and then just like that, Kingdom Hearts 2 arrived. I say “just like that,” but it was a few years after. I was studying for my GCSEs at the time and my brother bought it for me as a present, one that I lost myself in all over again. Playing it on the same TV, in the same bedroom, giving the same excuses for not wanting to go out with friends after school. I remember having an argument with my mum during the ending to Kingdom Hearts 2. A brash, angry, narrow-minded boy, being called for dinner three times in a row until my mum came up and had a go at me, followed by me, the 16-year-old “nutter” shouting about how I wanted to see the end of my Disney meets Final Fantasy game.

Then everything went quiet after 2006.

Sure, we had a ton of other games in that 12-year gap, but the idea of console jumping from one game to the other was incredibly unappealing, and slowly but surely, my interest in the series dimmed. In the series but not Kingdom Hearts 3. In the time between 2006 and 2019, I’ve finished college, gone to university, got a Masters, became a qualified teacher, dropped out of teaching, and did a host of other crap. But underneath all of that life stuff, Kingdom Hearts 3 was something of a constant. It was the game that, from 2006 to 2013, would randomly pop into my mind like a forgotten childhood friend, forcing me to go and see if there were any updates. There wasn’t until 2013, when we saw that fairly premature announcement trailer and, sitting at home, fresh back from university, I wriggled around excitedly, wondering how I managed to stay patient for seven years.

When news of the game began to dry up, I remember eventually numbing myself to the game. The idea of Kingdom Hearts 3 became something of a pipe dreams for me, I just decided that the game wouldn’t ever happen. Instead of looking forward, I looked backwards, deciding that the Kingdom Hearts games I’d missed out on were now deserving of my time. Let’s Plays of the Kingdom Hearts Final Mix versions and Birth by Sleep became background regulars when I was planning lessons or trying to fall asleep, that and the odd Google search for Kingdom Hearts 3 ws the extent of it.

Of course, the game did happen, and now I’ve got a copy of it. It was when I was holding my copy of Kingdom Hearts 3 that I realised just how much has happened to me since all those years ago, tucked up on a single bed, playing an epic adventure on a teeny-tiny television. I’ve changed, but that game hasn’t, Sora is still that annoyingly nice hero who bangs on about the power of hearts and friendship. The strange thing is, when I had that box in my hand, amidst the curshing weight of time rearing its ugly head, that same childish excitement I had for the first game managed to clamber over all my cynicism and envelop me once again.

Yes, time’s a mother fucker, and it’s strange to have something like Kingdom Hearts 3 and see it, in part, as a marker for how far we’ve all come since those days at the big table. But it’s also brilliant to have the game in hand and have all that excitement flood through me once again, even after all these years.