I think it’s already pretty common knowledge by now that I am a major Kingdom Hearts nerd. I love the series, foibles and all. I remember reading about Kingdom Hearts in Electronic Games Monthly while I was in the library of my high school. It was featured with a bunch of other new games that would be released that year. I didn’t think too much about it except that it sounded like a really cool concept: an adventure game where you get to interact with the characters from all the classic Disney movies. I’m also a huge Disney fan. I remember as a kid watching the movies on VHS with my mom, getting new movies as presents for my birthday and Christmas. I remember crying at all the sad moments—hell, I still do. But even as cool as all that sounded, I really didn’t think too much about it. I was still happy with my Gameboy and my Pokemon games. I was a die hard Nintendo fangirl through and through. I couldn’t even see what the big deal about Playstation even was.
Then I saw the trailer for the game on TV, and it was when it all changed.
To be honest, I really don’t care all that much about music. I played an instrument as a kid, and I like musicals, but I never really owned any CDs, never gone to a concert, didn’t even really have many bands I liked. The only time I get new music is if games I buy happen to come with soundtracks. I’m not deaf but my hearing is extremely poor. Chronic ear infections and working in the wood and metals shops pretty much destroyed most of my hearing. I can’t use the phone on my left ear at all, and I frequently need people to speak up, especially people who speak at lower registers like men. I played most of my games muted, so I don’t have the same attachments to those chiptunes like most other gamers. But seeing that trailer changed me. The original trailer to Kingdom Hearts features the theme song ‘Simple and Clean’ by Utada Hikaru and when I heard that song I wanted that game more than I ever wanted any other game in my life. For the first time I became a fan of a game I hadn’t even owned or played. I downloaded pictures, read fan fictions and discussed the franchise with like minded fans.
I got the GBA game Chain of Memories. It was my first Kingdom Hearts game. The trailer featured that amazing song, but the game itself didn’t. But even so I found myself not playing the game on mute. Suddenly the music mattered. Even with the limited stereo of the Gameboy Advance the music really meant something: the battle music when I encountered an enemy, the background music for each world, and how the tones changed as new plot points were revealed in the story. Eventually I got a Playstation 2 for my birthday when I was in college. It was toward the end of the system’s life when a slim was only 99 bucks. I got a PS2, Kingdom Hearts and a memory card and played as soon as everything was installed on my TV. And I finally got to hear that beautiful song in full as the game introduced itself: the story of Sora and his journey to find and save his friends as he went from world to world based off of my favorite Disney movies.
The game was hard, and I had a terrible habit of not finishing games because I got too frustrated. But I was determined to finish it. I was determined to find out what would happen to Sora, Kairi and Riku, to understand what was actually happening in Chain of Memories and understand how the characters got there. When I wasn’t working on a project or studying, I was sitting on the floor in front of my TV playing Kingdom Hearts. And Athena was there beside me.
Athena was the first pet I ever had. My dad didn’t allow pets in the house, so as a big ‘fuck you’ to him, when my parents separated we went to the pound and my mom found exactly the kind of dog she always wanted: a big scary German Shepherd. I actually used to be terrified of dogs, but for some reason, I wasn’t scared of Athena. When she jumped on me at the shelter and licked my face, I laughed. I named her Athena because I was obsessed with Greek mythology at the time. It was also the year the movie Hercules came out, my still favorite Disney movie. When I would play my video games my other two dogs would run away. They didn’t like how I would yell and curse as I played, particularly when they thought it was a good idea to block the TV. Athena wouldn’t though. She actually would sit next to me on the ground when I played.
Then she got sick.
It turns out that sometimes canines can get a form of multiple sclerosis, particularly German Shepherds. At first she started kicking in her sleep, then she started dragging her legs, then she couldn’t move her back legs at all. My mom would help carry her back half on a towel so she could still walk around and go outside, but most of the time she just lied on the floor in the living room near the TV. Even though she couldn’t walk on her own she was still plenty feisty and a major troll. She was still in charge of the other two dogs, and wouldn’t stand being ignored or playing second fiddle. And she would always be by my side when I played my games. I would pet her in between fights and during cut scenes, and she was my audience as I made comments about things going on in the game. She was there when I finally finished Kingdom Hearts, and just like all my favorite Disney movies, I cried during the ending.
And then Athena was gone.
After she lost the ability to move her front legs we knew she was suffering. She started crying in pain and we knew we had to do something. Things were really tough then. Money was tight and we had to wait a few agonizing weeks before we could afford to have the vet come. We actually had to ask him to do it on credit. She was calm and peaceful, and she got to go outside one last time because he was willing to do a house call. She wasn’t afraid, and we knew we were making the right choice. Afterwards I played Simple and Clean on a continuous loop for two hours, bawling my eyes out because my childhood dog was gone.
It took a while before I could play video games again. I just couldn’t bear to sit on the floor when she wasn’t there. And when I started playing Kingdom Hearts II, I would turn to my side during the cut scenes out of habit. But she wasn’t there anymore.
I still love Simple and Clean. It’s a beautiful song, and one with a lot of memories—both good and bad—attached to it. I know a lot of fans have grown sick of Square’s over reliance on it in many of the Kingdom Hearts games, but I still love to hear it. I know its presence will mean the start of a great adventure, even if it means I’ll probably be crying about it at the end.