This review will contain spoilers for the video game, manga, and light novel series. While the manga may vary slightly from all other forms of media, it may have similar story elements and could be considered spoilers.
The initial story takes place on Destiny Islands, where Sora and his friends Kairi and Riku are preparing to travel off their home island out into the vast ocean. All three long to leave to see what other worlds are out there, especially since Kairi moved to Destiny Islands from another world, one which she has no memories of. After they have prepared their raft and collected provisions, all is set for their journey to start the following day.
Meanwhile, in Disney Castle, Donald Duck discovers that King Mickey has left their world to locate the door for Kingdom Hearts and stop the impending darkness swallowing worlds across space and time. While he searches for the door, he instructs Donald and Goofy to locate the “Keybearer” and follow them. So, Donald and Goofy set out immediately using their trusty gummi ship out to Traverse town to begin their search for the Keybearer and, in turn, their missing king.
Overnight, Sora awakens to a storm raging outside. Fearing their raft might be destroyed or swept away, he rushes out, where he finds a bunch of ant-like creatures storming the beach. Avoiding them the best he can, he looks for Riku and Kairi. When he finds Riku, Riku shares a cryptic message about a door being opened and not to fear the darkness before the darkness sweeps him away.
Having at least confirmed Riku is okay, Sora moves on to finding Kairi. When he does find her, she is standing in front of a mysterious door located in a cave Sora and his friends formerly used as a hideout when they were children. When he calls out to Kairi, she turns, seemingly dazed, and says his name in response. However, before Sora can get to her, the door swings open and a rush of air throws Kairi into him where she then disappears, leaving behind a large key in Sora’s hands.
The darkness then manifests a large monstrous being, humanoid in shape that Sora quickly destroys using the key as a sword. The moment he defeats the beast, his world is swallowed in darkness and he is thrown out to Traverse Town – a world for those who are lost and have lost their own worlds. From there, he meets Cid, Leon, their team, and Goofy and Donald. All aim to stop the Heartless, the ant-like creatures and the beast Sora defeated in his world, save the missing worlds, and stop the spread of darkness. All the while, Sora longs to find his lost friends, and Goofy and Donald lookout for King Mickey.
The art is adorable. I was a bit worried because I wasn’t sure how the 3D anime style of the Kingdom Hearts game would transition to manga, but it turned out just fine. It’s definitely much more cartoony and kid-like, but it lends itself well to the content, and I enjoyed how lighthearted it was as a result.
I also enjoyed the way the author handled Riku in this. It’s been a few years since I played the original game, but compared to how I remember him in the game, I think the manga actually did a better job of characterizing him. We got to hear some of his thoughts, and I think his face was much more animated (ironic since a game is much more animated than a manga).
I also like some of the humor changes they made. The game was already funny, but a lot of that humor couldn’t necessarily transition to this medium, so they implemented some of the standard manga/anime jokes into it, which was a nice change of pace. It really made me root for Sora, Donald, and Goofy and helped cement that friendship they built up throughout the series.
The story was not well-executed, which is expected when you take a full-fledged game and turn it into a two-volume manga series. This series would have benefited from more time and room to explore some of the rich worlds created through the video game. Instead, most of the worlds were squished down into three beats:
- Sora, Donald, and Goofy go to world and meet characters
- They meet the villian
- They beat the villian
There’s not much more than that for each world, but there really couldn’t be much more with how short the series is. There isn’t much build-up to the fights, which I understand may be hard to translate between the game medium and the manga because usually the person playing would control the fight and how those all play out. So, as a result, rather than try and come up with something to fill those gaps where the person playing would usually be fighting, they simply go right over it. So there are very few encounters with the Heartless themselves, which undermined the whole pressure and fear of them taking over.
Furthermore, each major villain is defeated on a single page almost every time, which is very disappointing and doesn’t give us a chance to cheer or enjoy the victory. Instead, you pretty much get the highlights from the cutscenes, skip over the portions where you would usually be fighting, get to the villain, then Sora swings the keyblade once, and the battle is won. It’s a massive bummer. Not to mention, a lot of the big Heartless bosses aren’t even present.
It’s really unfortunate. The most padded-out world was the 100 Acre Wood, but that wasn’t even part of the main story and was just an additional chapter after the main story was over. My favorite part of Kingdom Hearts was always taking the time to explore the world, meet the characters in those worlds, training on the Heartless to eventually beat the big bad at the end of the world, but all of my favorite parts were lost. Instead, it was replaced with what I can only describe as a highlight reel of the original story.
I honestly don’t think this is worth reading or purchasing if you haven’t played the game. It drops too much of the best parts in favor of a highlight reel of the cutscenes, which I only enjoyed because I had seen it play out in the video game. If you have played the game, I still don’t think the nostalgia factor is enough to make this worthwhile.
I can say I won’t be reading any of the other iterations of the games in manga form, though it does appear those might be more fleshed out than this particular title. Instead, I will be working my way through the light novel versions of the games, and I will, of course, share my thoughts of those once I have completed them.
Have you read this manga series? Have you played the games? Let me know what you think of them and if you agree with my opinions in the comments below.