Despite life on Destiny Islands being one of comfort and ease, three friends, Sora, Riku and Kairi, long to explore the many worlds beyond it. One fateful night, their wish is granted sooner than they anticipated when dark forces called "Heartless" invade their island. Overrun by these creatures, the islands are swallowed by darkness, taking Riku and Kairi with it. However, before Sora succumbs to the darkness, a blade of light manifests in his hands: the "Keyblade," granting him the power to vanquish the Heartless.
Meanwhile in the world of Disney, the residents are in a flurry over the disappearance of their king Mickey Mouse. Leaving only a note behind, Mickey explains that he has gone to investigate an imminent danger threatening all known worlds. Furthermore, he instructs his aides, Donald Duck and Goofy, to seek out the one carrying a "key"; the one who can save them from their crisis. Thus the pair set off on their search, the first stop—Traverse Town.
Sora awakens in the very same town, only to find it plagued by the Heartless. Although finding his friends is his main concern, as the wielder of the Keyblade he must accept the grand fate thrust upon him; many more worlds have come under attack, and he and the Keyblade are the only hope of liberating them.
*This review is more geared towards those already acquainted with the story of Kingdom Hearts*
Sometimes, an adaptation can stick closely to the source material and still end up pretty mediocre. The Kingdom Hearts novels unfortunately is one of those adaptations as their author, Tomoco Kanemaki, doesn't seem to be very good at her craft. As she weaves the tale together with flat writing and uninspired wording, she essentially creates one long Wikipedia synopsis. As a result, she turns Sora’s tale into a dull affair and the spirit of the series is lost in the monotony. It became clearer to me when I discovered that Kanemaki
worked as a scenario writer for one of the games; she didn’t see this as her novel debut but as another day on the job.
Still, it is commendable that Kanemaki stuck closely to the original story, even if the transition of the aspects left them shallow in comparison. The themes of light vs darkness and friendship are intact and the little details towards level progression and enemy types are neat touches and may even evoke fond memories of the game. This transition is less forgiving with the characters however, who are more hollow in comparison. The events don’t stray too far from the original either, but simply taking the plot without the gameplay (a difficulty of adapting) causes the developments to be too closely linked together, something that Kanemaki doesn’t skilfully mend. As a result this leads to a very fast pace which encompasses the entire story and when it mixes in with the bland writing, the novels are simply at their worst.
Where the game aspects are concerned, the novels become a bit too faithful to the original. Kanemaki seemed to think it would be a good idea to include the random enemy encounters of the game, presumably to drive home the point that the world is in danger. Well, not only did reusing dialogue and describing rather uneventful battles overkill this already tedious idea but these moments are incredibly overused, repeatedly breaking up the story for valueless diversions. Without being interesting, or well written, these moments don’t add much to the story and instead drag it out. Alternatively, this can be seen as Kanemaki’s answer to slow down the pacing, but alas that’s like using a leech as a band-aid. In addition, some of the game’s scenarios don’t translate very well to prose (Wonderland’s evidence quest for instance). Even with a good writer these events probably wouldn’t be very interesting, so with Kanemaki behind them, the enjoyment level is turned down to mind-numbingly boring. She just doesn’t seem to be aware of what is exciting to read and what isn’t; what should be adapted and what shouldn’t (or altered at least), she just simply retells.
Like the manga adaptation, not all of the Disney worlds make it into the novels. It’s not that I expected the novels to be better with them but the three worlds that were omitted hurt the story in their exclusion. This is because Halloween Town, Atlantica & Olympus Coliseum (eek no Cloud!) all contain a Disney villain and cutting them out takes away half of the story’s antagonists. In turn, this makes the story feel stripped, gives the present antagonists a much weaker presence and doesn’t make them feel like a very convincing threat to Sora (and of course the continuity problems this will cause). Surprisingly bringing the best component to the novels is illustrator Shiro Amano, who also handles the manga adaptations. His illustrations are numerous and his colour works look great. As a minor complaint however, some illustrations originally drawn in color have been printed in greyscale, giving them a blurred and muddy look, though this is not too overbearing.
If you were wondering how the novel adaptation of Kingdom Hearts fared against the manga counterpart, they’re almost equal in enjoyment. While the manga is adapted by someone who seems more suited to adapting Katamari Damacy, the novels are written by an author who isn’t really skilled at writing. The novels are a more faithful take and could be seen as the better adaptation but even with the good it does, the omnipresent weak writing is always there to suck out the enjoyment. It’s too big of a detractor to make one want to read the novels as well as the many more she has written.
Kingdom Hearts could’ve been good as novel with a more capable writer behind it but with what’s here it feels like a lazy cash-in. There’s just no style in the writing and she doesn’t even try. That’s not to say that the novels are bad. The story is (nearly) the same as the original game but it’s really just a bland retelling without adding anything of value. There’s no additional insight in these novels and it’s absolutely missing the rich writing needed to make the characters and world come to life. Kanemaki is too weak an author to be capable of bringing that out and it’s rather disappointing to know that she handles all of the Kingdom Hearts novels (I hope she improves at least). To those who want to get into the series or are returning fans, just stick with the games or watch a playthrough. However, if you’re really dying to read the novels, just read a synopsis, the experience will be similar.
While I have played all of the original games of this franchise, I did not think that the manga version was adequate. There were many plot holes and things left out of the manga that were in the game. The art was decent, but inconsistent and I found the representation of Sora's character to be a far cry from his original and superior version in the game. It was good to read for killing time, but not much else. The main thing that bugs me about the manga version is the disappointment of playing the games and then expecting a good corresponding manga. It
seemed that each world was covered far too quickly in comparison to the game. Each character was poorly represented and the few jokes that were in the manga, were poor. Overall 6/10
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