Kingdom Hearts: A Cultural Love Child

  What the heck is sea salt ice-cream? Whenever a game is brought over to the US, there is always a question of culture changes. Each culture has different views and thoughts on symbols and events, sometimes resulting in a rice ball becoming a doughnut in a version brought over to the US. There is always the question of what to change and what to keep the same.   But how does this translate into a game with both roots in Japan and the US? The Kingdom Hearts series is the result of a mixing of cultures, with characters and worlds from both the American company Disney, and Square Enix in Japan.

Kingdom Hearts is a mixture of Disney and Square Enix characters with new characters made for the game. Picture obtained from the Square Enix website.
Worlds that are based off of Disney characters are easy, American audiences are already familiar with many of the movies, so the background stories associated with the world are already known by the American audience. Obviously Disney is in Japan, but in comparison to shows or movies actually made for a Japanese audience it wouldn’t be quite as popular as here in the US with Disney movies making box office hits. Final Fantasy, a series integrated into the Kingdom Hearts series by Square Enix, is very popular in Japan. For example, Final Fantasy XII sold over 2.4 million units in Japan in about four months. Even with the mixing of different companies, Kingdom Hearts has managed to be popular in both countries, although the original game sold twice as well in North America than Japan. As with any text, different cultures are read and interpreted in different ways.    The thought of living on a set of islands sounds almost like paradise to American players, as we live on a large landmass where the majority of our states are landlocked. Japan is made up of multiple islands, so the idea of living on islands is normal and commonplace for them. Paradise is on the beach for Americans, but for the Japanese it becomes the same life they know, nothing special, giving understanding to the characters as they attempt to go out past the islands. The game begins on Destiny Islands, the home of the main character, Sora, and his friends Riku and Kiari as they make plans to build a raft and leave the island. In this context, Japanese players may relate more to the characters in their wishes to leave since paradise for them is not living on a faraway island.

  Translation issues are prevalent in many games brought over from Japan. Kingdom Hearts’ use of the world from Disney’s Tarzan, where the character, Jane, is surprised that Sora speaks English (in the version released in English). Obviously for the Japanese version it would be odd for Jane to say that Sora speaks English as they are all speaking in Japanese. Originally, she says “you understand speech”, but to English speakers it’s an awkward sounding sentence, so a change to “you speak English” sounds more natural.

Kingdom Hearts English version. Obtained from Legends of Localization
Kingdom Hearts Japanese version. Obtained from Legends of Localization.
One awkward phrase in the English version occurs when Donald says “Daisy, can you take care of–” and stops. People who play the English version wonder what Donald was saying, but this was a bit of a left-over from the way Japanese sentences are formed. Verbs come at the end of sentences, so the original phrase would be saying “Daisy, the Queen”, referring to taking care of the Queen.
Kingdom Hearts English version. Obtained from Legends of Localization.
Kingdom Hearts Japanese version. Obtained from Legends of Localization.
  In Nana Sato-Rossbergs book,

    Translation and Translation Studies in the Japanese Context

, she states “Square Enix periodically releases so-called ‘International’ or, in the case of the latter series, ‘Final Mix’ editions that are usually exclusive to the Japanese market.” She refers to the special Final Mix edition of Kingdom Hearts that only recently came out in the US with the extra cut scenes. For the Final Mix released in Japan, they included the feature of the English voice tracks as well as three more difficulty settings. Granted, this Final Mix version of the game was a re-release and it was eventually released in the U.S., but this is still an issue with how the games are released differently. For the Final Mix of Kingdom Hearts II, the Japanese release included Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, that was previously only on the Game Boy Advance in America. Compared to the package deal that Japan had released in 2007, America didn’t get Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories even as a standalone until late 2008. To put it simply, there are multiple differences between release dates aside from the time it takes to translate the spoken text and menu screens into English. Even though Disney has rights on the game, they are more of consultants with how the game is put together, although it does provide a safer guarantee that the games will be brought over to the US.   Due to games and other sources of media, more and more is integrated into what we perceive as our culture. Culture always makes a major impact on how a story is told and received, so changes have to be made to maintain the integrity of the game.

“FINAL FANTASY XII IN STORES OCTOBER 31, 2006.” FINAL FANTASY XII IN STORES OCTOBER 31, 2006. June 28, 2006. Accessed January 28, 2015.

Square (2007-02-05). “Kingdom Hearts Series Ships over 10 Million Worldwide”. GameSpot. Accessed January 28, 2015.

Legends of Localization: Q&A: Does Jane Talk About English in Japanese Kingdom Hearts? (Legends of Localization)

Legends of Localization: Q&A: Is this Kingdom Hearts Translation Completely Wrong? (Legends of Localization)

Rossberg, Nana. Translation and Translation Studies in the Japanese Context. London: Continuum, 2012.

“Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix (PlayStation 2).” IGN. Accessed January 29, 2015.

“Kingdom Hearts II Update For PS2 – IGN.” IGN. September 13, 2006. Accessed January 29, 2015.


  8 comments for “Kingdom Hearts: A Cultural Love Child

  1. January 30, 2015 at 4:16 am

    Kingdom Hearts has been a favorite of mine for years! I understand the cultural differences. For example, release dates for the games in North America and Japan can vary by several months. Kingdom Hearts II came out in December of 2005 in Japan while it came out in March of 2006 in North America. That was probably because of all the work that needed to go into translation an entire game. They’d need to translate speech bubbles, menus, dialogue and then put them into proper English for those of us across the Pacific. That’s a kind of cultural difference not many people talk about. They sort of forget when a game comes out because they’re too busy playing it to notice that. All that translation must have taken a while and it did take a few months. Then there would be the American advertising which would take some time as well and then promotion, translated trailers and the works. So, a unified multi-national video game series like Kingdom Hearts sees its cultural differences in the release dates.

  2. rajonnine
    January 30, 2015 at 5:36 am

    This blog post defines our class Games and Cultures. What I mean is that you talked about throughout your blog post the game which was Kingdom hearts. You emphasized and described the story plot a bit. You also told the culture about it, meaning you told the history about it. You described the history of Disney in the beginning and how we, America, knows Disney better than Japan due to the popularity here. Even though your blog post was great, the organizational of it and more culture context of the game would’ve been better. Especially showing more Kingdom hearts narrative and along with pictures of it would have been great. The reason is that because the context of the game and history of it you described was decent but it could be better. I felt like it needed more. For example you gave a fact, “Obviously Disney is in Japan, but in comparison to shows or movies actually made for a Japanese audience it wouldn’t be quite as popular as here in the US with Disney movies making box office hits.” That was just the start but keep it flowing more.

  3. mfierro
    January 30, 2015 at 11:06 am

    I really like that you picked Kingdom Hearts! I haven’t played this game but you bring up some great points within your post. I thought it was very interesting to see what the differences were. I totally agree with your point about the characters, I could pick out who was a Disney character right away and I didn’t know who the other characters were. You also bring up a good point about the language barrier between the two sets of characters and how the language changes in each version. That definitely can be a difficult barrier to get past when you are playing the game.

  4. holyguava
    January 30, 2015 at 1:27 pm

    Is sea salt ice cream actually a thing in Japan? Kingdom hearts is an interesting mix of franchises but is it really a mixing of cultures? I don’t see anything that screams “this is an American thing” or “this is Japanese” in the series other than the key franchises. The games itself does show some differences in our culture though, the game KH recoded was a mobile game and Kingdom Hearts Chi is a browser game which is popular in Japan rather than the US. The language aspect is cool, but it makes me wonder what other games change because of the language.

  5. February 11, 2015 at 1:31 am

    It’s really interesting to think about the breakdown between two cultures in Kingdom Hearts as you present it here with regards to the dialogue and the characters featured in the games! Although, I’m not entirely convinced that this blend is perfectly balanced. I might be way off base here since I’ve never played a Final Fantasy game, but hasn’t FF also found some pretty decent popular successes here in America? If so, the characters brought in by Square Enix might feel less foreign, and even fit in well with the game’s unique storyline to a familiar audience. So, is an audience that may already familiar with foreign characters really being exposed to a different culture? Regardless of the balance, I do still see your main point! Kingdom Hearts as a bridge between not only two popular brands but also two countries, and a strong one at that!

  6. blindedwithscience
    February 12, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    Kingdom Hearts has been a part of my gaming life for years now, and I’ve never actually sat down and thought about this strange blending of cultures before. Sure, I’ve laughed about Mickey Mouse going around in a black cloak trying to save the day, and I’ve laughed about having to fight Sephiroth for no apparent reason other than to fight him, but I’ve never thought about how our American culture might seem to Japan, and how their culture might seem to us. And I guess maybe it’s because of, like holyguava said, that nothing in the game really screams “OH HEY, THIS IS AMERICAN/JAPANESE,” other than the fact that Final Fantasy originated there and Disney originated here? To me, the game is so detached from reality, and is so rooted in itself (in it’s own confusing way), that it doesn’t really reflect a culture like a game BioShock Infinite might. However, I do see what you’re trying to say, and this really was a fascinating read.

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