I was very unsure of what I'd find when I heard about this book being published. Boss Fight Books is a publisher whose goal is to publish great books about classic video games from a critical, analytical and personal standpoint.
As a student of literature and media studies, I'm always very interested in seeing people unpack their favorite media. Video games, perhaps one of the newest forms of media, has only relatively recently begun building worlds that hold literary and narrative layers. Even in a game that's mostly gameplay or combat oriented, though, one could argue a plethora of topics or observations about the subject matter. In short, games are an under-tapped source of analysis and I was incredible interested in what this book would have to say about the game Kingdom Hearts II (hence referred to as KH2), especially since everyone's opinion and views on the series seem to stem from personal experiences.
Its author, Alexa Ray Corriea, is a professional gaming journalist whose work has been featured on G4, Polygon, and GameSpot among others. Kingdom Hearts II (her book, not the game) is essentially a primer of essays dealing with the games inner-most themes and her own personal relationship with the series and its core lessons.
Initially, I was pleasantly surprised by how quick she was to concede the series flaws while still holding it to a high regard by dissecting the problematic layers of KH2 with criticism and what that means for the narrative and its themes. Alexa points out that Roxas's prologue is jarring and too-long, but also admits that the mundane tasks of regular life as Roxas does help set up the ache we feel when he loses all chance of a normal life. Kingdom Hearts definitely has a problem with under-representing female characters, but interestingly enough isn't afraid to center its plot on the complexly close and emotional relationship of its male leads.
For the sake of honesty, I must admit that there are a few scuffs with the book. A few hiccups with the lore and over-generalizations of plot points and characters that will leave the most pedantic of KH2 fans a little frustrated - but ultimately these don't negate or distract from the book's message. Any Kingdom Hearts fan will tell you that two well-versed loremasters can have two different viewpoint of a single aspect of the series, and have canonical and word-of-god references to back the points up but the points could still be completely conflicting. There's also a chapter on King Mickey that makes some very big assumptions on his role in the universe that don't really have any canonical evidence, but there are interesting points in it about Arthurian parallels so it's still a valid read.
But ultimately, it's Alexa's own personal story and attachment to the game's questions of: "What does it mean to be a person? What are we here for? Do our motives make us selfish? And if so, can anyone really be good?" that make up the hardest-hitting points of her critiques and analyses over the series. If this is the start to a new age of discussion over the series, I welcome it with an open heart.
Must Read or Pass?:
Overall this book is definitely worth a read, particularly if you've got emotional attachments to the series or if you're a fan of reading media analysis. The book is very charming in person, with a minimalist design that'll look great anywhere and if you're a fan of ebooks, the digital version is very affordable.
You can follow Alexa on twitter here:https://twitter.com/AlexaRayC
And check out the publisher, Boss Fight Books, at their site here: https://bossfightbooks.com/
Full Disclosure: KHInsider is mentioned in the acknowledgements section, and our staff is called "lovely", however this reviewer was unaware of that and was pleasantly surprised to find said note in the book. This reviewer bought his copy of the book. Boss Fight Books did not sponsor or ask, and this reviewer has never spoken with the author in any capacity. (But would love for her to appear on our new interview podcast, just saying.)