Is It Too Late For Kingdom Hearts?
I grew up on Disney. I watched Dumbo so many times as a kid that my parents had to replace the VHS tape because I had worn it down so much. To this day, I’ve still seen every Pixar movie in theaters, except for Cars, as I refuse to acknowledge that it exists. I discovered Final Fantasy shortly after the world was introduced to Kefka, the knock-off Joker. I was already in love with Final Fantasy before lucky number seven hit the market with what is arguably the most convoluted and beloved plot in gaming history. So when the original Kingdom Hearts was announced, it was a dream come true. Albeit, a confusing dream, but a dream nonetheless.
I didn’t own a Playstation 2 at the time, but I bought Kingdom Hearts on the day of its release and went hunting for a used console. As soon as I found one, my social life was gone for the month it took me to play through Kingdom Hearts in its entirety. I turned over every rock, obtained every keyblade, and got smacked around by Sephiroth until I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted more Kingdom Hearts as soon as I could get it.
Only a few years later, Kingdom Hearts II was bestowed upon us from the heavens above. I was so infatuated with Kingdom Hearts II and how the series evolved, introducing Organization XIII, new worlds, and new keyblades, I couldn’t imagine it getting any better. Yet, somehow it did.
The secret ending introduced us to three mysterious keyblade wielders fighting against an old bald man that we now know as Xehanort, Aqua, Terra, and Ventus; all featured within the Playstation Portable release, Birth By Sleep. I was so excited for the release of Birth By Sleep, that I bought a PSP. I wasn’t thrilled with the final product, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Here we are, thirteen years after the release of Kingdom Hearts II and I couldn’t care less for the upcoming release Kingdom Hearts III, the final game in what is being referred to as the Dark Seeker Saga. I genuinely tried to get excited, but I just can’t make it happen.
A few months ago, I bought the the Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX intending to replay the series in chronological order. I started with Birth By Sleep hoping to refresh my memory about the keyblade master trainees. After a few hours of over-expository writing, I had to call it quits. But I refused to give up on the series. Surely my memory of Kingdom Hearts couldn’t be wrong. It’s a fantastic series!
So I dove back into the original. It’s still good, but it has not aged well, and it’s raising some concerns for me. Games have evolved tremendously in the last decade and a half, and if existing gameplay trailers are any indication, Kingdom Hearts has not been able to keep up.
What we’ve seen from gameplay demos so far is highly reminiscent of the earlier games with the addition of larger special finishing moves. In most cases, keeping gameplay mechanics consistent throughout the franchise is an important aspect of maintaining an ongoing fanbase. But it’s been so long since the last major entry in Kingdom Hearts that I fear the Active-Time-Battle style combat may be too dated to feel fresh anymore. One could argue that new summons and keyblade abilities would be enough to bring new life to combat, but as we’ve already journeyed down that road before, what does Kingdom Hearts III bring to the table that we haven’t seen before?
Through various trailers and previews, we’ve learned about many of the new worlds that will be introduced in Kingdom Hearts III, including San Fransokyo (Big Hero 6), Arendelle (Frozen), Corona (Tangled), Monstropolis (Monsters Inc.), Paris (Ratatouille), Port Royal (Pirates of the Carribbean), and The Toy Box (Toy Story). I’m certain that there are a number of other new locations that won’t be introduced to us until the game releases in January, as it’s not Disney or Square Enix’s way to reveal everything prior to release. But despite all of the new locations, are we certain it won’t just be more of the same?
It’s been confirmed that our visit to Arendelle will take place during the same timeline as the film. We’ve seen this happen before with earlier Kingdom Hearts games where Sora, Goofy, and Donald get inserted into a famous Disney film and play out a simplified plotline to its completion, often acting as a rehash of the movie. It’s a pitfall that Kingdom Hearts has fallen into more than a few times, especially when it comes to the Nightmare Before Christmas worlds. With the upcoming return to Destiny Islands, Twilight Town, and most concerning, Olympus Coliseum, we’re diving into some all too familiar waters that has me concerned that we’re only going to see more of the same.
However, my greatest concern is the conclusion of a very convoluted story. The Darkseeker Saga has been told through nine games on six different platforms over the course of sixteen years. That is an obscene amount of content that players will be expected to recall in order to get the most out of the grand finale. It would be a ridiculous expectation that fans would be familiar with every detail of the Heartless, Nobodies, Organization XIII, the many incarnations of Xehanort, and what the hell is going on with Ventus/Roxas/Sora.
If you can’t tell, I’m lost and not sure what I’m walking back into. Even after playing Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II, Birth By Sleep, and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, there are so many questions I have that Kingdom Hearts III is going to have a difficult time answering (or reminding me of). Making the plot of Kingdgom Hearts III comprehensive and accessible to a new generation of players is going to be greatest challenge that the creators will have to face.
Don’t misinterpret my concern as a lack of interest. I’m interested in seeing how this story finally comes to a conclusion, but I don’t believe that my nostalgia for a series missing in action will overshadow the sense of disappointment I’ve carried as the release date got pushed farther and farther off. I’ll pre-order my copy and play it day one, but my excitement has tapered off and given way to skepticism.