So. January 25, 2019. One of the most important days in gaming history.
We were finally, finally getting Kingdom Hearts 3.
To put it in perspective, I jumped on this bandwagon in 2009, just before the release of Birth By Sleep, and the hype was skyrocketing even then.
Fans had been waiting for this since 2006 (the last “main,” game, if we’re being pedantic), and this was supposed to be it. The climax, the finale, the ending that was going to leave us sobbing over our controllers and cheering as we stabbed the most evil man in the universe through the head with a Keyblade.
Instead, we got a game that was 95% Disney, 5% rushed original content, and Naminé got five minutes of non-missable screen-time. Not even close to what I’d been hoping for.
So here it is, folks, the deep dive into Kingdom Hearts 3 that was promised, and how it fell so short of expectations, it instead hit six feet under.
I’m going to cut to the chase, because I’m sure those of you who aren’t too happy with the game will already know its glaring flaws.
The fact that Disney dominates the plot for the bulk of the game. The fact that what scant content we did get of the characters we’d followed for seventeen years was bundled into the last few hours of the game. That the Disney worlds were fairly empty, lacklustre, and altogether pretty one note.
Also finding ingredients. Please, never again…
Now, I’m not going to pretend that Kingdom Hearts has ever been a series that’s been particularly fantastically written. It’s always been a somewhat cheesy fantasy story that runs on far too much exposition and and the power of friendship. But the one thing Kingdom Hearts has always done well is the small, intimate moments, the parts that make these characters feel human and alive. And that was exactly what was missing in Kingdom Hearts 3.
Dunkey’s review hit it on the head – “Kingdom Hearts 3 is all flash and no substance.” We’ve got all the Attraction Flow summons, rehashes of Disney plots, and clichéd dialogue we want, but the game itself feels like a flimsy veneer to market movies.
In the beginning, there was a certain magic about the original Kingdom Hearts.
Incredibly dorky, yet very heartfelt? Sure.
Beating up leopards and horrible chameleon Heartless again and again? I’m down for that.
Yes, it was silly and talked about hearts, light and darkness with a straight face, but it all felt very genuine. Sora, Riku, and Kairi, hell, even Donald and Goofy, have a lot of moments where it feels like they have a real connection; it’s the small moments in-between the flashy Disney fights that speak the loudest.
It’s stuff like Kairi’s good luck charm. Riku and Sora having races on the beach and being competitive idiots, meticulously tracking down 101 Dalmatian puppies because the thought of them being locked in chests made me sad, and the iconic “This ship runs on happy faces!” moment.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is missing that charm that makes it feel real. All the genuine human moments have been stripped out, leaving behind, ironically, a shell of its former self.
For example, you know who I would consider the most well rounded character to be? Naminé. Followed closely by Lea.
Naminé is introduced as a woebegone helpless moppet who is manipulated by the ‘Big Bads’ into doing something awful and (literally and figuratively) kicked around.
She struggles with her conscience the entire way through Chain of Memories and eventually finds the courage to defend Sora and herself, and then spends the rest of the series trying to make up for what she did.
Her character growth is chartered through the course of only one game, and yet she goes through so many emotions, good and bad.
Her relationship with Sora and Repliku (who absolutely deserved better, by the way) changes and morphs before it reaches its conclusion. There’s so many small moments that make the game worth playing, from Sora’s devotion to her, to her pitiful monologues about what a bad person she is for manipulating Sora’s memories.
Kingdom Hearts 3, on the other hand, has very little in the way of human connections or emotional moments – they’re few and far between and relies far too much on stilted theatrics rather than subtlety.
Look at it this way – imagine Uncharted without its strong bonds and character driven plot. I can guarantee you it would have fallen into the ether with all the other generic action adventure games out there; in fact, this is exactly what happened to the Tomb Raider reboot. It started out strong, and the sequels stripped away any character or flaws Lara had, turning it into something instantly forgettable.
Kingdom Hearts was made what it is through its bizarre, lovable aesthetic of a resurrected Aerith hanging out with Donald Duck. No one loves this series because you get to throw down with Ursula in a song battle.
Fans were expecting reunions and closure and instead got 25 hours of Disney plot, a ridiculously easy final battle, and a ton of unanswered questions.
We didn’t get to see Lea and Roxas’ awkward conversation about “Hey you sacrificed yourself for me and the last tine we met we hated each other.”
We didn’t get any development or redemption arc for Vanitas, and Repliku didn’t get his happy ending (I’m going to start a #JusticeFor Repliku hashtag), or see Ven and Roxas re-enact that Spiderman meme.
Instead, a lot of crucial story stuff and wonderful character interaction has been saved for the DLC.
The DLC that costs £25 and features everything fans desperately wanted from the main game; playable Kairi, Final Fantasy characters, and how Sora gets Kairi back.
In short, Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like Naruto-grade filler, and at least that had the decency to give us team bonding.
There’s no character depth, no development, or any shocking plot twists apart from Kairi getting shoved into the fridge to motivate Sora.
I really, really could go on; the atrocious pacing, a much smaller version of Twilight Town, Riku’s monotonous lines, and Olette barely having any dialogue, but then this would be a 5000 word emotional rant.
It’s gone out with a whimper rather than a bang, and it’s a true crying shame. But in the meantime, I can recommend some great fan-fiction authors who are doing a much better job at fixing the plot.