There are three kinds of people when it comes to Kingdom Hearts: people who just aren’t into it (even people who play video games that just aren’t interested in the high speed, Disney-anime style fever dream), there are the fans who love the series and have played the now seven games in the series, and then there are “fans” like yours truly, who have only played the two mainline games preceding this one.
It seems like there’s been a huge gap between Kingdom Hearts II (2005) and now Kingdom Hearts III, due out this year, but the reality is there were three other games released between then and now. The problem is lack of accessibility: most of these intermission stories came out for handhelds, and came with positively redonkulous nomenclatures: 358/2 Days and 3D Dream Drop Distance get the most brunt for this.
So, like me, you’re probably worried that not having played 5 of the now 7 current games might have you a little in the dark. I remember when Kingdom Hearts II came out though, there were certainly elements of it that referenced events of the bridge game, Chain of Memories. However, I ended up loving Kingdom Hearts II despite that gap in knowledge. I’m fully expecting there to be mythos and lore that I’m missing thanks to other 4 games I haven’t played, but I want to believe they’ll bridge the gap through exposition, even if it is a little clunky…
Kingdom Hearts has always dealt with memories and the emotions that are tied to them, or the frustration of existence when you have one without the other. This new installment seems to be touching on those themes, with the brief dialogue between non-Disney characters concerning memories and missing hearts.
Kingdom Hearts II was a love letter to the fans that came back for more after the journey of Kingdom Hearts. It was a patently absurd concept to see Final Fantasy characters mixing and mingling in a gumdrop universe with various Disney characters, but damn if it didn’t work.
There is a deep well of nostalgia and emotional connection with all of these properties, and getting to run around with them on these adventures in the chapters of the story is an odd wish fulfillment through rationing. Cloud from FF7 already has a game I can actually play as him in, but I love the brief episode in KH2 where he joins up with my squad and I get to fight monsters with him. Same goes for Aladdin and so many more.
There are moments throughout Kingdom Hearts II where I got choked up seeing characters I’d grown up with on the screen, and that bled into and culminated in a wellspring of connection and emotion I forged with Sora, Donald and Goofy by the end of it.
This is a game though: there’s more to speculate on than just the story. You have to actually play this thing. For one thing: the graphics look gorgeous. Welcome to a new age of video games where video games in action look better than the original Toy Story.
If the fast paced, seizure inducing, action gameplay put you off before, then keep moving, nothing here for you. The surprising thing about Kingdom Hearts is that it manages to straddle that difficult line of being completely accessible to a gamer who just wants to mash X and see pretty stuff happen if they press Y at the right time, but there’s always been surprising space for depth of skill and technique thanks to the smorgasboard of abilities the game puts within reach. From the second half of the trailer, it looks as if this will continue to be the case.
One new note is that whereas before your playable party was limited to 3 characters, judging by the lower right corner of the screen, you’re no longer forced to make sacrifices and choose someone to sit on the sidelines, you can have up to five active characters joining in the action. I’ll admit, this makes an already busy, difficult to follow mess of action possibly all the more chaotic.
I want to close on the thing that has me so incredibly excited. We already knew about Toy Story and Tangled being added to the roster, and Monsters, Inc. is a nice addition as well, but the real joy:
ARIEL IS NOW A SUMMON. If you played Kingdom Hearts I and/or II I will be astonished if you tell me that The Little Mermaid chapters in those games were at all enjoyable. The characters who behave as summons are generally tchotchkes Sora receives as a reward for completing another task or quest, so the implication that there is no Atlantis world this time around is a tremendous relief and makes me all the more excited.
Now let’s cross our fingers for a firm release date announcement at E3, and knock on wood until your knuckles are bruised that there’s no delay to Spring 2019.
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