Kingdom Hearts III. Since its predecessor’s release in 2005 (and possibly before), it has been a hypothetical title wished for by fans. Yes, Square Enix had previously confirmed the Kingdom Hearts trilogy, but it wasn’t until this year’s E3 that we were finally relieved with the news that the long-awaited sequel was in development. This past week, our appetites were whetted with an early gameplay trailer that is sure to have Kingdom Hearts fans aching for more.
Well, maybe not. If you’re anything like me, the latest Kingdom Hearts news was surprisingly underwhelming. If you’re a lot like me, the official announcement didn’t do much to excite you, either. In fact, everything about it thus far has me shrugging my shoulders and going “meh.”
Let’s clear up one thing real quick. I loved Kingdom Hearts. I enjoyed it so thoroughly when I first played it, I bought the obscure Gameboy Advance installment, Chain of Memories, and gobbled it up. In fact, with the exception of Dream Drop Distance, I have played through every entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise and, with one exception, loved them. At this point, I’m just not sure there’s much juice left in the Kingdom Hearts series — at least as it exists today. The Kingdom Hearts III gameplay trailer only further solidified my concerns.
The obvious criticism, of course, could be levied against the lack of any real growth in the series, gameplay- and combat-wise. Seeing III in action, it’s hard not to bring it up. Yes, Kingdom Hearts, like all franchises, has a specific style that it should stay true to. Does that mean it cannot grow within that style and offer anything new? Definitely not. And while ardent fans may contend you can’t nitpick the combat just yet, I’m willing to bet the final product doesn’t offer much that hasn’t already been seen. Look at all the sequels/prequels already done. They may have tweaked the combat and added a new feature each game, but overall the combat feels the same game to game, which creates redundancy.
On the topic of the game not changing enough, haven’t we seen enough of Xehanort? Sure, the original Kingdom Hearts dealt with (fake) Ansem and II shifted focus to Xemnas, but ultimately they were both derivations of the real antagonist, Xehanort. Now, the series has run dry of varying incarnations—I don’t think the series, in all its convolution, can handle another species of baddies—so we’re back to Xehanort. And yes, I know Kingdom Hearts III will be the end of the Dark Seeker/Xehanort Saga, but honestly, after all the spin-offs it feels like they’re already beating a dead horse.
Then there is, of course, the issue of Sora. Yeah, he’s kind of cheesy and goody-goody, but I have no beef with that. It’s his character, and changing that now would be dumber than introducing a new protagonist. But seriously, shouldn’t he have grown up even a little bit? While I haven’t played Dream Drop Distance, I do know the game reverts to a younger incarnation of Sora. That, to me, is a mistake, and while III doesn’t seem to be following suit, he certainly doesn’t look to have grown since II.
For Kingdom Hearts III to be a game worth making, it needs to really set the bar for the franchise. This is especially true given how long fans have had to wait. Instead of giving us what we wanted, they saturated the franchise and clogged the plot with superfluous titles like 358/2 Days and Coded/Re:Coded. By this point, III needs to blow us all away, and I don’t think Square can pull that off. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks to be derivative of everything that’s come before it.
Of course, given my devotion to the series over the last decade, I’m not counting it out just yet. If Kingdom Hearts III can narrow the plot, eliminating all the clutter and excess, surprise us with some interesting gameplay features, and reintroduce the characters we love while showing some actual development, it could be well worth the wait. Finally, as much as I hate to say it because of how cliche it is, the stakes need to be raised. I’m not going to say the game needs to go really dark and edgy, but the series could do with a true sense of finality and danger.
Kingdom Hearts still has a lot of interest and momentum behind it. It seems, though, the series has mostly limped on since 2005′s Kingdom Hearts II. Square and Disney really need to rein in the focus on this derailing franchise, assess what is making the series stale, and bring something new and exciting to the table. Otherwise, Kingdom Hearts III will just be another mediocre installment in a potentially great franchise. And that would be a real tragedy.