“Waiting on Kingdom Hearts” is a phrase that almost completely describes my default life setting for the past 12 years since first diving into this franchise. Since the release of Kingdom Hearts II, I have been a no-holds-barred KH die-hard, and unashamedly so. I have never missed a game and always bought the consoles (R.I.P. money). This series is probably the most formative piece of media I’ve ever consumed and has been a staple of my entertainment for longer than anything else except… I don’t know… Spider-Man, probably.
Needless to say, the hype I feel towards Kingdom Hearts III‘s eventual release knows no bounds. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have some significant reservations about what it will end up as. Allow me to explain.
While there are elements of every Kingdom Hearts game that are well explored and fully realized, the series has become quite a tangled web. A tangled web that continues to repeat itself, fold over on itself, and reveal plot twists that seem to crack or break the series’ internal logic. I don’t fancy myself as a nit-picker and I have a lot of leniency for convolution in Kingdom Hearts (because frankly, I’m used to it) but after the release of Dream Drop Distance, my skin slowly began to crawl.
One of the greatest things about the jump from Kingdom Hearts to Kingdom Hearts II was how vastly different they were in scale and content. We have the original game, where this rag-tag group of unlikely heroes go on a very simple mission to save their friends. The heartless are our main foes, lead by a coalition of small-bads (our humble Disney villains), but the real villain was our big-bad Ansem all along! We neutralize the small-bads, defeat the big-bad, and save our friends. There is drama, mistakes are made, and lessons are learned, but things are kept relatively straightforward and the game comes to an end, with more adventures on the horizon.
Kingdom Hearts II arrives and the characters are older, dealing with more internal, self reflective struggles. The big-bads multiply and become both more powerful and more narratively compelling. The stakes get higher and the characters learning to conquer their internal demons becomes as much of a villain as any Organization member. It was a logical next step from one game to another, with the scope and scale adjusting to an older main character and more serious underpinnings.
But after Kingdom Hearts II, it feels like the series has seriously begun to tread water. It keeps returning to the idea of the Organization, will not let Xehanort go (or become more compelling), and the plot points introduced in both the mobile game (Kingdom Hearts Union Cross) and in Dream Drop Distance feel more like moments of “wouldn’t it be cool if…” ideas rather than focusing on moving the series into a new phase of dramatic, character-based story telling. DDD in particular felt like a retread of every thematic element we’ve seen before, character arcs that we’ve already gone through, and some completely unnecessary convolution that could have been made simpler and more easy to digest.
The pessimist in me is saying there is no way that I won’t be disappointed by Kingdom Hearts III if it reads like a progression of Dream Drop Distance rather than the next evolution of the franchise. I desperately want to see the game make just as many dramatic leaps and bounds as there were between the first and second games. I don’t need my fan theories proved right, I don’t need my laundry list of world requests to be fulfilled, I just want the game to go to infinity and beyond to be the best version of itself that it’s ever been. My greatest fear is that Kingdom Hearts III is going to crumble under its own weight, going nowhere interesting with its characters, and offering up a story that just methodically ties up plot threads to get things to make sense, sacrificing its heart and soul (which is counter-intuitive considering one of those things is IN THE DARN TITLE). Any story is only as good as its characters and Kingdom Hearts‘ characters have a wealth of potential to be the most amazing versions of themselves in III.
I hope that Tetsuya Nomura has been pulling his punches to save the hardest hits for III, and I will stick to that belief for now, but I think discussing the shortcomings of Kingdom Hearts helps me to come to understand exactly what I enjoy about its many successes as well.
Here’s to Kingdom Hearts III, friends. May your heart be your guiding key.