Tempering Expectations for Kingdom Hearts 3

This week, I find myself in a strange predicament. Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally here, and I am inexplicably swept up in the hype – why is that a big deal? For all intents and purposes, Kingdom Hearts should be one of my favorite gaming properties of all time – seamlessly blending dozens of iconic Disney franchises with flashy real-time RPG combat. I can summon Stitch and use Final Fantasy lightning magic to defeat Oogie-Boogie from “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, these games are my childhood dreams come true!

Unfortunately, with my small experience with the franchise, Kingdom Hearts has been nothing but hollow and frustrating. The combat is floaty, the camera is finicky, the story is nonsensical, and neither the Disney nor Square Enix properties (the whole reason this franchise was so fresh and iconic to begin with) matter whatsoever. How did this series go so wrong, and why am I buying in for another outing? Am I some kind of glutton for pain, or simply naive to think things will have changed, or blinded by my desire to relive these seminal films from my childhood? Probably a bit of all three…

I’ll cut the series some slack in case any KH fanboys get their knickers in a twist, because they tend to be one of the most defensive fanbases outside Sonic the Hedgehog. This mentality is bolstered by an elitism by those who dedicate their lives to unraveling the godforsaken narrative of these games and correcting every little detail to disprove any and all criticism. I recognize that these games just are not for me, despite how appealing each individual aspect is to me. I’ve never enjoyed the combat, but I keep forcing myself to like it over and over again. I couldn’t care less about the plot, but I get ironic satisfaction over combing through lore videos and piecing it all together.

So, I pre-ordered Kingdom Hearts 3. And it even came with all the HD remasters which I barely touched, but at least I own them all now. But why? For one, this is the first real console sequel for the franchise in a decade and most of it looks incredible. The Disney properties in particular are at a level of detail rivaling their official cinematic depictions. I do miss the more stylized cartoon look of the original characters, everyone’s a little too anime and glossy in the footage I’ve seen.

Secondly, the Disney worlds are some of the most high profile ones in series history. They finally have the rights to Pixar films so of course I’m all in on Toy Story and Monsters Inc. I know it would’ve been overkill, but I would’ve much preferred The Incredibles to Big Hero 6, but at least the locale will be cool. Even more bland settings like Tangled and Frozen look faithfully rendered and will have some notable set-pieces.

And lastly, this game will be the culmination of everything the team’s learned so far. The story will try to wrap up (as best it can) and the combat will hopefully be more satisfying than ever. If all goes well, this game will look, sound, and feel great – it’s even reviewing well, which is kind of unusual for the franchise. Even though, deep down, I know I won’t care about the story, I won’t be satisfied by the Disney cameos, I probably won’t gel with the combat, and I’ll probably swear a lot and upset my housemates, I can’t help but be excited to be part of the zeitgeist and uncover this game with everyone else.

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