New Kingdom Hearts may pale to predecessors, but that’s OK

Courtesy of Square Enix
Sora, the protagonist of the Kingdom Hearts series, as he appears in the series’ third installation.

Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer

02/07/19

Kingdom Hearts III’s arrival was a disappointment for many, but is that due to the aging of the game or the fanbase itself?

On one side of the argument are those who eagerly anticipated the release of this installment in the platinum-selling saga despite years of delays. Given that many expected this game years ago, and it has been almost a decade since Kingdom Hearts II, it is understandable to expect a massive return for the time allotted to the studio to develop the game.

On the other side are those who expected the game to be a catastrophe due to the years of delay. In this frame of mind, the delays were not being used to perfect the game, but rather to remove bugs from it. Happily, I can report that few bugs, if any, are present in the game. The worst fears for this subset of fans did not come true and therefore means any disappointment must lie elsewhere.

This game has many different animations, costumes and characters for the developers to create due to the inclusion of the many properties owned by Disney. With these characters comes the animation for specific movements as well as scenario induced actions that require character models to change. Development takes time, and when porting to two different systems as well as creating variety in gameplay, issues arrive for production.

No studio can be expected to split their staff up to work on multiple titles, create a wide array of character models ranging in the hundreds and expect quality or even expedient production to occur. Look to EA to see where that formula goes wrong.

This game succeeds in offering a variety to the gameplay so that fighting is not the only aspect of the title. The player has several mini-game options, various side content to explore and countless cut scenes to occupy their time.

Kingdom Hearts III has flaws: the side characters are childish, the storyline feels forced and the game is shorter than other principal installments in the series. The game also does several things well. The studio has improved the graphics significantly for this iteration, there are plenty of new settings for the player to explore and four companions are more than any other installment had allowed.

When the first Kingdom Hearts debuted in 2002, the game had fantastic graphics, an appeal to children and a partnership with Disney. Considering the quality of games back then, this was more or less a grand-slam for Square Soft, the company that would later become Square Enix. Three years later Kingdom Hearts II hit shelves days before Christmas, once again capitalizing on the marketing opportunity at hand.

Fast forward to 2019 and the formula that was so appealing in 2002 is understandably not up to scratch. It is always easier to be the first to the market with an idea or product because the competition is non-existent. Consumers do not know what would be better because better hasn’t happened yet.

Many kids who were not allowed to play violent games in the 2000s played Kingdom Hearts because that was a game with violence that was acceptable, compared to today when children are playing Call of Duty or Fortnite.

The same games that were popular for 90s babies are not the same games that are popular for kids born in the 2000s. That may only be a one-year difference for some, but the world has also changed so much in recent years that it is reasonable to believe Kingdom Hearts III failed to adapt to the new video game market.

In recent years, add-on content has been a staple for games to slowly release content without pushing back release dates or driving up prices. Kingdom Hearts III still lives in a world where the internet does not play a role in how video games are sold. This game could have come out years ago if they would have just released it in an episodic format or churned out add-ons to keep players attention.

The game also failed to include many fan-favorite Disney titles or acquired content like Star Wars, anything from the Marvel universe or even Pixar films past the early 2000s. Given the long wait time, it is reasonable to expect some kind of return on what older fans wanted in the game.

Square Enix failed most of all to understand what audience they were catering to. They ignored modern gaming marketing practices but kept a childish script. The dialogue at times made me cringe because of the sheer silliness of Sora’s actions, but if I were a little kid maybe I would have enjoyed that. However, most kids are attuned to the newer way of marketing games and should be catered to if the script is more for them than older fans. It is clear the studio adopted older ways of doing things because it was easier for them, not because they were trying to cater to their aging fanbase.

Like it or not, how people judge different forms of media is not stagnant, but malleable. The only constant in life is change and this does not exempt any section of the entertainment industry.

Kingdom Hearts III is by no means perfect, but it is enjoyable and it does bring back nostalgia for those that played the earlier games as kids. As someone who has less free time as the years go on and finds it harder to justify dedicating time to video games Kingdom Hearts III was worth the time I’ve spent.

 

 

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