The III at the end of this title is a bit of a misnomer: this is actually the ninth game in the overall franchise, but it’s the 3rd major console release. In other franchises and sagas this might be a forgivable exception, but with how weighed down and stymied the story of Kingdom Hearts III is by all that sideline baggage, it’s nigh unforgivable.
Let me open by saying that I’m enjoying the game, and that’s a very specific statement. I’m enjoying the combat (it’s fun, deceptively deep while being accessible) and the worlds (they’re all gorgeous and full of fun details that fulfill the fantasy of visiting Disney and Pixar settings). However, I’ve gotten to the point where when a cutscene starts, I pull out my phone and check Twitter/Instagram for updates.
I told a friend I’m enjoying playing the game, but when a cutscene starts at this point (which the game is loaded with), I zone out. Kingdom Hearts II came out 12 years ago, it did so with the added story details of a single bridge game, Chain of Memories. It handled filling in some of the details of that well enough that I didn’t feel too lost with the references and circumstances it was making to that game, but it definitely had moments where concepts were introduced with an almost scolding feeling of “you should know this, because you should have played CoM.”
Kingdom Hearts III has 5 games between II and its recent release. If I thought KH2 could be a little snarky about the story I “should” have played in between, KH3 is outright abusive with all the side story it’s pulling in and addressing. I don’t know a good 90% of the names being thrown around, and there are references to events of the side games that are core foundations to this story.
For a series about friendship and connections this seems an ironic misstep, to say the least. Kingdom Hearts as a series is at its best when it’s focused on using the power of friendship and kindness to save and secure the worlds our heroes traverse. It’s still satisfying to see Sora help along the heroes from some of my favorite Disney stories (even if they’re tending toward the more modern milieu this time around), and also to see that theme unified in the heart of the Final Fantasy series and characters that appeared throughout.
This installment is so bogged down and overburdened with its own mythology that it’s lost its heart. The stories and adventures we see play out in the worlds are disconnected from the overarching KH theme and just 1:1 recreations of the movies themselves. It’s a shame that this is the direction they chose with it: snooty self-importance in a completely confusing mythology rather than the heart that made that mythology interesting.
It’s odd the twist in my feeling towards this game to Red Dead Redemption 2, I fought the arduousness of the gameplay in RDR2 for the sake of an incredible story. Here I am now fighting to ignore a mess of a story for the sake of excessively fun gameplay. If, like me, you missed all the intervening titles between KH2 and KH3, I’d recommend having a queue of news articles to read when the cutscenes start up.