Like every man nearly brought to tears by the announcement of Kingdom Hearts III, the mere mention of the series among the mainstream gaming media sends me into a tizzy. It comes as no surprise, then, that even the most basic of story details concerning this long-awaited sequel perk my ears up quicker than a cute girl calling my name. From the mouth of series creator Tetsuya Nomura to the Los Angeles Times late last week, the story surrounding “the particular enemy [that Sora & Co.] have been fighting the past 10 years will come to an end.” The series itself, however, will remain intact – likely thanks to the rabid fanbase that would rip Square Enix’s decision-makers to shreds if the franchise suddenly stopped giving. Nomura’s statement can be read to mean our heroes will move on to meet other challenges, yet I prefer to think more boldly. Perhaps he meant the entire tale associated with that particular enemy would end, main characters and all? Could we be in for a full series reboot following Kingdom Hearts III? Being one of those borderline-psychotic fans – and fully aware of it – I absolutely welcome one. Sora’s struggles might have plucked these heartstrings until they were loose and out of tune, but here are five reasons why smashing the reset button would be a smart move.
Accessibility Gone By
For anyone wanting more than a stylistic, action-heavy combat system alongside a mash-up of Disney favorites, Kingdom Hearts has become nigh impenetrable. Organization Who? Xeha-what? And how does Mickey Mouse fit into all of this? Even with the upcoming Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix (a title that completely lives up to the series’ standard of ridiculousness), understanding each and every layer of this mind-bending narrative would require an absurd amount of devotion. Don’t be fooled by the real-time fights; these are true JRPGs through and through, with true JRPG length to boot. A typical playthrough of the original can easily set you back 30-40 hours on its own, and a staggering six distinct Kingdom Hearts adventures have followed since. The majority are spread across multiple handhelds, yet these stories are every bit as important as the two mainline releases. Speaking of which…
The Side-Story Dilemma
Despite what that digit in Kingdom Hearts III leads you to believe, there are actually seven separate games of note in this series that exist on five different platforms (not counting the Japanese mobile phone or Internet browser releases). With every spin-off debuting on one of four portable gaming systems, continuing with the core story creates a crippling conundrum for its writers. Should they explain the goings-on in the side-stories to bring everyone up to speed at the expense of completionists, or assume thorough knowledge and potentially alienate anyone unfamiliar? Either extreme and every spot on the spectrum in between is an imperfect solution. With so much uncertainty, only one road ahead lies smooth for Square Enix. Fire up the Reboot Machines, me hearties, and start anew.
Playing KH HD 1.5 Remix would probably help you understand it all. Now who’s got 100 hours to spare?
Kingdom Hearts was established on concentrated awe. The classic “ordinary kid in an extraordinary situation” trope is nothing new for JRPGs, but it is still effective nonetheless. Toss in iconic cartoon characters for our childhoods and have them battle evil, arm in arm with Final Fantasy’s greatest, and Square Enix fulfilled the Disney promise that dreams do come true. Every explorable world first seen animated on the big screen was a wonder, every twist an enthralling surprise. Instead of building upon this foundation in future releases, though, the Kingdom Hearts team kept on adding. And branching. And expanding and changing and reaching for more moments to make us gasp as if every new story beat was a direct attempt to out-crazy the last one. This trend was relentless, no editor stepping forth to rein in this out-of-control narrative. Eventually, the moments no longer meant as much. We become desensitized with an overload of happenstances intended to stun us, the supposed shocks rendered expected and, in turn, ineffective. Even Sora himself, our innocent and naive hero ensnared in something far bigger than his original little beachside world, became accustomed to the strange. When the insane is routine, nothing but a reboot will revitalize our sense of discovery.
Disney characters are a pervasive staple throughout pop culture worldwide. Similarly, the many casts from multiple Final Fantasies are equally as important to those of us who grew up gaming. How, then, could Kingdom Hearts possibly feature someone that could be confused with another? After all, there’s no mistaking Donald Duck for Goofy Goof, and Sephiroth is as recognizable as video game villains get. But no, nothing could stay so simple with Square Enix. See, the characters unique to Kingdom Hearts are utterly bonkers. Well, their names are, at least. Xemnas, Xigbar, and Xaldin are all totally different people, as are Lexaeus, Luxord, and Larxene. And that’s only a sampling. What’s worse, they all wear the same jackets and sport expressive haircuts.
Oh, and there just might be three versions of the same person.
Yeah, three, because when somebody’s heart is consumed by darkness, that individual becomes a Heartless. Further, a Nobody may also be created when darkness consumes the heart, these creatures being the leftover bodies and souls from the strong-willed. When all three of these separate editions of the same dude – his Heartless, his Nobody, and himself – come up in the many conversation-heavy cutscenes (each form takes a different name, after all; obviously), I dare you to keep things straight without consulting a wiki.
Also, Ansem the Wise is not at all related to Ansem, Seeker of Darkness (AKA the antagonist from the first game). You got that? Two totally distinct Ansems coexisting in the same crazy space. Remember when I said Kingdom Hearts was no longer accessible? Uh-huh. Moving on.
Ansem, meet Ansem.
Fear for your Life
One of my biggest issues with Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series, narratively speaking, is the knowledge that Nathan Drake will not be killed off in any franchise entry until the end of the game, at the very least. With each Uncharted clocking in around 8-10 hours, that means the first seven or so will be filled with death-defying spectacles that are anything but, moments that are actually free from consequence. Drake has no chance of dying by any bullet or burning building during cutscenes featured throughout the initial 90% of the action, leaving the player without reason to care for his safety.
This idea can be applied to Kingdom Hearts. While we’ve had a few playable extras, Sora has been our primary focus from day one. He’s beloved and important, so much so that Square Enix wouldn’t dream of ending his life or those of his closest companions in a handheld side-story. However, Kingdom Hearts III is not only a mainline sequel but also the end of the current storyline, and that changes everything. I sincerely doubt Disney would give the go-ahead for a King Mickey beheading, though Square Enix has no qualms about killing central characters in contrast. Although I don’t relish in the possibility of sending Sora, Riku, and Kairi six feet under by the conclusion of KHIII, it could happen. It could because these three will no longer be necessary. We will not need to play as them in future spin-offs, to dive deeper into their extra adventures. Put plainly, we will not need the same protagonists in Kingdom Hearts after this next entry. We might see them again, sure, and might even live to control Sora another day. Maybe, or he might meet his ultimate end. That shadow of doubt is enough to keep me worried, on the edge, and excited to see more of his immediate story. All this, but only with the promise of a reboot.
And you, dear Kingdom Hearts enthusiast who hath braved through over a thousand words on a very niche issue, what say you? Should Kingdom Hearts IV bring with it a brand new set of heroes, villains, and characters in between? Or can you not imagine wielding the Keyblade without Sora or one of his associates? Speak up!