After a decade, two main games, and four spinoffs, Kingdom Hearts has solidified itself as an RPG juggernaut. A cross-platform, cross-universe, East meets West monster of a game. And after learning about Keyblades, princesses, and this Ansem guy, one thing has become abundantly clear:
Kingdom Hearts, as a story, totally sucks.
Not saying the games as a whole suck. In fact when it comes to pacing, battle systems, and core gameplay, pretty much everything except the platforming mechanics, Kingdom Hearts shines. But then you try and explain the story out loud and all that comes out is a garbled mess of emo kids and Orlando Bloom cameos.
But why is the marriage of spikey-haired heroes and whimsical talking animals a sad, loveless affair?
There are two inherent problems with the storytelling in Kingdom Hearts. The first is Disney.
Disney is very protective of its properties, and doesn’t allow people to portray its characters in ways it deems out of character. It’s why Epic Mickey had the evil choice parts taken out. It’s why you’ll never get a Disney-themed Super Smash Bros clone (even though that would be so awesome). And it’s why the Kingdom Hearts writers had their hands tied when it came to portraying the worlds. The worlds in Kingdom Hearts have to match the tone of the films they represent, sometimes through a lighter, inconsequential plot, or by following the film exactly. You can see both at work in worlds like Atlantica, where dolphin merman Sora helps solve the issues of Hans Christian Anderson’s misogynistic cautionary tale by… singing terrible songs about fins.
Such is the rub when one works with Disney. There are more clever ways to handle it, sure, but as gamers we can forgive the fact that the worlds are just retellings of films because that’s essentially what they should be. The other problem is much more serious: everything outside of the Disney worlds is poorly written.
This is where Kingdom Hearts falls apart. Nomura and crew could have put anything in here, so the blame rests solely on them. After six games, the story of Kingdom Hearts is so muddled and confusing that it’s hard to even remember what the point was. It’s an increasingly unfortunate case with JRPGs that the story seems to just be a collection of dialogue that makes no damn sense. For example:
“We pray for our sorrows to end, and hope that our hearts will blend. Now I will step forward to realize this wish.”
You’re not saying anything. Conveying emotion (poorly by the way) is not the same as a plot. It’s like Twilight for boys.
But worse than that, each new character gets somehow less relatable, more annoying, and further unable to hold an entire game. It’s hard to imagine a less engaging main character than Roxas, and then Ventus came along in Birth By Sleep as his less likable doppelganger.
So how does Square-Enix and Disney fix this? It’s really not as dire as it seems. In fact, there are some really basic things that could improve the series dramatically.
Kingdom Hearts II, while a messy, unnecessarily complex game, managed to wrap up a lot of the loose ends by way of killing all the characters who were lame. It had a real ending, the main characters got reunited, and the world was saved. So don’t mess it up. Don’t bring back villains we thought were dead, or rather their heartless clone version, or whatever. Don’t introduce any more pouty effeminate male characters who turn out to just be Sora, or Sora’s Nobody, or Sora’s heart. Stop it. They can’t all be Sora.
It’s time to remember that there are other Square Enix games besides Final Fantasies VII through X. The inclusion of The World Ends With You, arguably the best JRPG of this generation (I said it!), in Dream Drop Distance is encouraging.
The Disney franchises need a serious update as well. Did you know Nomura originally wanted The Jungle Book as a planet, but they went with the jungle from Tarzan instead? That’s nuts. Any Disney fan in the world will agree that a boss battle against Shere Khan would have been exponentially cooler than the boss battle against smarmy Tarzan villain, Clayton.
Now there’s good news. Nomura has said that all the Disney Worlds in Dream Drop Distance will be brand new. And while that includes some similar locations like Pinocchio and Tron: Legacy, the aesthetics and actual levels are notably different. The thing that’s most important is that these worlds should contribute to an aesthetic instead of being films that Disney is famous for.
Part of the charm of Kingdom Hearts is seeing how Sora and Gang transform to fit the worlds they visit. Pride Rock, Space Paranoids, and Timeless River are all awesome because the characters change. Having Sora travel to Sherwood Forest and team up with Robin Hood would be far more interesting than going to Agrabah ever again. Or how about bringing Pixar into the mix and seeing what happens to Goofy and Donald when they enter the world of Toy Story? The possibilities are vast, and there’s no excuse for reusing any played out world like Wonderland.
It’s become a cruel joke that fans of the series have to purchase a new console or handheld every time they want to play the newest Kingdom Hearts game. So at the very least, when Kingdom Hearts 3 finally comes out it should be on all major consoles. Let’s stop messing around, the days of console exclusivity for third parties doesn’t make sense anymore.
Pick a normal name
Come on, Japan, don’t do this to us again. Just make it Kingdom Hearts 3. Not Kingdom H3arts: Love Lost Enigma. Or Kingdom Hearts: We are Third Pieces. Just, for once, a normal damn title. Please.
Go to f***ing Kingdom Hearts Already
We’re about to play our seventh Kingdom Hearts game, and there have been three completely separate Kingdom Hearts, and nobody has set foot in that place? That’s ridiculous and unforgivable. If Halo 7 came out and nobody had been to a Halo we would be furious.
When Dream Drop Distance comes out, Kingdom Hearts fans should be able to be excited, without having to make exceptions or defend the game to their friends. The series is ridiculous enough in concept, please stop making it more ridiculous with poor decisions.
There are so many things I agree with in this article, and let me tell you, I am a huge Kingdom Hearts. This article made so many valid points. Loved it.