Kingdom Hearts is one of the most beloved video game series by Square Enix. The iconic collaboration with Disney in which Sora, Donald, and Goofy travel to various Disney worlds, was originally released in 2002 and has since spawned more than 10 entries in the series. Ever since Kingdom Hearts 2 was released in 2006 fans have waited patiently for the third installment that finally released in January 2019.
If you are looking for a thorough Kingdom Hearts III review this is not it, but I can recommend the Gamasutra article ?Kingdom Hearts III: A Conclusion without a Story,? by Joshua Hallaran.
?The stark reality, however, is that Kingdom Hearts III?s narrative is a meandering mess which knows exactly where it?s going but has no idea *why* it?s going there ? or how to create a satisfying crescendo to the series so far.? ? Joshua Hallaran
There are far more problems with Kingdom Hearts III then merely its pacing. And although the core Kingdom Hearts gameplay mechanics are expanded on, something vital is still missing. The basic formula of traveling to Disney worlds carries the game forward, but ultimately most of the games story and gameplay beats lack the weight and relevance that made previous Kingdom Hearts games so compelling.
Re Mind DLC Trailer
I expected the Re Mind DLC made available January 2020 to be an improvement over the original game, and for some parts it was, but recycling the same ?boss fights? while adding changes to cutscenes is not what I would call ?good DLC.? One of the biggest problems for me was the advertisement of playing as other characters besides the main character, Sora. Instead of expanding on that system and creating a narrative around each encounter it?s just a simple choice before being thrown into the mosh pit of bosses.
Additionally, there is a segment in which Sora, Riku, and Mickey, go up against Ansem, Xemnas, and Young Xehanort, which are the final bosses of Kingdom Hearts I, II, and Dream Drop Distance. These three characters don?t make for one great boss battle, because they are all the equivalent to 1/3rd of a boss encounter. Their mechanics and story are disconnected, so even if there are 3 on the screen, you are only fighting 1 boss that has the relevancy of a whole game, but only a third of the gameplay budget. So, these 3 characters which once had mechanical and narrative weight are reduced to a footnote in the final act of the game. And this isn?t a case of lazy developers either, because in the epilogue ?Limit Cut? of the game they have data battles of these same bosses, only they have access to their full mechanics in a 1v1 scenario.
So for a game that supposedly started being developed, or at least thought about realistically following the release of Kingdom Hearts II in 2006, why is Kingdom Hearts III more of a mess than the masterpiece Square Enix promised? Well, the secret ending to Re Mind gives us a hint.
Re Mind Secret Ending
Tetsuya Nomura has been the director on the Kingdom Hearts series since its conception, and he has contributed to many of Square Enix?s games including Final Fantasy VII, which he is currently working on the remake of. Although he was thinking about Kingdom Hearts III way back in 2006, another project by the name of Final Fantasy Versus XIII started development.
Nomura was the original director of Versus XIII, but after six years of game development, in 2012 Nomura was replaced by another game director, and as a result the end product which was renamed Final Fantasy XV was much different then what the creator intended.
This brings us to Kingdom Hearts 3, and Toy Story, which Nomura claimed were vital to the creation of Kingdom Hearts III, going so far as to say, ?If we can?t use Pixar, then we can?t have a third game? (source). At the start of the world, Toy Box, an in-game trailer for a game called Verum Rex plays. Verum Rex in latin means ?True King.?
Verum Rex in-game trailer
The main character, Yozora, along with the others are eerie look alikes to the characters Nomura helped create for Final Fantasy XV. All of this of course suggests that Nomura has been thinking of this amazing game that started development in 2006 but was taken away from him. When asked about Verum Rex and Final Fantasy in an interview, Nomura said, ?The plan that was never released is still unknown to everyone, and ?Verum Rex? doesn?t exist yet? so I?m sure everyone is wondering what it means, but what I want to make clear is that it?s not the same thing? (source).
From personal experience, when working on different creative projects at the same time it is easy to pick favorites. And after projects are done, it is even easier, in fact, encouraged, to figure out what you could have done better. Nomura obviously still dreams of this game, the true king, and wasn?t satisfied when Final Fantasy XV hit the market. Whether his vision of his lost Final Fantasy game negatively impacted Kingdom Hearts III or the future of the franchise still remains to be seen.
In an interview from before the game released, Nomura confessed, ?I actually don?t sympathize or empathize with Sora at all? (source). He went on to describe how he sees himself more as the villains in the game. And while it is fine to design boss encounters and abilities with this mindset, writing a compelling story for the player would be difficult if you couldn?t empathize with the main character at all.
What the future holds for Kingdom Hearts and Verum Rex only Nomura knows. Hopefully the next time he is tasked to create a conclusion for a series he can deliver with both satisfying story and gameplay, like he has done in the past.