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Can I Enjoy Kingdom Hearts III If I Only Played One Game?

Can I Enjoy Kingdom Hearts III If I Only Played One Game?
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You’ll probably stare daggers at me vehemently but, I have to admit, I have only played through the entirety of one Kingdom Hearts game, and that was the original. And yet, the span of time over the development of Kingdom Hearts III has been a rather interesting one. Never mind the numerous delays, that’s to be expected of course, but one thing that always made me curious was the passionate and dedicated fandom behind the iconic franchise. I received Kingdom Hearts III when it launched as a birthday present, and I am honestly rather itching to jump in and see what all the praise is about. Yet here’s the crux of that idea: can I really enjoy the entirety of Kingdom Hearts III with little context about the series?

If you were to come up to me and ask me, “what do you think Kingdom Hearts is?” I’d reply that it’s an action-adventure JRPG series mainly starring a character named Sora. Sora wields a mysterious weapon called a Keyblade that not only acts as a weapon, but also has the power to restore balance to worlds otherwise taken over by a dark power. Sora also has two companions in the form of Donald Duck and Goofy. Together they fight beings called the Heartless. Why they are “heartless” and where they originate from still elude me. Wait, is it because they’re born out of the darkness in one’s heart? Did I get that right?

Furthermore, I would add that Sora comes from a small island in the middle of nowhere essentially. His closest friends appear to be Kairi, who plays little significance in Kingdom Hearts, aside from a few flashbacks, and Riku, a rival to Sora who became the character I quickly grew annoyed with the most. I’m not kidding; there’s a point at the end of the game in which Sora and Riku have a duel, and I did not hold back and took so much joy in whooping his butt. This was after hours of him complaining and moping around about not being worthy of a Keyblade. What a douche. Until he kind of gets his act together in the end and comes to terms with essentially having learned a lesson from his personal experience in that first game.

Moreover, I could tell you that Kingdom Hearts has aged… well… kind of meh to be honest. At least that’s how it felt when I picked up a controller in my hands. To be fair, it was the very first game in the series, and I can’t beat it up too much. Yet there were times in my playthrough when I griped and groaned because I meant to lock-on to one Heartless and not the other, or the camera would get “caught” on something just as I was about to jump across a precipice I had worked so hard to ascend. Also, come on Donald I just healed you!

I also got to appreciate the context surrounding the various Disney worlds and all the iconic characters therein. For its time, the Disney worlds of the original Kingdom Hearts are faithful sandbox scale adaptations of their motion picture counterparts, and the use of memorable music caused childhood viewings of these movies to come straight back to me. Ironically, I would often hear that the most tedious moment of the game is Atlantica, or the undersea world of The Little Mermaid. This is due in part because it throws out the normal control scheme in favor of a swimming one, but I got into the flow of it by treating it as a flying simulator. Plus I was not getting annoyed by the “Under the Sea” melody playing on loop.

I also think back to a road trip I had with some friends last summer when we traveled to San Diego Comic Con. We were well aware that Kingdom Hearts III was going to be there with a playable demo. Perhaps it was just to pass the time, or perhaps it was because we were genuinely curious, but I remember them discussing the game’s story and impact over the years. They’re much more experienced Kingdom Hearts fans than I am, but I listened to them talk amongst themselves. That’s when names like Aqua, Roxas, and Xehanort came up. Then there was mention of significant events in the series’ timeline like the Keyblade War. That there’s an actual place called Kingdom Hearts, but it hasn’t been seen in the series yet apparently? We must’ve talked amongst ourselves for a couple of hours also pitching ideas for what new Disney-themed worlds we could explore, or what characters we’d like to see appear from those movies. At the end of our discussion, however, I felt more lost in the finer details of the series than I ever had. I had to ask myself, “but what is Kingdom Hearts?”

At that point, I had begun to ask questions about what games I should play in the time leading up to the launch of Kingdom Hearts III. You’ll have to understand, at the time, it was six months from the time when the game would release on January 29, 2019. I had a couple of interesting suggestions. At minimum, I believe I was told, is that I should play through Birth by Sleep followed by Kingdom Hearts II. Another suggestion I had was to wait until the Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far collection releases as that would compile the absurdly titled HD 1.5, 2.5, and 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue (are you serious?) compilations into one single package. From there I could play through (or in some cases watch) the games in the order they released throughout the years.

So that brings us to our current conundrum: what game do I decisively turn to next? I think that in order to answer that question there needs to be some context about myself or, rather, what I find entertains me. Another factor I think about when the subject matter of Kingdom Hearts comes up is the series’ convoluted timeline or plot. To be honest, I’m an absolute big fan of tangled webs. In a sense, if there’s a plot that goes this way and that, and then loops around again, and then this thing is happening parallel to those events that comes before this, but after that… well, I would have to consider myself intrigued, to say the least. It’s like the Kingdom Hearts franchise is a 1,000 piece puzzle. The box is opened and all the pieces lay scattered before me. The cover of the box shows me what fun can come out of the completed look, but how do I get to understanding the final picture?

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Jason Arriola

One of the biggest Star Wars fans there is. When I don't have one of many gaming peripherals in my hands I probably have my nose in a good book, out amiibo hunting, or contemplating (and never deciding) what game to pull off my shelf next!