I used to really love comic books. Getting into them wasn’t easy, even way back when I started. I picked out the big name stories, then eventually just found a starting point with single issues and went forward; a ballsy move, if you’re someone like me who cares about continuity. When I spoke to people who wanted to get into comics but couldn’t, that was always the issue. They’d walk into a store, look for a starting point, and be unable to find one. Everything was far too wrapped up in its own mythology; the medium is far too intimidating to newcomers. Whenever I look at Kingdom Hearts, I see that comic book shelf my peers see that I can’t, the mess, the mythology, and the gate that can’t be opened without a giant keyring. This could be a huge problem for Kingdom Hearts III.
It’s totally possible to play only Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II and get through it well enough. Only one game came out between the two, Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, and it isn’t essential. It’s the most spinoff-y of all the Kingdom Hearts spinoffs, merely introducing hints of plot threads that are more fully established in Kingdom Hearts II. Since then, things have been building for over a decade; the lore has gotten out of control and is at the point where everything seems to matter. Releases like Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance are presented as essential to the story leading up to Kingdom Hearts III.
These spinoff games, for a long time, were not accessible. They’re spread across different portable consoles, and some of them aren’t even included in full in the Kingdom Hearts HD releases. Even those HD versions are PS3 and PS4-exclusive, while Kingdom Hearts III is being released for the Xbox One. And even so, most people (casual fans, the mass market, whatever you want to call it) are more likely to play a game with a number, rather than a subtitle. With the game’s inclusion on the Xbox One lineup, not only is there a chance people who only played the two core entries are going to pick it up, but it could also easily be many peoples’ first Kingdom Hearts game.
So what’s going to happen? Will Kingdom Hearts III start or include some kind of lore primer you can pour through before you start the game proper? Will the game toss players right in the middle of everything without a lifeline? There’s no way the game doesn’t acknowledge everything that’s happened since Kingdom Hearts II. There’s no way the game can be an effective starting point by itself. The creators are in too deep. Kingdom Hearts isn’t just a silly Final Fantasy/Disney crossover anymore. It’s more and, depending on your perspective, it’s awesome or seriously limiting itself more than it needs to.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how people who aren’t die-hard Kingdom Hearts dorks react to this game. It’s been more than ten years since Kingdom Hearts first dropped in Japan. People grew up with these games, and people have grown up without them. The HD remasters sold well, but did they sell well to Kingdom Hearts fans or did enough curious people pick them up? Are they even effective in delivering that kind of story? Sometimes you toss too much information at a person at once, and it doesn’t stick. Regardless, the hype is definitely real, and longtime fans alone could make Kingdom Hearts III a success. But it would be nice to see the younger generation be able to jump right in, as Disney is such a powerful cultural force that draws in new fans every day.