[KH3 diary.3] Part 1: Impact
or, why i love what Kingdom Hearts IS
it took me a little over 28 hours to finish the mainline story of Kingdom Hearts III. i’ve now sunk an additional ~10 hours to (with the help of several internet guides) craft the Ultima Keyblade, which i consider a soft completionism.
i have a page full of thoughts in my phone, typed in a mad dash at 2am. like much of KH3, they’re a jumbled mess. so let’s unjumble it.
this final entry to this diary series will be in two parts. the first will be entirely wild speculation and 100% spoiler-free. the second will be, quite literally, nothing but spoilers.
here’s the first bit:
Part 1: Why I Love The Thing That Is Kingdom Hearts
i love Kingdom Hearts because honestly, i think it’s insane that it exists.
last month, news got out that EA had cancelled yet another Star Wars game, this time the open-world attempt originally started by Visceral Games. it was the latest in a long line of Star Wars titles that had been —
why are you looking at me like that. yes, i am starting this long-form article about Kingdom Hearts by talking about EA and Star Wars. trust me.
anyway: this development led to a wide variety of reporting and thinkpieces. EA is now six years into a 10-year deal to exclusively produce Star Wars console games. it’s released only two, both with the word “Battlefront” in the name, the second of which nearly totaled the company. it’s been speculated that EA CEO Andrew Wilson doesn’t like this deal, isn’t a big fan of Mickey Mouse, that mischievous totalitarian guttersnipe, breathing down his neck. Disney owns Star Wars now, remember.
in his investigation of the project, Kotaku’s Jason Schreier quoted a previous piece of his, an interview with a former employee of Visceral Games:
Back in 2017, one ex-Visceral developer described the Lucasfilm approval process to me in brutal fashion: “With Star Wars you could be talking months — potentially years… Oh, would [protagonist] Dodger really look like this? What would his weapon look like? Potentially years of that. Would he carry this? Would that really work in the Star Wars universe?… People think, ‘Oh it must be so cool to work on Star Wars.’ It actually kind of sucks.”
the Creation Myth of Kingdom Hearts is, by this point, well-known.
back in the late 90s, Disney and Square shared an office building in Japan. as the legend goes, a chance meeting in an elevator sparked the idea of a collaboration between the two companies. anime and Disney characters. slam dunk!
from Disney’s perspective, it must have seemed so small, almost laughable. Square was a champion of the games industry, with things like Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger under their belt. but the company’s track record was sort of hit and miss.
“meh,” i imagine the Disney execs shrugging. “if it works, it works. let them do all the work, make sure they don’t fuck with our brand. maybe we’ll make some money. i wouldn’t worry about it.”
and then it came out.
“fuck!” i imagine the Disney executives exclaiming. “we gotta make more of these! Square, make more of these!”
“well, we’ll need time, and more plot to tie it all together, keep it cohesive,” i imagine Square politely replying.
“yeah, yeah. do whatever. just keep our brand strong and the dollars rolling in.”
or that’s how i imagine it, anyway.
i imagine it like this because i can’t imagine it any other way. this week, as i have sat up late in my living room, drinking gin and wondering how the fuck the nonsense that is Kingdom Hearts even exists, the only thing that makes sense is that Disney, uh, Really Fucked Up.
because this is Disney. it is the largest content house in the world, and after its acquisitions of Marvel, Star Wars, and Fox’s film shit, it now owns basically 70%+ of all popular culture. it is a company so known for its vice grip over its own IP that the US laws that have extended copyright protection by decades are colloquially named after Mickey fucking Mouse.
the only thing that makes sense is that Disney, uh, Really Fucked Up.
Disney properties perform Quite Well. in this regard, Kingdom Hearts is in solid company. but for the most part, Disney properties perform well by appropriately and safely appealing to mainstream culture’s sense of family, individuality, creativity, and fun. Disney films don’t really “push the envelope”; the company is not in the business of innovation, but rather perfection. they take their formula, and they iterate masterfully until returns begin to diminish.
so a hubristic contract negotiation is the only thing that makes sense. because otherwise, how the FUCK do we get Kingdom Hearts??? it’s impossible, absurd. evil masterminds experimenting on children?? rending their hearts from their bodies, turning said bodies into angsty teens full of identity crises?? all while Goofy looks on and says “gawrsh!” and Donald the Fucking Duck quacks in astonishment??????????
the fuck. how! what the fuck!! like literally what the fuc —
i cannot help but see a thru-line from Kingdom Hearts to Disney’s other branding deals. like a true paranoiac, i am seeing the ripples of this strange and fucked up series everywhere. i am tying red strings around push pins on corkboards.
here’s one: the story of the first Kingdom Hearts was centered entirely around Disney princesses (the game’s Princesses of Heart). between KH2 and KH3, Disney started shifting away from princesses, reportedly downplaying the term, even as Frozen became one of the highest-grossing films literally of all time. why? Kingdom Hearts. bam.
like a true paranoiac, i am seeing the ripples of this strange and fucked up series everywhere
i would argue that (admittedly insane) theories like this are backed up by Kingdom Hearts III itself. while the first game’s Disney characters and worlds were deeply and inextricably tied up in the overarching plot, KH3’s locales feel ancillary at best and unnecessary at worst. these pieces feel more like empty set dressing than ever, because that’s how the game treats them. what was once the core draw of the series now feels like a contractual obligation.
my biggest question moving forward is, is that contract fulfilled? i think it is safe to say that there will likely be more Kingdom Hearts, even if the “Dark Seeker Saga” (the whole story from Birth by Sleep to III) is now completed. but how much will Disney content even play a part?
i don’t know, i really don’t. but what i do know is that Kingdom Hearts is the god damn weirdest thing that The Walt Disney Company has ever been a part of. that feels like an accident to me. it feels like something that Walt’s frozen head grinds its teeth about from its telepathic control tower at the top of Space Mountain. it almost feels rebellious. this feeling is hollow, as i’m sure KH3 is just airlifting money into Disney’s mousy pockets. but still.
that’s why i love what Kingdom Hearts is. it refuses to compromise and, as a result, feels like the most important Disney franchise of the past half century.
it feels weird, and wild, and wonderful, and 100% not according to plan.
[continue to entry 3, part 2: Consequence]