There’s no question that Kingdom Hearts 3 is a highly anticipated game. Years in the making, it’s been on gamers’ minds since Kingdom Hearts 2 released back in 2005. This isn’t some Duke Nukem Forever situation, either. This is a game that’s been in active development for years, with every scrap of new information barely whetting the appetites of ravenous Kingdom Hearts fans. Fans will give any number of reasons for their affection: the colorful worlds, the crazy-huge cast of Disney characters, the confusing plotline. Whatever the reasons for their love, Kingdom Hearts fans have waited a long time for this release, and it’s finally here.
I’ve played all the mainline Kingdom Hearts games and some of the “side” games (such as Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep). For a long time, I would have placed myself squarely in the ranks of the rabid fans. However, as time went by, and releases more or less stopped, I fell away. While I’ve played the most important games in the series, I still haven’t conquered them all, and the idea of revisiting the entire series to “catch up” before Kingdom Hearts 3 seemed a daunting task. But the idea of jumping into part 3 without that richer context seemed equally daunting.
If you’re a complete newbie to the series, you’re faced with a similar, though much meatier, dilemma. I’ve thought about it a lot over the past few weeks, as I weigh my options, and I see it going basically two ways.
1. Play through and experience the entire back catalog of titles via Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far
For $40, you can own, for all intents and purposes, the entire Kingdom Hearts saga in its entirety. That’s not a typo. Square Enix released Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far for the PlayStation 4 to give newcomers, or even series veterans, a chance to experience the Kingdom Hearts franchise from the beginning. It includes remastered versions of Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, as well as remastered versions of Kingdom Hearts: re:Chain of Memories, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. In addition to the games, it contains HD movie compilations of the other games in the series, giving you all the story without the gameplay. While a compilation that let you play every game would have been great, many of those games were mobile or portable titles that wouldn’t have made the transition to 3D very well, anyway.
It’s an unprecedented amount of content for that price point. It’s also an unprecedented amount of work just to be able to understand the story of a new videogame. (If you find a copy, grab it right away. It’s not clear if Square Enix is planning to produce more copies, and scalpers are already reselling them on eBay for almost double their value.)
See, Kingdom Hearts is known for its crazily complex and somewhat nonsensical plot, one that spans generations and worlds and involves a lot of discussions about hearts and nobodies and mysterious organizations. And this all revolving around Final Fantasy-style characters exploring Disney worlds with Donald Duck and Goofy. Plenty of fans take the storyline in Kingdom Hearts very seriously. And honestly, I have no problem with that. It can be fun to lose yourself in a sprawling story, become invested in its characters, and want to understand every nuance of their every interaction. But, I would argue, if you just want to play a superbly crafted action-RPG, you can put aside the melodrama and still enjoy Kingdom Hearts.
Which brings me to option 2:
2. Jump straight into Kingdom Hearts 3 with no context
I’m the sort of person who prefers to rewatch entire seasons of a television show before the new season begins to refresh my memory, so I catch every subtle reference dropped in by the clever writers. Being that sort of person, it’s almost painful to make this recommendation. But here goes:
It’s totally fine to just play and enjoy Kingdom Hearts 3 without caring a tiny bit about the weirdly complex story.
Kingdom Hearts games are known for more than just their bonkers plots. Beneath the trappings of JRPG convolution and fun Disney aesthetics are some solidly fun action role-playing games that can be enjoyed for their mechanics alone. Setting yourself a limitation on your ability to enjoy that because you “don’t know the whole story” could be doing yourself a disservice.
Now, I do heartily recommend you give the other Kingdom Hearts games a chance. Particularly if you find yourself getting into crazy, over-the-top anime stories, Kingdom Hearts might be a series worth getting into. But for the rest of you, a casual relationship with Kingdom Hearts is totally acceptable. It’s 2019: enjoy your video games however you see fit.