This is going to be long and messy, much like the Kingdom Hearts series, but I wanna get some of these thoughts out in one space, so apologies in advance to anyone who reads it all!
Right off the bat - I’m pretty certain I had a really great time with this game. My enjoyment of individual entries in this series has a tendency to dwindle (KH2), or evaporate completely (KH, CoM) when I revisit them, so I wanna give it some space to breathe, and maybe replay it at least once before I Etch My Takes In Stone or whatever. And that replay probably won’t happen any time soon, 'cus I enjoy how everything feels by the endgame way too much. I played on Proud Mode, and it definitely felt pretty easy to get through almost everything aside from some of the bosses and that one post-game battlegate, but I don’t know that I’d really complain about that. I don’t think this series has ever really been about the complexity of any given non-boss combat encounter. I’m bad at games, so it was nice to have fun with this, even on a higher difficulty.
I do hope this series starts to embrace comprehensive NG+ modes or something soon, because I’d love to replay some of the little world vignettes etc. without losing all the gummiphone/minigame/synthesis progress I’ve made in the process. Maybe let players scale world levels up based on what they’re coming in at too? idk, I’ve got nearly 80 hours on this game somehow already, and I was satisfied with it when I was at like 30, so perhaps I’m being a bit too greedy? It just feels a little bit like… now that I finally have access to everything the game can throw at me mechanically, there’s a very limited pool of interesting engagements to mess around with it in? There were a lot of cool gameplay arcs and bosses I’d love to take some of this stuff back in to. I wish I’d started using the airstep shotlock to close in on enemies between combos waaay earlier in the game. Also the formchange stuff and the new drive forms etc. are a whole lot of fun.
On the writing side of things, I think a lot of the dialog was better this time around, and I was as satisfied as I could expect to be with how a lot of story arcs were tied up. Axel/Lea being as self-aware as he was was great. The narrative itself was alright, though I wasn’t thrilled by how otherwise apparently competent characters were constantly written as losing fights, or giving up hope or whatever. there’s so many ways to get all these characters into the exact situations the writing team wants them in, without having them just drop the ball. There’s still plenty of flaws with how the narrative is delivered to the player, as is always the case with KH games imho. Reading the gummiphone story entries helped explain some things, but I wish most of that stuff was just presented a little more clearly.
The biggest frustration for me, however, is that I really wish this series would start doing right by Kairi already. She had some moments that I guess could be called characterisation this time? I enjoyed her moments with Axel/Lea. A lot of her stuff rang a little bit too hollow (or was too Sora-focused) for my liking, and any negativity I felt about all that is, ofc, heavily compounded by her literally being damseled and fridged to motivate Sora for the final clash. I hope there’s some massive blow-back for this in the Japanese fandom, because this was handled so badly. There are so many ways to land the sequel hook here without throwing Kairi’s already slow development back out the window. And if her death was really necessary for whatever Nomura wants to set up, they could have at least framed the whole thing better for her. It is one of my deepest wishes for this series that Kairi is allowed to be more than just a Pure Heart Who Loves Sora, because the character arcs for so many of the other characters are so compelling, and there is so much potential for her. Obviously death is highly impermanent in KH, so she’ll definitely be back, but that just adds salt to the wound more than anything. For me at least. Shonen-style narratives can be done so much better than this!
I otherwise really appreciated all the work that obviously went into this beautiful mess. I enjoyed most of the Disney content, but definitely preferred worlds like Toy Box and Monstropolis, where they weren’t just retreading the source material in an extremely fragmented way. I had a lot of fun running around Galaxy Toys, and felt like Toy Box in general is just a great example of what this series strengths are - Taking a theoretically interesting setting, and building an experience that expresses some core element of it, in some way that helps it contrast or stand out against the other locations. The Caribbean managed to be pretty fun for me too, somehow, despite following the retread-the-film-in-abstract model. But yo what’s with the voice acting situation there? Like… putting how little Elizabeth sounds like Elizabeth etc. aside… Disney, really? Tia Dalma being so obviously voiced by a white woman faking an accent, even in 2018/2019?
Slightly more negatively, while Corona was a great space to run around and take in, it felt like it failed somewhat to have Sora & co. engage with the source material in a well-integrated way. I don’t hate Frozen, but Arendelle felt like the biggest example of this being done really badly. The parts of the film that they use, how those parts are framed for the player, and how Sora is involved in the story within the world - those elements all fell somewhere between bland, poorly constructed, and confusing in my opinion. But at least Larxene was there to steal every scene she was in, I guess? Most of these complaints are just par for the course with the series, I know, but the good parts of this game were better than ever, so stuff like this stood out even more.
It feels a little unusual (and even a little too demanding?) to have been anticipating this game for so long, and to already find myself already in a position where I’m like “okay, so what’s next?”. I just hope we get a chance to see more done with everything they built for this game, before the next generation of consoles etc. start to roll out. Whether we get some cool DLC for this game, a non-numbered title for consoles using the same tech, or a Switch instalment that at least uses Unreal and retains similar systems or something… I’m just down for more already, and it definitely doesn’t have to be time for KH4 quite yet. This series is 100% trashy-fun comfort food for me (and a whole lot of other people), and while I’m acutely aware shonen anime and Disney are deeply flawed, I’m already here lining up for that smorgasbord.
Also I want that chess set, even if it is functionally useless. It pretty.