The embargo for Kingdom Hearts III lifts on January 23rd. My coworker Tim Rogers determines that Kingdom Hearts III, as a super-packed and almost-a-decade-in-the-making conclusion to a popular franchise’s first major story arc, might be an unreviewable game. It’s a titan, a powerhouse of context and goofs. Little does Tim know that he will actually have to review Kingdom Hearts III for Kotaku.
The day before release, fans notice a strange warning on the title screen indicating that streamers should be cautious showing the game, especially if they just want to share the music. Streaming needed to be “non-commercial,” a term that Square Enix never really clarified.
Kingdom Hearts III officially releases, and reviews of the game, while positive, are not necessarily glowing. Kotaku’s Tim Rogers battles his inner Goofy and Donald to conclude that it’s a fun game with a great battle system that “kinda sucks and that’s why I love it.”
Kingdom Hearts III’s epilogue gets added to the game in a patch after the world-wide launch. It has a pretty shocking revelation about a certain laid-back Organization XIII member, but we’re not gonna tell you what it is.
By early February, Kingdom Hearts III sets a new sales record for the series as download sales and shipped copies cross over five million units.
Speculation runs wild as players unlock the game’s hidden ending, which we will not spoil too much here. Needless to say, it’s incredibly meta, connected to a throwaway joke, and might hint at the inclusion of more The World Ends With You characters.
On April 23rd, Kingdom Hearts III is finally updated to include the “Critical Mode” difficulty. Many fans had previously felt that the game was too easy, and the mode provided a welcome challenge for fans eager for something a bit more intense.
Kingdom Hearts III’s Re:Mind DLC is announced and teased at E3 2019. Footage shows off the ability to play as Riku, Roxas and other beloved characters. It currently set for a Winter release.
Rutger Hauer, Blade Runner star and the voice of the villainous Master Xehanort in Kingdom Hearts III, passes away on July 24th. The 75-year-old actor had taken over the role following the death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015.
And that’s where things are at.Kingdom Hearts III marks the culmination of years of hard work from game makers and investment from fans. It wasn’t perfect but still held much of the charm that drew in players to begin with. Following release, there has been a shifting tide of fan speculation, production goofs, new difficulty modes, and even the tragic loss of a beloved actor. But it’s here and it’s real. After so much time, seeing the first major portion of Sora’s story wrap up was emotional. And no matter where the series goes next or whatever else might follow in the wake of this game’s release, Kingdom Hearts III remains an emotionally evocative and pretty darn good capstone to one of the most hog-bonkers crossover ideas of all time.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
I was on vacation last week. In addition to wandering New York and enjoying some of the finest pizza on the planet, I finally finished Kingdom Hearts III. In the process, I found a moment near the end of the game that perfectly captures the series’ magic and excitement. It also highlights one of Kingdom Hearts’ greatest flaws.
After journeying through a handful of charming but inconsequential Disney-themed worlds, Sora and the gang are ready to face off against the dastardly Master Xehanort. He’s a grumpy old wizard dude who wants to summon Kingdom Hearts, which is the heart of the universe. Using that, he plans to restart existence and rule over a world where Light and Darkness are in perfect balance. That’s some pretty wild stuff. Sora and his friends arrive at the Keyblade Graveyard, the site of a massive war that took place countless eons ago. They square off against the bad guys…and lose. But there’s some magical shenanigans that allow Sora to come back, revive all his friends, and try again.
When the bad guys summon a swarm of Heartless, the series’ evil enemy monsters, Sora receives a vision of a young boy: Ephemer. A lot of players might not know who Ephemer is, as he’s from the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Union χ[Cross]. Thousands of keyblades soar through the air, and Sora rides them into battle against the Heartless. Each attack uses a different keyblade, with a character’s name—presumably a player’s name from Union χ[Cross]—and the result is this amazing spectacle of magic, friendship, and heroes triumphing over the bad guys. This summary makes it sound hokey, but where you see it in motion, it’s honestly some of the most stunning action in the entire series.
Invariably, this moment will get compared to the ending credits for Nier: Automata, where players are aided in a bullet-hell segment by other players. The player gets extra shooty bits and a shield made up of little representations of other players’ save data. The sentiment is similar here: Each keyblade is a player, and the bonds of the fanbase are uniting to give Sora strength. But the goal here is less existential than Nier: Automata’s, which was making a point about persisting in the face of impossible odds. Kingdom Hearts III wears its heart on it sleeve. This moment is a celebration of community. It is the big catharsis that players have been waiting for since the end of Kingdom Hearts II in 2005. It’s the explosive moment where Sora truly shows his worth as a Keyblade Master. It’s flashy, emotional, and the kind of anime bullshit that makes the series great.
But it’s also emblematic of the series’ larger issue: lore lockout. For all the talk of Kingdom Hearts’ confusing plots, the individual games are very sound. Characters have a wonderful tendency to state their motivations clearly, and even if you don’t know the full details, the raw emotional beats land. Underneath all of that is a tangled timeline of dark magics, prophecy, and more. That’s the thing people are really complaining about when they mention Kingdom Hearts’ convolution. You can see it here with Ephemer’s sudden appearance. Who is this boy? Well, to explain that, you need to know about the first Keyblade War, which also means knowing about the different Unions, which means knowing about the Master of Masters, which also means knowing who the Dandelions were….And seriously, why is Ephemer suddenly here? Without this knowledge, the moment gets robbed of context. It’s still a great moment—badass moments are what Kingdom Hearts excels at—but it’s a moment predicated in part on knowledge of a mobile title that many players have no experience with.
It’s also a little confusing and presumes maybe more interest in the broader lore than is reasonable. But I loved it—the music, the lights, what it meant for Sora. I loved the intense victory rush it gave me: the resounding feeling that good can triumph against all odds. It’s Kingdom Hearts condensed to a single moment. Emotional, resonant, experimental.
Kingdom Hearts III has enough game to keep folks busy for a while. But in a recent Dengeki Online interview, creator Tetsuya Nomura was asked about what comes next. Warning: This article has spoilers.
Dengeki Online pointed out that Kingdom Hearts III doesn’t have the Critical Mode difficulty that the Final Mix versions of Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts Birth Final Mix by Sleep have. While this hard mode is unlockable in Kingdom Hearts 3D Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep, it’s not in KHIII.
“Initially, Critical Mode wasn’t in the original versions [of the games], but a mode added to the Final Mix versions. That’s why it’ll be sent out [in downloadable] form in the future,” said Nomura. “It won’t be just a hard mode, but as it’s Critical Mode, we’re tweaking so more enjoyment can be discovered.” Besides this upcoming addition, there will be game updates and story DLC.
Nomura explained how Square Enix is thinking about doing the new KHIII content. “Up to now, we’ve prepared a separate Final Mix package releases, but this time we’re thinking of doing the additional content as DLC.” Besides the free downloadable content, there will be paid, bundled DLC. Nomura says the plan is to finish it “this year.” Why? “Because I want the team to start work on the next project.”
Dengeki Online also asked Nomura to comment as much as he could about Kingdom Hearts III epilogue and the game’s secret movie, expressing interest in Verum Rex’s Yozora in the Toy Box World.
“As like before, if there’s more story, then this is the preface to that tale. With what’s known at this point, it seems there are various theories about the secret movie, but it’s not some simple thing.”
What could that mean? Who knows? Tetsuya Nomura does, that’s who.
Kingdom Hearts III is littered with lucky emblems, special Mickey Mouse shaped indentations and arrangements that are key to unlocking the game’s secret ending. While there are only 90 in the game, dedicated players have been finding a whole lot more outside of the game. They’re in food. They’re on buildings. They are everywhere.
“Look Sora, it’s a lucky emblem!” It’s an exclamation that causes many Kingdom Hearts III players to drop whatever they’re doing in order to hunt for two small circles atop a larger one, like so.
That’s the international symbol for Mickey Mouse, recognized the world over. It’s on hats, shirts, and toys. It’s on just about everything in Anaheim California. There are entire theme parks dripping with the image. In fact, the very concept of the Lucky Emblems comes from something Disney has been doing since as far back as the late 1970s—hiding the iconic Mickey Mouse silhouette in various secret places in Disney’s theme parks and films. “Hidden Mickey” hunting is a popular pastime at Disney parks, but now that it’s in Kingdom Hearts, more fans are starting to see Mickeys… everywhere.
Twitter and Reddit Kingdom Hearts fans are starting to discover a wealth of unintentional Lucky Emblems all over the place. After hunting down all 90 in the game, it’s almost impossible to stop seeing them everywhere. As Redditor Ambiator puts it, it’s “that moment you start seeing Lucky Emblems in real life.”
Circles are a pleasant shape, and they show up together in groups of three all of time. Sometimes they are manufactured, like the napkin holder BenjaminDiskin on Twitter found at the Cheesecake Factory.
Inside the Toy Story world in Kingdom Hearts 3, players can find a video game store. This store is filled with games that presumably exist in the Toy Story universe. These games also need to be reviewed.
I watched my girlfriend play Kingdom Hearts 3 and she found this game store. We both had a great time as she walked around the shop and used her gummiphone camera to zoom in on each game case. As she pushed Woody out of her photos, I wondered: How did these games review in their universe?
So I had my GF snap a photo of each game we could find in the store and then using a weird dimension shifting machine Kotaku has lying around, I was able to pull up review excerpts and scores from AllScore, their version of Metacritic.
AllScore Rating: 85
“An amazing experience. I finally have a game that justifies my expensive PlayPlusVR headset. But even outside of the VR mode, Twinkle Puzzle is the evolution on Twinkle you’ve been wanting.”
“While I enjoyed Twinkle Puzzle and found the game to be visually stunning, I can’t recommend a Twinkle game that costs $40. Wait for a sale before buying this beautiful puzzle game.”
AllScore Rating: 82
“This is just the start of a trilogy and I can’t wait to see how my decisions change the story of Space Cats. Will Captain Spots finally tell Madame Meow that she loves her? Will the Dogs of Death invade more planets? Who will save the Litter Box Freedom Station? I can’t wait to play more and find out what happens next!”
“Space Cats isn’t going to revolutionize the RPG genre, but that’s okay. What we have here is a fun space adventure and a return to form for developer OragnicSoftware.”
Amazing Jam 2
AllScore Rating: 67
“Visually impressive, for sure, but Amazing Jam 2001 feels like a huge step back after last year’s incredible game. The jump to the new consoles means this is the best looking basketball game I’ve ever seen, but sadly the jump also means many great features and modes are missing in action.”
“Amazing Jam 2001 feels unfinished. Sadly, some impressive visuals and a great soundtrack can’t save this bare bones sports game. Hopefully 2002 sees the return of a career mode and better net code.”
The Cute Chef: Delicious Theater
AllScore Rating: 77
“The beloved handheld franchise, Cute Chef, mostly survives the leap to home consoles. Some changes to the classic gameplay might anger long time fans, but the game looks amazing and as usual the music is damn near perfect.”
“Cute Chef: Delicious Theater isn’t my favorite game in the long-running franchise, but I’m happy that I have such a colorful and fun game on a home console. Plus the Super Pizza Challenges from Cute Chef 3 return, which makes this my game of the year!”
AllScore Rating: 54
“Tick-Tick Party is a wonderful mobile game, but porting it to consoles and charging $40 is a bad move. Maybe if this new port had added more levels or Tick-Ticks I could see the reason for charging so much. But this is just a free mobile game on a console and that ain’t great.”
“While kids might enjoy this simple puzzle adventure, the strange control scheme and lack of new levels makes it hard to recommend Tick-Tick Party. If you really want to play more Tick-Tick, try out the newly released mobile game Tick-Tick SUPER CITY.”
AllScore Review: 91
“Fun Farmer is a nice retro throwback to farming titles like Lunar Fields, but it never feels like a rehash of those older games. Instead it adds more story lines and gameplay variety, making Fun Farmer feel unique and fresh.”
“While a lack of online co-op is disappointing, that is probably the only major flaw in Fun Farmer. The pixel art is gorgeous, the writing is superb and the gameplay relaxing. Lunar Field fans should definitely give this game a go.”
Yum Yum Cafe
AllScore Rating: 68
“I’m happy that after five years, Yum Yum Cafe has finally made it to US shores. Unfortunately, five years is a long time in gaming and Yum Yum Cafe’s visuals and gameplay feel dated. For fans of the Yum Yum franchise this might be fine, but for most gamers this will be hard to get over.”
“Yum Yum Cafe has some of the best music I’ve heard in a video game and the love story between Papa Panda and Queen Sushi might start silly, but ends up becoming really moving. Yum Yum Cafe isn’t a big game or an innovative game, but I don’t care. I’m just happy we have more Yum Yum!”
AllScore Rating: 72
“Perfect Smash is another great entry in the beloved arcade tennis series, but it also feels like the first game in the franchise that isn’t doing anything new or fresh. Perfect Smash plays like Great Smash and Awesome Smash, but now in HD. Which is nice, but I really wanted something more out of the first next-gen Tennis Smash game!”
“Perfect Smash is the best tennis game on the PlayPLus, but it is also the only tennis game on the new console. For fans of tennis games, this is your only option. Luckily, Perfect Smash plays great and looks wonderful. Though a limited roster of characters is disappointing.”
AllScore Rating: 63
“It’s more Pitapat Party, but now on the PlayPlus console. That sentence is really all you need to know about this port.”
“Pitapat Party might just be a port of a two year old party game, but that’s not a bad thing. The last game didn’t find much success on the doomed SeeU and this port is perfect, adding a few new modes and features.”
Herd of Zombies
AllScore Rating: 90
“Herd of Zombies is a brilliant and spooky spin off of the popular Herd of Soldiers games. Unlike those yearly shooters, Herd of Zombies feels more playful and scary. Fighting zombies with friends is a blast and the game really shows off the new PlayPlus console!”
“It is hard to enjoy Herd of Zombies after we just heard of the massive layoffs at publisher ActionSight. But if you can ignore hundreds of folks losing their jobs, Herd of Zombies is a solid and fun shooter with some cool ideas and great co-op.”
Speed & Danger
AllScore Rating: 29
“Speed & Danger is a bad port of a crappy mobile game. Charging $60 for this feels almost criminal. Making this price even more unbelievable is that the game is barely functional and has terrible performance.”
“Look at the box art for for this game and you can tell two things: Nobody publishing this game cared and you shouldn’t care either.”
AllScore Rating: 66
“Blood Fight will be the game many players use to show off their new PlayPlus console. The sweat looks great. The fighters look like real people and the game is fun to play. But there isn’t much in Blood Fight beyond some fighting and some good looking boxers. Publisher Tee-Aye will have to add more in any future follow-ups.
“Blood Fight made me happy I bought a PlayPlus console. It looks great and the VR mode, while stupid, is a great showcase for the console and the accessory. Don’t buy Blood Fight expecting a massive game filled with content. But do buy Blood Fight if you need something to show off your fancy new console.”
Wall Street Ninja
AllScore Rating: 93
“Wall Street Ninja is a fantastic game that mixes stealth and romance into a gorgeous adventure. While some fans might find the game’s story “Too political”I loved how much Wall Street Ninja dunked on capitalism and corporations. That ninja really hates Wall Street!”
“Ninjas and finance might seem like a weird pairing, but it works perfectly in Wall Street Ninja. Some will wish the game was longer, I honestly think it is a near perfect game with only some long load times holding it back.”
Wall Street Ninja 2
AllScore Rating: 77
“While the game feels just as fun as the first game, Wall Street Ninja 2 also has a forgettable story and the ending is just bad. The added multiplayer modes feel out of place in this disappointing sequel.”
“Sometimes a great idea only works once. Wall Street Ninja 2 takes the awesome concept and world of the first game and builds on top of it. But the story elements don’t make much sense and the action feels too similar to the previous game. Luckily, that action is still great, but a bit stale a second time around.”
(Thanks to folks in the comments for pointing out I forgot to include this game in my original list. I fixed this!)
Deep Dark Castle
AllScore Rating: 73
“While it might feel too traditional, Deep Dark Castle is still a visually stunning RPG that tells an engaging and exciting story. But buggy quests and glitches ruin the experience far too often. Hopefully future patches can fix these issues.”
“Bugs and glitches are the real enemy in Deep Dark Castle. Though even when my saves were corrupted or I got stuck in an elevator in a castle, I was still happy I was playing Deep Dark Castle. I love Knight Gomer and his merry party of warriors. I just wish I didn’t have to restart the game so much!”
AllScore Rating: 89
“It took over 6 years for this game to finally get released, but Verum Rex was worth the wait. The game combines fast-paced combat with fun storytelling. Hopefully we won’t have to wait 6 more years for the sequel.”
“Verum Rex was first announced as Verum 19 Versus. Six years later and after numerous delays, the final product we received is a great RPG that maybe needed a little more time. But fans of the Verum series will enjoy this new entry in the franchise.”
Kingdom Hearts III is an overwhelming melting pot of Disney cheer and anime excess. The franchise has previously included Square-Enix characters, and while they don’t make an appearance here, the game does include an extended gag trailer that pokes fun at the series’ direction and potentially teases what’s to come.
Kingdom Hearts III shows a lot more self-awareness than previous entries and even pokes fun at some of its own conventions. Early on, the game showed a title card referring to the opening segments of the game as Kingdom Hearts 2.9, which was a fun bait and switch for players who thought they were finally playing Kingdom Hearts III (the title card for that shows up later). The title card also riffed on the numerical stylings of other series titles, like Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. The game’s biggest moment of meta-awareness comes in the introduction of the Toy Story-themed world, which features a faux-advertisement for a game that brings to mind the troubled Final Fantasy Versus XIII. The reveal of this fictional game within the world of KHIII also sets up a surprising (and confusing) reveal in the secret ending.
When the player first arrives at the Toy Box world, they’re treated to a fake television commercial for a video game called Verum Rex. The hyper-stylized trailer is made up of highly detailed full-motion video and shows a silver-haired hero fighting in a modern city, battling giant robots alongside some familiar looking bros. One of these bros is a red-haired pretty boy who seems a bit like Final Fantasy XV’s Prompto, while another bespectacled pal looks a lot like Ignis “I’ve Come Up With A New Recipe!” Scientia. There’s even a buff dude who looks a lot like Gladio. In the trailer, the heroes are shown to be attempting to rescue a magical maiden. The scenario looks like a jumbled mix of elements from the ill-fated Final Fantasy Versus XIII, a project which Kingdom Hearts III director Tetsuya Nomura directed and which eventually became Final Fantasy XV. The girl in the trailer even looks like Stella Nox Fleuret, a female character featured prominently in trailers for Versus XIII who was later replaced with the slightly more demure Lunafreya Nox Fleuret. They even make the Verum Rex protagonist Yazora slouch on the box art in the same position that Noctis does Final Fantasy XV key art.
At first, it’s not even clear that this trailer for Verum Rex is taking place within the world of Kingdom Hearts III. When the commercial ends, the cutscene continues, revealing that Rex from Toy Story was watching it on TV. But the Verum Rex trailer’s extreme detail left me, my coworkers, and many Kingdom Hearts fans wondering what was up.
“When I saw the Square-Enix logo on Verum Rex, I was like ‘uh oh,’” my colleague Tim Rogers told me. “This is probably not a fake game.”
It would make sense for Nomura to sneak an over-the-top reference to his time working on Versus XIII and Final Fantasy XV into Kingdom Hearts III. The project was in development for over a decade, releasing under the direction of Hajime Tabata once Nomura left to work on Kingdom HeartsIII. But Verum Rex alsocomes crashing back in the game’s hidden ending, which players can unlock by finding enough lucky emblems.
The secret ending features Sora and Riku walking around a modern city which appears to be Tokyo, since it also features the iconic 109 department store found in Shibuya. By itself, this could trigger a lot of speculation. Are they in the modern world? Have they crossed over into The World Ends With You? Both that game and this ending have a 104 building and not the 109. Kingdom Hearts fans have been speculating about secret endings ever since the first game’s “Another Side, Another Story” video. What makes this new video stand out is a peculiar character: the hero from the Verum Rex trailer, Yozora. What the hell is he doing here?
If you’ve played through the Toy Story level, you will recall that when the Toy Story crew meets Sora, they assume he is an action figure from Verum Rex. When Sora, Donald, and Goofy see the Verum Rex box art, they acknowledge that Sora does look a bit like Yazora, the game’s hero. But Yazora also looks a lot like Riku.
Later in the Toy Story world, Sora gets chucked into a television and into the world of Verum Rex for a few minutes. He has to endure an extended robot battle against waves of enemies before he can escape the world of Verum Rex and return to his new Toy Story friends. After defeating that initial Verum Rex level, players can head back in and play it again if they want to get a high score. None of the characters from the trailer pop up, though. This whole setup invites a lot of questions. Where do Sora and Riku exist, exactly? The real world, inside the Verum Rex video game, in an actual world with Yazora and his buds?
I have no idea, but Kingdom Hearts special endings do tend to set up characters and motifs that will then appear in future Kingdom Hearts games. Maybe Yazora will play a part in whatever comes next, whether that’s a future Kingdom Hearts, or a real-life Verum Rex game. Maybe Nomura’s produced the most expensive joke in the history of forever. It’s hard to say, but I do know that if Verum Rex was real, I’d definitely play it.
Some got married. Some came out. Some simply got older and began looking differently at the world and the game series they loved. Devoted Kingdom Hearts fans waited 13 years for the big sequel to 2006’s Kingdom Hearts II, and in that time, their lives took some dramatic turns.
Jaime bonded over the original 2002 Kingdom Hearts with her best friend when she was 10. She’s 26 now. “Neither of us would have ever thought, in a million years, that we would be married before Kingdom Hearts III, “ she told Kotaku over email.
Alice, who first started playing Kingdom Hearts at age 8 and is now 24, came out as bisexual and transgender since she first played the series. “If I told myself that, ‘Yes, you were gay for Riku,’ and, ‘No, you weren’t just crushing on Kairi and Namine, you wanted to be Kairi and Namine,’ I would have saved myself so much grief later on,” she said.
Josh, who started playing at 10 and is now 26, was diagnosed with depression, and still finds hope in the story of Kingdom Hearts.
“Kingdom Hearts, for me, was my childhood,” he said. “A story of kids defeating their demons was endlessly inspiring to me. Laying eyes on the Kingdom Hearts III title screen hit me with a wave of nostalgia and left me feeling that same hope I felt as a kid, knowing I could overcome my brain chemistry.”
Last week, Kotaku asked Kingdom Hearts fans about how their lives changed while waiting for this game. We heard from dozens of Kingdom Hearts fans who wanted to tell the stories of how their lives intersected with their fandom for the series. They told us some extraordinary stories. One even pointed out to to me that he met Kotaku’s Maddy Myers when the two cosplayed as Kingdom Hearts characters while in high school and that he then introduced me to Maddy while we were in college, forging a lasting friendship with someone who eventually also became my coworker—all in the time between Kingdom Hearts II and III.
Some fans discovered that the fantasy world of Kingdom Hearts soured for them over time. Leo was a diehard fan of Disney and Kingdom Hearts growing up, playing the first game in the series when he was 10. He remembers crying when he finished the last of the Hundred Acre Wood side levels—he was so invested in the characters that once there wasn’t anything left to do it felt like Winnie-the-Pooh and all his friends were effectively dead, he said.
Leo, who is 26 today, said that as an adult he was unable to afford the console he’d need to play Kingdom Hearts III,but has also grown disaffected with Disney. “Basically any time Disney buys up a new thing I just become more and more worried about the impending dystopian future where five companies control everything,” he said.
Disney isn’t the only corporation that Leo has become wary of. After learning of the working conditions in Amazon warehouses, he canceled his Amazon Prime membership. With Kingdom Hearts, the temptation to return to the world of its characters is stronger, even if he has taken moral stands against corporate practices he finds immoral in the past.
Leo still feels connected to these characters, and said that he would play the game if he could afford it, if only because he played the other two. In the nearly two decades since the release of the first game, though, he’s become more aware of business practices of large corporations that don’t sit well with him, like Disney lobbying for extreme extensions of copyright law. “I don’t know, maybe it’s unreasonable, but a game that evangelizes Disney makes me feel really uncomfortable,” he said.
Indi, a thirty-year-old fan from Panama, said that playing games like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts as a kid helped her understand her gender identity.
“My favorite Final Fantasy character ended up being Cloud, as I identified with him, especially because of the crossdressing part of the game,” she wrote of Final Fantasy VII’s protagonist. “Kinda made think that I could also be a girl, even if I was a guy.”
“I guess I was a pretty quirky kid,” Indi told Kotaku over email. “I hung out with the ‘nerds,’ but I never actually fit with them all that well, for I was the ‘girly boy’ of the party,” Indi said. “Kingdom Hearts was with me during my darkest hours, as a kid, having to struggle with bullying (black ‘gay’ kid in a school full of straight white male jocks, who happened to be extremely racist) and an absent father,” she said. “Kingdom Hearts was there for me to remind me that life still had good things.”
Indi said that she suspected that she might be transgender from a young age, but that coming to terms with that in Panama’s “macho society” was difficult. For years, she repressed those feelings. Societal pressure wasn’t the only obstacle to transition for her, as Panama law was also a significant impediment.
“Panama is a country where homosexuality was illegal until 2008, and is extremely underdeveloped on healthcare for trans people,” she said. She told Kotaku that she had trouble finding other trans people and a doctor able to treat her, and wasn’t willing to transition through self medication.
“Finding doctors who were actively willing to attend trans people was extremely hard for me,” she said. “Not to mention the cost of medication and other expenses, my insurance doesn’t cover for these things, so it all comes out of my own pocket.”
Indi came out and transitioned last year, after multiple years of therapy. She will soon start hormone replacement therapy. It’s just a coincidence that these changes happened so close to the release date of Kingdom Hearts III, she said, though she finds it comforting to think about.
“I also find it extremely heartwarming, that now that I am finally beginning my transition and truly starting to enjoy life, is when Kingdom Hearts III finally comes back to my life. As if it was just there, waiting for me to finally choose for my own happiness.”
It is a truth universally acknowledged that when you give someone a chance to customize anything in a video game, they will try to make a dick. Players have made the requisite penis out of their Gummi Ships in Kingdom Hearts III, and thankfully a lot of other, varied creations.
Gummi Ships are basically the main method of transport between the different Disney-themed worlds in Kingdom Hearts. In the first two games, you could customize those ships, and you can in the third as well. Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, someone made a penis:
And what a fine penis it is. But there have been a lot of great, non-penis designs as well.
Is Kingdom Hearts brilliant or incomprehensible? Hackneyed or joyful? Today on Kotaku Splitscreen, we decide that the answer is… all of the above!
First we talk about the many games we’ve been playing, including Resident Evil 2, Wargroove, Bloodborne, and Destiny 2. Then we take a deep dive into Kingdom Hearts (34:01), debating whether the story is convoluted, analyzing why people love it so much, and dissecting the pros and cons of the brand new Kingdom Hearts III. Finally, off topic talk (1:06:45) on the Fyre Festival documentaries and Happy Endings.
Jason: Do you find the story [of Kingdom Hearts III] to be engaging and satisfying?
Maddy: I’m enjoying it. I’m also here for a lot of the Kingdom Hearts crap that I know you’re not here for. So to me it’s fun. But I also recognize that the tone of Kingdom Hearts is incredibly strange, and to me it’s nostalgic to have Donald and Goofy and their son Sora, the three of them hanging out together and going on a journey.
Kirk: Wait is he really their son?
Maddy: No, but he is. Technically.
Jason: They’re his two dads, yeah.
Maddy: And Sora has a phone now, and he can call people on it and take selfies with people.
Kirk: It wouldn’t be a modern video game if he couldn’t take selfies with people.
Maddy: Of course not, and yet that is a bizarre thing, and just seeing all the different other Organization XIII characters showing back up is very— It tugs at my heart strings in a way. I recognize that doesn’t make sense to anyone. I could try to explain why I liked this game…
Jason: You don’t have to get defensive! You said I’m not here for it, but I actually do have a soft spot in my heart for Kingdom Hearts III… The one thing I’ve grown less and less tolerance for is the dialogue. Just hearing the stuff they say out loud and how incomprehensible it is.
Maddy: See I love it though, because that’s part of it to me, and I remember laughing out loud but like in a joyful way to the first two Kingdom Hearts games, possibly because I played it with another person, and we would quote lines at each other, like Axel’s stupid ‘Got it memorized?’ thing. All the -isms that each of the characters say to one another in these games, they always have such a weird intonation. It just becomes something you can quote with your friends. So having that be a continuation feels so incredibly weird in 2019, because it’s like, this is the sequel that should’ve come out in 2007 or something, and yet here it is, significantly later than that, except it’s exactly the same thematic content somehow. It’s as if somebody locked all the people making Kingdom Hearts III in a room for the past decade. They know iPhones came out, so they threw that in, but nothing else about the world or the way it works has changed. It’s just sparklier and looks better. I find that fascinating and impressive in its own right.
Jason: I mean, knowing what we know about how video games are made, it’s actually very possible that they were locked in a room.
Maddy: Yeah, I shouldn’t joke about that—it’s very tragic, actually. I hope they were allowed to see the light of day from time to time. And not just Disney movies.
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Kingdom Hearts 2 launched for PS2 in 2006, so fans have been waiting 13 years for Kingdom Hearts 3, which came out this week. It appears that the developers couldn’t resist getting in a little joke at the expense of everyone who’s been wading through spinoff after spinoff since then.
Last night I started Kingdom Hearts 3. After watching the twenty minutes of recap videos, then the opening cut scene, then another cut scene, then another cut scene, I was ready to go. We cut to a black screen. The words “Kingdom Hearts” slowly faded in. And then this screen appeared:
I laughed out loud. Weird naming conventions are part of Kingdom Hearts’s charm. Other than the main numbered releases, there’s a Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days, a Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5, and a Kingdom Hearts χ (pronounced “key”). There’s even a game called Kingdom Hearts 2.8, and another one called Kingdom Hearts 0.2. To add in a 2.9 at first feels infuriating, then makes you laugh.
Because I used to be an asshole that liked to ruin people’s fun, I had been saying that I was not sure if Kingdom Hearts 3 would ever come out for years, as a way to rib on my friends who were desperately waiting for it. Now, it felt like the game was also in on the joke. Rest assured, once you get past the first world, you’ll see a splash screen for Kingdom Hearts 3, but it was hilarious to find that the game was going to make everyone wait just a little bit longer.
Other players had a similar reaction to me:
Someday, soon, I’ll be able to play Kingdom Hearts 3. Just not as soon as I first thought.