When Kingdom Hearts first released, it was marketed as the game that put Final Fantasy characters on screen with Disney characters. Kingdom Hearts 3, released nearly 17 years after the first, features not a word of Final Fantasy in its marketing.
Instead, it features original characters like Sora, Riku, Kairi, and several other characters from across the series, and of course, Mickey and his pals. This is because Kingdom Hearts no longer needs to rely on Final Fantasy characters to bring people in —we’re here for Sora and his friends.
Fans of Kingdom Hearts have been digesting this series for 17 years and in that time, it has become no less tougher to explain what this series is. It’s evolved from Disney meets Final Fantasy to Disney meets anime characters who live inside the hearts of other anime characters that must fight the bodies of other anime characters that don’t have hearts but aren’t called Heartless.
Instead, they’re called Nobodies who are helping a bad guy who is whole but also a Heartless and a Nobody at the same time who’s trying to start a Keyblade War and unlock the Kingdom Hearts.
No, of course you don’t. It’s a bit of a joke to make fun of the Kingdom Hearts storyline and while it’s not nearly as difficult to get as these jokes would make it out to be, it is nonetheless complicated.
That’s why instead of marketing the first game in the series as a mega JRPG (which all but implies a complicated plot), Square Enix tossed in some Final Fantasy characters we all know and love and said, “here’s these characters you guys like and oh, look, Mickey Mouse is there too.”
In 2002 when Kingdom Hearts released, that marketing worked. In 2019, for Kingdom Hearts 3, Final Fantasy meets Disney isn’t what we want anymore. We want more of the original characters we’ve grown so close to for the past decade and a half.
This concept goes beyond marketing, too.
It was awesome fighting alongside Auron in Kingdom Hearts 2 and discovering the connection between Disney’s Hell (the Underworld) and the Hell we last saw Auron in during Final Fantasy X. Now, though, who wants to fight alongside Auron?
I want to fight with Riku, with Axel, with Kairi, with Kingdom Hearts characters. In another world, fighting alongside (or against) and interacting with Final Fantasy characters was a dream, but Sora and the gang have made a name for themselves, too, and it’s time that name gets the respect it’s garnered over the years.
Fortunately, that’s what Kingdom Hearts 3 does: it respects the legacy that Square Enix has built out of its original Kingdom Hearts characters and allows them to be the badasses, the bad guys, the cameos and the stars.
In Kingdom Hearts 2, seeing Auron in his cameo-like portion was exciting. Now, that cameo-like portion can be handled by a Kingdom Hearts character.
In Kingdom Hearts, fighting Sephiroth as a secret boss was mind-blowing. Now, that secret boss can be a Kingdom Hearts baddy from a past game, and it’d still be mind-blowing.
What I’m saying is that by dropping Final Fantasy from the game, Square Enix has given other Kingdom Hearts characters new space to live and breathe in. Square Enix, with this decision, has also shown that they know what fans are here for.
And face it, if you’ve trudged through the entire series and are making your way through Kingdom Hearts 3, you’re here for friendship, for hearts, for cheesy dialogue and bromances galore— not scenes with Cloud or fights with Zack.
Now, Final Fantasy is one of Square Enix’s most prized possessions so it makes sense that they didn’t outright drop Final Fantasy from the game entirely. Littered throughout the worlds are references to that beginning legacy.
Cactuar shapes in the skies. Snippets of Victory Fanfare. Posters for Final Fantasy Versus XIII. Toy Box alone has enough Final Fantasy to satisfy even the most hardcore fans.
By sidelining Final Fantasy to the background of Kingdom Hearts 3, but not outright eliminating its presence, Square Enix has given its original Kingdom Hearts characters room to show fans and newcomers alike why the series is about them, all while giving homage to the Final-Fantasy-meets-Disney relationship that started it all.
The most exciting part about Kingdom Hearts used to be the interactions with Disney and Final Fantasy characters. Now, for fans, for me, it’s Sora, Riku, Kairi, Ventus, Terra, Aqua, Namine, Roxas, Axel and Xion. And by keeping Final Fantasy characters out of the picture, Square Enix proved that they know that, too.