Editor’s note: I should clarify my definition of next generation hardware. This refers to the line of hardware for which the Kingdom Hearts series has not yet had a chance to appear on: the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. Of course, much of what is discussed in this article can be applied to any future hardware releases as well.
It is widely believed that, eventually, Kingdom Hearts will have to make the transition to the next generation of hardware. No, not an HD port, but a game built from the ground up from far more powerful machine. Certainly, that game will be Kingdom Hearts 3. The question remains however, is there any inherent benefit to this series being on better hardware, is it even needed? And if it is, what type of improvements should a fan suspect, what are the possibilities for the series?
Clearly, the most immediate argument would be the significant increase in graphical quality, but that is all too obvious. It is definitely more important to analyze why Kingdom Hearts is so special to the average fan first, identify key improvements more powerful hardware can provide, and go from there.
For example, one of the reasons Kingdom Hearts instantly sucks me in is the worlds – the ability to be placed into the middle of a Disney movie. While certain titles have already done a pretty good job of encapsulating this feeling, the power of next generation hardware could greatly benefit this immersion.
The Lion King’s Pridelands was one of the most highly anticipated additions to the roster of locations in Kingdom Hearts 2. Indeed it was very beautiful, but alas, the vast, open locations were eerily empty. And that certainly detracted from the magic. How nice would it be, with the assistance of more powerful hardware, to add more geometry – that means more cliffs, trees, and objects to interact with, more animals in the backgrounds, more platforms, ledges, vines, and thus worlds that are as open to explore vertically as they are horizontally.
The simplest additions can do so much to make the player feel like they are more a part of the world they are visiting. Imagine the world of Mulan, with more fireworks going off in the night sky – colors, particles, and effects - as you fight your way through ancient China. Imagine – instead of a handful – but dozens or hundreds of little fish swimming across Atlantica. It’s the details that count to truly make outstanding worlds!
There is so much more to it than that though. My favorite worlds were game specific worlds, Traverse Town in the original, Hollow Bastion in Kingdom Hearts 2. These were locations I’d find myself constantly returning to, even if story events were not occurring there, simply because they felt like home after I pressed forward through the narrative. Certainly, there has to be a hub world similar to these in Kingdom Hearts 3 as well.
And yet there are still improvements that can be made. To be real towns, they must be populated with more citizens. And instead of just awkwardly standing around or walking in a straight line, these citizens should be dynamically going about their day. Think of the Assassins Creed franchise. I’m not advocating Kingdom Hearts become Assassins Creed, nor the repetition of character models to populate a town, but a couple more NPCs couldn’t hurt. And they would certainly help facilitate the desire for more side quests to partake in.
Which brings us to the game play, the standard mantra of which is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. True, but let’s examine ways in which we can have a natural progression and evolution of the formula without necessarily modifying the experience.
One of the biggest improvements can come in the form of improved AI. Take a nod at just about any genre this generation (sans ironically, the Japanese RPG), enemies have gotten smarter. They react to your movements, they react to your attacks, they respond accordingly. And the player too must react, or fear getting squandered.
We have already gotten a taste of this – in the fan favorite Birth by Sleep. I really can’t think of a fight that encapsulates my thoughts more than the final boss fight against Master Xehanort. One wrong move, and it was close to over. The fight constantly requires a mix of blocking, dodging, and the right combination of attacks – almost a dance of sorts – compared to the button mashing nature of other titles.
This type of reactive nature should be applied to the thought processes of the enemy AI as well. It would immediately make the game more about strategy, and using the correct moves at the correct time. Multiple enemies on the field at once with the same variety in move set as Xehanort is something I would like to see.
And one only has to do a little digging back through the history of the franchise to know that past hardware has hampered the game play idealized by the series creators. Those fans that followed the hype for the launch of Kingdom Hearts 2 know of a particular trailer, shown during E3 2005, which featured the large scale “heartless army” fight that takes place in Hollow Bastion. Notice anything about the screen below? That’s right, the Behemoth’s never made it into the final battle, likely due to hardware limitations.
Think about how much more exciting that event could have been with the addition of those monstrous heartless. And think about all the other things that have been cut or downgraded that we will simply never know of. This is where the next generation of consoles will truly help Kingdom Hearts 3 shine.
This final bit is more of a stretch, but some of the best downloadable games this generation have been twin stick shooters. Titles like Geometry Wars, Everyday Shooter, and Super Stardust have absolutely blown me away. Seems only natural that the Gummi Ship will should follow in the footsteps of these titles, it would certainly make those segments much more playable and visually interesting.
I want to hear from you. How do you think the next generation of hardware will improve Kingdom Hearts 3? What specifically would you like to see in the next title that only more powerful hardware can do?
©2012 KHInsider. KINGDOM HEARTS official artwork, trailers, characters, merchandise, and music is copyrighted to Square Enix and Disney.
Original material is licensed under a Creative Commons License permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution.