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Editorial ► I wrote a KH3 Essay, for anyone who'd like to check it out =)



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OniLink99999

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Hi everyone!

I may be a new account on here, but I'm a lifelong Kingdom Hearts fan, and used to spend a lot of time on the KHInsider forums in the KH2 days (2005/06/07 especially - although I still lurk here regularly). I have no idea what happened to my original account (either I used a long-gone email address, or it was deleted due to years of being offline) so I hope it's alright that I made a new one =)

Over the past nine months I've been writing an essay - called Kingdom Hearts III: A Conclusion without a Story - which analyses Kingdom Hearts III’s approach to storytelling; viewed both from the perspective of a player, and the perspective of a writer/game designer (hence being released on Gamasutra). My intention was to examine the game’s structure, ideas, and mistakes, and draw out numerous lessons that could be applicable to the reader’s own game – all centred around a main hypothesis. The hope is that anyone can read and enjoy it, but that developers will gain a lot more from the topics explored.

As I mention in the article, while I adore the series, this critique is largely written from a game developer’s perspective, albeit with the insights (and frustrations) of a lifelong fan.

Anyway, we start off slow, but I think I managed to extract a lot of interesting points and insights overall (especially in the later topics) - things that I'd definitely never thought about before in relation to the series. So whether you agree or disagree with my points, I hope anyone that takes the time enjoys reading it!

Thank you very much for your time! And if nothing else, it's something else to read while waiting for ReMind =P

P.S. I hope I've posted this in the right location. I was going to put it under Creative Writing, but an essay didn't really fall under that description. As the Kingdom Hearts III forum is often home to opinion posts and discussion topics, I felt like this was the best fit.
 
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2 quid is good

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I think you encapsulated what KH3's plot feels like perfectly with your title, and I have to say that I don't have much to say about your essay because I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much all of it! I'm excited to read the next few parts
 

OniLink99999

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I think you encapsulated what KH3's plot feels like perfectly with your title, and I have to say that I don't have much to say about your essay because I agree wholeheartedly with pretty much all of it! I'm excited to read the next few parts
Thank you very much 2 quid is good! While I love a good discussion, I really couldn't ask for a better response than that =D That's wonderful to hear! The title was a random thought I had after finishing KH3, and when I started thinking more about it, it really naturally lead to everything else (including a lot of more general game design/narrative writing points). Thanks again!
 
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Kingdom Hearts III cleverly tries to frame its story through the lens of a chess match between two Keyblade Masters, Eraqus and Xehanort, when they were young. The game even opens on this scene, highlighting its importance. But chess has rules; logic; a clear sense of direction. Kingdom Hearts III’s narrative is akin to two people who don’t know how to play chess. They understand that they have to defeat their opponent’s king, but the rules of how to move their pieces, how to actually reach that coveted checkmate, are completely unknown to them. The characters in this game feel like pieces on a chess board with no rules; aimlessly moving back and forth across a limited space, until both players finally decide enough is enough and agree to bring their match to an end.
Really strong essay so far, but this paragraph stood out to me. As someone who actively hated the experience of playing through this game, I think this pinpoints precisely how the progression of events felt in realtime, and the choice to take advantage of the story's own metaphor in order to articulate that rocks.

The other major flaw I think you draw out really well in the first part is the issue of passivity. In discussing the disparity between the game's ideas (what it says it's doing) and its execution (what it's actually doing), it's essential to grasp how agency in fictional storytelling works and how terribly dull things get when it becomes clear that the invisible hand of the author is the only factor advancing the narrative. When the characters have no subjective means of envisioning and achieving collective or individualized outcomes, then they can't experience meaningful challenges and setbacks, and all of their actions become illusory and it's left to the audience to assign meaning to them in a way that isn't textual. It's an amateurish sleight-of-hand which is designed to shift the burden away from the author to make up the imbalance in form.

Which is fine if you're Ari Aster and you're writing a modern Greek tragedy, but don't expect it to work for your Disney RPG.
 

Absent

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When I made this reply I found that I basically quoted your whole essay which was redundant to the discussion. Before this essay I felt like the Twilight Gang when they couldn't say photos but after reading it I know what words to use to describe my experience.

On a side note, this was the quote that hooked me:
Put in Kingdom Hearts terms, we might say that the body and soul are here; it’s just missing its heart.
 

OniLink99999

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Wow! On a whim, I decided to check this forum topic today - looks like I picked the right day haha. Thank you all for your comments! I'll respond one by one.

I really like your essay. You have real talent.
Thank you so much for the kind words Suzy! That really does mean a lot to hear that (and from someone I have no doubt is incredibly talented as well!). It's an honour to be the subject of your first post on KHInsider too ;)

Really strong essay so far, but this paragraph stood out to me. As someone who actively hated the experience of playing through this game, I think this pinpoints precisely how the progression of events felt in realtime, and the choice to take advantage of the story's own metaphor in order to articulate that rocks.

The other major flaw I think you draw out really well in the first part is the issue of passivity. In discussing the disparity between the game's ideas (what it says it's doing) and its execution (what it's actually doing), it's essential to grasp how agency in fictional storytelling works and how terribly dull things get when it becomes clear that the invisible hand of the author is the only factor advancing the narrative. When the characters have no subjective means of envisioning and achieving collective or individualized outcomes, then they can't experience meaningful challenges and setbacks, and all of their actions become illusory and it's left to the audience to assign meaning to them in a way that isn't textual. It's an amateurish sleight-of-hand which is designed to shift the burden away from the author to make up the imbalance in form.

Which is fine if you're Ari Aster and you're writing a modern Greek tragedy, but don't expect it to work for your Disney RPG.
That was one of the paragraphs I'm most proud of, so it's really gratifying to hear you say that - thank you! =)

And wowza! That's an incredible analysis of your own Alexis and so eloquently put - I think you should be writing the essay haha. I honestly don't think I could've said it better myself ("the invisible hand of the author" is the perfect way to describe Kingdom Heart's III's progression - an invisible hand can work, but it needs to be as part of the universe), and I couldn't agree more. But I'd take that even a step further; not only do characters have no subjective means of envisioning and achieving any outcomes - for the most part, they have *no outcomes* to achieve. Defeat Xehanort is all there is, until the very end of the game where Sora finally receives a personal motivation - but by then, it's too late (and it's just the same goal he had in KH1 and KH2, albeit still an effective one).

As you say, the narrative really puts the burden on the player to try and add meaning. "Well, I know this character from X previous games, so they probably feel like this; or they probably have X motivation; or this event probably had X impact on them". But the narrative communicates too little to form any genuine basis for this. It's just too barren for what's supposed to be a character-driven story about saving lost friends, and a positive, optimistic perspective triumphing over a grim, pessimistic one.

Hahaha, although Ari Aster's take on Kingdom Hearts would be something to see I'm sure! XD

When I made this reply I found that I basically quoted your whole essay which was redundant to the discussion. Before this essay I felt like the Twilight Gang when they couldn't say photos but after reading it I know what words to use to describe my experience.

On a side note, this was the quote that hooked me:
That's the *perfect* comparison!! Thank you so much for the kind words Absent. I felt exactly the same way as you did, which is why I started writing this essay in the first place. KH3 is the most bizarre experience, especially after all these years of waiting and all the circumstances surrounding it; so for those of us that felt like this, there's been a lot to work through. I hope reading the essay was a cathartic experience - writing it certainly was for me haha! And hey, seeing as you said you basically quoted the whole thing when writing your reply, I'm always happy to respond if you want to bring up specific points or anything =)

I'm ecstatic to hear you say that about this particular quote! It's a little cheesy, but I felt like it was the clearest, and most appropriate/fun, way of wrapping up my point - the series essentially providing its own metaphor for this latest entry =P


Thanks again everyone! =)
 

David876

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Over the past nine months I've been writing an essay - called Kingdom Hearts III: A Conclusion without a Story - which analyses Kingdom Hearts III’s approach to storytelling; viewed both from the perspective of a player, and the perspective of a writer/game designer (hence being released on Gamasutra). My intention was to examine the game’s structure, ideas, and mistakes, and draw out numerous lessons that could be applicable to the reader’s own game – all centred around a main hypothesis. The hope is that anyone can read and enjoy it, but that developers will gain a lot more from the topics explored.
I love this series and thanks for your work, I really liked it!
 

KudoTsurugi

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Read through it all, and I have to agree with a lot of points regarding the story's initial structure. I loved visiting the worlds, but it did feel repetitive having them be standalone. I think reconnecting with Pooh in the 100 Acre Wood could arguably be a potential midpoint, but it is a bit of a stretch.

Though regarding Sora wanting to bring Roxas back, I wouldn't say it came completely out of nowhere. In KH3D, Sora did tell Roxas that he deserved to be his own person, so they were probably trying to build off of that in KH3. How well they did it is another story.

With Re:Mind finally out, I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are on it, and how it added to the story.
All in all, this was a good read 😁 (y)
 

Cumguardian69

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Where do I go to pay you for this *chef's kiss* wonderful written piece? Putting KH3 in its place always does me well. What I liked most is one you broached: the concept of the Inner Voice. And I'd like to touch on that.

"While he’s a little more physically restricted than most other characters I’ve discussed, he could have at least served as an inner voice to converse with Sora."

This idea of the "KH" inner voice is used for Sora in a very unfortunate way: only RIGHT when he's about to do something anyway. In KH2, Roxas spoke through Sora both implicitly (e.g. when Sora is seen shedding a tear when saying bye to HPO in the early game) and explicitly (Roxas and Namine "projecting" themselves out of Kairi and Sora). In KH3, however, Sora only ever retreats to his thoughts before a critical action is to be performed. He performs a desperate dive to the heart right before Vanitas goes to kill Aqua, and that's actually...it, for the main game at least.

Re:MIND almost expands on the game's use of this. I don't want to spoil too much because I'm not sure if you've played it or not, but in short Sora is seen on his memory station discussing events that have transpired and how he can best affect the future past in order to achieve his goal. This is PERFECT usage of the inner voice, but in context of the main Kingdom Hearts 3 game, the inner voice should have been used to maintain Sora's lingering FEAR.

Because, the thing we're supposed to take away from Sora in KH3 is that he's afraid of losing his people forever. Not just Kairi, but Riku, Mickey, TAV, Roxas, Donald and Goofy. We got a glimpse of this in KH1 - we saw quickly that Sora was going to give up if he didn't have the Beast to deliver a pickmeup. We saw similarly same thing in KH2, how the thought of Kairi being in danger threw Sora into rage. In KH3, the topic was supposed to be "how would Sora react if his friends, yknow, DIED? like for real for real"

We saw proto-death in a few of the Disney worlds. Eugene got stabbed, Elsa "killed" Anna, Will literally dies to save Elizabeth and their relationship, Hiro's brother was pronounced dead in Disney terms, and so on. But none of those topics were really discussed by Sora. Unfortunately, a large swath of the fanbase is satisfied with Sora using those events as a way to understand what "with all my heart" means in relation to the power of waking. The real big brain move, I think, is for Sora to use those events as a way to attempt to understand his fear, culminating in those fears being realized with the party wipe against Terranort. Now, cutscene and action directoin were pretty terrible with the initial clash against Terranort, but even worse is that nobody on Team Light even discussed a game plan *with themselves*. The best we got was a brief introspection from Sora about how not everybody is gathered yet, which could be read from an angle as "how can we perform in this fight if we're missing essential threads" but yknow...it wasn't delivered like that.
 
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