There's no game quite like Kingdom Hearts. When it was first released in 2002 for PlayStation 2, the mixture of Square Enix's hallmark designs with iconic Disney characters was something that had never been seen before. Surely, Disney icons have graced the video game industry before. Some Disney gaming titles have even become classics in their own rite, such as Ducktales on the NES. Yet the coming together of two very distinct worlds in Kingdom Hearts was an entirely new concept.
Today, we're used to it. It's been more than a decade since Kingdom Hearts debuted, and almost every year since has seen the release of another sequel or special edition re-release. It should say something about the franchise's merit then, that nearly every addition to the series has been a critical and commercial success.
A New Kingdom Hearts
In early 2017, with a title that rolls right off the tongue, Square Enix is gearing up to release Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue. It's an HD collection that includes a ton of content, both old and new. Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue will feature an HD remaster of Dream Drop Distance, as well as a one-hour cinematic entitled Kingdom Hearts X Back Cover. Lastly, Kingdom Hearts fans will enjoy a new game included in the collection: Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth By Sleep.
Will it be successful?
It's an interesting package, though it's clearly intended for dedicated fans of the series. New players probably won't be very interested in an hour long cinematic aimed at further developing the plot of early Kingdom Hearts titles. Paying for that kind of content is really meant for those who are familiar with the franchise. But Square Enix knows what they're doing. We can expect Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue to sell well. The reasons for this have to do with a fandom that was initially drawn to the series by gimmick, but stayed for consistent, quality content.
Does Kingdom Hearts owe its success to Disney?
To repeat, the novelty of a Disney-Square Enix crossover has essentially run its course. It was bound to. That's the entire purpose of a cross over, isn't it? Peter Griffin appearing on The Simpsons is more about reviving ratings than it is about art or comedy. The strength of the Kingdom Hearts franchise lies not solely in the novelty of its ties to Disney, but rather in the simple fact that they are great games.
Crossovers in video games are not a new thing. But historically, crossovers have often taken the form of fighting games, such as Capcom Vs. SNK, or Marvel Vs. Capcom. Unlike JRPGs, in the Fighter genre, storytelling and narrative can often come off as superfluous. Story modes sometimes exist more for the sake of replay-ability than narrative. People don't typically play Mortal Kombat for its "dynamic storytelling." Being an RPG, Kingdom Hearts is different. It is a crossover where storytelling is the primary focus.
Because of this, Kingdom Hearts has an appeal beyond its relationship with Disney. It's a series that has earned itself consistently positive reviews and commercial success.
Studio affiliation can't hurt
However, it's important not to understate the effectiveness of Disney's influence. Surely Kingdom Hearts is an excellent series and its success doesn't necessarily hinge on its Disney affiliation; yet the inclusion of Disney characters acted as a catalyst for gamers who might otherwise have lacked interest in an effort from Square Enix that wasn't Final Fantasy. Other games, like Ni No Kuni with its ties to Studio Ghibli, have experienced greater success from studio affiliations.
A name isn't everything. Great games prevail.
Yet again, credit for Kingdom Hearts' ongoing success is due to its excellence. It's a crossover done right. Gamers showed up to see what a Disney RPG would look like, and stayed for the excellent gameplay - not for Mickey Mouse. After all, Disney's own independent effort Epic Mickey couldn't sustain itself on name-brand alone, and fizzled out after the franchise's second title sold poorly. A game's aesthetics are only as strong as the content that supports them. If history repeats itself, we can expect great things from Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue.