As one of the most highly anticipated releases of the last decade, can review scores influence the hype surrounding Kingdom Hearts 3 in any way?
Every so often, a game release comes along that feels like an industry-wide event. Every year we get big budget AAA titles that come out, score well, and sell well, but every once in a while, a release stands up above the rest, where it feels like the entire industry is standing at attention and waiting for it with bated breath. Kingdom Hearts 3 is one such release.
What began as a crossover between Final Fantasy and beloved Disney properties on the PlayStation 2 all the way back in 2002, has, over the course of almost two decades, grown into nothing short of JRPG royalty. Spanning multiple games, collectively selling tens of million of units, and having delivered some of the most fiercely beloved games in the genre, Kingdom Hearts is a franchise that demands your attention. Whether or not its aesthetic appeals to you, whether or not you were unable to get on board with it at the right time and now just find the story too convoluted, whether or not it belongs to a genre you enjoy- regardless of your personal feelings towards it, a Kingdom Hearts release is something that you cannot ignore even if you wanted to, at least from a distant, detached perspective if nothing else.
"What began as a crossover between Final Fantasy and beloved Disney properties on the PlayStation 2 all the way back in 2002, has, over the course of almost two decades, grown into nothing short of JRPG royalty. Spanning multiple games, collectively selling tens of million of units, and having delivered some of the most fiercely beloved games in the genre, Kingdom Hearts is a franchise that demands your attention."
Never has that been more true than it is with Kingdom Hearts 3. Why? Well, because this is simply a game that millions of people have been patiently (and at times not so patiently) waiting for for so long. Originally announced back in 2013, by the time it releases, it’ll have been over five years since we were given official confirmation of its existence. If you go even beyond that, Kingdom Hearts 2 came out all the way back in 2006. And sure, there have been multiple spinoff releases in the interim- but Kingdom Hearts 3 is Kingdom Hearts 3, and we’ve been effectively waiting for it for more than a decade.
In light of that, then, a very pertinent question crops up- for a game that is as hugely awaited as this one, for a game that is almost guaranteed to be a multi-million seller globally, for a game that is going to be pretty much all anyone talks about for at least a good few weeks until after it launches (and possibly even beyond that)… for a game like this, how much do the review scores matter? Reviews always matter, of course- because by their very nature they’re opinions. The collective consensus of a game’s quality prior to its public launch often gives a good idea of what to expect, what merits and demerits to be on the lookout for. But the question again is- how much can the review scores affect the success – one way or another – for a game like Kingdom Hearts 3 anyway?
Something that needs to be kept in mind while answering such a question is that Kingdom Hearts 3 isn’t the sort of game that is trying to induct new masses into the series’ fandom. It’s not trying to not do that either, but this is a conclusion to a long series where the story in multiple games has led up to this one moment, with almost all releases (some of them quite obscure) having crucial things to say in terms of the larger narrative, all of which are going to factor into the way it all wraps up. This is also a series that is banks on story very heavily- how well it does that is a discussion for another day, but it does do that.
"For a game that is as hugely awaited as this one, for a game that is almost guaranteed to be a multi-million seller globally, for a game that is going to be pretty much all anyone talks about for at least a good few weeks until after it launches (and possibly even beyond that)… for a game like this, how much do the review scores matter?"
If Kingdom Hearts 3 gets excellent reviews, the millions who planned on playing it to see the story through will, of course, play it regardless. If, hypothetically, it doesn’t get very good scores, will that deter those fans from playing it? It’s highly unlikely. Sure, there’s always the chance that a small percentage of that group is so disgruntled that it decides not to dip in at all, but almost anyone who’s played through the franchise, followed its story, wants to see its conclusion, and has been waiting for that conclusion for so long, probably won’t decide not to play Kingdom Hearts 3 in the hypothetical scenario where it doesn’t get good reviews. Which is why it’s a guaranteed multi-million seller for Square Enix- they know that a huge audience is going to purchase their game regardless of how well it is received by critics.
But of course, though the story is a core part of the series, Kingdom Hearts games are never just about the narrative, not to mention the fact that that aspect of the franchise also remains at least somewhat divisive. Among other things, the series has also always been known for its fast, enjoyable combat, while the prospect of seeing crossovers between various beloved Disney franchises is also always a major draw. In those areas, especially the latter, Kingdom Hearts 3 has looked very promising- with properties such as Toy Story, Frozen, Monsters Inc, Tangled, Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Hero 6, and many others, the star-studded Disney lineup that will be populating the worlds of Kingdom Hearts 3 looks very impressive. Early positive reception for things such as its aesthetic, combat, and how it handles its Disney properties is surely something that can obviously give the game long legs, both in terms of sales, and how long it remains in people’s memories- especially for newcomers to the franchise, or those who aren’t too concerned with or invested in the larger story.
In light of all of this, then, the answer to the question of whether or not review scores for Kingdom Hearts 3 will matter, and how much they will affect its success, is manifold. At the very least, Square Enix have a strong minimum amount of sales that are more or less guaranteed, but how well the game does beyond that initial run, and what sort of a legacy it leaves behind, is surely something that will be impact – at least to some extent – by general critical consensus. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the game is absolutely bulletproof- one only needs to look at an example as recent as Fallout 76 to see how overwhelmingly negative reception can sink even a what might seem like a sureshot success. But then again, if there’s one thing we can say with absolute confidence, it’s that Kingdom Hearts 3 is not going to be at that level even in the worst possible scenario- not even close.
"At the very least, Square Enix have a strong minimum amount of sales that are more or less guaranteed, but how well the game does beyond that initial run, and what sort of a legacy it leaves behind, is surely something that will be impact – at least to some extent – by general critical consensus."
More than anything else, though, what it all circles back to is this- this is an absolutely massive release, the kind that has the entire industry sitting up and taking notice. The launch of a game this long in the making, belonging to a franchise as beloved as this, which promises to be not only a conclusion, but a culmination of everything that its predecessors have done, is, as I said at the very beginning of this piece, an event. In the immediate future, all that warrants is giddy anticipation, and widespread celebration- what that morphs into a few weeks or months down the line is another question entirely. Blessedly, though, we’re finally at the stage where the answer to that question is within touching distance.
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