It's that time of year again. The time when the nights start drawing in and dawn decides to sleep in later and later every morning, leaving most of us jealous of her. Shades of grey are settling the land, the rain apparently unending. The leaves are changing colour, giving the world a final splash of beauty until they're blown away by the wind that picks up a little daily. Everything's getting darker and colder, a metaphor for the political and mental state of the little nation I live in. Summer was an eon ago; year-end celebrations a lifetime away.
Or, put more plainly... it's the time of year when it really starts to feel as though it's all going to shit. Around about this time, I often find myself looking for something brighter - tonally and visually. Something less gritty, less real. Sometimes you just need something light-hearted and colourful. Something joyous, I guess.
Our copy of Kingdom Hearts 3 came into the house by way of my wife. Lachesis is a hardened Disney-nut - seeing Mickey and Donald in the advertising was enough to convince her that it was something she might want to try out. And she did try it. Once... for about 30 minutes. She never went back to it, but against my expectations I found myself eyeing it up and eventually fired it up a couple of weeks ago - and it's become a kind of retreat for me. Something to play when I want to see something pretty and not feel too heavily invested. At its heart, it's about people caring. Following their hearts, defeating darkness. It's the polar opposite of the reality it feels like we're living in.
I have no history with the Kingdom Hearts franchise. At all. For some people, this game was a (final?) piece in a series that they hold in the kind of regard that grumpy old farts like myself reserve for Super Mario Bros, or The Legend of Zelda. The first couple of games in the series came out in the PS2 era - the console which co-incided with my university education and a period immediately after it in which games dropped off my radar. That lack of history and emotional attachment means I can describe the game's story as nonsensical gibberish without feeling any sense of disappointment as a result of it. Honestly, I have absolutely no idea what on earth is going on in this game and its world.
So far as I can gather, there were some wars in the past and some power got divided... and now there are a bunch of people trapped in other people's hearts, and a bunch of guys with androgynous hair and long black jackets and generally more than one name wandering around calling themselves "the organisation", and they're the Bad Guys because... well, they wear black and have weird coloured eyes and belong to the least imaginatively named organisation in the history of unimaginatively named organisations. And then there's Mickey and Donald and Goofy, and a crazy haired kid called Sora - they're the Good Guys. We know this because they wear colours other than black and all have sparkly blue or green eyes, and hang out with Disney characters.
There's exposition of this hopelessly complex story - tons of it, in fact. It doesn't help at all because it's delivered so painfully badly; it keeps falling back on a trope of a character delivering a line. The subject of said line is then repeated (complete with raising inflection) as a question back to the original speaker. The term is then explained... thereby adding another layer of incomprehensible narrative to a tale that's already as dense as a neutron star. It's also never heard of the concept "show, don't tell" - as I reckon half the time I've spent with the game so far has been watching cutscenes. Seriously.
Walk forward ten feet.
Walk forward ten feet.
The cutscenes are works of art, don't get me wrong, but... yeah. There's a LOT of them.
Somehow though, none of this matters - as Kingdom Hearts 3 is full of hope and joy in a way that so few of the games I play are. It's filled with big characters and beautiful environments where the sun is shining, the buildings are intact, and people seem to be happy. The combat, when it comes, is cartoon-like and exuberant. It let me beat up a horde of bad guys with a roller coaster at various points, Disney theme park rides appearing made out of neon light and flashing music and vapour trails all over the screen as the baddies pop like balloons. It's crazy and it's fun, and it's so gloriously inoffensive that it really does feel like an antidote to our reality. You can keep an eye on the news all day, watching in real-time as western civilisation tears itself apart at the seams at the will of self-interested and self-serving old, rich, white men. You can feel that depression and feeling of impotence washing over you... and when that happens, Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like a warm shower. It's just a nice place to spend some time.
But, I digress. What I'm trying to say is that Kingdom Hearts 3 is a lot of fun. It's a game I expected to watch someone else play but have ended up playing myself, and I'm enjoying it far more than I thought I would. It's going to go down as yet another game that I've played in 2019 without expecting to, and enjoyed far more than I anticipated. All in all, it's becoming something of a theme for this year - taking punts on games that are outside my usual area of interest, and those punts paying off. I can't see me going back and picking up and the previous games, but I can see me taking another entry in the series more seriously from the off. If you've got no interest in something like this, I can totally understand. But if you're looking for something to brighten up the darkness for a while, you could do a lot worse than looking here.