Modern Disney Princesses have the toolkit of an action hero, but Disney’s video games don’t let them flourish
At gaming websites, a lot of the small talk amongst the staff is about games. Most of the time you just tune it out. There’s always various different conversations going on about series I might not have played, or might not care for, and you add in all the chatter about the games I do like, plus regular human discussion topics like film, sports, this funny TikTok I saw, the weather, the impending dread of working in an industry that sees its purpose as being a perpetual discourse machine… it’s a lot. So when games that aren’t in my wheelhouse come up, I let ’em fly on by. But there’s one game I cannot avoid, no matter how hard I try: Kingdom Hearts 3.
I don’t particularly like Kingdom Hearts. I have written about this before – I am one of those embarrassing Disney Adults you’ve heard so much about, and across the three Kingdom Hearts games I’ve played, have been unimpressed with how soulless and unlike their movie counterparts the games’ renditions of Disney characters are. It presents itself as a Disney game but Kingdom Hearts is a Final Fantasy game dressed up in Mickey Mouse ears. Given that Kingdom Hearts has roughly one million and seven games between its inception and Kingdom Hearts 3, I have not played 3 and never will. I’m not here to defend it or criticise it. But whenever KH fans here at TheGamer bring it up, it comes back to complaining about Frozen, and that ruins my day further – Frozen should be the perfect video game.
Related: Kingdom Hearts 3 Deserves A Second Chance On Critical Mode
I’ve made the case for Frozen before – it has magical powers that are perfect for the video game format, iconic characters, gorgeous settings, deep lore, and complex mythology. It has fresh avenues to explore, and the tools to explore them. Because development cycles are growing longer and longer with each passing year, the direct tie-in game is dead now. Gaming’s release schedule is too unpredictable to sit alongside a theatre release date. However, we’re seeing this type of game evolve. Broader properties like Spider-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Avatar, and The Walking Dead all have video games that are inspired by existing stories rather than following them. Frozen is big enough to join that bunch. But why stop there?
Part of the reason I actively dislike Kingdom Hearts rather than merely being indifferent to it is because it wastes its potential. I’m usually pretty cynical about crossovers and IP soup like MultiVersus, as well as believing too much reliance on existing properties to do your marketing for you can lead to subpar games. Despite this, a Disney action-adventure crossover game excites me. The problem is it has never been done well. Kingdom Hearts has the most glib interpretation of its source material and wraps it around tired JRPG tropes, and it’s not even the only criminal here.
Disney Infinity was too tied down by toys-to-life’s technical drawbacks, and were just a string of average sandboxes with a couple of quests, with no real crossover whatsoever. Dreamlight Valley is a half-baked Animal Crossing clone with little interaction. Mirrorverse is an insulting cash-grab. Twisted Wonderland makes all the characters into their femboy body pillow alternative. The less said about Speedstorm the better. Lorcana is the last glimmer of hope we have and that isn’t even a video game.
Can’t someone do Kingdom Hearts, but good? Kingdom Hearts at least lets you explore these worlds more fully, and attempts interaction with the character – they’re just poorly written and too busy trying to make the Final Fantasy beats land. What I’m after is a Disney Princess action-adventure game. Elsa, Merida, Mulan, Raya, Moana, Pocahontas as playable characters. Maybe Tiana, Rapunzel, Ariel, and Jasmine at a push. I mean what is Belle going to do, really?
Raya is another one that so obviously feels suited to a video game, and has all of the tools built into her storytelling already. Raya and the Last Dragon is clearly not on Frozen’s level when it comes to cultural dominance, but a Tomb Raider/Horizon game where the Princesses work together to explore worlds, defeat enemies, and solve puzzles, all as part of a well-rounded story that respects their Disney origins and lets their mythology shine through? I don’t think I’m out of line when I say this feels like a surefire hit. One of the last tie-in games, Brave, was one of the best because it embraced these ideas
I get that Disney will always be very protective over the Princess brand. I get that Tomb Raider but with Raya, this character you never heard of, is not an easy sell. But the sharp gender divide between boys games and girls games no longer needs to exist in gaming, and there are plenty of Disney Adults who would pay to experience Disney’s worlds in video games that aren’t cheap racing sims, gacha femboy collections, or Kingdom Hearts. It’s weird that the biggest company in the world can make so many games and have so many misses, when all the ingredients are right there. The Princesses have even crossed over already in Wreck-It-Ralph’s sequel. What do you say, Disney? No more Kingdom Hearts until we figure all this out.