‘Kingdom Hearts III Re: Mind’ Is the Antidote to Bad Endings

Last year was, in pop culture terms, a year of disappointing endings. Both Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Game of Thrones demonstrated just how difficult it is to end a major mass-media storytelling project in a way that’s satisfying. It’s the Lost problem all over again: Narrative answers are never as satisfying as narrative questions. Questions invite possibility, while answers just close possibility off. In the case of Star Wars and Game of Thrones, when so many people cared so much about those answers—and when, many would agree, the answers given were so perplexingly out of left field—the problem only compounds itself. The pressure to end a story well can crush any creator, from the best to the worst.

For a certain type of videogame fan, 2019 also marked another major ending: the ending of the Kingdom Hearts saga. Beginning in 2001, these strange games, role-playing adventures mixing influences from Final Fantasy and Disney properties into a slurry of warm feelings and anime extravagance, have beguiled and confused their fans over nearly a dozen entries. Kingdom Hearts III, released last January, marked the chance for an ending to do justice to this wild creation of Square Enix and Disney, putting a capper on 18 years of some of the most convoluted storytelling to ever grace games.

Of course, it didn’t. Kingdom Hearts III did have an ending, one that put a definitive cap on the main story the series had been telling. But it also included teases for future games, following a wildly different story. Now, a year later, there’s new downloadable content, in the form of Kingdom Hearts III Re: Mind, a post-ending scenario for the game that goes even further to make the finale less definitive. In an era of pop culture where it’s obvious that ending a story with a satisfying conclusion is nearly impossible, Kingdom Hearts throws up its hands and says, Why end?

Re: Mind (the colon here being a concession to written language, as the letters in the actual logo are separated by an icon that looks sort of like crosshairs crossed with the Prince symbol) is the first downloadable expansion a Kingdom Hearts game has ever had. The most recent full console entry, Dream Drop Distance, launched originally in 2012, when downloadable content was still largely in its infancy. It’s not uncommon for Kingdom Hearts games to get a revision or two. Previously, though, these occurred as “Final Mix” special editions, originally released exclusively in Japan until the day of HD remasters brought them overseas. These versions would include new boss fights, new cutscenes, and tweaked scenarios, a sort of improved final draft version of the game for the most serious fans.

For Re: Mind, though, this content has been packaged together and offered as a post-game add-on, a secondary episode of the game to play after you beat it. In typical Kingdom Hearts fashion, the narrative justification for this is both transparent as a means to rewrite old material and entirely consistent and natural as a direction for the game’s protean lore. You play, again, as Sora, a plucky anime boy hero with an implacable sense of hope and love for his friends. As Sora, you’ve already finished the big journey, fought the big bad Xehanort, and used your magical Keyblade to save the world from the personified anti-life of the Heartless. Only one problem: Not everyone made it out alive. To Sora, cut from the mold of the noblest Disney princes, this is unacceptable.

So Sora decides to fix it. With magic. And time travel. And occasional help from Mickey Mouse. In the world of Kingdom Hearts, this is actually not exceptionally strange. But what follows is a four-hour revision of the game’s ending act, played from the perspective of an astral-projected Sora come unstuck in time as he seeks to find a way to change events so that his friend lives. It’s an exercise that allows Kingdom Hearts III to receive all the revisions that an old Final Mix would have gotten. There are tweaks and additions to the lore, big and small, doled out as foreshadowing of the next stage in the series. There are new playable boss fights and characters, including fan-favorite Roxas, a doppelgänger of Sora’s who fights with two Keyblades and moves blindingly fast, giving the player the sense they’re playing an entirely different genre of action game. For casual fans and outsiders, it will likely be baffling why anyone would spend money on this. For the devoted, this series of revisions, superimposed strangely over the normal ending of the game, might feel like a triumph.

But what Re: Mind reveals, in its revisionist take on its base game, is deep anxiety about endings. This isn’t even the first time Kingdom Hearts III has done this. At a pivotal moment in the base game, there’s a time reset, a turning backward of the clock to allow events to play out in a different way. With Re: Mind‘s additions, Kingdom Hearts III doesn’t just end. It ends three different times, in three different ways. In a moment where ending any story is feeling increasingly fraught, the creators of Kingdom Hearts can’t seem to decide how they want to do it. How definitive of an endpoint in the series should this game be? How focused should this ending be? Should it zero in closely on the core cast or should it sprawl, trying to resolve the plots of the two dozen or so original characters that the series has introduced up until this point? Kingdom Hearts III doesn’t have an answer, so it just loops, once, then twice, each time adding something here, taking something else away, reframing characters and centering different narrative threads.

What Re: Mind reveals is a game, and a series, constantly rewriting itself in nervous self-reflection. Kingdom Hearts doesn’t know how to end, so it won’t, and it will go back and reshape itself as much as it needs to in order to make sure of it. Remind, with a separation between the prefix and the word—suggesting not just to remember but to rethink.

Which makes Re: Mind a weird DLC for a weird game, and also an antidote to our anxiety about endings. Kingdom Hearts will never stick the landing, because it will never, ever try. Is that the right answer? Who knows, but in a time of disappointing finales, a story that tears itself asunder to avoid denouement is a breath of fresh ocean air.

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