And the critical consensus seems to be behind them. On launch day, Kingdom Hearts III had a Metacritic score of 88/100. The majority of reviews released on major sites celebrate the game as yet another solid entry for the series.
However, the critical acclaim, the salivating fandom and the high review scores are overshadowed by the years hanging over the game’s release. Something we’ve seen many times in the age of internet fandom is that, after such a long gap in between sequels, quality can be exceptionally hard to judge. Fans want the game to be good, so many of them simply will it to be so. Many reviewers, who are no doubt trying their best to be impartial, fill their copy with phrases like “Disney charms make it worth the long wait” and “all those emotional payoffs that have been building for 17 years await” and “this is a Kingdom Hearts game worth waiting for.”
These are loaded statements, and you can’t really fault the writers. They are weighed down by the 13 years, which have created higher expectations for the game. Reviews like this are, and should be, written by fans, so they can speak to other fans about what to expect. But what if the years have raised the stakes too high? Or made every fan too close to tell what is good? Or raised the anticipation to a level where critical appraisal is impossible? What if it’s too difficult to tell if any or all of these things are happening?
In the week before the game’s release, Kotaku’s Tim Rogers laid out that Kingdom Hearts III is basically unreviewable, given the heavy baggage that comes with it. To the fandom, he says," it's more than just a product, it's a work of meaningful significance.”
One of the biggest problems of taking so long with a sequel, from a critical standpoint, is how connected nostalgia can join with an experience. I was a young adult when Star Wars: Episode I was released and I loved it. All of my friends loved it too. We had grown up on the original Star Wars trilogy and waited so long for a new chapter in the story that basically anything they could have put in front of my face that had an opening text crawl would have left me applauding.
Time is cruel. That movie turned out to be not great. But hype had blocked out everything except for blind faith that whatever had Star Wars in the title would be amazing. The same thing might not happen to Kingdom Hearts III, but prolonging anticipation for a franchise can have very real effects on hungry devotees.