The Kingdom Hearts 3 Dissonance
There is no doubt that Kingdom Hearts 3 was a long waited game, many fans of the series (like me) have waited this game. KH3 has been a success both economically and for its audience, and while I did enjoy the game KH3 have one critical flow: a poor mixture of power fantasy and narrative structure.
Power Fantasy is usually a derogatory term, used in narrative to categorize stories in which the main character has almost a complete dominance over the world or the other characters.
Power Fantasy is a perfectly type of narrative with pros and cons (as everything else), many video games (Uncharted 1, God of Gar trilogy) are built using this type of narrative, because is a convenient way to deliver agency and progression to the player.
Power Fantasies can be divided into two main categories:
Solo: in which only a specific character (usually the Main Character) has the power/tool/skill to solve the situation
Choral: In which a group of people has the power/tool/skill to solve the situation
This is where KH3 has it’s first problem: KH3 wants to be a Choral power fantasy (seven guardians of light) but it plays out has a solo power fantasy.
Except for the last world, Sora almost never collaborates or talk with the other guardians of light, and he defeat powerful enemy alone (since Donald and Guffy are usually considered a comical relief or useless by the community). Nonetheless the game narrative, constantly tells the player that victory can be achieved only by the group, and the gameplay proves it wrong.
This dissonance makes the player doubt the narrative and characters in it, this can be a great tool to create a plot twist or it could ruin the story.
*KH's games in a chronological order
KH3 follows the same narrative structure used in the previous KH:
- Sora reaches a new world
- A problem arise in world (usually using IPs of the world and a similar narrative)
- KH’s narrative or characters are more or less the cause of the problem
- Sora solves the issue
- KH’s narrative continue
This type of structure worked well in KH1 and KH2, but it doesn’t work that well in KH3.
KH1 and KH2 where both solo (or limited to the sora group) power fantasy, this allowed the narrative structure to completely revolve around Sora, what he was doing and what he was seeing. This type of structure makes the players feel in control and relevant to the narrative which are incredibly important emotion in a power fantasy.
In KH3, Sora is the center and hero of each worlds that he is saving, but he is not the center of the Kingdom Hearts narrative (finding the missing guardians of light and saving KH) which is driven by other characters. Making the player feeling that he/she is doing housework. This is once again a dissonance between a narrative built for a solo power fantasy (saving the world) with-in a choral power fantasy (finding the guardians of light).
How could we solve this dissonance? Now we will enter in the realm of fantasy because, I’m sure that the KH3 development team knew about this problem but development is never smooth, and surely this dissonance was less relevant than other issues.
However by taking as assumption that we have infinite money and time we could solve this issue by:
Characters Switch: A perfect example of a choral power fantasy is GTA V. In GTA 5 the player control at the same time three different characters each one unique and fundamental to power fantasy. KH3 could have used a similar system allowing the player to choose which character to use in certain missions and/or having missions/worlds linked to specific character. A similar system nudge in the player mind that he/she is not Sora but the group has a whole.
Support System: Another possible solution is a support system (similar to the one used in Dragon Ball Z fighter and other fighting game). Allowing the user to summon one or more of the other characters for help (reinforcing the idea of group) and to be summoned by the others (this of course will happen only on specific moment, in which the narrative is relevant) creating the perfect narrative and gameplay deus ex-machina to keep the story around Sora.
Narrative Structure: This is a bit obvious but a more classical narrative structure built around a group of heroes who moves together would have highly reduced the dissonance.
Chapter based narrative: A narrative which unfold following specific chapters, in which we control different characters or in which we see the same narrative events but from different point-of-view, it could helped to bring the idea of group of heroes.
Of course there are a lot of other possible solutions to this dissonance, my point is as designers we need to be able to recognize this type of things and decide if we want them in our game or how to solve them.