Last year around this time, I remember sitting here and writing the review for Kingdom Hearts III. I liked it more than most, having gone into the game with low expectations and walking away feeling satisfied. I thought the game did an admirable job of tying up a great series of loose ends. It even concluded in an open-ended fashion that doesn't specifically spell out a happy ending, but does imply that one eventually comes for the series' main character. So a year later, here comes Re Mind and I am here to say that I take all of it back.
(Warning: There are light spoilers for the main Kingdom Hearts III story, so if you haven't played it, skip the rest of this review and come back later.)
Time traveler's remorse
Let's travel back in time (because KH3 and Re Mind both love to dabble in time travel) to last year and look at this chunk of our original review:
"To say the Kingdom Hearts story has become convoluted would be putting it mildly. There's been so much said about the complicated nature of the overarching plot across not only the two main games, but all of the spin-offs, that mocking it has practically become schtick. One of the biggest challenges for Kingdom Hearts III is attempting to make sense of everything, tying together all of the characters, plot points, twists and turns, and various events from the sequels. Amazingly, the game manages to make sense of the story."
When I originally wrote this, I heard my own voice calling out to me from the future. It said, "A year from now, you're going to look at that and you're going to laugh." And lo and behold, the voice was right. The Kingdom Hearts story feels messier than ever. That can be forgiven, because lord knows the entire series lore feels like a broken jigsaw puzzle anyway, so this is par for the course. But the downright repetive nature of treading old ground is where Re Mind just gets infuriating. I'll touch on that in a moment.
Re Mind's story immediately follows the events of the main story, with Sora vowing to embark on his journey to find Kairi. Players will recall that Kairi was crystallized and seemingly killed by series antagonist Xehanort, who is now on his third voice actor following the tragic passing of previous voice Rutger Hauer. He's convinced that finding her is a simple matter of revisiting an old ally, but he quickly learns that it's not that easy. Sora must find the scattered remnants of Kairi's heart in order to put her back together. That involves time travel, because if there's anything that will simplify the Kingdom Hearts storyline, it's time travel.
But beyond the narrative implications, the time travel element also paves the way for one of Re Mind's most unwelcome "additions."
Kingdom Hearts 3 players, did you enjoy that gauntlet of boss fights at the Keyblade Graveyard near the end of the game? How would you like to do that again? No, that's dumb because you paid for new content? Well, too bad, because you're playing these fights again! Yes, after well over 15 minutes of narrative tablesetting and a few introduction fights, players are tossed right back into the Keyblade Graveyard and tasked with going through the exact same fights a second time and watching the exact same cutscenes again, with a couple of extra tweaks added in.
It plays out like a poor director's cut and for many players, it's hard to even tell what's new and what's been rehashed. Worse yet, players don't even earn XP for defeating any of these bosses, so they can't even level up as they go along. There doesn't feel like there's any advancement here. The lone addition is the ability to play as other characters in the fight, but even that novelty wears thin quickly. In the end, it just feels like running on a treadmill.
It's about two to three hours into the DLC before players should expect to see anything else new. It's a chance to journey through more of Scala ad Caelum, the main game's final world. This is where players can finally take on different Heartless and Nobodies to level up while also exploring the world. But this ultimately proves to be the backdrop for some tedious puzzles before the story finally starts to kick into something resembling a climax.
For a while, it's a solid climax. Players take the roles of the various Guardians of Light, switching between members back and forth as they face off against multiple Xehanort copies. It's a moment that's nearly ruined by horrendous camera angles, but it's a fun battle on an epic scale nonetheless. After this battle and subsequent character moment with King Mickey play out, it's time for the Re Mind story's final battle, which proves to be the DLC's most aggravating moment.
This is where Kingdom Hearts fans get their first opportunity to play as Kairi. The problem is that Kairi is severely underpowered and will often die quickly. Despite having Sora as an AI partner, he's not much help, which is a step backwards given how strong partners were in the main story. Worse yet, Kairi has moves, but she doesn't get access to player's inventory. So she enters the battle with a single Hi-Potion, a single Ether, and a single Refocuser. It means that she dies very quickly and ultimately forces players to retreat to Sora. Kairi as a playable character should have been an epic moment, but it's one that feels severely botched. Not only isn't she presented as anything special, but playing as her actively puts players at a disadvantage.
Shh! It's a secret!
After viewing Re Mind's ending, which plays out like the KH3 ending with a twist, players are presented with another DLC episode called Limit Cut. This is where more than a few jaws may drop and a few fists might make contact with a wall or two. While KH3's ending felt like a definitive conclusion for Sora's story and his entire saga, the Limit Cut episode shows that, no, the story is not over. Without spoiling where things ultimately go, the story looks like it's not going anywhere particularly good.
Limit Cut will pit a data copy of Sora against souped-up versions of KH3's baddest bosses. Those wondering where the Secret Bosses that lurked around hidden corners of the first two KH games went, here they are... behind a $30 paywall. Like those Secret Bosses, these battles are not for the faint of heart and are only meant for the truly hardcore and elite-level KH players. It's all supplemental content and not something that a lot of players will see through to the end anyway, which will have some of them fairly wondering why they blew their money in the first place.
As a Kingdom Hearts fans, I can only look at Re Mind and wonder... what happened here? I'm not going to pretend the original story was perfect, but it felt like a satisfying conclusion. Re Mind is a lot of familiar ground, only with much more exposition so as to make things as confusing as possible, followed by a series of disappointments and baffling decisions.
Even the true fans will retreat to YouTube to watch the cutscenes, because there's nothing to entice players here. Re Mind is a dud and a total disappointment for any KH fan.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Kingdom Hearts 3: Re Mind review: Throw away the key
Coming as someone who absolutely hated the non-conclusion of the main story, this review tells me that A) The parts of the game I thought were missing are definitely here apparently, gameplay wise but B) It just makes the plot worse, somehow, and that might be enough alone for me not to get it.