Are side games important to the main series? The short answer? Yes.
The long answer? Well, that’s where it gets a bit complicated. Everyone has their own opinion about side games, but most seem to settle around the consensus that yes, side games are important and necessary in their own ways.
In the panel that Linnea and I attended at Anime Midwest (Kingdom Hearts Side Games and Their Importance), the main discussion centered around whether or not the plot of the main games would have suffered without the inclusion of the handheld side games. While the majority of people agreed that they were essential to both plot and character development, they did also agree with the minority’s opinion that the games were not only difficult, but not readily available to everyone. With approximately twelve games in the series, only three of those being considered part of the main series, the Kingdom Hearts franchise spans across at least seven different consoles, both handheld and home consoles. This means that, in order to play all of the games and experience the world in its entirety, one person must either own or have access to all of these different consoles, and that gets really expensive really quick.
People also brought up the fact that they didn’t want to have to play through hours of games with weird controls (see Flow Motion from 3D or the card system from Chain off Memories) just to be able to understand the overall plot better. As a counter, it was pointed out that YouTube has a collection of all of the cutscenes from all of the games that can be viewed as a movie of sorts, and save the player the time and energy that would’ve otherwise been used towards the game itself.
However, the handheld games have something that the main series does not: character development of side characters and relationships between them all. Characters such as Xion from KH: 358/2 Days and the main trio of Aqua, Terra, and Ventus from KH: Birth by Sleep are critical to the plot, but were introduced in the side games and now have a lot to do with the creation of the third game in the main series, Kingdom Hearts III. Without the handheld games, we’d be going in blind. The side games also fleshed out the relationships between the characters and drew us as players further into the world, strengthening the emotional bonds that a lot of us have to the characters and the games as a whole.
In all, I personally believe that the side games should be treated with the same respect and love as the main handful of games, in this and all other game series, because they’re a critical part of that world, and I love being able to immerse myself and learn as much as I possibly can.
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