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Getting into Kingdom Hearts in 2022 is no easy task

In the Kingdom Hearts games, players adventure through a galaxy made of various Disney properties, defeating all kinds of monsters as movie stories play out. In Kingdom Hearts III, for instance, players beat the snot out of Heartless, the franchise’s faithful group of punching bags, as the stories of Frozen and Tangled played out in the background.


While that gameplay might be good fun (it wasn’t in Kingdom Hearts III, but that’s another article entirely), everything happening between its big RPG battles makes the franchise so difficult to get into. After seeing Kingdom Hearts 4‘s impressive trailer, though, anyone new to the franchise may be looking to get into it now. Longtime fans of the series are certainly saying that now is the best time to jump headfirst into the two-decade-old franchise.

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What they won’t tell you is that if you really want to know what’s going on in Kingdom Hearts 4, you’ll have to play the two mobile games that were also announced in the franchise’s 20th-anniversary showcase, along with 14 other entries in it. Now may be the best time to hop into Kingdom Hearts, but it’s also the hardest.

A whale of a story

The story in Kingdom Hearts is, arguably, its biggest point of contention. It’s a long tale of the conflict that JRPGs seem to love: Light against dark. Along with that exceptionally tired conflict, the franchise’s story spans decades, encapsulating multiple wars involving dozens upon dozens of characters.

According to the Kingdom Hearts Wiki, the game’s story can be split into seven separate major events, stretching from the First Keyblade War to Sora’s Disappearance, with that latter plot point being told in an expansion for Kingdom Hearts III. If you want to understand the First Keyblade War, you’ll have to play Kingdom Hearts Union X[Cross], one of many mobile games in the franchise.

Again, Kingdom Hearts consists of 14 games, each of which tells its own parts of the franchise’s story. Some of those games take place in chronological order, while others take place simultaneously. Others occur during a single part of one game: Kingdom Hearts III‘s Re Mind DLC takes place in between Kingdom Hearts 3‘s finale and ending, for instance. With a wiki, it’s easier to keep track of these things, but it’s still incredibly easy to get lost.

Tera speaking to someone off screen in Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep.

That’s because — and I’m saying this as someone who adores some entries in the franchise — Kingdom Hearts games aren’t exactly well written. Characters speak in endless metaphors or code and often reference events from other games. If you hopped into Kingdom Hearts III without brushing up on the eight other games that were released between it and Kingdom Hearts II, you, like me, were hopelessly lost as characters talked about clones and time travel.

But along with some truly frustrating writing, all of which has been spread out in 14 games, the biggest barrier to Kingdom Hearts for anyone in (insert year here) is just how complex the game’s story is. The relationships between characters are constantly changing because the characters themselves are constantly changing. There are multiple versions of characters, and former Polygon video producer Brian David Gilbert even came up with the verb “Nort” to describe when one character, Xehanort, possesses another. Reader, it is frightening just how justified Gilbert’s creation of that word is: Xehanort can’t stop possessing people.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem if Kingdom Hearts was like, say, Call of Duty: Warzone or Fortnite, where players don’t have to care about any meta-narrative and can just play the game without care. But if Kingdom Hearts 4 is anything like Kingdom Hearts III, that’s not going to be the case. The franchise’s most recent mainline entry put its story at the forefront, seemingly serving as a culmination for the various narrative threads that had been building up.

If Kingdom Hearts 4 is just as story-dependent, players will need to do a lot of catching up if they want to really understand what’s going on. The franchise’s lore is an excessively dense tome, and understanding it with 14 games (and probably some help from the franchise’s wiki) is a lot to ask. If I can give aspiring fans of Kingdom Hearts one bit of comfort it’s that they’ll probably have a good long while to catch up since 4 doesn’t even have a release date yet.

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Wild Hearts is a more sensitive, respectful monster hunting game
Wild Hearts player in front of cherry blossom tree.

The Koei Tecmo-developed and EA-published monster hunting game Wild Hearts, in which players hunt giant beasts called Kemono with the help of a magical piece of crafting technology called a Karakuri, left an impression on me when I played through its opening hours late last year. Now that I've had time to go hands-on with the final version of the game, I'm even more impressed with its philosophical approach to hunting and the impact it leaves on the environment. Rather than just serving as a hunting simulator or glorifying abuse toward animals, Wild Hearts highlights the balance between nature and life.
WILD HEARTS CG Trailer | Tame a World Gone Wild
Wild Hearts' actual narrative is pretty by the numbers so far, its gameplay captivatingly portrays the relationship between humanity, animals, and nature in clever ways that elevate it over your standard hunting game. By showing players that they don't always need to be aggressive, painting Kemono as deadly to the environment if left unchecked, and letting players asses the mark they leave on the game's world, Wild Hearts shows more respect for nature and hunting than any other monster hunting game I've seen before in these opening hours.
The beauty of nature
In my preview of the game last year, I explained how Wild Hearts does a lot right in how it eases players into the genre much better than any Monster Hunter game. That said, it demonstrates its maturity and respect for nature with the first creature you encounter, a deer-like Kemono that is not aggressive. After getting the hang of the controls as you track it down, you can sneak up on it. You can kill the creature, but you can also choose to pet it and let it saunter away. It shows that not all Kemono need to be seen as prey, and you don't necessarily need to hunt and kill everything you see.
You can encounter many nonviolent creatures while traveling through the region of Azuma, and killing them only nets you a meager amount of somewhat common resources. So far, I've avoided attacking these enemies, instead taking in the excellent environment and world design as I track down the biggest Kemono for me to fight. While Wild Hearts is made up of multiple smaller regions, not one big open world, Azuma's locales still feel vast in scope, showing the overwhelming power of nature. 

The first few areas I visited in Wild Hearts have all been beautiful and colorful, which encouraged me more to track down the Kemono that was interfering with this beautiful space.
The thrill of the hunt
Eventually, those fights against the giant Kemono do take place. These fall in the standard monster-hunting gameplay loop but still reinforce some of those more nuanced themes. Every Kemono you hunt appears to be corrupted by the environment in some way. Early game highlights include a giant hog covered in moss and vines and a giant gorilla constantly smoldering as it's partially made of rocks and lava. These literal freaks of nature are all awe-inspiring, but you can tell that their presence is destructive to those beautiful environments you just had fun exploring.
The most powerful Kemono can change the environment just by walking through it, and the Kemono's abilities to destroy or add objects to the environment reinforce their undeniable impact on nature. These battles are all very tough; neither nature nor any living being will roll over that easily. Kemono also retreats at multiple points during a fight, causing you to traverse and build more with your magical Karakuri technology in pursuit of them.
Whether I win or lose, at the end of a long fight, I gain respect for the journey that got me there and what it taught me about this Kemono's place, unwelcome or not, in this environment.
Humanity's impact on nature
After a long-winded Kemono fight, I found it quite revealing to look back at the battlefield and see the remnants of the encounter. In addition to the destruction the Kemono caused, some of my Karakuri builds remained, including temporary walls I built to protect myself or springs I used to jump away from the Kemono. Venturing to my next objective, I'm reminded of the camps, zip lines, and other more permanent Dragon Karakuri that now stain a once untouched landscape.

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Don’t expect Zelda’s $70 price to become the new Switch standard, says Nintendo
Link looks at his hand in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will be Nintendo's first Switch game to be priced at $70. News that Tears of the Kingdom, a sequel to one of the bestselling and most critically acclaimed titles on the system, will have an increased price compared to its predecessor came as a surprise over three-and-a-half years after its announcement. It also raised questions about what the future of pricing for Nintendo games will be, especially as Sony, Microsoft, and third-party publishers all upped the cost of their new games in recent years. 
While Nintendo will release Tears of Kingdom at $70, a spokesperson for the company tells Digital Trends that this will not always be the case for its first-party games going forward. 
"No," the spokesperson said when Digital Trends asked if this is a new standard. "We determine the suggested retail price for any Nintendo product on a case-by-case basis." 
The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom – Official Trailer #2
To get more insight into the price shift, I spoke to Omdia Principal Analyst George Jijiashvili, who explains what has caused the price of games to go up in recent years and how Tears of the Kingdom demonstrates that Nintendo will "remain flexible about first-party title pricing." Ultimately, Nintendo fans are finally starting to feel the impact of inflation that's been sweeping across the game industry, even if it's only "on a case-by-case basis" for now.
The price is right
Nintendo claims that not every one of its significant first-party game will be $70, and we can actually already see that in action. Preorders just went live for Pikmin 4, which launches on July 21, after Tears of the Kingdom, and it only costs $60. Still, Zelda's price tag indicates that going forward, Nintendo will at least consider raising the price of its most anticipated games to $70. But why start with Tears of the Kingdom?  
When asked why it chose Tears of the Kingdom as its first $70 Nintendo Switch game, a Nintendo spokesperson simply reiterated that the company will "determine the suggested retail price for any Nintendo product on a case-by-case basis." Still, it's a surprising choice for Nintendo to make that pricing change to just one exclusive game almost six years into the Switch's life span. Jijiashvili thinks the choice to do this with Tears of the Kingdom was a pretty apparent one for Nintendo, although it won't apply to everything going forward.
"If you are going to make a game $70, it's going to be the follow-up to one of your most critically acclaimed and bestselling games ever," Jijiashvili tells Digital Trends. "I don’t think that this means that $70 will become the standard price for all major Nintendo releases. It's worth noting that Metroid Prime Remastered is priced at $40. It's clear that Nintendo will remain flexible about first-party title pricing."

It makes basic financial sense for Nintendo to ask for a little bit more for a game it knows will be one of the biggest releases of 2023. But what factors in the game industry and world's economy at large caused Nintendo to make this decision? 
Priced Out
For more than a decade, people got comfortable with AAA video games being priced at $60. Of course, there were occasional exceptions to this rule, but it was seen as an industry standard until the dawn of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. Publisher 2K was one of the first to announce a price increase, and companies like EA, Sony, and Microsoft have all followed suit. Jijiashvili chalks this up to inflation-related pressure on game publishers.
"The games industry has already been experiencing a lot of inflationary pressure," he explains. "AAA games are much more expensive to make now than they used to be, but prices have actually been declining in inflation-adjusted terms -- if prices had risen with inflation since 1990, they would now be over $90. On top of that, we’ve had a big burst of general inflation, meaning that publishers are looking at big increases in everything from salaries to tools. It’s going to be really hard for most publishers to avoid passing on all those extra costs at some point."
Jijiashvili provided us with a graphic created by Omdia that "shows what the typical price points for each generation would look like if you adjusted for inflation." As you can see, the inflation-adjusted prices are only exponentially growing, and the big game pricing shifts the graph highlights were all technically not even enough to keep up with inflation when they happened. 

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It’s official: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will cost $70
Link fights a giant golem in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.

Nintendo confirmed that The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom will cost $70 at launch following its appearance at today's Nintendo Direct.

A press release for the February 8 Nintendo Direct confirmed as such after the price briefly got listed early on Nintendo's website the night before the event. The game will also get a $130 Collector's Edition that includes an artbook, Steelbook case, Iconart steel poster, and four pins in addition to a physical copy of Tears of the Kingdom.

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