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Where are the Final Fantasy characters in Kingdom Hearts 3?

The Kingdom Hearts franchise has been around since March 2002, when the original Kingdom Hearts released for the PlayStation 2. Ever since, it's been considered a sort of crossover classic — a patchwork of video game and animated universes, all coming together to weave a sometimes playful, sometimes dark, and sometimes incoherent tale.

But something very obvious is missing from Kingdom Hearts 3. And it's something that'll be immediately apparent to those who've been on the Kingdom Hearts train for almost 17 years.

There is a startling lack of Final Fantasy characters in Kingdom Hearts 3.

Why is this? For so many, the Kingdom Hearts series represented a fusion of three different worlds: the original one created for Kingdom Hearts, as well as the worlds of Disney and Final Fantasy. But many fans have now wrapped on Kingdom Hearts 3, exploring just about everything that game has to offer. And the Final Fantasy characters — many of whom played big roles in past Kingdom Hearts stories — are nowhere to be found.

Maybe it shouldn't come as a complete surprise. The first two mainline Kingdom Hearts games — the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2 — both featured Final Fantasy characters prominently. In at least one of those two titles, you could find: Setzer from Final Fantasy 6; Cloud, Tifa, Aerith, Cid, Yuffie and Sephiroth from Final Fantasy 7; Squall from Final Fantasy 8; Vivi from Final Fantasy 9; and Tidus, Wakka, and Auron from Final Fantasy 10.

Fast forward to future off-shoots of the series, though, and you can begin to see where Kingdom Hearts started to move away from including the bigger Final Fantasy stars. Many, like Birth by Sleep, got away with omitting most of these characters by positioning themselves as prequels. Others, like Dream Drop Distance, avoided the Final Fantasy universe by concentrating on more specific stories in the larger Kingdom Hearts timeline.

It seems that, since Kingdom Hearts 2 released in 2006, Square Enix has been gradually shifting Kingdom Hearts away from leaning on Final Fantasy. And there are a few reasons why that might be.

The first could have to do with Disney. The world of Disney has always played a part in the Kingdom Hearts series, but never as much as it does in Kingdom Hearts 3. It's been many years since the last main entry in the franchise, and since that time, Disney has only created more beloved characters — particularly on the Pixar side. In Kingdom Hearts 3 alone, you'll meet literal dozens of Disney characters, including those from Toy StoryWreck-It RalphFrozenMonsters, Inc., and many more. And then there are the series mainstays who've been around since the first two games, either aiding the protagonists or opposing them.

It's entirely possible that Square Enix just didn't have the room to grow the Disney roster in Kingdom Hearts without making some sacrifices. A game with almost every Disney character imaginable and a bunch of Final Fantasy characters? That's an incredibly tall order. It would've made the game much larger, and let's face it – fans had already waited an incredibly long time for Kingdom Hearts 3.

But there's also another possible explanation for why Final Fantasy characters are missing from Kingdom Hearts 3. Maybe Square Enix felt that the franchise's original characters could finally stand on their own.

When the original Kingdom Hearts released all those years ago, it could've been just as easily ignored as it was loved. A Square Enix RPG featuring Disney characters? That could've been brushed aside as a game for kids. But that didn't happen, thanks to the inclusion of Final Fantasy characters. They gave the game credibility, and that ultimately widened the game's audience.

That game got a sequel, along with a smattering of spin-offs that looked more and more closely at original characters in the Kingdom Hearts story. Fast forward to 2019, and the Final Fantasy cast may be ready to take a backseat. Sure, some longtime series fans will miss them. But they're now invested in what happens to characters like Sora, Aqua, and Ventus, too. That wasn't the case in 2002.

So yes, it's a little sad that you don't cross paths with some of your favorite Final Fantasy characters in Kingdom Hearts 3. But there's a strong likelihood that it's for the best. And never say never, by the way — those classic Square Enix icons may not have appeared in the main KH3 campaign, but there is DLC on the way.

Maybe a surprise is just around the corner.