Title: Kingdom Hearts 3
Available on: Xbox One, PS4
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix, Disney
Genre: Action RPG
Official Site: Kingdom Hearts 3
Release Date: January 29th, 2019
Where to Buy: Retail, Xbox Live, PSN
Kingdom Hearts 3 comes with a lot of baggage. A 13 year wait between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3, the almost impenetrable lore, and a swath of fans and naysayers on both sides of the spectrum, it is difficult to look at Kingdom Hearts 3 without some level of bias. The bar has been set incredibly high for the series as it has proven time and time again it’s ability to pierce through even the darkest of hearts with it’s charming Disney worlds and lovable characters. So, how does Kingdom Hearts 3 fair in the pantheon of Kingdom Hearts games?
Kingdom Hearts has never been an easy game to get into, but the third entry does everything in its power to make it accessible to newcomers while appeasing longtime fans of the series. During my almost 30 hour playthrough, I was delighted to find that the Disney worlds contain digestible and interesting stories. Some worlds like Arendelle from Frozen and Kingdom of Corona from Tangled stick to their respective film’s plot, while others like Toy Box and Monstropolis tell original stories. Both work rather effectively even though some of the pacing can be off at times. Some story bits in worlds are lost for the sake of moving the plot along and keeping our heroes injected into the tale.
Each world features wide open spaces for Sora to traverse, rather than the typical corridors broken up by loading screens. The environments are wonderfully realized and a spectacle to look at. Some worlds look on par with their respective films. Woody, Elsa, Mike Wazowski and Baymax have never looked this good. The level of detail and passion that has gone into realizing the magic of Disney and Pixar animation is unbelievable. That isn’t to say that the original Kingdom Hearts worlds and characters don’t look fantastic. Twilight Town, albeit smaller than you may remember it, looks gorgeous and the location for the final showdown is nothing short of astounding. It’s just a bit disappointing to find that some of the final original worlds are nothing more than large battle arenas rather than fully realized, explorable areas.
The Kingdom Hearts story is lightly spread throughout each of the Disney themed worlds, but never so much so that it will take away from the enjoyment of newcomers. Fortunately, (for those knowledgable of the overarching Dark Seeker saga) when the original characters show up in each world, their reasoning makes sense and adds to the plot of what is going on in the background.
In the time between Disney worlds, the underlying story is heaped on through cutscenes that can be confusing for newcomers but contains key information for those who are there for it. As one of those fans, I thought the way Square Enix laid out the story gave perfect pace for the plot of Kingdom Hearts 3. They had the tall task of wrapping up the plot of over 10 games, and they handle it in spectacular fashion. The Kingdom Hearts story is given intermittently throughout the game to keep longtime fans going, all leading up to payoff after payoff in the last act. Almost every loose end fans likely wanted to see wrapped up get’s its due in the last 5 hours, making it play like a top of the line fan fiction.
With so many moving parts, fans may be a bit disappointed to find that the climax sometimes feels like it barrels towards the ending, but it seems like a necessary compromise to keep the game from dragging on. There are some cheer-worthy and tear-inducing scenes here that will likely grip those who have waited 13 years to finally get an adequate finale for their beloved characters. It was a difficult thing to pull off, but series Director Tetsuya Nomura and Square Enix should be commended for what they have been able to pull off here. Not everything is answered, Nomura definitely took the chance to plant the seeds for future iterations which may drive some crazy as the long wait begins for another entry.
The story wouldn’t be as effective as it is without strong performances and writing. Kingdom Hearts 3 is successful to varying degrees with these aspects. Haley Joel Osment as Sora brings out his best performance of the series while his supporting cast mostly conveys their characters with wonderful performances. The cast even includes many of their original Disney voice actors stepping back into their roles. Sadly, the original voice actors for Mickey and Xehanort passed in recent years and their replacements don’t live up to the likes of Wayne Allwine and Leonard Nimoy respectively.
The script, on the other hand, is much less consistent. The performers do the best with what they are given, but some lines certainly fall flat. The heavy emphasis on darkness and hearts can be a bit cheesy for some, but those who are heavily invested in the series will most likely be used to it by this point in the series.
The story isn’t without its share of flaws. The series days of being a Disney/Final Fantasy crossover are long behind it as half of that bargain has been stripped from Kingdom Hearts 3. There is essentially no Final Fantasy representation in this iteration. This is likely going to disappoint many fans as Cloud, Leon and Aerith have become mainstays of the mainline titles, and their lack of involvement is glaringly obvious in Kingdom Hearts 3. Their removal may be a result of the sheer amount that Kingdom Hearts 3 throws at you. Adding in a few more characters on top of the already incomprehensibly large cast may do too much to confuse those who are new to the series. As the series has developed its own lore and world, it seems that Kingdom Hearts can lean on its own original cast rather than those familiar from other Square Enix titles.
While the story may be the bizarre mainstay that is brought up during casual conversations about the series, the hack and slash gameplay is what keeps many fans coming back for more. Kingdom Hearts has always been known for it’s fast, fluid, and chaotic gameplay mechanics, and fortunately, Kingdom Hearts 3 features some of the best offerings the series has to serve up.
Kingdom Hearts mechanics at their most stripped down are pretty basic. Fights consist of combo-ing enemies, sprinkling in some flashy magic attacks, and blocking when necessary. Kingdom Hearts 3 piles options on top of options to keep battles from becoming stale. Team up attacks allow Sora to incorporate his party members to perform some massive attacks. Links grant players the option to summon iconic Disney characters like Simba or Ariel to unleash wonderfully realized strikes against your opponents. Attraction Flows allow Sora to summon classic Disney rides like the Mad Tea Cups or the Buzz Blasters to take down enemies. All of these choices may seem overwhelming at first, but Kingdom Hearts 3 does a great job of explaining how each of them works allowing for the player to pick and choose from their arsenal. Some of these gameplay systems, especially Attraction Flows, can definitely use some tweaking as they show up far too often and do massive damage. This will hopefully be tweaked in future updates, but for now, it is a glaring issue that is likely to annoy many.
The most substantial addition to the new gameplay suite is the inclusion of Keyblade transformations. The series’ iconic weapons, Keyblades, have been completely overhauled in Kingdom Hearts 3. Each weapon has different, increasingly more powerful iterations to fight your foes. As you string together combos these transformations unlock, allowing for your Keys to change forms into the likes of hammers, shields, and guns. These transformations completely shift the way the game is played allowing for yet another level of depth. On top of this, you can now equip 3 different Keyblades that can be rotated on the fly. Finding different ways to stack Keyblades that can work in tandem is always rewarding and exciting. The ability to upgrade your Keys in the forge keeps all weapons viable throughout your playtime. The game does everything it can to allow you to play exactly how you want.
The Gummi Ship makes a return as the main means of traveling from world to world. Rather than being an on-rails shooter like in previous entries, the Gummi Ship sections allow you to traverse open space in Kingdom Hearts 3. There are many treasures to find and battles to fight in each section, but it still feels like an afterthought. It’s the best iteration of the system to date but definitely doesn’t feel on par with other gameplay aspects in Kingdom Hearts 3.
Most encounters involve Sora fighting off swarms of Heartless, Nobodies, Unversed or a mixture of all 3. Each enemy type is uniquely interesting, while many have different gameplay conditions to account for. Boss fights are almost always excruciatingly bombastic in the best way possible. Whether it be against one of the series titular villains or an original enemy related to a Disney world.
For all Kingdom Hearts 3’s gameplay does right, it does take a few major missteps. Kingdom Hearts has never been about the challenge for most fans, but for those looking for any semblance of difficulty will be disappointed by Kingdom Hearts 3. The game is exceedingly easy. I only died twice throughout my first Standard playthrough. Proud mode feels more in line with what fans have expected with Standard difficulty in the past entries. Shockingly, the inclusion of a Critical difficulty is nowhere to be found in Kingdom Hearts 3. This mode has become a staple of the series since Kingdom Hearts 2: Final Mix and it being left out of Kingdom Hearts 3 is inexcusable. One can only hope that it will be added later down the line in a patch.
In addition to this, Kingdom Hearts 3’s post-game options leave a bit to be desired. Kingdom Hearts 3 features numerous collectible treasure chests to find, hidden Mickey emblems to snap photos of, and mini-game high scores to chase, but that’s about it. There are a few post-game battle portals to fight through and a somewhat challenging secret boss to defeat, but that’s about it. Those who were hoping to extend their playthrough beyond the main story may be disappointed to see that there isn’t much to dive into.
Verdict: For all its flaws, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the game that fans have been waiting for. It features some of the most varied gameplay the series has to offer while giving fans a satisfying culmination to a story 17 years in the making. It’s absolutely far from perfect, but many of its issues will hopefully be fixed with future patches and DLC. As it stands, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a wonderful entry for the series that is sure to delight and confuse newcomers and appease longtime fans of the series.
- Varied combat
- Massive explorable worlds
- A satisfying conclusion to the Dark Seeker saga
- Gorgeous visuals
- Exceptional performances
- Lack of endgame content
- Insufficient level of difficulty
- The absence of Final Fantasy representation and original worlds