Kingdom Hearts has been an institution for almost two decades now. There have been dozens of titles and re-releases throughout the years. Each entry and spin-off in the franchise brought its own flavor and was fun in its own way. But with the last numbered entry being released at the tail-end of 2005, the topic of Kingdom Hearts 3 has always been on the lips of fans. And now, after delays and developmental woes, Kingdom Hearts 3 is here. So can it even hope to live up to the hype that’s surrounded it?
Kingdom Hearts 3 takes place right after the events of Dream Drop Distance. Having previously failed to prove yourself as a Keyblade Master, you play as Sora as you travel around attempting to get stronger. Along the way, you’ll also try to bring some old friends back into the fight against Xehanort and Organization XIII. In standard Kingdom Hearts fashion, you’ll be exploring a good handful of Disney worlds, like Tangled’s Kingdom of Corona and Hercules’ Olympus, to try and find the answers you seek. While you’re there, you usually end up wrapped in whatever storyline is going on, and help the local Disney heroes solve their problems.
"With the last numbered entry being released at the tail-end of 2005, the topic of Kingdom Hearts 3 has always been on the lips of fans. And now, after delays and developmental woes, Kingdom Hearts 3 is here. So can it even hope to live up to the hype that’s surrounded it?"
The story goes the typical route of front-loading Disney shenanigans at the start before really getting into heavy story stuff at the end of the game. Although your adversaries will show up while you explore the handful of Disney worlds presented to you, they don’t have a huge impact on the story until after all the Disney worlds have been completed. This isn’t a bad way of going about it, since it gives casual fans the Disney action they’ve been promised, and the events at the end of the game are more than enough to satisfy dedicated fans. Kingdom Hearts has a reputation for convoluted storylines, but the developers should be commended for creating a narrative in Kingdom Hearts 3 that can easily be understood by newcomers, but also throws in multiple bones for diehard fans to chew on. For those of you who have been waiting all these years for this game, the entire last five hours of the game are incredibly impactful and should give a lot of closure.
Kingdom Hearts has been contained to portable systems for the past ten-odd years, so we never really got to see the series evolve much in terms of graphical fidelity. And that’s what makes Kingdom Hearts 3 so impressive-looking. The graphics and animations on display here are gorgeous. There’s lots of attention paid to the smallest details of characters, and it does a lot to bring the worlds and characters to life in a way that we haven’t seen before. There are even a few cases where worlds have their own rendering style, from pastel and heavy outlines to near-photorealism.
The worlds in this game are also much different from what we’ve been used to. While in earlier titles, worlds would largely be comprised of segmented rooms connected by loading screens, Kingdom Hearts 3 forgoes that for far more open environments. Right from the outset, worlds are huge. Sprawling locales cover areas that take a sizeable amount of time to traverse, and these worlds are hardly ever interrupted by loading or screen transitions. There are even a few worlds toward the end of the game that wouldn’t feel out of place in an open-world sandbox title.
"While in earlier titles, worlds would largely be comprised of segmented rooms connected by loading screens, Kingdom Hearts 3 forgoes that for far more open environments."
But even with the scope increased, there is still a great amount of detail paid to each world. NPC’s now litter worlds and chatter away in the background. You can now have Donald, Goofy, and the world’s heroes in your party who chat amongst themselves every so often. Your party members will comment on your surroundings, and there are even a few environmental interactables to play around with.
Kingdom Hearts 3’s music is also a standout achievement. You’ll be treated to new and old material everywhere you turn. Each world has its own unique themes, and Yoko Shimomura shows off a wide variety with the instrumentation and styles present here. Hearing old tunes and themes brought back using this title’s soundscape is incredible, and should be quite a treat for older fans. The Skrillex and Hikaru Utada theme also fits in nicely with the electronic opener precedent the series has set. Ultimately, the music of Kingdom Hearts is just as iconic as its characters, and it’s a great benefit that it’s represented here in strong form.
But how is the gameplay in this title? Given the series’ recent obsession with gimmicks in place of refined combat, there has been much talk about how this title would fare. Well, the good news is that Kingdom Hearts 3 harkens back to the style of the past console games, with plenty of twists thrown in. Your strikes are meaty and you can seamlessly combo into powerful magic spells that explode with great spectacle. You start the game out with a pretty basic pool of abilities, but soon enough you’ll get access to combo modifiers and mobility options.
"Given the series’ recent obsession with gimmicks in place of refined combat, there has been much talk about how this title would fare. Well, the good news is that Kingdom Hearts 3 harkens back to the style of the past console games, with plenty of twists thrown in."
Sora has access to tools from almost every single one of his past adventures in Kingdom Hearts 3. You’ll summon friends to your aid just like in the first two games. You’ll cast out Shotlocks and transform weapons like in Birth By Sleep. You’ll Flowmotion all over the place like in Dream Drop Distance. All of the older moves have been balanced for this title too, so they don’t end up breaking the game, with Flowmotion especially receiving a significant re-tweaking.
There are plenty of new toys to mess around with here as well. Amusement attacks will pop up and let you ride Disney attractions to defeat your enemies. You also have grand magic, which are souped-up versions of your basic spells that prompt whenever you combo enough with a certain magic spell. There are tons of other mechanics to engage with as well, like stat-boosting culinary dishes, quick stepping, and rideable mechs in the Toy Story world, so it’s safe to say that you won’t be lacking for variety in your playthrough.
Gummi ships return for this entry as well. You need to traverse space with your ship in order to get from world to world. However, instead of being locked onto a set path, you now choose how you’ll get to your destination. You have an open space to explore for treasures and fight other ships in. Once you enter combat, you’re taken to a separate screen where gameplay plays more like the older titles. Space is an interesting place, and it has enough hidden goodies and crafting material strewn throughout it that it feels like an adventure to traverse.
"Sora has access to tools from almost every single one of his past adventures in Kingdom Hearts 3. You’ll summon friends to your aid just like in the first two games. You’ll cast out Shotlocks and transform weapons like in Birth By Sleep. You’ll Flowmotion all over the place like in Dream Drop Distance. "
The greatest addition that Kingdom Hearts 3 brings to the table is in Keyblade-swapping. With this, you can change out your Keyblades seamlessly during combat and utilize all their different attributes. Each Keyblade has its own stats and transformation moves, and while some of them recycle moves from previous Keyblades, they all serve a unique function. This allows you so much creativity, letting you stock up transformations and cast more powerful magic with certain Keyblades. You also have access to an upgrading system, which helps keep all your Keyblades useful throughout your entire journey. Ultimately, Kingdom Hearts 3 does the seemingly impossible by retaining all of the mechanics of past titles, reining them all in to fit this game, and then adding more on top of it. And despite how that may sound, it ends up working incredibly well.
Although, with everything positive that I’ve said, the game isn’t perfect. Characters and dialogue can sometimes be pretty stilted, and in a game with this many cutscenes, that can end up becoming tedious. There’s also an issue with the storytelling in the Disney worlds. Trying to shove a movie’s plot alongside meaningful gameplay into the three or four hours you’ll spend in each world sometimes creates schizophrenic pacing. Some worlds end up cutting out large parts of the story or not giving seemingly plot-critical characters any relevance to the narrative. Though most worlds handle the split pretty well, there are a few standout examples where you would be completely lost without the backstory of the movie.
The bigger issue in Kingdom Hearts 3 is the lack of challenge throughout much of the game. Amusement attacks and team-up attacks pop up far too often, and usually end up dealing an absurd amount of damage at no cost to the player. That’s not to say that the game is a cakewalk, but you are given so many safety nets that it can be pretty difficult to die. Although you can easily ignore these options, there’s no option to turn off things like the amusement attacks, and they will end up cluttering your screen with their prompts. This is doubly a shame because the combat system here is so good, and there aren’t too many enemies that will really push you to learn the ins-and-outs of it. Hopefully, the harder Critical mode will be patched into the game in the coming months.
"Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like the end of an era."
Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like the end of an era. While it is the end of the Dark Seeker saga, it’s also the end of the long wait for another console Kingdom Hearts title. After so many years, the third numbered entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise is here. So much time has passed and so many new characters have been introduced. And at the end of it all, we got conclusions that we’ve been waiting for and even more questions for the future of the franchise.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Great creativity in combat; Satisfying storyline; Beautiful graphics and music.
Lack of meaningful challenge; Some Disney storylines are iffy.