It’s crazy to think that here I am, writing up a review for one of my most anticipated video games because it’s finally been released to the world. It’s been a very long time coming but I’m happy to say Kingdom Hearts III is finally here and in the short sense, it’s a very fun game to play.
KH3 does not take long at all to get right into the story. Our journey continues right off the events of the previous game in the story, Dream Drop Distance, where Sora is in need of regaining his ‘power of waking’, the ability to restore hearts. Sora is out to seek this after unsuccessfully duelling with the evil Xehanort previously, resulting in Sora almost losing his powers and strength. Sora and his trusty pals Donald and Goofy travel alongside with him once more to visit various Disney worlds in order to help find his ‘power of awakening.’ The gang bump into Disney friends old and new (such as Hercules, Rapunzel, Flynn Rider, Mike and Sully, and many, many more) to help Sora find the power he is looking for. Old enemies also come into the fray to make things harder for Sora and co, such as Maleficent, Pete and various Organisation XIII members, Xehanort’s henchmen. Meanwhile, King Mickey and Riku are traversing the realm of darkness in order to find one of the missing links to help defeat Xehanort and his incarnations, none other than Master Aqua, who has been stuck in the realm for over ten years. With her help they will be able to defeat Xehanort and also recover her friends, Ventus and Terra.
The first and most obvious thing I’ll say about this game is graphically, it looks absolutely gorgeous. Square Enix have really delivered with the quality of the in-game graphics and CGI cutscenes. The art style and the Disney worlds you enter all look beautiful and colourful, along with the Disney and Pixar charm. All Disney characters look great under the Unreal Engine 4 hood and don’t look and feel ‘plastic-y’ as some players worryingly pointed out in the previously released instalment, A Fragmentary Passage. It feels like a huge upgrade and also feels like it truly puts the Unreal Engine 4 to its limit with what it can show off. This isn’t a spoiler or anything, but I will say in one of the Disney worlds you will adventure through, a full 10 minute (or more) CGI cutscene will play out and it simply looks incredible. It’s best to play this game to see what I mean.
Traversing through each world requires you to use the gummi ship from previous games once more and I can say with confidence that this is easily the best game thus far to use the gummi ship system. Customisation is still around and you can colour and build it the way you like but this time you can travel around a space-like world at your leisure without having to battle heartless in order to make your destination to the next world. Some places require a boss fight with a heartless ship but they are not a big challenge and it’s not very common. If you want to battle heartless to level up your ship, you can do just that and find heartless roaming space to engage. Don’t want to do that? You don’t have to. It feels like less restriction on you and I love it so much for that. I have never been terribly fond of the gummi ships in past games but this is definitely the best way to traverse through world to world.
Speaking of worlds, a majority of the worlds in KH3 are brand new, giving a feel of freshness and excitement. Toy Story, Monsters Inc and Big Hero 6 are just some of the new Disney worlds you will encounter, as well as returning worlds such as Mount Olympus from Hercules, Twilight Town and Pirates of the Caribbean and all are bigger and better than any world features in previous instalments. For the most part, each world feels extremely open and free to roam and I appreciate this approach, compared to older games which started to feel more linear and straight-forward. Although not every world feels perfect (and one in particular was a major disappointment and almost felt unnecessary) the rest have a great sense of adventure and ‘Disney’ essence to them. Each world also looks exactly like you would expect from the original source material and it’s clear a lot of love and effort went into these. These are some of my favourite Disney worlds to date and I think players old and new will love them just the same.
Next up is the battle system; while some were concerned that KH3’s gameplay would feel stiff and ‘floaty’, a term coined up by various players on the internet which describes the gameplay playing rather messy and not much weight to controlling Sora when striking enemies with combos (resulting in possible cheap deaths from unsuspecting enemies), I’m happy to say KH3’s combat gameplay style feels just fine. It’s a mixture of Kingdom Hearts II’s fast-paced battle system and new ideas thrown into the mix and it gels together very well. Just like previous KH games, magic spells return such as fire, thunder, blizzard, cure, can be upgraded along the way on your journey. A slight change is that this time you can now use all tiers of the magic spells to use instead of simply casting the strongest upgraded tier-version spell only. This is useful if you want to consume as much magic points as possible but want to cast magic on enemies in battle. Using a much lower-tier spell may be the better option. It’s nothing huge but it’s a nice feature for changing up gameplay with magic.
A fancy new feature in KH3’s gameplay is keyblade transformations and their ‘formchanges’. Players can now have up to three keyblades equipped to change on the fly with a press of a button instead of having to manually change every time a new keyblade has been received from the main menu. This makes gameplay more exciting and fast-paced but the real appeal to this is formchanges. Keyblades now have formchanges that can give Sora more power, depending on which keyblade is active. It’s similar to the drive form from KH2 but more fluid. For example, the keyblade received from the Toy Story world activates a power form and enables the keyblade to change into a hammer and a drill during battle. Each formation is different with each keyblade and it encourages players to try and mix up formations to see what works for everyone. It’s extremely satisfying to discover what each formation does and how it can destroy the enemies around you. Easily one of the best battle system changes in all the Kingdom Hearts games to date. I love this feature so much.
Another new and most notable feature is the Attraction Flow feature. These are attraction-ride themed attacks that are the most ‘Disney-esque’ thing in the game as they are all inspired by Disney Parks attractions such as the Mad Tea Party, (which involves Sora, Donald and Goofy inside rotating tea cups to spin and attack enemies) the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (a rollercoaster that appears in the air and can shoot at enemies from high up) and my personal favourite one, the Pirate Ship attraction which spurts our water to surrounding enemies while the ship swings up and down at the player’s controls until the ship continuously swings around and around, creating water balls exploding everywhere. It’s very fun and is also a sight to behold when each attraction happens. The best part is these are not compulsory to do when given the opportunity to do an attraction flow attack in battle, allowing the player to fight how they want. However, you are given access to all of these attractions early on in the game, making it feel a little too easy when fighting enemies. It would have been nice to be granted these attacks while meeting certain requirements as you progress further in each world so you don’t feel too overpowered and get given a sense of achievement. But hey, that’s just me.
But how does the story hold up? Almost every Kingdom Hearts fan will tell you that the overarching story in the series is confusing and all over the place, and while I agree it’s very expansive and definitely over the place at time, it’s not really confusing. Just a lot to digest. It’s not hard to understand, just lots of information that can be understood.
That being said, KH3’s story is satisfying… for the most part. Yes, we do have an ending to the Dark Seeker Saga (as it has been described) that has been playing in these games since the very beginning. We do get an ending and a final confrontation and yes there will also be tears shed at times (I have no shame in tearing up several times throughout the game’s cut scenes) but this game does that thing Tetsuya Nomura (the game’s director) loves to do; that is, answer questions we’ve been asking for ages but then create more questions that have us scratching our head. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (in my eyes, not really) but for some it might feel like it’s just an excuse to keep a series continuing, even after the main story has concluded or that it may not feel like a proper ‘ending’ for some.
The real issue I have with this game’s story is the way certain characters were handled and portrayed. I won’t go into too much detail for spoiler’s sake and who they were but some characters were given the backseat treatment REAL badly and it really baffles me. I understand that this game is ultimately about Sora and his battle with darkness but surely there could have been moments given to other characters for their time to shine in this game. Getting very close to the end involved a particular scene with a character that didn’t go down too well with me. It felt like a last-minute idea to throw in the story just to give it some oomph and unfortunately it did the opposite for me. It didn’t ‘ruin’ the game for me in any sense, but it definitely felt like a bad idea that did zero justice to the character and hurt the story.
It’s also worth noting that no Final Fantasy characters appear in KH3, as opposed to almost every other title in the series. This might come across as a negative for some players, and while I certainly would have loved to have seen old Final Fantasy characters appear again like Squall ‘Leon’ Leonhart, Cloud, Yuffie and Cid, it appears that they were not pivotal to the main story for KH3, which I understand and can appreciate. Too many characters can bog down the narrative, KH3 already had plenty this time around. Although I would definitely have loved to have a cameo of certain characters just for fun (R.I.P Lightning, your opportunity to be in a KH game will be missed).
Mini games also return in KH3 as like previous instalments in the series. You can play classic Walt Disney 1980’s LCD style games on your gummiphone and they’re adorable. Finding all of them throughout each world is not terribly difficult and neither is playing them. It’s a fun discretion from the main story and highly advise you try all of them at least once. Another new mini game introduced is cooking with Remy the rat from Ratatouille. If you find many ingredients scattered throughout each world and give them to Remy you can whip up food in his kitchen to help aid you and friends in battle with temporary upgraded stats. While it’s not necessary to do this (I didn’t once use anything I cooked up for later battles for stats) it’s still a nice feature. Plus it’s also so great to see Sora cook food while Remy controls him by the strands of his hair!
One more note to end on is the music. As usual, Kingdom Hearts veteran composer Yoko Shimomura has delivered another fantastic soundtrack and just knows how to tug at your heartstrings with the music matching the scenarios, especially the sad ones. Utada Hikaru also makes a return to sing not one but two theme songs for the game. ‘Face My Fears’ as the opening and ‘Don’t Think Twice’ as the end credits song. Utada never fails to deliver on her vocals and her performance is amazing as usual, but I certainly wish another song was chosen for the opening as ‘Face My Fears’ personally did nothing for me. I would have preferred a remixed upbeat version of ‘Don’t Think Twice’ (similar to the ‘Simple and Clean’ treatment from the first Kingdom Hearts game) but this is just my preference.
All in all, Kingdom Hearts 3, while a few issues pop up along the way, is an amazingly gorgeous and satisfying conclusion to the very first game released back in 2002. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s dramatic and it’s FUN. While certain characters deserved MUCH better and should not have been treated as secondary, this is a very good game that will most likely please long-time fans and even appeal to newcomers (if you’re okay with jumping straight in with no knowledge of the story). Coming from a long-time fan who has been here since the beginning, I’m very happy with the end result.
Thank you, Square Enix.