I kinda feel that writing this review is a little pointless. Kingdom Hearts is a series known for its convoluted story that’s been spanning 17 years over multiple platforms and handhelds. I played the first one when I was around 14 years old. I’m 30 now. At this point, you’re either invested in the franchise. Or you aren’t. Either way, a review is unlikely to sway your purchase decision. But, writing is what I do, and it feels weird to let such a massive title go by without having my say, so here we are.
First of all, I will avoid any large plot spoilers, but I can’t avoid spoiling certain aspects of the game and the worlds you visit. You have been warned. Secondly, if you haven’t kept up with the series, I’ll get this out of the way now. You likely won’t enjoy Kingdom Hearts 3 unless you catch up. Either by playing the previous titles, or watching a cut scene compilation of them on Youtube.
It would be like watching Avengers Infinity War without seeing any other Marvel movies. You could appreciate the special effects but you will be utterly lost on what the hell is going on. If fan service is a game, it’s Kingdom Hearts 3
The first thing I noticed about Kingdom hearts 3, was how gorgeous it looks with the unreal engine. It takes your nostalgic feelings of the series and cranks it up to eleven. Seeing all these beloved characters rendered in never before seen detail is an absolute joy. Though it does makes Donald and Goofy stick out like a sore thumb, even more than usual.
Anyway, it follows a similar pattern to previous games. Important things happen that require Sora and the gang to travel to various Disney Worlds. The writing and pacing are indeed better overall than past titles, but it is also incredibly sweet and sugary. It’s clear that the franchise didn’t mature with its audience.
While I didn’t expect, nor want a dark and gloomy Kingdom Hearts, I feel like Square should have remembered that its fanbase are not children anymore. Birth by sleep felt like a more mature title of the series, and it’s the sort of tone I was hoping Kingdom Hearts 3, being the finale, would have.
The Disney worlds themselves are both exciting, and frustrating depending which of the worlds were talking about. Some of them take place after their respective movies and weave the story of Sora and the saga between themselves. The story is at its strongest when it does this, having Disney characters become more centralized to the plot makes the story feel more whole. I found myself thoroughly enjoying it when it occurred.
Some Worlds, however, play out their movies story almost to the number, with Sora and the heartless somewhere on the sidelines, not mattering at all. The very first Kingdom Hearts did something similar, but actually included Sora and the gang in its story. You fought Jafar alongside Aladdin, you fought Captain Hook alongside Peter Pan. In some of these new worlds, however, you simply fight a nameless heartless boss on the sidelines while the movie’s story occurs without you.
In fact, at times the game’s writing takes ridiculous measures to keep Sora from interfering in the movie’s plot to the point of absurdity. It made these worlds in particular feel like ad placement for the movies themselves, rather than a core part of the game. Also, it made me sit through the song “Let it go” in its entirety. I will never forgive it for that.
From a gameplay standpoint, each world offered new interesting gameplay possibilities. Most worlds give you one or two companions that can battle alongside you, and unlike past games, you don’t have to switch out Donald or Goofy to have them along. Some of the worlds have some super cool gameplay surprises that I won’t spoil. Though the majority of the bosses are just heartless, there are some unique boss fights.
In fact, Kingdom Hearts 3 does a good job with it’s pacing, at anytime the action starts to dull, you get a cutscene or a short unique gameplay experience. There are a lot of minigames throughout the worlds. At one point Sora gets a cell phone (because of course, he does). Which enables him to take selfies and play games on it. Oh sure, that’s the angle the game chose to keep up with the times…in any case, both features are neat and fun to use.
The basic combat, however, is a mixed bag. Its fast, fluid, easy to control and flashy as heck. However, it is also mindless. You have basic combos, and your key blade can transform into brand new weapons, each having their own combos and finishing moves. Each one is beautifully animated and controls like a dream. You still have access to magic, able to shoot fire and ice or heal yourself and you can perform summons like past games.
The game also introduces team link moves and attractions. They show up as contextual abilities you can activate with a single button push. Again, they all look incredible. The attractions are strange though. You can summon…Disney…World…rides to battle with. There is no story explanation for this whatsoever. An enemy will occasionally be marked with a green circle, strike that enemy and you get to summon a ride.
There is a variety of them, and each of them triggers a minigame to control the attraction. They are effective and admittedly fun. But again I’ve got that feeling of ad placement. When you break the combat down, however, it falls apart for me.
First of all, the game is extremely easy. I chose proud mode, which is the games hard setting. I walked through hordes of enemies and bosses like they were nothing at all. This is strange to me. The past games had such good encounter design that required you to memorize enemy attack patterns, dodge, block, and parry to be effective. Even on the normal settings.
This isn’t nostalgia talking. I replayed many of these games leading up to Kingdom Hearts 3. In fact, since I was playing them for a refresher on the story, I had to restart Kingdom Hearts 2. I chose the proud mode and got stomped badly, and I switched to a lower setting so I could get through it all in time for Kingdom Hearts 3.
I had to do none of that this time around. In this game, I mostly just mashed the attack button until one of the contextual prompts popped up for me to transform my weapon, use a finisher, a team move or attraction. Each one of those plays a cinematic cutscene that looks cool, but makes you partially invincible while it plays and then devastates the enemy.
I often had two or three of these prompts lined up in a row, using them one after another. Furthermore, if your MP runs out by casting spells, it has to slowly recharge to full before you can use it again, and casting a heal spell empties it right away. This meter actually charges during each of the invincible cinematic attacks. It wasn’t uncommon for me to cast cure, go through several cinematic abilities and then be ready to cast cure again.
Summons are also strangely balanced. You need a full MP meter to use them, but it’s another cinematic attack minigame, and it heals your entire team when you do it.
The games feature a wide variety of heartless enemies to battle. But I couldn’t tell you what half of their attack animations look like. They normally were so overwhelmed by a flurry of attacks that they could hardly react. It’s a very good thing that the pacing is so well done because the combat would become tedious very quickly due to its lack of depth and mindless nature. It’s flashy, fluid and looks incredible, but has very little substance.
The wide variety of cinematic attacks helps keep you entertained. I’m impressed by the amount of animation in the game. Each world gives you a key blade that can transform into a unique weapon, complete with its own attacks, animations and combos and of course a cinematic finisher. There are several attractions to summon that all control differently. Every companion you meet has a team attack you can trigger. They all will dazzle your eyes and ears.
As I mentioned before, most worlds offer you a couple of unique additions to the combat or gameplay. These are always fun and fit the theme of the world very well. Then there are the numerous minigames scattered throughout the worlds and on Soras phone.
Then of course..the gummi ship returns. I hate the gummi ship. However, I won’t neg the game for its inclusion, because my dislike of it is a personal thing. Admittedly, its implementation is done very well in Kingdom Hearts 3. You can still find gummi parts and design your very own gummi ship.
In Kingdom Hearts 3 the actual traversal with the gummi ship is semi-open world. You’re free to explore a very interestingly detailed area full of secrets and space battles and even boss fights to take part in. If you’re like me and dislike the gummi ship. You can largely ignore most of it and just speed your way through to your destination. There is a decent amount of meat on its bones if you want to dig in.
Overall, I do find that Kingdom Hearts 3 disappointed me in a number of ways. It still has the heart and Disney magic that I’ve come to love from the series. However, it also didn’t mature in anyway alongside me. The combat while fluid and flashy feels like a downgrade from past games due to its lack of challenge, even on the hardest difficulty. Which I find absurd, as the game has no problem assuming you have been playing Kingdom Hearts for 17 years
Then the story has highs and lows. Some worlds were woven wonderfully into the plot. Others felt like an ad placement for their respective movies.
But, if you’re a fan like me. It probably does enough to justify its price tag, and you were gonna buy it to see its story through anyway. I certainly did. It was still a joy to return to the series and see all the important characters again. The worlds themselves look great and had interesting gameplay additions. Even if some contributed to the story in a more meaningful way than others.
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- Beautiful visuals
- Stellar animations, and a lot of them
- Combat is fluid and flashy
- The game is well paced with lots of unique one-off gameplay additions.
- The story can, at times, be very well interwoven into the Disney Worlds.
- Lots of mini games that don’t feel gimmicky.
- Combat is shallow and easy even on the highest difficulty setting.
- The story can sometimes be disconnected and goes to insane lengths to prevent Sora from interfering in the “movies” plot.
- The writing is sometimes sweet enough to choke.
- Most of the combat revolves around cinematic attacks, they look cool but are poorly balanced.
- You sit through the entirety of the song “Let it Go”