Kingdom Hearts 3 wraps up the Dark Seeker saga like a present. Open it and you’ll find spectacular production values, a joyous conclusion for many of the characters throughout the series, and thrilling combat mechanics that will keep you coming back for more. However, if you’re a newcomer, you might be in for a surprise as the story will be very hard to follow.
An engaging storyline that will leave some scratching their heads
Master Xehanort, after the events of Dream Drop Distance, is now rising his 13 seekers of darkness against our guardians of light, but preparations for the incoming Keyblade War are incomplete. Sora, Donald, and Goofy scour the worlds for a way to unlock our hero’s lost power of awakening, so they can find Ventus and Roxas. Meanwhile, Riku and King Mickey are trying to find Aqua, who’s been lost in the realm of darkness for over 10 years.
Are you following? For a newcomer to the series, it’s hard to comprehend them understanding what’s going on with this game. There are many important villains, characters, and plotlines from the portable and mobile games to keep up with, and it can be overwhelming even for the most dedicated fans of the series. And then to pile it on, you have the whacky paths Kingdom Hearts 3 goes with its storyline. Square Enix attempted to keep players up to speed through brief explanations during cutscenes and a video series called the Memory Archive, but they exist only as a reminder of what happened rather than a complete synopsis.
However, for those who are attentive and played every KH game, Kingdom Hearts 3 concludes almost every story element in a satisfying way and leaves room for intriguing storylines for future games. Unfortunately, if you have watched every trailer (or was spoiled by the Kingdom Hearts community on Twitter by GIFs, pictures and clips), a lot of the big plot points have been shown, which significantly reduced their effect. Thankfully, the most crucial threads towards the end have been kept hidden, but Square Enix should take heed on future marketing materials for the series and show restraint.
Reviewing a Kingdom Hearts game is challenging as the writing is cringeworthy, and yet, adds a dimension of verisimilitude to its Disney and Square Enix roots. It may not be as enchantingly nostalgic for others, but its true to its roots. Sora, Donald, and Goofy are whacky characters reacting to the worlds with an endearing sense of wonder. It’s charming to hear these characters interact, and in most cases, the writing can bring plenty of laughs.
Sora and company’s antagonists of the story, Organization XIII, go on tirades of villainy that fit the worlds they encounter and their overall arc in a fascinating way. However, in some worlds, such as Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean, the original movie’s plotline is vaguely mentioned, which creates an odd disconnect and confusion. Sora, Donald, Goofy do fit in very well with Tangled’s storyline, on the other hand. In other worlds, like Big Hero 6, Monster’s Inc, and Toy Story, Kingdom Hearts 3 has original storylines that take place after the films; this feels more natural as Sora, Donald, and Goofy feel more crucial to the narrative. Before playing Kingdom Hearts 3, it’s recommended to watch the movies that have been adapted for the game.
The voice acting in the game is top notch with many Disney actors reprising their roles, the sound-alikes being immaculate, and the main cast all putting in solid performances within a higher stakes story. Haley Joel Osment, a 30-year-old man, who has grown up with the role of Sora succeeds and will make you infectiously smile and tear at your heartstrings within the span of the 30 hour or so playthrough. Despite a great cast, one significant absence is Leonard Nimoy as Master Xehanort. Nimoy sadly passed away in 2015, so the actor who replaced him, unfortunately, did not bring the gravitas of Nimoy’s performance (and sounded nowhere near his iconic voice). His character motivations are odd as well, and he is barely a presence within the plot. In the end, Xehanort is a weak villain for this otherwise epic conclusion, which is a shame considering how much they built him up this whole time.
Thrilling combat, little difficulty
What is epic, however, is the combat and how fluid each animation is. Each hit of the keyblade feels satisfying as your enemies squirm with every strike. The magic pops on screen with pretty particle effects and lighting that add so much flair to each fight. And the game rewards you for using magic repeatedly with a more powered up version of the spell to use as a triggered command.
The keyblade transformation mechanic, new to Kingdom Hearts 3, is an improvement on the Drive Forms from KH2. They shift the combat to exciting heights with different weapons at Sora’s disposal; hammers, spears, and flags (and more) are used in a flourish of fanciful flurries towards the heartless, nobodies, and unversed, with an epic finishing crescendo. Each keyblade has a different transformation, although a couple have slight visual changes to the attacks. Each keyblade also has a different shotlock, an attack that has Sora scan the area and typically unleash a barrage of projectiles in yet another flashy spectacle.
Links give you the ability to summon characters from Disney’s past, but most have been established in Kingdom Hearts already, and unfortunately, all of them were spoiled by promotional material. They feel less epic than previous entries in the series and as they are already familiar, they lack that wow factor. Their attacks are underwhelming and while the animations are gorgeous, they don’t leave much of an impact on the battle. It would have been great to see characters like Maui from Moana, an out of nowhere pick such as Herbie, or perhaps a Marvel character like Spider-Man or Iron Man. The only new Disney character in KH as a summon, Wreck-It Ralph, was heavily prominent in trailers, so he wasn’t a big surprise.
Flowmotion and limit attacks are also back too. Flowmotion allows Sora to bounce off walls and swing on nearby objects to help traverse or land an aerial attack on an enemy, while Limit attacks with party members from the worlds, like the keyblade transformations, are well implemented. Donald and Goofy, throughout the whole game, have only a few limit attacks, which do become repetitive. However, with one attack, Goofy sends Sora in the air, and Sora slams down the shielded hero into the heartless below. It never gets old.
To wrap up the combat mechanics, Square Enix have taken all the positive elements of previous games and refined them for Kingdom Hearts 3, but one of my biggest fears for the game came true: Sora is way too overpowered with all these abilities at his disposal. It’s laughably easy. The weakly written Master Xehanort was not helped by an incredibly easy set of fights, as he is supposed to be the powerful and looming final boss of the whole series so far. Throughout the game, Sora struggles to face Organization XIII’s members and finds himself much weaker than he is supposed to be, and then as he faces them, they fall like flies. It doesn’t make sense.
It may be due to being an experienced player of the series, but on Proud Mode, there should be somewhat of a challenge. When it should have been gusty in this tumultuous Keyblade War, this was a gentle breeze. And due to the incredibly easy set of bosses, the stakes were far lessened. There was a disconnect, and in the end, the very easy difficulty level was a grand disappointment.
Regular enemies, such as the Heartless, also lacked challenge. Magic, links, limit attacks, flowmotion, and shotlocks are really fun to use, but you could easily just wail on the X button to win each battle. There was plenty of enemy variety, which corresponded to the worlds you visited, but their unique ways of fighting like borrowing through the ground or making your party members sneeze didn’t add any form of challenge to the combat.
Despite having little challenge, which could be remedied by a Critical Mode in the future or a Level 1 playthrough, the combat is incredibly slick with many routes of battling at your disposal and wonderful works of animation.
World exploration is back in Kingdom Hearts 3 and to a bigger scale. Each playthrough feels guided, but there is exploration to be had, especially in the Caribbean and San Fransokyo worlds. There are some cool gameplay elements that are sprinkled throughout, like riding the waves on a pirate ship (a la Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag), rolling down the snowy hills in Arendelle, or triggering cutscenes within the Tangled world that feel natural and increase interaction between the characters. The way you traverse through each world is different and provides interesting gameplay opportunities.
Graphical wizards at their finest
Kingdom Hearts 3 is a form of graphical wizardry. Side by side, the game looks like a Pixar movie with highly realized models of Woody and Buzz from the Toy Story world, Toybox. The lanterns and the Kingdom of Corona’s castle from Tangled are beautiful to gaze at with vibrant colours and bright lighting. The Hercules world is grand and epic with sweeping vistas and the large Mt. Olympus to scale up. And the Pirates of the Caribbean looks striking with stunning interpretations of live action actors, far off islands, picturesque waves and water physics, and the crazy high definition textures of our three heroes, Sora, Donald, and Goofy.
Each world has its own look and style that make you think you’re watching the actual movie. What makes the worlds even better is the inclusion of NPC’s in the game world, which add immersion and character to these locations. This was previously an issue in the series, which had an empty colosseum of fans cheering Hercules’ name as he waves to absolutely no one.
98% of the time, the game runs at a surprisingly fast framerate on a regular PS4 with a few drops here and there, due to the really hectic but irregular overload of chaos in battle. Because of the higher frame rate, battles look stunning with its various particle effects and striking animations.
A clash of two musical styles
Most of the soundtrack is magical. The Tangled themes are blissful, enchanting, and whimsical, and the Toy Story battle theme gets you super hyped with high antic blows of percussion, wind instruments, and strings that all sweep up into an epic symphony. Yoko Shimomura included some wonderful reworks of previous themes that gave a nostalgic punch to significant moments in the game.
However, some of the themes, particularly towards the end of the game, sound more synthesized, lack in depth, repetitive, and in the Pirates of the Caribbean’s world, too happy and don’t match the personality of the location. The final boss theme was particularly disappointing as the synthesized instruments were so sharp to the ear that they were like nails on a chalkboard. The lack of proper instruments is bothersome, especially for this crescendo of this saga in the series.
The prior theme to this, Oscurita di Xehanort, sounded way more fitting for an epic battle. The choir backing makes the song soar to an epic scale with the exquisite suite of strings and percussion driving the theme forward with callbacks to previous fights from the series. Honestly, it sounds like two different composers worked on this game at times; one that’s sensational and one that hasn’t got any grasp of what a world theme should sound like.
Kingdom Hearts 3 was a long time coming, and fortunately, the game met my high expectations. The combat is thrilling, albeit very easy, the game looks gorgeous with wonderful lighting and vivid colours, and the story wraps up an almost two-decade long saga in a satisfying fashion. With its fascinating ending, Kingdom Hearts 3 is an excellent guiding key to the future of the series.
Kingdom Hearts 3
- A graphical work of wizardry
- The combat has never felt better with exciting moves and a lot at your disposal
- The story somehow was able to wrap up the saga well with a fascinating look into the future
- The very easy difficulty downplays the epic scale of the fights
- The story will be confusing to those who have only played the mainline games
- Square Enix spoiled way too much of the storyline and gameplay features in its trailers