Like most longtime fans of the Kingdom Hearts series I have waited very patiently for Kingdom Hearts III to come out. Lately it has been the penchant for Square Enix to have drummed up controversy and hype for games that should have been released long ago. Final Fantasy XV was in development for approximately ten years and went through a name change and two generations of consoles.
Kingdom Hearts III skipped a generation and had six games between itself and Kingdom Hearts II.
I won’t ask the question, “Was it worth the wait?”
The right question here is: “Is it worth playing?”
In my honest opinion, it could very well be.
With an overarching story spanning all the games up until now, Square Enix have created a series no other developer has done; a unique and original story with a heavy presence of Disney properties and a touch of Final Fantasy.
Kingdom Hearts III came out in Japan on January 25th and worldwide on January 29th to universal acclaim. The game bridges popular Disney properties such as Frozen, Tangled and Monster’s Inc. with compelling storytelling, and a confusing and deep plot. This is essentially the climactic end to the Dark Seeker Saga; Sora, Donald and Goofy return to stop Master Xehanort and his newly-reformed Organization XIII destroying the universe.
(This is where things get weird as there are multiple Xehanorts now. Spoilers follow.)
Continuing from Dream Drop Distance and the death of Xemnas in Kingdom Hearts II, Master Xehanort reforms as his heartless and nobody rejoined. Gathering thirteen new hosts, Xehanort had left pieces of his heart in some of his followers. He also left these in a newly-reformed Ansem and Xemnas – his heartless and nobody – so that he could not completely die.
Sora did not learn the mysterious power of waking in Dream Drop Distance. He also lost most of his powers as a result of young Xehanort’s influence on him.
(Yes; there’s also a young Xehanort. Confusing, right?)
Sora must find the new seven Guardians of Light (as the seven Princesses of Heart transferred their power to seven new individuals) to battle the thirteen Seekers of Darkness and stop Master Xehanort’s plan to forge the χ-Blade (pronounced “key”, mind you). His ultimate goal is to bring ultimate balance of Light and Darkness by creating another Keyblade War so that he can open Kingdom Hearts (the heart of all worlds) in order to become a god of sorts and create a new world that only he can control.
So Sora, Donald and Goofy traverse from world to world, searching for the Guardians before the final climactic battle. With a main story spanning more than thirty hours and multiple side quests, minigames and collectables, you could easily sink time into the game and feel satisfied.
The visuals are stunning. Each of the worlds are amazingly vibrant and lively; each of its inhabitants more so than previous games.The attention to detail on the characters from their respective films is absolutely on point. Each of the characters are a one-to-one replica of their film counterparts and this adds such a nostalgic feeling to each of their stories.
Toy Story’s Toy Box, Tangled’s Kingdom of Corona, Frozen’s Arendelle, among other worlds have very close recreations of their film counterparts. One thing Kingdom Hearts Three does amazingly well is allow you to experience your favourite Disney films from another perspective.
This time around Square Enix chose to omit all Final Fantasy characters, including the well-known overpowered boss fight; Sephiroth. This may be of detriment to Kingdom Hearts fans; Many people were drawn in seeing the likes of Squall, Cloud and Cid, among others. Their absence, however, does not hinder the plot at all; aside from the cute Shop Moogles, just a minor omission.
The gameplay is probably the most bombastic of any KH game so far. Mechanically the gameplay is as standard as any Kingdom Hearts game. However, there is more style over substance this time around. Sometimes this is what makes the combat great.
You can now switch between up to three different keyblades in battle at any time. You can also link into a new mechanic called keyblade transformations. These allow your equipped keyblades to change into newer, more powerful forms with their own special attacks.
Flowmotion – a returning mechanic from Dream Drop Distance – allows you to freely run off most walls and in between various environmental pieces. In conjunction with the return of Birth by Sleep‘s Shotlock, combat looks very smooth and slick, allowing combat to be very stylish and fun.
With these also come limited time summons in the form of some famous Disney rides such as the Mad Tea Cups and the Mountain Coaster (Big Magic Mountain Railroad). There still are character summons – now known as links – such as Wreck-It Ralph and Simba.
All of these mechanics combined allow for a very streamlined, and at some points very frantic combat system.
The challenge of the game is quite the opposite. With the omission of critical mode – the series’ hardest difficulty – the combat system makes Kingdom Hearts III potentially the easiest game in the series. However, a zero exp ability is unlocked from the start to make the game more difficult if you’re finding proud mode to be not as challenging as first thought.
A major change is the omission of an on-rails Gummi Ship shooter section to travel between worlds. Instead there is a more open world exploration style for the Gummi Ship. This allows for Kingdom Hearts III to feel less constricted. You can move around in a 360° environment and you can explore the space between worlds at your heart’s desire. There are optional battles and boss battles; these retain the on-rails shooter aspect from the previous games. There are also multiple new ways to upgrade, level up and customise your Gummi Ship. This part of the game feels a lot more fleshed out and enjoyable than in previous iterations.
Featuring some masterful compositions from series veteran Yoko Shimomura alongside Tsuyoshi Sekito and Takeharu Ishimoto, the vibrant soundtrack has distinct callbacks for each of the world’s film’s themes to instil a level of nostalgia and character. For example, Toy Story’s theme has callbacks to Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”. This just heightened my excitement for this world; bringing back all the good memories Toy Story given to me as a child.
Kingdom Hearts III also retains the full songs of Frozen’s “Let it Go” and a partial rendition of “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, though the KH series is no stranger to retaining the original songs.
Whilst game is very enjoyable to play, it unfortunately has one particular issue the KH series suffers from:
An overabundance of cutscenes.
It is now a common staple for story-driven games to wrest control from the player every few minutes to play out some important plot-related guff. There are many moments within Kingdom Hearts III where you’ll be enjoying the gameplay. Then your enjoyment is snatched away for a tiny piece of story. Whilst common to the KH series, at this point some people may be turned off by this.
Another major gripe is the pacing and the telling of the overarching story. Most of the game felt like it was just Sora and his buddies having a fun adventure (i.e. fanservice) half the time, with the plot trying to build up suspense. It’s only at the very end of the game where the real story shines through. The main story feels very rushed and most of the Disney content only seeks to pad out the game. It did not truly mesh with the overarching plot as well as previous games had allowed.
Despite those gripes Kingdom Hearts III brings a lot new to the table and reinvigorates the KH franchise. It’s a game that will bring long-time fans of the franchise a lot of enjoyment. First time players, however, could be way too overwhelmed by where the story leaves off from Dream Drop Distance. Thankfully there are a set of videos that basically recap the entire story for returning players. However, if new to the series, I still recommend you start where it all began: with Kingdom Hearts on the PlayStation 2.