Kingdom Hearts 3 has a massive responsibility to deliver something worth the long wait. Through several side games, a mobile game and one convoluted story that I’m still not quite sure I follow, we’ve come to a breaking point for the series. Thankfully, Square Enix delivers a satisfying, wonderful conclusion but something that might not resonate with everyone. While most of the storylines are cohesively threaded together and wrapped out, the weight of 17 years of lore holds back pieces of the finale.
Not So Simple and Clean
For me, the first thing I do once booting up a new Kingdom Hearts includes hearing the latest rendition of one of my favourite pieces of music – Dearly Beloved. Yoko Shimomura is one of my favourite composers right now, and hearing, what I can describe as one of the most heartful pieces of gaming. It’s also my morning alarm that gentle nuzzles me awake, keeping me in a certain frame of mind. If anything, this is my saving grace when getting up.
I’ve been with the series since day one. My childhood includes fond memories of the first game, how impressive the story was to my young mind and how awe-struck seeing the worlds of Disney come to life and my favourite Final Fantasy characters come together. I thought I’d seen the best the series had to offer but I was wrong.
Serving as a direct continuation of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, we begin right where we left off with Sora, Donald and Goofy speaking to Master Yen Sid. Sora almost fell to the darkness in the last game where he and Riku were tasked with completing their Mark of Mastery exam to become Keyblade Masters.
My Friends Are My Power!
With the preceding games building up a confrontation between Xehanort, the series’ main antagonist and Sora and Guardians of Light, Kingdom Hearts 3 looks to end what has come to be known as the Dark Seeker Saga. Each game before added their own bits to the overarching lore while adding interesting characters and allowing us to get to know them. The third numbered entry gathers all the disparate threads from each previous game and wraps them up in a satisfying conclusion.
Looking at gameplay, Kingdom Hearts 3 is an amalgamation of the previous entries. Taking what worked in each game that came before, you’ll find the best of it packed into the combat. Battles are fast, fluid, and chaotic. Seeing Sora unleash devastating combos while teaming up with pals Donald and Goofy brings a sense of comradery which you’ve seen develop over the course of the series. The three heroes finally hit a point where they are in finely tune and in sync.
May Your Heart Be Your Guiding Key
And as Sora’s learned to wield the Keyblade with skill, his power has grown and so has his abilities with it. Keyblades now feature form changes, which turn your blade into either a yo-yo, a drill, a shield and more. Each transformation changes Sora’s attacks and adds new skills that are waiting to be unleashed on enemies. You build up attacks by combining standard attacks and magic, once your indicator turns green you can initialize your form change.
Then, interwoven from the beginning are Disney Attraction attacks that deal overwhelming damage. They are often random, but you’ll know when they are available are certain enemies are marked. Once you strike that enemy, the Attraction becomes available with the press of a button. Rides range from Mad Tea Cups to Splash Run, and each one is as magical as you would expect.
Flowmotion from Dream Drop Distance returns and improves the speed in which you move around these massive Disney worlds. Now, there’s much more verticality with tons of walls to run up and along. Sora is much faster in general, which makes getting around easier. Shotluck, previously introduced in Birth by Sleep, returns and uses Sora’s Focus bar to target enemies. Each Keyblade features a unique version as well, and because Sora’s adept as Keyblade wielder now, he can Airstep to enemies in the blink of an eye to defeat them.
Deep Dive Into The Heart
Much to my surprise, I was taken aback by how wonderful the new Disney worlds were. These movies offer fantastic experiences on their own and seeing them translated to a game like this perfectly. Each world is a delight to explore and offers numerous secrets you’ll be searching for, and Mickey emblems to capture on your new Gummiphone. The size and scale of each world are easily the biggest we’ve ever seen in a Kingdom Hearts game. Some even incorporate their own gameplay mechanics, like the ToyBox with mech suits or ship sailing in the Caribbean.
Granted, not all worlds are created equal. Exploring Arendelle meant running across frozen wastelands and seeing everything covered in Snow. Including Frozen into the game was a great idea but the world was severely underutilized and that’s a shame. While I loved exploring the world of Tangled, the layout felt far too familiar to many forest scenarios as well. It isn’t until near the end of this world that the background changes into a much more beautiful castle, but we don’t get to explore this at all and leaves me wishing for more.
The world specific plots found in each Disney world are hit or miss. All replicate their respective worlds well but when seeing these plots shoehorn in Sora and company ends up as a misfire at times and it ruins the mood. For the most part, things play out as you’d expect if you were watching the movie itself. For example, while I loved revisiting Olympus, the story found here replicated the third act in Hercules which I wasn’t a fan of. Moving to the Kingdom of Corona, we experience the plot of Tangled, which has the overarching plot for us to experience and surprisingly works well when Sora shows up.
While almost everything in this game has in some shape or form improved, the Gummi Ship sections are the worst. Game after game, I’m left wondering who likes these sections and whether they bring any value to the experience. In short, no. For whatever reason, the developers decided Gummi Ships needed to be included leaving me huffing and puffing as I complete the on-rails section my way to a new world.
After 17 years, several games, and tons of lore that still goes over my head, Kingdom Hearts 3 ends on a high note. Reviewing a game with as much pedigree as this series has garnered is tough. This isn’t just a video game and Kingdom Hearts means something to different people. For me, this entry provides closure to characters I’ve known for almost two decades. Director Tetsuya Nomura delivers a satisfying conclusion that even surprised me considering how many plot lines and ideas we were left to remember.
Whether you’re a newcomer or you’ve been with the series since the beginning, Kingdom Hearts 3 offers you a good starting point thanks to the Memory Archives that simplify the story enough to understand without all the baggage.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]