NOTE: This review will contain mild spoilers and then will break into major spoilers after the main review. I will make a break in the article to note where the major spoilers start.
I was admittedly worried in the weeks leading up to the release date of Kingdom Hearts III. I mean I’ve been burned several times in the last five years alone from games making a major comeback. The most obvious one for me was Mass Effect: Andromeda, a game that I was 100% positive at the time, that it couldn’t fail. Not only did it fail, it crashed and burned to the point that I’m not sure I can trust BioWare ever again. So with Kingdom Hearts III being not only a similar situation, but one with an even larger gap in time between the last game I played from that series and the game I was about to play.
So when I finally held the copy of the game in my hands, there was a hint of doubt along with the massive amount of joy I was feeling. Then I plopped in that disc, hit ‘New Game’ and the train started a’rollin’!
From the moment the intro cutscene started playing, hearing that orchestrated version of Utada Hikaru’s “Don’t Think Twice”, I felt every bit of nostalgic emotion flooding back into me. I may not remember exactly how I felt playing the original PS2 games, but I felt all the memories of those two games returning back to me. It truly was a “shiver up my spine” level moment and served to pump me up for the 50+ hour journey I would go on.
To put it simply, Kingdom Hearts III for me was a 14-year long wait that was well worth the patience I somehow mustered. With the main story completed and I’d estimate around 75% of the entire game completed in terms of content, I have no problem saying that this game not only was worth the wait, but lived up to any and all expectations I had for the game. That’s not to say it’ll live up to your expectations or anyone else’s mind you, but for me as someone who has learned not to over-hype myself, the game does a damn good job in every single way.
I didn’t play any of the side games really in between KH2 and KH3. I gave Birth By Sleep a try, but I’ve always had a problem getting into handheld games, so I struggled to stay interested on the PSP. Had the game been available later on through the PS TV (if it was, it’s only digital and I didn’t buy a single digital title for that device), I might have given it a shot, same with 358/2 Days, but the interest wasn’t there. So I’m looking at the differences in the series from the PS2-era games and this one. And boy oh boy does the game improve on so many things.
First of, MY GOD THE GAME IS GORGEOUS!!! Timing it perfectly, the game came out just before I moved out to my new apartment, so I started the game on a small 24″ 720p TV and moved to a 53″ 1080p TV, so I’ve seen both levels, aside from 4K, cause good lord that’s still expensive for my budget and at this point there’s no reason to be upgrading to a PS4 Pro anyways. Regardless, as I set before, HOLY FREAKING HELL THIS GAME LOOKS AMAZING!!!
This really hits home in the Disney worlds. Working on the Unreal 4 engine, I can’t imagine playing the older games ever again after seeing how the various worlds look today. Out of all of them though, I couldn’t have been more awestruck than in the Toy Story world, specifically the first time you leave Andy’s house and see the world outside. It really hits home that this is what a current-gen Kingdom Hearts game looks like, after countless games on handheld and mobile devices.
In most cases though, the game transitions between all these worlds seamlessly, mostly retaining the core look of the game, while altering slightly for most worlds, except for the Pirates of the Caribbean world, which has a much more realistic look, aside from Sora and company, of course. That world is also a marvel to look at. Speaking of which…
Since I’m going to talk about the gameplay, might as well start with the bit I’m going to remember the most. The Pirates of the Caribbean world really shows how much the series has evolved. No longer just world after world of smacking around endless respawning waves of Heartless (not that I ever had a problem with that), with small rooms that needed separation through short loading screens. This world alone is massive for what you’re used to in Kingdom Hearts, akin to a fraction of the entire world in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which the world is basically quite reminiscent of. Ship battles, islands to explore, that world has become in my opinion the most memorable world in the series thus far through its gameplay. And it’s not the only unique one, the Tangled world has some interesting ideas with exploration, though I wish they’d done a little more, the Toy Story world has mechs you can pilot in the world once you enter the toy store that functions as the main dungeon there, hell even the Monsters Inc. world, that I figured I’d just want to breeze through, it ended up being a lot of fun with its various little quirks, like gliding across rails and various doors to go from place to place.
But anyways, enough world gushing, now to gush about the gameplay. In terms of traversing the worlds, not much has changed in that regard. You still walk, run, jump and eventually through leveling up, gain the ability to glide. Oh and I guess there’s the ability TO RUN UP WALLS! It’s the lone notable change in movement and yet it adds so much to each world. Rooftops are easily accessible (see the Big Hero 6 for the primary example of that), battles can actually be waged completely above ground and the overall verticality makes each world feel a lot bigger than the worlds of old, where at best you can jump up to a second floor. Now you run as high up as skyscrapers. I guess there’s also improved underwater fighting, as you see in the Pirates of the Caribbean world, and it is certainly better, but after a small usage of it in the final boss battle, I kinda wish they’d just erased it. Underwater + Kingdom Hearts has always been a bit of a struggle.
The battle system overall however, is no struggle at all. In fact, I’m amazed just how improved everything is. Aside from the absolute fluency through the entire game (never noticed any major framerate drops), the chaotic fighting is very much still around and better than ever. More moves, more abilities, more available options, more strategy (that I don’t use), more fun. Smaller changes of note include three sets of 4 shortcuts, making it easy to organize spells, summons and items without having to go digging through the menu during the heat of battle. You can also cast spells in the air, which is especially helpful during your constant need to heal. MP is also a little different, as battle spells use portions of MP, while a Cure spell or summon takes the entire bar and puts it in a cooldown mode until it refreshes your bar to the full amount. Which means if you can stay out of trouble, you won’t be chastising yourself for not buying one more Ether or Elixir. They’re all nice touches, helping things along while other improvements do the heavy lifting.
For example, Keyblades actually have meaning throughout the entire game. With the ability to upgrade each and every Keyblade, every weapon is viable if you want it to be. Though the Ultima Weapon is back and is still far ahead of the rest, all the other Keyblades are worth something, depending on your style of play. They all also come with special transformations, kind of like the various Forms from Kingdom Hearts II. For example, my favourite Keyblade, the “Favorite Deputy” has three forms, the first being the default Keyblade, the second being a hammer and the third being a drill. I also enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean “Wheel of Fate”, especially for its second form, the spear-wielding “Highwind”, naturally intentionally named after Final Fantasy VII party member, Cid Highwind. I didn’t try every Keyblade mind you, specifically the ones geared for magic users, but they all have their quirks. Hell, even the Winnie the Pooh Keyblade has a form that you can use to attack while using the Dodge Roll ability. It’s awesome!
The lone complaint I have is in the extra attacks you can have during battle. Through Goofy, Donald and the Disney party member you get in each world, there’s bonus attacks you can activate, and they’re all fine. It’s a different bonus attack that causes a bit of an issue with me, that being the “Attractions”, which are essentially summons you gain from landing an attack on a specified enemy, which summons a Disney park attraction such as the tea cups, or the pendulum-swinging Pirate Ship. At first, they’re absolutely fine and fun, and in a way they still are, but the problem is that they’re very easy to get and break the flow of battle. I played on Easy mode as well and man oh man are they overpowered. You can’t turn them off either, so the only way to not use them, is to simply ignore them and let the timer run out, which is an eyesore having to stare at that timer for a good 30+ seconds. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, but they could’ve either reduced the amount of times you can pick them up, or at the very least take them out of boss battles. They feel out of place there.
Lastly, the story. Without major spoilers (which I’ll have further below after I end the main review), the story is about what you remember from Kingdom Hearts games. They’re a total mess, you get lost over and over again, and yet you’ll still love the majority of it. The Disney worlds are large in part either re-tellings of the subject material or in Big Hero 6’s case, an original story, post-film. They’re perfectly fine, though the Toy Story and Frozen worlds each miss a great opportunity that could’ve really set them apart from the rest, which again I’ll get into in the spoilers section later on.
The main story however, is certainly a challenge, especially to those not familiar with every bit of lore the series has had. Even after watching videos that tell every ounce of detail I missed in games outside of the PS2-era games, I found myself lost and confused a number of times. Though admittedly, I can’t distinguish between the times I was lost because I didn’t know the material, and the times I was lost because the villains always spoke in riddles. However in the end I did find myself catching up and by the final world of the game I understood everything I had been working towards and thus there were two scenes back-to-back that nearly brought me to tears.
This game closes a lot of stories, ties up a lot of loose ends. This is the end to the “Dark Seeker Saga” with Master Xehanort and Organization XIII, but certainly not the end of the series. There are two major cutscenes at the end that show that we are far from anything being over. Sora’s journey may have only just begun. In the end, I felt satisfied with the ending, a little underwhelmed by the final boss battle, but not to detract from anything. I was left just wanting a tiny bit more.
Like I said at the top, this game was well worth the wait. Massive improvements, a gorgeous looking game, though a few bumps in the story. Which quite honestly, is exactly what Kingdom Hearts 1 and 2 were. They were never perfect and I didn’t expect KH3 to be either. What I wanted was a game that I felt was at par with KH2 and I feel I got just that. I honestly can’t tell you which is better, I feel both games offered the same level of emotional value, the difference is the kind of emotions. At age 17 and now 31, I treated the two games differently, KH2 was a wonderful achievement, while KH3 was a massive flood of nostalgia. Neither feel better than the other, they just offered different feelings for me.
The important thing is that both are worth your time, so if you’re a veteran to the series, this game isn’t a disappointment in any regard. And if you’re new, I think this game is still worth looking at. I’d tell you to take a look at the re-packaged older games that are being offered, but if you don’t want to go through 100+ hours of content before playing this game, I think there’s still plenty to enjoy. Just watch a video about the story up to this game so you don’t get too lost and you’ll be fine.
I waited more than a decade for this game and now that it’s over and done with, I cannot wait to see what’s next for one of my favourite series in gaming.
***MAJOR SPOILERS INCOMING!!!***
All right! Let’s get into all the juicy stuff, shall we?!
Who called this son of a bitch being Luxu?! I mean if there’s anything that shocked me right off the bat, it was finding out that Xigbar is the apprentice that the Master of Masters gave that giant black plot device, I mean box to.
By the way, let me make this perfectly clear, I have a vague understanding still of the lore that will be making this new storyline with the Master of Masters in the future games. I know little about him, the six apprentices and other pieces of information relating to that part of the series’ lore. So this first scene was a bit of a wash for me, as I admittedly didn’t get most of what they were saying, though I imagine most of it is the game’s love of speaking nonsense and riddles. Though I’ve seen various hints to what’s to come, like for example the seven pieces that Eraqus put on Xehanort’s side of that game board containing the seven symbols of the aforementioned Master of Masters and his six apprentices, meaning those seven may be our villains in the next game or set of games, depending on how deep this goes.
The secret ending, or the “Yozora” ending is what really intrigues me. I mean, that world is either a The World Ends With You World that would likely mean a DLC sidestory, in my opinion…OR THE NEW GAME WILL HAVE US PLAYING IN OUR OWN WORLD!!! Either way, I’m stoked to see where this goes, but I have to imagine there must be a connection with the Verum Rex game that we see in the Toy Story world and/or The World Ends With You, so I’m more inclined to think this will be either DLC or a small side game.
I mentioned I nearly cried twice during the time I spent playing this game. This beautiful girl is one of the two things that made me well up a bit. The first was Terra’s return, just seeing the three of them together again and especially seeing Aqua truly happy again for what was more than a decade for her, that meant a lot, even if I didn’t know much of the story.
But Xion coming back, being revealed as one of Xehanort’s new Real Organization XIII members, that was a big moment. And then once Roxas made his triumphant return, that was it for me. Watching Xion absolutely break down as not only did she finally see Roxas and company again, but people remembered her, she was no longer a forgotten shadow. Those two moments were awesome and especially being back-to-back like that.
Lastly, I wanted to talk about a few missed opportunities the game had. Right off the bat, HOW DID THEY FUCK UP A POTENTIAL BOSS BATTLE WITH A DARK BUZZ LIGHTYEAR?!!! How awesome would that have been, especially considering this game really went out of its way to not have you fighting Disney villains aside from the Titans in Olympus? It seemed all but set in stone that you were going to have to face Buzz after he got possessed and yet they just made it so that you brought him back to the good side and then faced another big Heartless boss. It was still a good boss fight, but man oh man could’ve a Buzz Lightyear boss battle have been awesome!
Secondly, the Frozen world really fucked up by not having Elsa being your party member. I thought after showing that she could defeat Heartless with her magic, she was a shoe-in to be your party member in the world. Instead, you get shafted with the snow golem she creates to guard her castle and his bonus attack is meh at best. Massive missed opportunity there.
Finally, let’s address there being no Final Fantasy characters at all during the entire game. Unless there’s going to be some DLC arena that includes another ass-kicking from Sephiroth, while I don’t mind there not being a Final Fantasy presence in the story, it really does feel like we’re being cheated out of content with no one being around. Leon, Aerith, Yuffie, Tifa, Cloud, Sephiroth, even Yuna, Rikku and Paige, how are none of them in there after being around for so long?! And come on, it would’ve made so much sense for Cindy to be your Gummi ship mechanic!!!
So that’s everything from me here, folks! If you’ve got anything to say about the game, or if I missed something really important, leave a comment below!