Review: Kingdom Hearts 3
Kingdom Hearts 3 can be repetitive and slow in its gameplay, but it makes up for this shortcoming with astounding visuals, tons of ways to play, and a heartfelt story.
After a long, arduous, and suspense filled 13 years, Kingdom Hearts 3 and all the answers with it arrived in late January. For all the fans that grew up with the franchise, this game is the climactic ending they’ve all been waiting for. For people who are brand new to the series, as I am, this game seems like a cluttered story with gameplay elements that have high highs and low lows. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Kingdom Hearts 3 is one of the most fascinating games I have experienced. It is a mess of a video game, and that’s part of what makes it so special.
Kingdom Hearts 3 takes place after the events of “Kingdom Hearts: 0.2 Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage” and “Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance.” Sora was on the verge of being led into darkness by the all-powerful, Master Xehanort and has lost all his powers. Sora looks to recover them before the epic battle of light and darkness takes place. Meanwhile, Riku and Mickey Mouse are off to find one of their strongest allies, Aqua, to also prepare for the upcoming battle. This leads us into Sora, Donald, and Goofy going to Olympus to find Hercules and find out how to unlock his powers in “Kingdom Hearts 2.9.” As Sora, you engage in battle after battle through a war-torn Thebes. Hades has unleashed the Titans onto the world and its up to you to stop him. This is the prologue of the game and it begins with a bang, which is a welcome sight considering Kingdom Hearts 2’s prologue was a slog with a whole lot of confusion thrown into the mix.
Olympus sets the tone for what you will be experiencing throughout. The game gives you a drip feed of new mechanics, ways to attack, and movement options to slowly ease you into what it wants to present. Wall-running, attacking, dodging, and use of the “Flowmotion” system from previous games are explained in-depth. The world of Olympus, much like the subsequent worlds, are beautifully detailed and expansive. The design of each world makes you want to see every nook and cranny because of how gorgeous everything looked. This was a welcome sight since the previous games made worlds feel like a school diorama rather than a sprawling, life-filled environment. The animation of each character and Square’s loyalty to Disney’s source material is spot-on, though it takes some liberties with its storytelling. The worlds you encounter will give you a very basic idea of what the Disney story is, which leads to some let-downs with the impact of the events.
In the Pirates and Toy Story worlds, they immersed you with interesting wrinkles in the gameplay. This includes taking control of giant-mechs in Toy Story and being able to man a ship to explore the ocean in Pirates. Toy Story made you feel like a real toy, as the world takes place mostly in a mall where each floor feels like a brand-new area. The aesthetics of Pirates are unmatched and puts you squarely in the movie. Sora and the gang are able sail to new islands and explore the secrets within them. Diving through ocean reefs, exploring the jungles of each island, and even diving for treasure are all present in Pirates world.
On the other hand, the Frozen world and Big Hero 6 world lacked polish and went on a little too long. Frozen involves having to climb the same mountain multiple times with only one, thematic sledding portion that was ho hum. Big Hero 6’s world was large yet felt empty and devoid of life. Some of the missions just took too long to complete due to the sheer size of the map. Each climactic, ending moment felt more like a relief than a satisfying end to the story. This was even a problem with the more satisfying worlds in Kingdom Hearts 3.
Part of the problem of lack of impactful moments also stems from the game’s combat system. As in previous Kingdom Hearts games, battles will consist of hordes of Heartless, Nobodies, and Unversed to slash and stab with Sora’s Keyblade. Sora also has control of elemental magic, summons of famous Disney characters, and the newly added “attractions.” When it comes to swinging your Keyblade to and fro, it feels precise and easy to control. Dodging and blocking are also present, but the litany of offensive weaponry makes these seldom used buttons (unless you do Proud mode). You will also have access to healing items and the ability to cook food to increase your stats temporarily. The food can be made from LeGrand Bistro with the help of “Little Chef.” With each world conquered, Sora will unlock several Keyblades that are themed from each world. Each Keyblade comes with nifty transformations that stack more damage and allow for various ways to defeat your enemies.
As far as looks go, nothing looks cooler and flashier than pulling off a combo and moving from one enemy to the next. In a utilitarian sense, most of the options feel redundant or pointless. Most of the Keyblades have similar effects and transformations. Some Keyblades have interesting uses, but it doesn’t really add any deeper strategy options to your fights. Nearly all the enemies (including bosses) can be defeated by simply mashing the attack button while occasionally transforming for extra damage. Having more options and variance in any game isn’t a bad thing. It’s nice to be able to have access to any and all ways to defeat your foes. Rather, the effectiveness of changing up your combat is little to none. This makes most of the fights very uninteresting and takes away the gravity of significant battles knowing you can mash attack and win.
Additionally, the attractions and summons suffer similar fates. Attractions are far too powerful, as most of them make you completely invincible for the duration of the move. The attractions also clear out enemies as fast as you can say bibbidi-bobbidi-boo. This would be all well and good, but it’s also far too easy to get the prompt for an attraction. When an enemy gets a green circle around it, all you do is hit them once and you get an instant, horde-clearing move. Due to the frequency of acquiring these attractions, I felt compelled to continue mashing the attack button just to add a small sense of urgency to the combat. Summons are also very overpowered, but there is at a least a buffer of how long and frequently you can summon characters.
As in every major Kingdom Hearts game, Gummi ships are back and better than ever. The Gummi Shop and Gummi Editor also return in full force. Instead of a linear, on-rails experience, Gummi missions are now open world. You can stop and start at any time and move in any direction you choose, while keeping the spirit of the original Gummi experience. You can choose to encounter Heartless ships at your leisure. Each Heartless ship comes with a star ranking to let you know how difficult the fight will be. There are plenty of secrets hidden around each area, including safes, checkpoints, boss battles, crystals that contain blueprints, and even a secret boss. The fights are engaging and still feel very much like StarFox, which is never a bad thing. Some of the most fun I had with the game involved just flying through space in my Gummi ship and finding anything I could.
Despite the repetitiveness in certain aspects, this game was not lacking in extras. Whether it was combat based, mini-games, or just killing some time, Kingdom Hearts 3 offered a variety of ways to play. As in previous games, the Moogle Shop and synthesis are back, along with a newly added “Keyblade Forge.” This allows you to upgrade your Keyblades granted you have the necessary materials. When you arrive at the Moogle Shop, it gives you a litany of healing items, armor, synthesis materials, and pre-made meals to buy. There are also side-quests the Moogle Shop has that involve using the new, millennial inspired Gummiphone. The Gummiphone allows you to play a ton of Game & Watch style games (if you find them) and lets you take pictures…including selfies! The Moogle Shop also gives you photo missions, which are straightforward. In exchange, the Moogle Shop will reward you with helpful trinkets that you or your allies can equip.
The Gummiphone also is used to take pictures of secret Mickey emblems, which are hidden throughout every world in the game. If you collect them all, you are rewarded with a secret video at the end of the game. This is a worthwhile cause since it adds excitement for the next game and gives you a reason to explore each world thoroughly. Additionally, a Kingdom Hearts game isn’t complete without a gauntlet to attempt. During the latter part of the game, you have the option to participate in the “Battle Gate.” There are Battle Gates to be found in each world and a tough battle accompanies them all. Each subsequent mission in the Battle Gate ramps up the difficulty. When you reach the very end, you are treated to a secret boss fight that will truly test your skills.
The story of Kingdom Hearts 3 is one that intimidates anyone new to the series but is a reunion of beloved characters for longtime fans. For me, I was always fascinated with Kingdom Hearts since I missed out on it as a child. It felt like this whimsical secret that no one was letting me in on. After extensive study of Wikis, playthroughs of my own or vicariously through videos, and plenty of questions to friends who know the series, I still can’t properly define what this story is.
Kingdom Hearts is a series filled with retcons, deus ex machina, and tropes that make a newcomer really scratch their head at what is happening. To breakdown every turn of the story would keep all of us here longer than need be. In summary, Sora and six other “Guardians of Light” are destined to fight members of “Organization XIII” and their thirteen “Seekers of Darkness.” This fight is to determine if the main baddy, Master Xehanort, will reproduce the χ-blade (that is the Greek letter for “chi” which is pronounced as key) and control Kingdom Hearts. It is a classic battle of good vs. evil.
Throughout the game, many different characters will explain and flush out parts of the story you might have forgotten, or the previous games omitted. The characters and voice acting are, for the most part, very well done. Many voice-actors reprise their roles, such as Haley-Joel Osment as Sora, and give fantastic performances. Despite the convoluted and messy story, there were a few moments that made me teary-eyed from happiness or sadness. The theme of friendship, love, and heart are driven home in ways where you end up rooting for these characters. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between. The pacing of the story feels glacial at certain points, as the Disney and Pixar-themed worlds add very little to the overarching plot. An Organization XIII member will most likely show up and give exposition, but that’s about it. Most worlds start and end in the same, predictable way.
Kingdom Hearts 3 has many glaring flaws but makes up for them in ways that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Its story is muddled and hard to keep up with, but the characters stick with you and draw out your emotions. The worlds follow a very similar formula throughout, but the look and feel of them all makes you really sit back and want to take it all in. The gameplay can be repetitive and predictable, but every move looks so cool to pull off and the enemy designs really keep you on your toes with what they might throw at you.
If you’re looking for a difficult, engaging gameplay experience, then Kingdom Hearts 3 is not the game for you. If you want a fun, easy-to-play, story-driven experience with a lot of heart, then Kingdom Hearts 3 is right up your alley.