Editor's Note: Thanks to Square Enix for Providing a Copy For the Purposes of Review
Over thirteen years ago, Kingdom Hearts II was initially released on March 28, 2005 in Japan. Throughout the many, seemingly endless years, many games were released in the series, but none were the elusive Kingdom Hearts III. The long-awaited title has been kept under wraps for such a long period of time that many fans were skeptical that it would ever even come out. Now, after 14 years, Kingdom Hearts III was finally released for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Fans of the series were ecstatic to hear about the release, but with such immense expectations, it’s hard to expect that this third entry will be able to meet the hype. But I’m pleased to say that it manages it capably, delivering a stunning, immersive, and thrilling entry in one of the best Square Enix franchises of all time.
Before fully delving into the intricacies of the story and the combat, the technical achievements that the developers produce has to be acknowledged. The game simply looks gorgeous throughout the experience with its choice of colors and art styles. In the all the nine main worlds, I never felt tired of simply taking a step back and admiring the world. Each world boasted its own, unique stylistic and color choices that kept each world feeling different from the others. This also helped to distinguish each world and make the adventure feel more memorable. One example of these stylistic choices is one returning from other games in the series; the appearance of our main characters. Depending on the world, Sora and company would switch their appearance to suit the environment around. It’s a fantastic choice that really shows the level of detail that the rest of the experience entails.
As for the presentation of the story, like other RPGs, the cut scenes throughout the story fill out a good portion of the game, at least over half. This may seem like an issue to some, after all many gamers aren’t able to pour in such lengthy hours into essentially an animated feature film. But thanks to the graphics and design choices, the cutscenes were never a chore to watch and are quite enjoyable to any long-time fan of the series as Square Enix has embedded some fantastic fan service moments in here. While the graphics presented in the cut scenes are dazzling and a huge portion of why they work, the graphics truly shined during combat sections. Thanks to a myriad of new attacks and special moves, the stunning graphics were able to be shown to the fullest. Frantic, colorful, and richly lively, these sequences never got tiring or repetitive, and each new special move was a joy to see for the first time. As I saw each move play out, I was filled with a timeless childish glee, a feat that no other game in recent memory has accomplished.
However, technical issues and hiccups often plague and damage what the intricate designing brings to the table. As mentioned before, cut scenes make up a massive portion of the game, and even though they are, they have a tendency to sound off at times. The delivery of lines by certain characters felt weak and good sometimes remove the impact from what would be a crucial moment. The problem was mainly seen with Sora and Riku, but the other characters had good deliveries for the most part. While it’s certainly reminiscent of previous entries and will make nostalgic fans weep in joy, for 2019 gamers it’s hard to fully forgive it of this issue, especially when the monumental achievement Red Dead Redemption II and Detroit: Become Human, both of which having award-winning performances. But while the issue is prevalent, it was never a deal breaker as the story underneath the façade and the gameplay always encouraged me to come back for more.
Retaining familiar combat attributes from previous installments, Kingdom Hearts III does a brilliant job of melding the old with the modern new, fleshing out both sides of the coin. Basic combat consists of the familiar mashing of the attack button to initiate combos while weaving in new spells and item usage for advanced players. It’s an effective dichotomy that encourages player growth through the entire campaign. Sora begins his journey weak and with very few other options. As you progress though, the combat becomes fleshed out and extremely more enjoyable. The AP system of customization returns and allows for loads of different play styles and abilities. Movement is also upgraded and allows for conjunction with the offense upgrades.
But marking perhaps the most triumphant return is the MP system. Far more streamlined for modern audiences, the magic available is simply elemental attacks and their upgraded forms. While at first this may seem like a downgrade from the previous games, it never became an issue due to the fluidness of combat and the ability to chain attacks from different spells, such as Blizzard class spells leaving trails of ice for Flowmotion attacks. These chains are complex and are immensely rewarding for the players that manage to pull it off.
In addition to the base skeleton that make up the combat system, the special attacks, essentially the meat and flesh on the bones, is where this new version of the gameplay truly shines. The special combat options in this game are Flowmotion, D-Links, Shot-Lock, Form Changes, Team Attacks, Grand Magic, and the brand new Attractions. To begin, Flowmotion returns for Dream Drop Distance, but not to the same extent. The ability is not as vital to success, nor does it possess the same infinite looping of movement present in KH 3D. You only have access to basic Flowmotion attacks in the beginning of the game, and even as you progress through the game, the ability never reaches the same levels in KH 3D. This, however, is not a bad thing. Flowmotion felt over bearing and essential in the debut game, here it feels like another option to supplement the excellent base combat. Overall, the diverse portfolio of moves provides the player with options that can allow them to tailor their system and results to what they want personally.
But the most prominent addition to the game comes in the form of Attractions. They are, as the name implies, various attractions from the Disney Theme parks. In order to get the attraction, you must simply attack an enemy with the green attraction circle around them. After the enemy is hit, the attraction chosen is decided by the terrain of the battle. In full truth, the Attractions are some of the flashiest and bombastic parts that the player can lose themselves in. Each Attraction does something different, whether it be putting Sora in a first person shooter ride or etc. The last 4 special combat options, Attractions, Form Changes, Grand Magic’s, Team Attacks, all can be activated via a prompt button. This leads to, as mentioned before, great ease of chaining abilities together.
Kicking off where its predecessor, Kingdom Hearts II, left off, the story concocted in Hearts III was easily one of the most anticipated elements heading into its release. And fortunately, Enix did not disappoint. Firstly, one of the largest challenges that the developer faced was weaving all of its many worlds in a meaningful and natural way. Summing up to a total of eight worlds, most games would objectively struggle to tie these environments in a believable manner and make it seem more like a theme park rather than an engrossing story. But in Kingdom Hearts III, not a single world feels like a hassle and each has its own unique flavor and thus charm. In most cases, each world is presented as taking place after the events of their source material. The worlds present, named by the series they’re from, are Frozen, Winnie the Pooh, Big Hero 6, Toy Story, Tangled, Monsters Inc., Twilight Town, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Olympus. Just the sheer vastness of these worlds is a sight to behold, and the fact that all of these worlds are so diverse makes the achievement far greater. Exploring these worlds for the first time is a genuine thrill as there is always something new lurking behind the corner for newcomers.
But not all of the worlds seemed to have been created equally with certain ones feeling like cheap, sophomore efforts. One of the most prominent examples I found was Classic World which makes a return but in a limited, mini-game section. To any long-time fan, this is equivalent to a massive slap across the face since Classic World was one of the more charming and beloved worlds in past titles. But when really pondering on it, it is a nice distraction from the chaotic madness and allows the player to just breathe and really soak themselves in the ridiculous concoction that is Kingdom Hearts III.
After the long adventure we’ve followed for nearly 17 years, the countless legions of fans have always wanted to finally see the conclusion to it. And this third game delivers on this promise, doling out the conclusions to these stories one by one. While the decision will always keep the player on their toes, it’s often a little bit too much waiting for the grand, satisfying finale. The main issue throughout the game is the pacing. The pacing isn’t great, and at times can ruin crucial parts of the story. Many storylines that have been going on for these last 17 years unfortunately are given the loose, anti-climactic treatment. And while the endings are in line with the rest of the franchise and make sense in that regard, it simply feels like cheating when all the emotional connections and heartbreaks felt over the years are mitigated just for a few smiles. The story itself is far from awful, on the contrary, it’s quite effective and will certainly please the fans. But for those who have been anticipating the game for thirteen years, it’s definitely lackluster when it’s all said and done.
Ultimately, Kingdom Hearts III has a very clear objective and it accomplishes that objective with flying colors on mostly every level. It’s a dazzling and heartwarming love letter to the fans who have stuck it out for the better part of a decade. To answer the question of if it lived up to the immense wait, it certainly did that in regards to its gameplay and presentation. And while its stories fizzles with little substance, the moment I finished the game I was floored. Kingdom Hearts III gave me a rare childish delight at a time where I most needed it.
KINGDOM HEARTS III tells the story of the power of friendship as Sora and his friends embark on a perilous adventure andsupport each other through difficult times. Set in a vast array of Disney worlds, KINGDOM HEARTS follows the journey ofSora, a young boy and unknowing heir to a spectacular power. Sora is joined by Donald Duck and Goofy, two emissariessent by King Mickey from Disney Castle, to stop an evil force known as the Heartless from invading and overtaking theuniverse. Through the power of positivity and friendship, Sora, Donald and Goofy unite with iconic Disney-Pixar charactersold and new to prevail tremendous challenges and persevere against the darkness threatening their worlds.
Kingdom Hearts III Is Available for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 Now.