Kingdom Hearts 3 Review
7 years since the last mainline Kingdom Hearts game (3D) and a whopping 13 since the 2nd iteration in the series, Kingdom Hearts 3 released on January 25th in Japan and the 29th for all other regions. The final in the so called “dark seeker saga,” the series has spanned 17 years, over 10 games and just as many platforms. So how did it turn out?
First of all, this review WILL contain spoilers, for past games as well as this one. If you don’t want to be spoiled, the beginning of the review will be spoiler free. Major spoilers will be present however, in the second half.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Graphically, the game is gorgeous. They absolutely nailed the Disney look down, and the worlds look almost as good as the movies as you play through it. Character models and textures really come to life in HD, and animations as the characters move and react in real time are incredible to watch and behold. A lot of effort and care has gone into even the smallest details, like the little animations that introduce each world, or the massive spray of particle effects when you attack enemies make this easily the prettiest Kingdom Hearts game to date. Even if most of the graphics in the worlds are just window dressing- it’s still a real sight to behold. It’s a shame then that the consoles can’t really keep up with the game. Even playing on the Xbox One X the framerate can noticeably drop, especially in the larger worlds. PS4 Pro can hit 60 FPS almost consistently if you disable downsampling on a 1080p screen though. Digital Foundry has an excellent video on this topic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YbMqqQunr0A
Oh, and the stable framerate option in the menus? It’s trash. Don’t use it.
Audio wise, Kingdom Hearts 3 is no letdown either. Remixes of classics such as Dearly Beloved return, and long time series composer Yoko Shimonura, along with Square Enix veteran Takeharu Ishimoto and Tsutoshi Sekito bring their A game to KH3. The new Disney world themes in particular are noteworthy, sounding like soundtracks right out of the respective movies they were based on. The voice cast deserves a mention as well, with many of the original VAs from the movies coming back to reprise their roles. Unfortunately, this is one of the areas where the game suffers. Line delivery is stilted and awful in general, with lines being delivered as if they were read from scripts at half speed. Coupled with the long winded plot, it makes cutscenes dull and outright insufferable. Donald Duck has to be singled out here for how utterly incomprehensible he is. Even with subtitles on, you might not understand half of what he’s saying at ANY GIVEN TIME.
The new Utada songs have their spots, but I generally disliked them. Skrillex collabs were a bad idea. Face my Fears and Don’t Think Twice have catchy spots but are just outright inferior to Simple and Clean/ Sanctuary. YMMV.
So presentation wise, the game is generally great. Gameplay on the other hand, is a mixed bag. How does it play then?
It turns out that KH3 is a mixed bag. The gameplay on a whole has highs and lows. Combat is interspersed with walking and traversal, mixed in with some aggravating minigames such as sledding or dancing. The biggest issue is that the game is too easy as a whole. Experience gained is too plentiful unless you’re rushing through the game, making you ever more overpowered compared to the enemies you normally fight for the most part. Too many mechanics give you large periods of invincibility and do tremendous amounts of damage. The worst offenders are the attractions, which summon stylized versions of the rides at the various Disney theme parks. Not only do they make the beginning half of the game too easy in general, they also clog up the flow of combat as they are activated by the same button that you use to interact with the world and other commands, so a wrong press when you want to perform a finishing move or open a chest can result in you riding a blaster pod. They also feature a short cutscene when you activate them, which can be thankfully turned off in the options menu, and generally can be cancelled if you accidentally activate one but for the most part they are more of a hindrance than anything.
Shotlocks from Birth by Sleep also return, along with a new move called airstep that lets you teleport to targeted foes. Shotlocks are situational but very useful if you need to kill time or need massive AoE damage. Airstep however is very useful not only for dealing with far away enemies but also out of combat in some of the larger worlds.
Keyblades now have transformations, which grant them different forms and attacks. Most of them are highly useful, but they also change how you cast magic, which can be a problem when you try to throw a fireball but summon a ring of flames instead.
Magic is very basic. You have access to 6 spells and with the exception of cure, all of them are damage dealing with slight variations. Water summons a small barrier while you cast it that can damage opponents, Aero generates a tornado that you can jump on to gain additional height, Blizzard summons an ice path that you can grind on, Thunder is AoE and Fire’s attack is homing. Compared to the varied magic attacks of before (Magnet, Seeker Mine, Reflect), this might feel like a downgrade.
Links are summons, calling forth various Disney characters in elemental form. They are mostly situational except for one or two (really just one). They do replenish all your health upon use- but require a full MP bar to use in the first place.
Minigames are present and annoying. Sledding, dancing, sailing on a pirate ship, cooking… there are quite a few of them, along with the ubiquitous Gummi ship. Each world generally has one, and many of them grant you materials or equipment that confers useful benefits. Most of them control well enough except for sledding.
The lack of a higher difficulty setting grates, although datamining has revealed the presence of a critical mode. Whether this will be released as a free update, a final mix style physical release, paid DLC, or not at all remains to be seen.
MAJOR SPOILERS INCOMING
Story wise… eurgh. Kingdom Hearts has had a reputation for convoluted storytelling and this does not change. The main plot of this game is fairly simple- you as Sora are gathering 6 other people so the 7 of you can fight Xehanort, the villain of the series, and his 12 buddies. The trouble is that you just lost your powers recently (thanks to the events in 3D, the 3DS game) and have to get them back, then go and gather 6 other fighters, or lights, and face the villain in a final showdown.
Unfortunately, these other people you recruit and fight all have long histories and stories of their own that are told through other games. If you don’t know why the guy who looks like Roxas is asleep, or who Xion is, or why a million keyblades are appearing out of nowhere and you’re suddenly surfing on them, tough sh*t. There’s a recap on the title screen, but that doesn’t fully answer any questions you might have. It doesn’t help that the Disney world stuff is almost entirely segregated from the main story plot; often you wonder why you romp through entire Disney movies that only superficially advance the main plot, only then to watch a badly acted 30 minute cutscene that does. Most of the real plot per say only begins after you finish the Disney worlds and then it’s basically a boss gauntlet in worlds that are really just glorified large rooms with long cutscenes in between. It’s a real waste, considering that in trailers you see playable worlds (ie: Mysterious Tower) that were cut and relegated to cutscenes only.
Oh, and the series takes afterwards basically requires you to know about the phone games and a DS game (TWEWY). Yeah.
Most of the characters you meet throughout the course of the series do come back, and the payoffs are pretty good, provided you know who the various characters are. Some characters barely get a mention though and one of them (COUGHNaminebesbaeCOUGH) whole contribution consists of a missable cutscene, a brief appearance at the end, and nothing else. On the whole the plot was resolved along with most, of not all of the fates of the major players, albeit in a shoddy and rushed manner.
And there we have it. Kingdom hearts III is a good game. For me it was great. I had a really fun time with it. At the same time, it would not be surprising that others would find it a disappointment. Far too much time has been spent for and for better or worse KH3 simply cannot live up to expectations. Too many flaws are present in the presentation, story, and gameplay for this game to be considered among the best. But I loved it. It’s the closest you can get to traveling inside an actual Disney movie and for that to me the game is great.
WRITTEN BY silogore