A legendary title that took 13 years to come out, and ended 13 hours too early.
It’s no surprise that, out of everyone in Respawning, me and Luke are the ones who have delved the most into Kingdom Hearts – The convoluted plot, numerous iterations of characters and lovable Disney worlds all shine through the franchise to make something quite literally out of this world…
…So why am I filled with an odd sense of emptiness when I finished Kingdom Hearts 3?
Kingdom Hearts 3 definitely had large shoes to fill, that’s for certain – Matching the gameplay expectations of Kingdom Hearts 2, evolving upon the new elements introduced in 358/2 Days, RE:Coded, Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance, and also concluding the veritable spaghetti junction of plots Tetsuya Nomura had written himself towards. It’s fair to say that, with many review sites calling this game ‘unreviewable’, I find myself understanding this point – The game is purely unreviewable based off of the titanic expectations fans had placed on this title… So it may be best to break down each element as we descend down this title’s narrative
Kingdom Hearts 3 opens rather differently to most Kingdom Hearts titles, subtly recapping key events from Sora’s journey through his memories, which act as the new incarnation of the traditional ‘Sword, Shield, Staff’ class choices of past games – This time, players choose a ‘Power’ and a ‘Desire’, with ‘Powers’ dictating your HP & MP distribution, and ‘Desires’ pushing players down a designated level path for their abilities – Choose the desire to protect for defensive abilities to appear first, the desire to combat for offensive abilities, and the desire for knowledge to buff your magic – Standard stuff really; what then occurs isn’t a tutorial in the Station of Departure like previous title, but rather a tutorial in a bizarre, cloudy skyscape, floored by shallow water – It’s a nice change of aesthetic.
Following straight from 0.2’s Secret Ending, Sora sets off on his adventure to reclaim ‘the Power of Waking’ that he earned in DDD, but lost when he succumbed to the darkness and was nearly possessed by Xehanort – The whole Disney side of this title explores this, and focuses on Sora re-learning important life lessons about the heart and it’s power, exploring worlds plucked straight from Toy Story, Big Hero 6, Monsters Inc and many more, up until the dramatic conclusion ending with an all-out brawl between the 7 Seekers of Light and 13 Seekers of Darkness in the Keyblade Graveyard.
To get to this point, Sora is tasked with adventuring with a large array of different Disney heroes and villains, each holding true to their movie origins with scenes totally recreated from their sources, such as Hercules taking down the Rock, Ice and Lava Titans with the Storm Titan, Elsa and Anna’s numerous musical bouts, and even adapting a brand new canonical story for the world of Toy Story – These Disney moments are some of the greatest highlights of Kingdom Hearts 3, reliving the wonder and love of these original properties, interacting with these beloved characters and getting absolutely immersed in the magic of Disney and Pixar absolutely warms my heart, and is certainly something I’ve always held dear when it comes to Kingdom Hearts.
Saying this, there is, however, an extremely noticeable lack of non-Disney worlds to explore; how many, you ask, can you fully explore? 2… And all but one of them are relegated to the end portion of the game. It’s a crying shame since games prior had a number of vast explorable worlds such as Hollow Bastion, The World That Never Was, Traverse Town, the Realm of Darkness and the Land of Departure – Yes, there are instances of additional ‘Square-original’ worlds in the game, but many of these are singular areas or one-room locations.
It’s a large disappointment, especially when you break down some of the later worlds in the game – Whilst their stories are great, Big Hero 6’s large cityscape becomes a lot less interesting when you realise it’s a single large room; the 100 Acre Wood suffers from the same issue, having 3 identical minigames relegated to a single room, whereas it’s prior incarnation was spread across 5-6 unique areas with unique stories, with unique minigames. It’s hard to feel a little bit burned. On the other side of things, the larger worlds like Olympus, the Kingdom of Corona and Monstropolis all shine with their size, variety, beauty and detail; it’s a bit odd that it seems that some properties got the short end of the stick whilst others got a far larger amount of love and care.
For the most part, however, a lot of the story inside of these worlds is inconsequential in the larger scheme of things; plots seem rather rushed, and aren’t given the same amount of exploration or care as previous titles; the best comparison I can make is to the structure of Dream Drop Distance here – Worlds are largely self-contained, asides from a bit of meddling from Organization XIII, and then they’re done for. On top of this, a lot of the worlds are needlessly padded out with silly little bits, like Arendelle having three musical pieces and a hunt-down Olaf minigame, combined with an ice labyrinth and ascending the same mountain three times in a row… Toy Story also falls a bit short, with you exploring Galaxy Toys for the entirety of the world, only visiting Andy’s Room and the street outside once during the whole world.
Tying into this, Gummi Ship missions and additional bonus content has been drastically increased in most ways, but one thing I felt during my playthrough was a distinct lack of desire to actually do any of this – Perhaps it was due to me trying to beat the game as fast as possible, but I never did any Gummi missions other than where I was forced, and never did the Little Chef’s Bistro. It just didn’t hook me. Hunting for hidden Mickeys was amazing, however, and reminded me a lot of the Korok Seeds in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Moving on from the worlds and their structure, gameplay is another key, and in my mind, critical, aspect of Kingdom Hearts; Kingdom Hearts has had a shakey relationship with it’s combat since spinning off into various subgames, such as Chain of Memories, 358/2 Days, Birth By Sleep and many more; many feel that Kingdom Hearts 2 is the apex of the franchise’s combat, so how does Kingdom Hearts 3 compare? In short, it holds up in many ways, but falls short on some of the basic fundamentals – Combos are relatively floaty, but have a slight degree of customisation, however it isn’t anything quiite compared to Kingdom Hearts 2 – Magic, however, is vastly improved and expanded from anything the series has offered prior, playing hand-in-hand with the brand new Keyblade transformations; now instead of having simple stat increases, multiple Keyblades can be equipped at once (Up to 3), each with unique transformations and levels to build up, be it entering Second Form to use Kingdom Hearts 2 abilities, Guardian Form to enhance your blocks and counters, turning your Keyblade into a giant spear, flag, dual pistols, rocket launcher, or even a set of yo-yo’s; each of these have unique and special attacks that drastically change up your combos, and, whilst there is a decent amount of overlap, each Keyblade is totally usable throughout the whole game, even towards the endgame and postgame – As aforementioned, magic has a great amount of versatility with each transformation, be it the dual pistols firing multiple homing elemental projectiles, the rocket launcher shooting heat-seeking explosive orbs of magic, the flag pole or hammer transformations spinning elemental magic around you like a barrier, or being amplified further by some of the more powerful Keyblades and Situation Commands in the game; each of these unique Situation Commands (For magic at least) also synergise with each Keyblade transformation, leading to hundreds of possibilities.
It’s just a shame then that blocking and the core melee combos pale in comparison to that sort of customisation – If ground and air combos could have more toggleable or shared finishers between Keyblades (Maybe being able to take finishers from certain Keyblades once hitting a certain level and using it with any other equipped Keyblade via an Ability), or further editing the type of block you wanted to use instead of just changing counterattacks – Why not have a set of different blocks, such as a radial 360-degree orb block like Aqua’s that has chip damage, a general block like Kingdom Hearts 2 which has pushback when guarding attacks, or a more grounded block like some of the feats Riku showcases near the endgame, where you can push in a direction, block, and hold the button to endure attacks with no pushback or chip damage, at the expense of reaction speed? It’s the lack of considerations like this that crack Kingdom Hearts 3’s combat, but doesn’t make it by any means bad.
Also, DO NOT try to play this game if you haven’t played ALL of the previous Kingdom Hearts games. I guarantee you won’t understand a single thing in the story.
In my opinion Kingdom Hearts 3 nails a lot of things, such as the magic system, additional minigames, soundtrack, visuals and overall production, but fails on certain core aspects such as the game’s length and depth; the lack of customisation with specific combat elements fail to really try to match the experience provided by Kingdom Hearts 2. In my eyes, Kingdom Hearts 3 sits proudly as the second-best Kingdom Hearts title, outshone by Kingdom Hearts 2, but for reasons I shall discuss below my score with spoilers, I left the game slightly dissatisfied and wanting much more – If only it lasted longer. All in all, I give Kingdom Hearts 3 a: