It has been a long, long time coming, but gamers have finally got their hands on the eagerly anticipated Kingdom Hearts III. Ever since Kingdom Hearts II’s credits sequence rolled I’d been itching to see the story reach its conclusion, and sure, we’ve had other entries in the series in-between (and some that even featured main protagonist Sora), but none have wrapped up the tale that some gamers have been a part of since the launch of the original back in 2002.
Finally, our enchanting journey comes to and end with Kingdom Hearts 3 and thankfully Square Enix have delivered a fantastic conclusion that lives up to the standard of adventure that so many of us have been on.
Kingdom Hearts III marks the finale of Sora’s adventure, with everyone’s favourite spikey-haired hero (sorry Cloud) having to head out across countless worlds to recover the power he lost in order to defeat series antagonist Xehanort. There’s a sense of finality felt as you progress through the game, with plenty of plot threads involving the likes of characters such as Riku, Kairi, Aqua and Ventus slowly winding up as you work your way toward the final battle. I suppose I could go into more detail, but given how confusing the plot of Kingdom Hearts can be it’s probably easier to leave it at that.
Just playing the mainline games alone will probably leave you a little confused at some aspects of the plot, though even playing every Kingdom Hearts game that exists could still leave some players baffled anyway. The Kingdom Hearts series is known for being a little convoluted and even downright baffling at times, and there’ll be plenty of moments where that feels like the case in Kingdom Hearts III. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t wrap up nicely though, with almost all aspects of the series’ locations and characters coming together nicely to reach a meaningful and satisfying conclusion. It almost feels like a case of fan-service at times with characters you’ve met across the many side-games in the series showing up to see the story out, but their appearance never feels like a simple plot-device but instead helps wrap up the epic tale in a heartfelt and enjoyable way.
It’d have been hard to predict what Square Enix would do with Kingdom Hearts III’s conclusion and I’m sure that it won’t tick all boxes for everyone, but I feel like the storytelling did the series justice. It genuinely felt emotional seeing a story I’ve been so fondly invested in since I was young finally wrap up, but it did leave a smile on my face as the adventure drew to a close.
There was one aspect of the narrative I did find a little disappointing though: the lack of Final Fantasy characters. Whilst there’s no doubting that the primary focus of the Kingdom Hearts series is on the Disney-side of things, the presence of the heroes and villains of Square Enix’s most famous franchise was always one of my favourite things about it. In Kingdom Hearts III it feels like they’ve been completely thrown aside, with brief cameos and nods to the series the most you’ll get from the game. It’s not game-breaking in any way nor does it completely ruin how the narrative plays out, but it still left me a little bit disappointed not to see what familiar face would appear next.
Anyone who has played a Kingdom Hearts game in the past will know the score as far as gameplay is concerned – you visit an assortment of worlds that are mostly based upon Disney properties, you defeat the myriad of enemies that inhabit them, and you help some Disney characters solve their problems as you venture across the environment to complete your goal. Whilst you’ll visit worlds based upon famous Disney movies though, Square Enix have had a fair amount of freedom in adding their own touches as well as their own little stories to them. It never just feels like you’re just playing through a re-telling of a story you’ve seen on the big screen, but often a continuation of what happened after it.
Each world offers something unique with a variety of different enemies to face and mini-games to complete, whilst the Flowmotion manoeuvres allow you to run, jump, swing and slide your way around each location with ease. Sora’s appearance will change with each world too, with his look in the Toy Story and the Monsters Inc. worlds particularly standing out as some of my favourite. Whilst I’ll admit that some of the worlds were a lot better than others with the mini-games and battles of some locations feeling a little flat, for the most part I felt like I was on a much more varied and magical journey than in any of the game’s predecessors.
Oh, and I’d be remiss not to mention the hidden Mickeys you can find and catalogue across the world. I’m a huge fan of Disneyworld in Florida and love finding all of the hidden Mickeys that are scattered across each park, so being able to do it in each world in Kingdom Hearts III was a heck of a lot of fun.
Kingdom Hearts III’s combat mechanics will feel familiar to anyone who has played the series before, with the quick-paced and action-focus battling seeing you mashing countless hits on foes whilst trying to dodge or block any incoming attacks. It still follows a pattern of locking onto an enemy, beating them up, avoiding any hazards, and then repeating with the next foe when they’re defeated, but it manages to stay fun throughout the entirety of the lengthy adventure.
There are some new additions to combat to spice things up this time around, such as the Keyblade transformations which see your Keyblade change form and unleash some powerful attacks. It might not seem conventional beating foes up with a key if you’re unfamiliar with the series, so seeing it take on the form of guns, hammers, or bows might feel a bit more normal. Then there are the team attacks, which see you work with one of your party members to dish out a co-op strike on a foe – these vary up depending on who you’re working with, but they add a nice strategic touch to combat that ensures you’ve always got one more trick up your sleeve no matter the situation.
Lastly, there are the Attractions, which are theme park rides you can summon into battle to help you dish out some serious damage to foes in a very spectacular style. Not only do they pack a punch though, but they also look seriously impressive with each one packing more lights and colour than the Main Street Electrical Parade (RIP) that uses to brighten up each night in the actual Disneyworld theme park. Whilst I’ll admit that their appearance could drag out a little sometimes, it was hard not to be impressed when the opportunity came to utilise them.
All of these mechanics come together nicely to make Kingdom Hearts III’s combat the most intuitive it’s been across the series. It’s still a little guilty of being button-mashy in some instances, but there’s definitely more demand (and opportunity) for strategic thought here than there has been in any other title in the series. Add to that the fact that there are some awesome boss fights to be a part of, and it’s hard not to find yourself excited by each showdown with enemies that Sora gets to be a part of.
It’s worth noting that there’s an emphasis on upgrading your Keyblade as opposed to just levelling up to improve your stats this time around, so there’s a bit more flexibility on offer in how you shape your stats. I’ll be the first to admit that I did miss the simplified approach of simply levelling up Sora and equipping the newest Keyblade you have as a means to feel more powerful, but there’s no doubting that having the player work to improve their current Keyblade instead of just depending on experience points alone did open things up a bit. It might not be for everyone, but from a gameplay perspective it should be seen as more of an improvement than anything else.
When travelling between worlds players will once again captain the Gummi Ship, though it’s more of an open experience now that doesn’t depend solely on on-rails sections. You’re now given the chance to explore a little bit to find new parts and treasures, though instances of combat still follow the classic schmup-style of shooting down countless targets across a set path. Gummi Ship customisation is at its best though, with the player having all the tools they’d need to make the Gummi Ship of their dreams. Sure, you’re tasked with finding the parts to do so first, but it was surprisingly fun to just tinker with your ship as you progress through the game and seeing what improvements each change could bring.
Visually, Kingdom Hearts III is a mighty impressive looking game, with the representation of each Disney world close to perfect. Encountering characters like Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, Elsa and Olaf from Frozen, and Sully and Mike from Monsters Inc. and then travelling across familiar environments with them felt like it had come straight from the movies (honestly, the animation is so on point), whilst the creativity and vibrant sights that come from the minds of the design team at Square Enix managed to add a more unique and distinct feeling to each locale too. It’s clear that so much effort has gone into crafting a world that maintains the whimsical vibe of the movies whilst also feeling fun to explore, and it makes a for a truly spectacular experience that left me in a constant feeling of awe at the sheer beauty of each mesmerising sight I’d encounter. It probably helped that I’m a huge Disney fan boy anyway, but hey, you’ve only got to look at some of the game’s screenshots to see just how impressive it can be.
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One