To say that Kingdom Hearts III is highly anticipated is a rather gross underestimation. Fans have been chomping at the bit, frothing at the mouth, add any other metaphor here, for Kingdom Hearts III. I personally have been nervous for KH3 since they announced it would skip the PlayStation 3 generation. Ever since Kingdom Hearts II, the gameplay (and, well, story) in the KH games has been a complete mess. Each game overhauls the combat. Each game adds another element of, “Wait, how does this fit in the overarching story?” Some of the games overly spoon-feed you what you’re supposed to get from the story, and other games shoehorn in multiple styles of combat just for the “fun” of it. All of this adds up to a potential mess of what Kingdom Hearts III could be with story, combat, or both. Plus, there’s this huge expectation on the line that comes from waiting for nearly 15 years. We’ve all had to wait so long. Is there any way at all that Kingdom Hearts III can live up to half these expectations?
The answer is a resounding yes. Yes, this is a Kingdom Hearts game worth waiting for.
So, About All Those Remastered Versions…
Square Enix was releasing those remastered versions of all the previous Kingdom Hearts games for more reasons than just to line its pocketbooks. Kingdom Hearts III starts immediately after Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance ends. There is no fanfare. There is no, “Previously, on Kingdom Hearts,” summary. It’s boom, here’s Sora, Donald, and Goofy. You already know them. You already know Riku and Mickey. You know why Mickey and Riku are on a journey to find Aqua. Heck, you already know who Aqua is, don’t ya?
As much as Square Enix was pushing for newcomers to join in on the fun, it certainly didn’t make it very easy. Right before the very end, Jiminy announces that he’s updated his journal so everyone (all the characters) can catch up with what has happened in the prior seven games. I’m not sure who will want to wait that long. Square is going to release a catch-up/summary video for the game, but it’s not out just yet. At least we have the Internet and various wikis to help, in case you didn’t have time to play The Story So Far. But even with all of that, my first thought after the first few hours was that I had no idea how a fresh-faced newbie would understand what was going on.
But then again, some people aren’t into games for the story; they just want some fun gameplay. These people will be pleased. As for everyone else, um, good luck?
We’re Going on a Trip in Our Favorite Gummi Ship
But what is going on here? Well, after Riku passed his Keyblade Mastery test, Yen Sid tasked him and Mickey to journey to the Realm of Darkness to rescue Aqua, who has been there since the end of Birth by Sleep. Since Sora failed his test (I know, I’m still upset over it too), the darkness stripped him of most of his powers that he’s had since the first game. He must go on a quest to get his strength, as well as his confidence, back. Once he gains his lost powering of waking, he can accompany Riku and Mickey to track down the missing students of the late Master Eraqus.
Fortunately, Sora doesn’t have to go through all the worlds he’s visited countless times before in the first two main console titles. There’s only so many times we can go back to Agrabah, you know? Sora revisits two specific worlds from his past adventures, but there is a very strong reason for doing so. Every other world is from a more recent Disney film (such as Tangled, Frozen, Big Hero 6) or a Pixar film (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc.). I can’t say enough how refreshing it is to visit new Disney properties. With some of these worlds, Sora goes through the original film, and others take place after the film. The worlds the developers picked to either recreate or continue the story were chosen perfectly. Even if it was Disney that mandated which story had to do what, it was brilliantly decided. Everything just fits so perfectly. Nothing feels crammed in, although a few of the stories are rather padded for length.
Of course, Sora traipsing through Disney worlds and Riku and Mickey hanging out in the Realm of Darkness aren’t the only plot pieces moving around. The original Organization XIII is back, even though many of its original members have returned to their human forms. Some of these former members are helping Sora, some appear to be only helping themselves, and some appear to gladly follow in Xehanort and Xemnas’ footsteps once more to open Kingdom Hearts. Also, what are Maleficent and Pete up to? All of these mysteries will keep the player guessing until the end. We have evil, intrigue, child experiments, and backstabbing. The best part is that it’s all fairly straightforward, which is crazy for a Kingdom Hearts game. I didn’t think that Square Enix could find a way to tie everything together, but it did it rather well.
Wait, Did You Say Gummi Ship?
I did! The Gummi Ship, for better or for worse, is back. If you’re like me and hated everything about the Gummi Ship from the first two console games, you’re in for a treat. The Gummi Ship sequences are actually fun to play now! Even after I was able to warp to the worlds directly, I would still dive back into space to play around in my Gummi Ship.
Since Sora locked the highways between the worlds in both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II, he has no clear cut path to each world in space. The first time you travel to a new world, you can go anywhere in space to reach it. There are plenty of things to keep you occupied along the way, as well. You can partake in space battles, which will be familiar to anyone who played the first console games. If you didn’t like those then and you hate them now, you can easily skirt past them. There’s plenty of treasure hunting to do instead, or you can take photos of various constellations. Did you like building your Gummi Ship before? You can do that again!
There is more than enough to do in space, and it’s about time this game found a way to make the Gummi Ship excursions fun.
Going with the Flow
One of my biggest criticisms, regarding the combat and exploration in Kingdom Hearts games, is that both are often too complicated. When one of the games introduces a great feature, it compounds on top of it, making it a bigger pain than it needs to be. The handheld games were the biggest offenders with this, almost like the developers weren’t sure which method was best, so they stuffed it all in there like a flat-rate USPS box. Kingdom Hearts III tightens up the combat and controls to the point I found no flaws with them. I never yelled at Sora for accidentally leaping off the edge of a cliff. I never shook my fist at Goofy for getting in the way of one of my pixel-perfect jumps. Instead, I actually—brace yourself—had fun, no matter if it was combat or traversing around the worlds.
Most of the games in the past had some weird gimmick when it came to combat, like the cards, or the backpack, or a weird ATB hybrid system with the action menu. KH3 has none of that. Instead, it takes the best ideas from past games, cleans them up, and implements them in a way that is fluid and intuitive.
For example, both the Shotlock from Birth by Sleep and Flowmotion from Dream Drop Distance are part of Sora’s arsenal. Flowmotion has been expanded in a way that Sora can now just run straight up certain walls. Shotlock requires Sora’s Focus bar and can be used to set multiple shots across multiple foes (or multiple shots against one boss head). Sora can also use the Shotlock system to Airstep to distant ledges. It’s a lot like Batman’s grapple gun, just without the rope and the brooding. Sora can use this to leap up to high ledges he can’t normally reach or to zip across an area quickly. When used in combination with the Flowmotion attributes, especially when you learn you can just run straight up some walls, you’ll find that Sora can reach anything and go anywhere. At least, he can until the invisible boundaries say, “No.”
One element Square Enix did bring back from the first game that I really never wanted to see again was its particular item loadout system. Once again, whatever items you load into your arsenal, you only get to use them once per slot. So if you want to use all four of your hi-potions, better load each one into your item slots. They will not refill, so if you use one in battle, you’ll have to manually add it back in from the Customize menu. Once you learn Cure spells, this isn’t too big of a deal, but it’s a bit frustrating until you get to that point, especially when you reach pain-in-the-ass enemies. I’m looking at you, ToyBox.
KH3 also brings back the team-up attacks and combat forms from KH2, but Square Enix has brought in a fantastic twist to the forms. Each keyblade comes with at least one unique second form and sometimes a specific type of grand magic. Depending upon whether Sora lands consecutively so many physical or magical attacks, a new attack will open up at the top of the action menu. If he landed plenty of hits with his combos, he can activate his keyblade’s second form, which will land devastating attacks and a finisher when the bar timer runs out. If he lands several magic spells, a more powerful form of that magic will become available to him to use once that will not use his MP bar. For example, if you use Fira so many times, one MP-free use of Firaga will be available.
Each time a second form, a team attack, or a grand magic spell appear, they remain at the top of the action menu for so many seconds, and you can switch between them before their timers run out. So, if you want to save your Aeroza for a bit later and want to use your Meteor Attack with Donald now, you can quickly switch between which attack you want to use. It opens up another layer of strategy, especially when it comes to activating the keyblade’s various forms.
Some enemies can trigger an Attraction attack, and this is just Disney and Square Enix at their absolute silliest. If you can trigger an Attraction attack, the attack will literally take the form of a Disney theme park ride for Sora and friends to use to battle the enemy. I am not joking. You haven’t lived until you have used the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cup ride to fight against Luxord. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds, and it never really stops being funny.
And these aren’t the only changes to combat or traversal. Each world has its own unique combat situations or exploration. For example, there are a few battles that Sora will need to take shots from cover. In the Caribbean, it becomes Kingdom Hearts Odyssey, complete with Sora’s own pirate ship and islands to explore. And yes, there are ship battles, and they’re more fun than they should be.
I’m Just Getting Started
I could go on and on about everything else the game has to offer, such as cooking with the Little Chef from Ratatouille, hunting down Lucky Emblems across worlds, playing mini-games on Sora’s Gummiphone, how I didn’t want to burn Pooh’s book and his stupid mini-games to the ground (you have no idea how huge this is for me), or the Moogle Photo Missions. But chances are, if you’ve read this far, there’s no way you’re going to stick around for another thousand words. Also, chances are that you already have a general idea that this game is packed with close to a hundred hours of fantastic and fun gameplay.
I had my doubts about this game, as I already mentioned. I never once thought there was a way Square Enix could live up to the hype the company has built up for this game. But bravo, it has done it and then some. The developer has refined and perfected the combat. It kept its silliness in tact. It kept in the darker themes and deep moments of self-reflection that we all need every once in awhile. It’s, quite frankly, the best Kingdom Hearts game Square Enix has ever created.
Kingdom Hearts III review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.