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Kingdom Hearts 3 Review

A new high bar for the Kingdom Hearts series.

by Dean James

The Kingdom Hearts series debuted back in 2002 as the very unorthodox mix of Final Fantasy and Disney, a mash-up nobody even knew they wanted. Now 17 years later, the franchise has spawned a number of games across multiple platforms, but has left fans waiting for the next numbered entry for more than a decade. After getting a little taste two years ago with what was essentially a prologue in 0.2: Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, the conclusion of the Xehanort saga has finally arrived with the most ambitious entry yet in Kingdom Hearts 3.

Kingdom Hearts has always been known for having a complicated plot that has gotten even more intricate as time has gone by over the years. Taking into account the numbered entries, side games on handhelds, as well as the mobile and browser games, there is a lot to unpack. Thankfully, Kingdom Hearts 3 includes what is known as the Memory Archive, which are five short videos that give a recap of some key elements of the series to serve as a refresher course.

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The plot in Kingdom Hearts 3 starts off exactly where it ended in 0.2: Birth By Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, with the trio of Sora, Donald, and Goofy flying off to Olympus in the hopes that Sora can learn how to get his strength back again after the events of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance. Olympus has been the most used world in the series, only missing out on the 3DS entry, so using it as the intro world was a good move as a way to show just how far the world design has come. No longer are these worlds small rooms connected by loading screens, but rather feature much more expansive locales to explore that you could only begin to dream of in past years, albeit with occasional loading screens along the way.

Olympus is only the tip of the iceberg in this game, with Sora and friends venturing to worlds of not only Disney proper, but also Pixar worlds for the first time. The Disney worlds of Tangled, Frozen, and Pirates of the Caribbean let players play through the events of the movies themselves, which has been the most common approach taken in the past with Kingdom Hearts worlds. It truly was magical to relive some of the greatest moments of these movies, such as the lantern scene in Tangled’s Kingdom of Corona world or a full rendition of “Let It Go” in Frozen’s Arendelle world.

On the other end, a number of worlds received plots that served as follow-ups to the original stories. Olympus takes a lot of the characters from Hercules, including Hades and the Titans, but the events here are brand new. Toy Box is the first Pixar world, being based on Toy Story, which takes place between Toy Story 2 and 3 and oddly enough is said to be canon with the movies. Similarly, both Monstropolis and San Fransokyo take place after the events of Monster’s Inc. and Big Hero 6 respectively, givings fans a fresh take on these worlds that they already love from the movies. The game’s overall plot is weaved throughout some of these worlds more than others, with plenty of cutscenes focused on that mostly coming between each world.

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It is downright incredible just how visually stunning each of these worlds in the game are, looking not much different than the actual movies themselves. The Caribbean may be the most impressive of all, giving an even more realistic look for Sora and company. Mixing this with the sounds of longtime series composer Yoko Shimomura and both an opening and closing theme by Utada Hikaru, the series has never looked or sounded better than it does in Kingdom Hearts 3.

The series has never looked or sounded better than it does in Kingdom Hearts 3.

The narrative for each of these worlds is not the only element that sets them apart, as many of the worlds introduce new elements to the core gameplay, which also comes ready with some new trick up its sleeves this time around. Kingdom Hearts 3 very quickly introduces the ability to run up and sideways across certain walls in the game, which builds on the also included Flowmotion from Dream Drop Distance. This alone is a major gamechanger due to the fact that it allows the stages to be much more vertical than they were in the past, rather than having elevators or platforms to take you between the ground and higher areas.

Disney has always been known for its various rides in its theme parks and Kingdom Hearts 3 pays great tribute to the classics of Disney Land through the new combat addition known as Attractions. These special attacks are made available by striking enemies with special crosshairs that pop up randomly in combat and then pressing Y to activate them. Ranging from the Pirate Ship to Mad Tea Cups, and even the much less used Big Magic Mountain, each of these has different methods of hurting the enemy, each ending with a finisher that is bound to really hurt the enemy.

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Attractions are not the only special moves at your disposal either, as the special team-up attacks with Donald and such are back again as well. The biggest advantage of  these are that they make you invincible while using, so they can be used as much as a defensive weapon as an offensive one. This can also be the case with the returning Shotlocks from Birth By Sleep as well, which can be real lifesavers in the more range-based boss fights. While Attractions and the team attacks are very helpful, it can sometimes even make fights a little too easy, so sometimes it’s best to hold off using them if you want more of a challenge.

Beyond the gameplay additions that are available throughout the entire game, a few of the worlds also have unique gameplay mechanics as well. Toy Box very fittingly allows players to jump into a giant toy mech suit, including one very unique video game themed sequence later in the world. This is greatly overshadowed by The Caribbean later in the game, which lets you take control of a ship and sail a decently sized open sea. While not as fully fleshed out as ship navigation and combat as say a few of the Assassin’s Creed games, there is definitely a lot to explore here and some really intense naval battles to take part in as well. The overall amount of effort put into The Caribbean and the ship based sections alone propel this world to the upper echelon of the ones offered in Kingdom Hearts 3 without question.

The Kingdom Hearts series has always been full of different mini-games offerings, with 100 Acre Wood being the main location for these in the numbered entries and that streak is continued in Kingdom Hearts 3. Previous entries had players coming back to 100 Acre Wood throughout the game as they obtained new pages to explore, but it feels like more of an afterthought this time. Rather than offering multiple different mini-games to come back and try, 100 Acre Wood consists of three Bubble Shooter clone mini-games that you can complete in one visit to the world. There’s also an interesting plot development here too that felt like it was touched on too lightly and forgotten about as soon as you left the world.

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100 Acre Wood is not the only mini-game in Kingdom Hearts 3 though, with the Ratatouille-based cooking segments also being available. After an early scene in Twilight Town, you unlock the Bistro and the ability to cook recipes after you find the correct ingredients and complete cooking mini-games. The game also has world specific mini-games that are triggered by finding hidden Flans throughout the worlds, which can be a bit of a challenge themselves. Once you unlock the Gummiphone, you can obtain 23 Classic Kingdom games, which are essentially old school Tiger Electronic games based on Sora. While these can be fun, you likely won’t be spending too much time playing these.

Some of the best worlds the series has ever had to offer.

The Gummiphone is not only used for the Classic Kingdom, but also as a replacement for Jiminy’s Journal and as a way to capture collectibles known as Lucky Emblems. These Mickey shaped emblems are found within each world and may be etched in a wall, made up of string, or even be a cloud in the distance. You can also use the Gummiphone to take images, including selfies of Sora. The banter with characters while taking images really adds a lot of character and humor to the game, which are also utilized with the equivalent of an in-game Instagram like service on the load screens that provide good laughs.

One of the more annoying features of past Kingdom Hearts titles was how irrelevant most of the Keyblades in the game were within a world of acquiring them. Kingdom Hearts 3 completely revamps this idea by introducing Keyblade forging very early into the game. The game still has its usual Synthesis Shop that can require lot of collecting, but now you can also use special items to improve your different Keyblades. This means you can choose to fully upgrade the base Kingdom Key if you so choose, along with any of the others found in the game. What makes this even more intriguing now is that you can actually equip three different Keyblades at one time and switch between the three by simply pressing the D-Pad at any time.

Also new to Kingdom Hearts 3 are the brand new Keyblade Formchanges, which are transformations for your Keyblades themselves in battle. These essentially replace the Drive Forms from Kingdom Hearts 2, while also feeling like a natural progression from Birth By Sleep’s Command Styles. Some of the Keyblades only have one transformation, with some others even having two. Combining this with the Attractions and team attacks really help to vary the gameplay overall, though also making it feel easier at times as mentioned prior.

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Long absent from the series since Kingdom Hearts 2, the often maligned Gummi Ships have returned in Kingdom Hearts 3. The second game had already made vast improvements over the first with its Gummi Ships and Kingdom Hearts 3 builds on that even further with open space exploration between worlds. Using either the pre-built or your own personally built ships, you can navigate space to get to each world, with Treasure Spheres and constellations to be found along the way. Heartless battles are also found and ranked by difficulty, with you able to avoid most of them if you really want to outside of a few boss-like fights.

Serving as the conclusion to the Xehanort trilogy, Kingdom Hearts 3 had a lot of loose ends to tie up with not only the lead trio of Sora, Donald, and Goofy, but also the bevy of other characters from across the series. This was quite the tall task to take on, with not only characters like Riku, Kairi, and Mickey needing focus, but also characters like Aqua and Ventus. That is not to even mention Organization XIII and its current and former members such as Xemnas and Axel/Lea respectively. Even with this massive roster of characters though, the game manages to give as many characters the spotlight as it can without starting to feel aimless, which may be one of the most impressive feats for this game as a whole.

The Verdict

Kingdom Hearts 3 has been a long time coming, leading some fans to wonder if it would ever finally get there. The long wait proved to be well worth it though, with Tetsuya Nomura ending the Xehanort saga in strong fashion. Though probably the easiest game in the series, even on Proud Mode, the gameplay is better and more fluid than it has ever been alongside some of the best worlds the series has ever had to offer. Not only can newcomers greatly enjoy the game for its combat and gorgeous visuals, but Kingdom Hearts 3 gives hardcore fans the satisfying ending they’ve been wanting for years, while also managing to setup the future of the franchise as well.

"loved"
loved

Kingdom Hearts 3

  • Available On: Xbox One, PS4
  • Published By: Square Enix
  • Developed By: Square Enix
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • US Release Date: January 29th, 2019
  • Reviewed On: Xbox One
  • Quote: "Kingdom Hearts 3 has been a long time coming, leading some fans to wonder if it would ever finally get there. The long wait proved to be well worth it though, with a satisfying ending they’ve been wanting for years, while also managing to setup the future of the franchise as well."
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