Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts series is now 17 years old, and what a ride it has been. Between 2002 and 2012, we’ve seen eight games released in the series, but since then we’ve only seen remakes, a mobile game, and a short episode in the form of Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage on the PlayStation 4. So after waiting what felt like an eternity for Kingdom Hearts III, it’s finally here. As a fan of the series, I feel a bit let down but at the same time, I quite enjoyed every minute of the game.
Tetsuya Nomura has done an incredible job with the series. It has its share of issues including a confusing story, but that’s honestly part of its charm.
It might be tough for newcomers to jump into Kingdom Hearts III. The story can get very confusing (which still happens if you played every other game in the series) but it’s worse if you are just lost in who a certain character is or why they are there. There is a way to catch up with the events of the previous games, but I’d recommend trying to play the original games first via Kingdom Hearts: The Story so Far or if not the 1.5, 2.5, and 2.8 collections.
The story follows the events of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance as Sora fell into the hands of the Organization thus failing the Mark of Mastery exam. He is tasked by Master Yen Sid to reawaken his lost power of Waking and is once again joined by Donald and Goofy as they set out to Olympus in hopes that Hercules will point Sora in the right direction. Meanwhile, King Mickey and Riku search for Aqua, who has been in the Realm of Darkness for over a decade.
Kingdom Hearts III features a few new worlds to explore, including Toy Box from Toy Story, Monstropolis (Monsters Inc.), Kingdom of Corona (Tangled), San Fransokyo (Big Hero 6) and Arendelle (Frozen) with Olympus, The Carribean (formerly known as Port Royal), and the 100 Acre Wood returning.
I feel one of the biggest challenges of the series as a whole is how well they are able to incorporate each Disney world you visit while making them actually feel like you are part of the story. This is highlighted especially in San Fransokyo and Monstropolis, which actually expand the story of the original films and became that much more enjoyable as you play through since these are stories created for the game. I love reliving moments of some of my favorite Disney films, but seeing the story go even further just makes it that much more fun.
It’s surprising just how big the maps in each world can be, especially compared to previous games and this is especially true when you in The Carribean, where you are able to explore the high seas on your very own ship, exploring various islands while fighting off enemy vessels.
It was a surprise when Square Enix announced that it was switching over from the Luminous engine to Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, but it really paid off, sometimes a little too well. The game looks amazing with so much detail on everything, from the locations to the characters. At times this can be a bit too noticeable, where the characters stand out too much in terms of design and colors in certain worlds giving them a plastic-like look.
Kingdom Hearts III does a great job of taking everything that was great about the series and expanding it by incorporating new elements that keep the game fresh while also keeping the core mechanics. Sora is able to use the Flowmotion mechanics from Dream Drop Distance, allowing him to interact with the environment letting him grind on rails, jump off walls, swing on trees and use them to his advantage in attacks. The battle system itself is still very reminiscent of the original Kingdom Hearts with the same menu system, but now Sora is able to change his fighting style based on the Keyblade he has equipped as various keyblades unlock special forms to use for a duration. This is similar to the Surge and Storm commands from Birth By Sleep.
Keyblades have also been given an upgrade. Each Keyblade unlocks a new Drive Form based on what you have currently equipped. The Kingdom Key and Midnight Blue (pre-order exclusive) will let Sora transform into his “Second Form” unlocking moves from Kingdom Hearts (Similar to Sora’s Limit Form introduced in Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix). Equipping the Hero’s Origin Keyblade unlocks the Guradian Form, which equips Sora with a shield that can be used to defend and counterattack while also being thrown at enemies to do damage. There are a few Keyblades that can unlock two different abilities, such as the Shooting Star that unlocks Sora’s Duel Arrowguns. After attacking enemies enough before the timer runs out, you can unlock a second form known as Magic Launcher which shoots out energy while in close range.
Drive Forms add a nice change of pace based on the one you are using. You can equip three different Keyblades in battle and switch them out to suit your style. You unlock each form by attacking enemies and filling up a bar known as the situational command. These forms are quite powerful so they do tend to make the game easier, but honestly, it’s just so much fun using them, especially as each one has a powerful final attack used to deal extra damage.
It is also possible to stock each Drive Form by switching to another keyblade, making it possible to just jump right back into that form with as much bar you left off with for the next fight. It doesn’t always carry over when entering a cutscene or leaving a world, but it’s nice to know you have that option. Each Keyblade also has a unique technique known as the Shotlock, this lets Sora unleash a powerful attack on enemies which can be used anytime you have at least half of your focus bar.
Also new to the game is the ability to use Grand Magic and summon an Attraction Flow. Grand Magic are powerful spells that include Aeroza, Blizzaza, Firaza, Thundaza, and Waterza, used after unlocking their level 2 equivalents and above. Using the corresponding spell a few times fills up the situation command and can be used right away with no MP needed. Attraction Flows summon one of a few different Disney Attractions that include the Tea Cups, Splash Mountain, a Pirate Ship that rocks back and forth along with a Shooting Attraction just to name a few.
Attraction Flows tend to deal a ton of damage and certain ones give your team invincibility while active and they are pretty easy to obtain by attacking a certain enemy in battle.
Last but not least is the Shotlock
Kingdom Hearts III is not as difficult as the previous games in the series, I actually only died twice in the game and the final battle, but overall I never had any real problems. Not even the secret boss gave me much trouble when I challenged him at level 60. The game does lack a Critical Mode, so as of right now, Proud Mode is the hardest. This is nice for newcomers to the series, but to those looking for a challenge, you might want to try using the EXP Zero ability so you don’t gain any levels in the game.
I felt like something was really missing from the game. The lack of Final Fantasy characters was disappointing after their involvement in previous stories and while you do meet bosses from previous games like Hades and Maleficent, they only make slight appearances and don’t have that much bearing on the story. I was able to beat the game in just under 30 hours, but since then I’ve spent another 6 hours taking photos of all the Lucky Emblems, playing the mini-games, and reaching level 99.
It’s a game filled with tons of content, that you can keep enjoying especially with the Gummiphone that lets you snap pictures and selfies while also serving as a way to play multiple Game & Watch style mini-games. And for the first time, I actually came to really have fun with the Gummiship, something I was never really fond of in the original games.
Kingdom Hearts III has its flaws and there are still so many questions I came out with by the end, albeit not major ones. The game ties up a lot of loose ends and keeps you entertained from start to finish with a great narrative that makes you happy knowing that you’ve played the entire series. More importantly, it lets you know there is still more to come while closing off so many important chapters we’ve waited a decade for.