In what has been one of the longest waits for a sequel in gaming history, fans of the Kingdom Hearts series have had to wait 14 years since the last main entry. There have been spin-offs to keep them going, but now the wait is finally over and Kingdom Hearts 3 is upon us! But was it worth the wait?
Kingdom Hearts 3 Story & Storytelling
Kingdom Hearts 3 is the culmination of the entire Kingdom Hearts series to date- both the main entries and spin-offs. It tells the tale of Xehanort and his efforts, along with his reconstructed Organisation XIII, to start the Keyblade War in an effort to forge the legendary χ-Blade.
The wizard Yen Sid must prepare the seven Guardians of Light to face Xehanort and his Organisation XIII to prevent Xehanort from achieving his goal. All the while Sora, along his companions of Donald Duck and Goofy, set out to the different Disney worlds so he can regain his lost ‘power of waking’ ability.
So that’s the general idea of the overall plot for this game. But believe me when I say this, the story of Kingdom Hearts 3 is NOT kind to newcomers! Unless you’ve played all the previous Kingdom Hearts games, and remembered their stories and characters, you’re not going to have any idea on what’s going on.
Yes, there is a Memories Archive in the main menu that retells the events of the previous games. Also, you’ll eventually unlock a Glossary and Story summary which tells you about all the characters and what’s happened in story so far. Despite this, I found myself almost completely lost during the cutscenes that try to progress the main story forward.
What confuses me the most is for a game that heavily promotes its Disney characters, why did SquareEnix decide to include one of the most confusing and convoluted storylines I can think of. This game would certainly attract children, as well as fans of Disney movies, so I can’t fathom why they went down this path.
Confusion aside, I’m not in a position to judge the actual story because I only ever played the very first Kingdom Hearts before this third entry. I did my best to understand what I could throughout the game, but it did get to the point where I was almost ignoring the main story altogether, and just focused on enjoying the individual stories told in each Disney world.
Thankfully though, once I finished all the Disney worlds and was making my through the game’s finale, the story did start to come together and was actually able to enjoy the remainder of it. It really felt like everything tied up pretty well, with the characters from their respective games all fighting together, and having their stories satisfactorily completed.
My main criticism with the final few hours was that it felt a little anti-climactic. When a massive battle of this calibur is being built up, it just felt a little underwhelming, as I didn’t feel the tension of what was at stake. I don’t think the game did a good enough job building up that anticipation needed for such an important moment in the whole series.
Storyline aside, there one aspect I felt was dealt with pretty poorly, and that was the game’s actual storytelling. As Sora, you spend most of the game travelling to the different Disney worlds. At the beginning of the game Sora is tasked with regaining his ‘power of waking’ ability. The problem is, this is brought up at the start, and is very rarely talked about since. When you travel to different worlds, Sora’s main quest almost seems forgotten about, as his focus seems to be more about helping the Disney characters in trouble.
Don’t get me wrong, the individual storylines of each Disney world is what I tried to enjoy the most about Kingdom Hearts 3. If you’re a fan of any of the Disney movies (I do love Toy Story), you’ll have an absolute blast hanging out and fighting with the characters here!
Some of the stories told are unique to the game, and some are told concurrently with the movies they are set in. The way they integrated Sora, Donald and Goofy into the Frozen ‘Let It Go’ scene was brilliant and of the biggest highlights in the game.
So while I enjoyed those particular storylines, they seemed to be more centre-stage than the game’s main story. I can understand the emphasis of Disney’s influence, but side stories should never overshadow a game’s main story. In fact, the main story took a bit of a backseat throughout most of the game, at least that’s what I felt.
But the biggest offender for me with the storytelling is Sora’s involvement in it. Because most of the time is spent helping out the Disney characters, the actual main story seems to be going on independently of Sora, and he seems to make minimal impact in it. That is of course until the end of the game.
When I think of all these criticisms, it sums why I simply wasn’t engaged in the main story, hence why I tried to just focus on enjoying the Disney-related stories. I know there’s a lot going on that requires previous knowledge, but it really does feel like poor storytelling to me.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a complicated and complex story! They can really immerse you make you feel a part of something special. But Kingdom Heart 3 fails in that regard. It’s unnecessarily complicated and an absolute mess.
The Disney Worlds of Kingdom Hearts 3
Probably the major draw-card for this game is the Disney characters and their worlds. Thankfully it’s the best part of the game. You’ll be visiting locations from the Disney and Pixar universe, ranging from Toy Story to Frozen. The characters have the same voice actors from the movies, or very similar-sounding voice actors, and this keeps it all very authentic.
The characters themselves look amazing as they are pretty much identical to their movies. The settings for each world are also visually stunning, as this game really captures the spirit of these worlds. Even some the music is the same (like that famous Frozen scene as I mentioned before), so any Disney fans will get an absolute kick out of it.
I really appreciated how each world had its own visual style, such as architecture, lighting, etc. No one world looks the same as the other, and the detail in each is impressive. I was pretty blown away by the Pirates of the Caribbean world, like how they managed to make everything look very life-like, as opposed to more cartoon style of all the other worlds.
A nice touch was how they even changed the way Sora, Donald and Goofy looked in most of the worlds! In the Toy Story world they looked like toys, in the Monsters Inc. world they looked like monsters. It just added even more personality to visiting each world and gave something fun to look forward to.
Kingdom Hearts 3 Gameplay
In terms of gameplay, there’s two different areas to talking about: combat and the exploration. First I’ll start with combat, as it plays a huge part of the game.
From memory, it plays very similarly to the originals. You’ll be spamming that attack button (X on PS4, A on Xbox One) over and over again to take down hoards of enemies. Seriously, I feared for the life of my poor X button throughout the game. In fact, the whole controls kind of threw me off.
Usually in most games, the Square button is to attack, X button is to jump, and O to evade. In Kingdom Hearts 3, it’s all completely mixed up, and I never quite got used to it during my playthrough. There’s not even an option to change the controls!
At times combat was satisfying, defeating large groups of enemies with a wide variety of over-the-top attacks, was quite a delight to see. The special effects from each hit of the Keyblade looked pretty spectacular too.
Speaking of spectacular, there are abilities known as Attractions, which are attacks all based off actual Disney theme park rides. It’s got to be the most bizarre example of advertising I’ve ever seen! But they look real pretty as your eyes will be treated to flashing lights and awesome effects that actually do decent damage (to the enemy, not your eyes).
They’re not the only special attacks as you can perform a team attack with your companions that also do decent damage. Then there’s the Keyblade variations (I loved Hyper hammer from the Toy Story Favourite Deputy Keyblade!) and these all spiced things up, especially when you’re getting overwhelmed in battle.
Unfortunately that’s where the praise ends for combat. While it may look very pretty and have some cool moments, that doesn’t stop it from being unbelievably repetitive. The constant battle after battle of mostly pressing that attack button got old very quick. Almost as soon as you’ve finished an overly long battle, it’s only a matter of minutes before you’re straight into another one.
Because of all the long animations of the Attractions and team attacks, each battle ends up dragging on longer than necessary. There were moments where I’d just keep running and not even bother engaging with the enemy.
I felt also the magic was underutilised. There were a couple of times where you needed to use magic in specific situations, which is a great idea, but it was very few and far between. The magic attacks weren’t even strong enough to bother using, since the Keyblade attacks were strong and fast enough to do the damage you needed.
The camera and targeting was another issue I had in combat, as I constantly had to struggle with them as enemies would be jumping around, and the camera wasn’t always quick enough to follow them. As I tried to target certain enemies it would end up targeting someone far off which got very frustrating.
Also why was the enemies HP displayed in the top corner of the screen and not above their heads!? I don’t like having to look away from the fight to see how much HP they have because it’s easy to lose track of them. Baffling.
Overall, the combat just felt basic and I was bored with it most of the time. That’s mainly because of its repetitive nature, not so much its difficulty. Combat should be amongst the most exciting part of the game, but I was always glad when it was over.
Now for general gameplay that entailed exploration, traversing each world, etc. Unfortunately I’m going to have to use that word again- boring. When you’re not watching a cutscene and enjoying the story of each world, you’ll be pretty much walking along through each world just going from one battle to the next.
I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this, but I think traversing each world was more dull than the combat. It’s not completely linear, as you can explore a little and find treasure chests, but the rewards were hardly worth getting excited about.
Each world does try to throw in some mini-games to add some variety, but they felt like filler more than anything. Speaking of each world, apart from their style and aesthetics, they mostly felt the same.
You’re basically just walking your way through some pretty basic level design until you need to fight, then it’s just rinse and repeat. And since the game doesn’t want to guide you or give you a map of the whole area, it did get frustrating at times to make my way through.
I truly think Kingdom Hearts 3 should have implemented some unique gameplay mechanics specific to each world. Like I said, every world felt the same. But then I visited the Pirates of the Caribbean world, and this particular world showed the potential this game really had.
You can sail a ship around the sea, you can upgrade your ship, you can swim and search for treasure. That world illustrates my point perfectly. It contained unique mechanics that were specific and relevant to that world, and that’s why it stood out amongst all the other worlds.
The Gummiship makes its return, but these whole segments really feel like a distraction in between worlds. The arcade-style battles are actually pretty fun, but apart from that, I never bothered too much with space exploration. You can upgrade and design your own Gummiship, but it felt unnecessary as I never upgraded it once, making it kind of pointless.
Kingdom Hearts 3 Summary
If you’ve read everything up until this point, you’ll notice that most of my praise revolves around the game’s visuals, and complaints mainly about the gameplay and storytelling. So I think that means the saying “All style and no substance” can apply here, at least from what I got out of the game.
If I had played this game back in the early 2000’s then maybe I would have enjoyed it more. Besides the visuals, there’s not a whole lot that was modernised here. The combat is repetitive, the level design is uninspired, and I was literally bored throughout most of my time here. I also forgot to mention the extremely cheesy dialogue that was cringe-worthy at times.
There are some saving graces though, such as the more memorable Caribbean world, the self-contained Disney storylines, each Disney world’s visual style, and the flashy combat abilities. But that’s not enough to save the game from feeling like just an average experience.