I’ve thought about this for a while. I’m not sure there’s a point to reviewing Kingdom Hearts III. Let’s be honest: you’ve already made up your mind about the game. You’ve either been waiting 14 years and got it on day one, or you’ve let the whole series pass over you like the confusing wave it is. I’m in the 14 years/day one crowd. I’m not entirely sure who this review is for. I guess it’s for me, God knows I want to put my thoughts down somewhere.
Picking up directly where A Fragmentary Passage leaves off, Kingdom Hearts III depicts Sora and friends’ efforts to assemble the Seven Lights. These seven will face off against Organization XIII in an effort to stop the summoning of Kingdom Hearts. Along the way, Sora also needs to reacquire the powers that he lost and does so by hopping to various Disney worlds to learn important lessons about himself.
As can be expected from the Kingdom Hearts series by this point, this is a confusing mess. There are so many plot threads running rampant, so many insane things that need to be tied up. In no world can Kingdom Hearts III manage it all in a satisfying way. By the end of the game, I wasn’t surprised to find that the last few hours felt rushed. If you have a particular plot string that you’re attached to, there’s a good chance it’ll get something here, just not a good chance it’ll be satisfying enough. Still, I do have to at least commend the developers for managing to get as much into the game as they did. That was certainly something.
However, there’s just something special about the pure absurdity of Kingdom Hearts that I can’t get over. Every cutscene had me groaning. How could writing be this bad while simultaneously keeping up a level of honest gonzo unseen in most games? Yes, the scenes don’t any sense. Yes, there’s an eye-rolling amount of childish writing, dumb situations, failed comedy, and speeches about the heart. Despite all this, I was connected to the characters, I couldn’t tear myself away from the scenes, and many of the late game developments had me smiling. It’s dumb, but it’s the kind of dumb that’s easy to get attached to. Also, let’s be honest. If you want this story to make sense, you don’t want Kingdom Hearts.
One strange plot string ends up totally dropped and noticeably absent. The whole of Kingdom Hearts III lacks any and all Final Fantasy characters. If you’ve been paying attention, you might have seen this coming. 3DS entry Dream Drop Distance chose to replace the Final Fantasy characters with those featured in The World Ends With You, but even they’re gone now. It’s strange to see a series originally billed as “Final Fantasy meets Disney” drop such a big selling point. Anyone interested in seeing where those plot lines went may come away disappointed. At the very least, none of them were really that central to the plot.
Thankfully, no matter what you’re here for, Kingdom Hearts III is an absolute blast to play. You’ll be journeying to different worlds based on mostly newer Disney movies. Nearly every world here is a first for the series, with only a trio of repeats. Some worlds, such as those based on Tangled or Frozen, follow the plots of their movies. Others, like Toy Story and Big Hero 6, have original plots that generally seem to be vague sequels to their respective movies. No matter which type, the stories are all self-contained and work well enough as a motivator.
The basics haven’t changed that much from Kingdom Hearts II. You’ll be playing a real-time action game while selecting abilities from a command menu. While Birth by Sleep reworked the combat system in a way that many future spin-offs would follow, Kingdom Hearts III brings things back to their fast-paced roots. The MP bar is back and spells no longer have individual cooldowns. Many abilities and special attacks are now context sensitive, with Sora using them under certain conditions. At least Shotlock, which lets Sora lock onto many enemies and use a special attack on them, survived.
There are two big new gameplay features. As Sora completes worlds he’ll collect Keyblades that have differing stats. New to Kingdom Hearts III is that these Keyblades can also change form as you deal damage. Many of the Keyblades have unique looks that totally change up how combat works. For example, one turns into a pair of guns that lets you stay away from enemies. Another becomes a giant hammer perfect for area of effect attacks. It’s awesome having all these options available, and overwhelmingly fun experimenting and finding what matches your style. It’s also the first time it feels like the starter Keyblades are relevant past the intro, rather than just swapping them out for the one with the most damage.
The other new system is Situation Commands. Not to be confused with Reaction Commands from earlier entries, these commands appear depending on the current situation. For example, if you deal enough damage with fire spells, a Situation Command opens up, allowing you to cast an overpowered fire spell free of charge. You’ll also use this for team-up attacks, seeing you working with your AI partners for what is usually a visually impressive and high damaging special ability. The aforementioned Keyblade changing also use Situation Commands for special Keyblade-specific finisher attacks.
You’ll also use Situation Commands to summon Attractions, perhaps the one flaw with the combat system. As you fight you get a chance to earn an Attraction, which is based on one of five rides at Disney World. Once you summon one, you’ll play out a little minigame that damages enemies. One is a carousel that plays a rhythm game to shoot out waves light, another has you spinning around the battle arena in teacups, trying to ram enemies, while a third turn the game into a first-person shooter for a bit.
The initial idea is neat, but these Attractions quickly became annoying. They often felt like “use command to win” abilities, and you get them at an almost absurd rate. It felt like every fight in the game had an Attraction, and with only five different ones they got boring before I was even out of the first world. In the end, I ignored them.
Thankfully, there’s a fantastic variety of enemies to fight. Heartless come in dozens of different types, and their unique qualities constantly impress me. One would form up into stampeding groups, requiring me to scramble them before I could do harm. Another would fly in the air and pick up enemies to give them an aerial advantage they didn’t have before. In addition to this, Nobodies finally make their return, offering up a totally weird and different subset of enemies to fight. The Unversed also join in with their own set of combinations and enemies, but they still felt like Heartless rip-offs in the end. Still, it’s welcome to have such a large bestiary of enemies to go against.
This is only considering the normal enemies and not the plethora of innovative bosses that populate the game. The series has always had some of the best boss fights in gaming, and Kingdom Hearts III is no exception to that rule. You’ll be running up walls while dodging falling boulders, battling Davy Jones while jumping over the Kraken’s tentacles, and flying through the air on Baymax’s back while shooting at a strange evil version of him. Each boss has some unique gimmick, but none of them feel like they stray too far from the fantastic base gameplay. Instead, each boss finds ways to compliment it and make them more fun. It makes me look forward to every fight, and there isn’t a single boss that dragged on Kingdom Hearts III rather than adding to it.
It’s not just the bosses that have these neat moments of changed gameplay. Each world features some fantastic ideas that help make them stand out and feel unique. The world based on Toy Story lets you pilot mechs, turning the game into a first-person shooter. In Monsters Inc. you’ll be flying down rails, locking onto and blasting away targets. Tangled includes a fun little dancing minigame. Perhaps it’s because of all these breaks that lead to the biggest failure in Kingdom Hearts III: the world based on Winnie the Pooh. Normally the minigame dump world in the past entries, now it seems to serve no purpose other than to say it’s there. The whole world is based around an awkward match-3 minigame that’s over in 20 minutes. Woe is the day when someone decided we needed to see what the Hundred Acre Woods looked like without Eeyore.
Honestly, despite all I’ve said so far, I still don’t even feel like I’ve managed to scratch the surface of Kingdom Hearts III‘s gameplay. Each world feels unique, each battle is genuinely fun, each boss is a treat. There are hidden symbols to photograph, a stat-raising cooking minigame, materials to synthesize new items and upgrades, secret bosses, and hidden heartless. Much like the last few games, you can get lost for a solid 40+ hours here if you want to.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kingdom Hearts III is not these wonderful bosses, nonsensical story, and fantastic gameplay. It’s that Kingdom Hearts III did the one thing I thought physically impossible: made the Gummi Ship worth using. Yes, the Gummi Ship returns in a big way, and it’s almost shocking how much fun it is. Between worlds, you’ll explore the vast openness of The Ocean Between, able to fly freely through space to find weird secrets, hidden bosses, collectibles, and more. When you run into an enemy the game will then temporally turn into a shoot ’em up as you take them down. Your rewards are customization pieces, allowing you to create a rather massive range of ships. It’s so fun that the Gummi Ship could easily be spun off into its own video game with only a few slight additions.
Another wonder is just how good Kingdom Hearts III looks. It’s clear a lot of love went into making sure it would match not only current generation games but also the movies they’re based on. Comparing Kingdom Hearts III to Frozen is a shocking look as to just how far video game graphics have come.
The animations, in particular, are worth pointing out. When compared to Toy Story, Woody’s arms move perfectly. Somehow the animators manage to capture all the subtle face twitches Jack makes in Pirates of the Caribbean. Even better than the graphics? The soundtrack. The perfect blend of remixing old songs and totally new ones, every single tune here is an absolute show stealer. I can see this easily working its way into my playlist for years to come. Who knew 2019 would also be the year Skrillex shows up again and manages to kill it. Weird times we live in.
Though I guess the weirdest time of all is that we live in a world where Kingdom Hearts III is, well… out. Never has a game seen this many release jokes this side of Half-Life 3. Yet, Kingdom Hearts III is in our hands. More importantly, it’s great. Sure the story will never be anything other than convoluted nonsense (and do I want it to be?), but I’m having a tough time thinking of a video game that has just been so solidly fun to play in quite a while. It’s not Simple and Clean, but I’m glad I got to Face My Fears and found Sanctuary.
TechRaptor conducted our Kingdom Hearts III review on PlayStation 4 using a copy purchased by the reviewer. The game is also available on Xbox One.
Kingdom Hearts III plays up to the series' strengths, leaving one hell of a closer for fans.
- Surprisingly Entertaining Nonsense Story
- Great New Keyblade Changes
- Fantastic Enemy and Gameplay Variety
- Wonderful Bosses
- Shockingly Awesome Gummi Ship Segments
- Beautiful Graphics and Soundtrack
- Last Few Hours Feel Rushed
- No Final Fantasy Characters
- Attractions Get Annoying
- Terrible Winnie the Pooh World