Kingdom Hearts is the beloved love child of Square Enix and Disney. Since its release back in March of 2013, fans have fallen in love with the blended world of Disney and Final Fantasy characters. While the first and second games were released only two years apart, fans have been waiting on the third entry for thirteen years. Many started the series as children and now get to share that experience with their own kids. However, does Kingdom Hearts III live up to the high bar set by the first two entries, or will it leave fans feeling like the long wait was for nothing?
Kingdom Hearts is infamous for having a complex and deep story that spans twelve games, each one serving to add world-altering plots that have become very overwhelming for even dedicated fans to keep up with. Therefore, I will not be taking the time to address the entire story up until this point and this section will be written assuming you’re at least familiar with two other numbered entries in the series. Furthermore, this section will contain spoilers so if you are not interested in having the game’s story spoiled for you, please do not click on the spoiler tags.
The story is what truly made this game for me, at least the final chapter of it. It was a nice way to address a lot of the open plots that took place during some pretty big moments in the game’s storyline. However, a glaring issue is the story involving the Disney-Pixar worlds. Two of the biggest ones, Tangled and Frozen, are almost a re-enactment of their respective movies. In fact, Organization XIII’s entire purpose in these worlds seems to involve preventing Sora from interfering with the plot of the films. It’s such a disappointment because it almost feels like you could skip the 80% of the game and would have missed nothing that drives the plot forward.
There are a LOT of characters in this game, so I will be focusing on the main cast.
The main protagonist of much of the series. Sora has gone through a lot and, because of it, he is considered the strongest out of the guardians of light. He started out on a small island with his friends Riku and Kairi before being targeted by the seekers of darkness.
The royal wizard of Mickey’s court and one of Sora’s main ally’s. His strength is magical attacks and recovery spells. He set out on the journey with Sora after coming across him in Traverse Town.
Captain of the royal guard for Mickey’s court and Donald’s best friend. He also met Sora in Traverse Town and has been by his side from the beginning. A bit of a “goof,” he is the most loving and loyal of Sora’s friends.
Sora’s oldest friend and fellow guardian of light. He once was tricked into serving the side of darkness but, with Mickey’s help, he’s conquered the dark part of himself. After the first game, he has spent the majority of the series trying to redeem himself, especially to Sora.
The king of Disney castle and best friend of Donald and Goofy. He is one of the seven guardians of light and a keyblade wielder. He has guided Sora and Riku throughout the series and dedicated his life to stop the darkness.
Sora’s love interest, and a new guardian of light. Originally, she was one of the seven princesses of light needed to access Kingdom Hearts. Now, she is a keyblade wielder determined to stop the forces of darkness.
Former keyblade master, and the main antagonist of the series. He has ruined countless lives in order to access Kingdom Hearts and the χ-blade. He started Organization XIII to find the twelve keyblades he needed to forge the χ-blade.
The gameplay is almost identical to past entries. It’s an action-RPG so you run around fighting enemies using various keyblades and spells taken from the Final Fantasy series. You explore the maps, find treasure, and fight various enemies along the way. Like the second game, there are quick time moves that give you a huge advantage while facing off hordes of enemies. Once you build up enough momentum, a move will pop up above your action bar. Pressing it will do various things such as allow you to cast a more powerful version of spells you’ve used, change the form of your keyblade, execute team moves, and even enact special “attraction” moves that allow you to ride various Disney rides to attack enemies on.
The issue with these moves is there’s not a lore reason why Sora is able to use them. While playing through the story a tutorial pops up notifying you that they will occur occasionally. That’s it. The thing that used to make this series great was that everything Sora did had an explanation to it. None of that applies to the attractions, and while they can be helpful and pretty to look at, they just feel out of place. Furthermore, they make this game entirely too easy due to how often you’re able to do them. All it takes is hitting a heartless with a green circle around it and, bam! You have a super move that makes you almost invulnerable to most enemies.
That’s a reoccurring issue throughout the game. There are so many combat mechanics that I found myself not even using some of them like the link drives or focus bar. The link drive consumes all of your MP for subpar attack strategies involving characters of Kingdom Hearts past. For example, he can summon various Disney characters to his side because of their strong bond. Which is strange because despite never meeting Ralph from Wreck it Ralph, or him never being in one of the games previously, he’s one of Sora’s link summons even though it explicitly states that the links are with characters Sora has a deep connection to. This time around it just feels like the Disney aspect was shoehorned in as an afterthought.
Gummi ships are back and instead of being an entirely linear process while traversing from world to world, we get a bit of an open area to explore. You’re greeted with open space travel with different missions to complete and items to look for. The issue is that flight controls aren’t the greatest which doesn’t matter for battle because those are linear instances. It was a nice little touch, but it made me miss the old Gummi ship stages where there was so much going on and it took skill to master.
As mentioned earlier, this game is far too easy. Kingdom Hearts has always been a game aimed at children, but it’s never felt like a children’s game. Meaning, it didn’t hold your hand and treat you like you were a child. It was sometimes brutal and unforgiving, especially during many of the fights with the Organization. However, even on proud mode, this game is a breeze to get through and all you have to do is mash the X button and occasionally push the triangle button. Even the boss fights were really underwhelming, and the only time the battles became fun was during the final chapter when you finally face the Organization.
At two points during the game, you get to play as other characters. Once as Riku, and another as Aqua. These were legitimately fun battles, but they are very short. Again, I didn’t understand why this wasn’t a feature that was more prominent throughout the entire game. Doing it this way just made it seem weird and random.
The mini-games are also very dumbed down and not very fun to play. They’re overly simplistic, and most of the time they felt pointless other than to prevent you from progressing through the story too quickly.
One of the missions was literally to find the pieces of Olaf’s body, and I felt like I was playing a game meant for toddlers. The 100-Acre Wood was a glorified tablet game that took ten minutes to complete. It contained one small map area, and I was truly surprised at how quickly I got through it.
There is a cooking mini-game available fairly early in the game that had a lot of promise. Basically, as you go about your journeys you’ll find different food ingredients that can be brought to “little chef” so the two of you can make different dishes that give you temporary stat boosts. The cooking part is like a dumbed down version of Cooking Mama that has you press a couple of buttons at the right time to carry out the cooking process. They’re severely short and usually the same ones recycled over and over again.
Another feature usually present in the series is being able to team up with the various Disney characters you come across from each world. Usually, you would have to switch out either Donald or Goofy to have one of the new characters fight alongside you. Immediately, I was excited when going to Toy Box, the Toy Story world.
The first thing I noticed was that both Woody and Buzz were on my team, and they fought alongside me for most of the stage. However, this wouldn’t be the case in all the worlds. For example, in San Fransokyo, the world from Big Hero 6, I thought I’d have Baymax and Hiro for sure on my team. However, it just ended up being Baymax while the rest of the team ran around and Hiro was mostly behind a computer.
Worse than that, in Arendelle I expected to have Elsa by my side casting her ice magic to make cool looking attacks to fight the heartless with. When that didn’t happen, I figured that Kristoff and Anna would be my new teammates, although I wasn’t exactly sure how they would be fighting. That didn’t happen either. No, I didn’t get a new teammate that stage until the last ten minutes of the map, and it turned out to be Marshmellow, Elsa’s ice golem that is featured for all of ten minutes in the film.
No Final Fantasy
Remember how I said that Kingdom Hearts was Final Fantasy meets Disney? Well, the image above is all you get when it comes to the former. Aside from Moogles, spell names, and one statue of a Cactuar this is all the Final Fantasy references we get throughout the game. Cloud and Auron are shown as statues at the very beginning, but it’s not noteworthy at all. Leon, Yuffie, Vivi, Seifer- none of them make a return this time around which is a huge disappointment to longtime fans. Despite being a part of the overall plot of the two last main games, they aren’t even given so much as a nod to during the events of this game.
Another strong point for this game is the soundtrack. Much of the songs from past games are featured, but they have been re-scored beautifully to fit this new entry into the series. There have also been new songs composed specifically for this game as well as scores from the various Disney-Pixar worlds featured throughout. Kingdom Hearts is known for its beautiful score, and this one is no different.
This game is absolutely beautiful to look at. The visuals are updated and on par with Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV. The Disney-Pixar worlds look like you have been placed right in the middle of the films, and this is especially true in the world of the Pirates of the Caribbean.
The textures are really impressive, and although there were a few noticeable clips, draw distance issues, and a bit of lag it didn’t take away from the awe-inspiring locals and wonderfully rendered characters.
I’ll admit, part of me was disappointed with this game. The main Final Fantasy characters that were featured in the past (Leon, Yuffie, Cloud, etc.) are completely gone and might as well not ever have existed in this game’s world because they’re never mentioned. This is especially disheartening since they played such a huge role in the first game and even had ties to the overall plot. It was also disheartening for the creators to set Kairi up as becoming a hero then they essentially just made her a damsel in distress again.
That being said, the last two hours of the game more than make up for the lackluster start, if you are a die-hard Kingdom Hearts fan. It seems like the developers put a lot of love and care into tying up the end of the dark seeker saga, and it shows. However, it feels like the Disney side of things was just shoved in there last minute as a way to tie it to past games. Gone are fan favorite stages like Halloween Town and the Olympic Colosseum with the 100-Acre Wood being reduced to a mere sneeze of a visit.
However, Square Enix does a wonderful job of tying all of their games together and closing this chapter of Sora’s journey. Even though it left me thirsty for more, as the last moments of footage faded away to darkness I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with emotions of knowing that with saying goodbye to Sora and Co. I am also saying goodbye to part of my childhood.