REVIEW: Kingdom Hearts III
NOTE: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS FULL SPOILERS FOR THE GAME’S STORY, ENDING, EPILOGUE AND SECRET MOVIE. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
So, I have finally finished Kingdom Hearts III, and I am ready to review it. Now, I know what you’re all saying, Why did it take you SO LONG!” The answer is, because I have a life, a job and responsibilities outside of this. This review is of a game that was completed on that type of schedule, which only allowed me to play a few hours here and there. I stayed up many late nights and lost a lot of sleep, but the result is a review that, I hope, shows how worth it the experience as a whole was. I completed the entire main game, and several of the side quests, but have not completed some of the more labor intensive or time intensive ones. I plan to go back and do them at some point, just so I can experience everything the game has to offer, but the ones I skipped were not essential to the story. Which, should really tell you everything you need to know about the game.
But, I’ll go ahead with the full review anyway. Some games are accompanied by a relentless amount of buzz from the moment they are announced to the moment they are released. Most of the games are so called “AAA Titles”, games that are designed to be sure-fire bestsellers out of the box. Most of these games meet the desires of fans enough to satisfy the hype. Every so often though, one of these games transcends all of the hype to not only meet, but exceed expectations. Kingdom Hearts III is one of those games.
The Kingdom Hearts series began as an absurd idea. I can still remember how insane I thought it sounded over 17 years ago. Square Enix and Disney were going to make a game together. I can vividly remember the excitement and confusion, and all the questions about how it would work. Every screenshot, every video, every trailer, and every scrap of info was poured over and dissected. Finally, the game was released and we had our answer. Kingdom Hearts perfectly married the mechanics of Final Fantasy with Disney’s rich character library to create a new shared universe where a fresh new take on the battle between good and evil was about to play out. 17 years, and a host of games later, the final chapter of that saga is finally here.
Arguably as ambitious as the first game, Kingdom Hearts III aims to bring 17 years of story to a close, tying together all of the different subplots in what has come to be known as the Xehanort Saga. The most amazing part about this is that they have succeeded. All of the questions you have about plotlines are answered by the end of the game. You know where everyone stands and there is a definitive “winner” and “loser” when you reach the end of the game. That’s not to say there aren’t a few surprises left, but the “main” story is all wrapped up at the end.
May Your Heart Be You Guiding Key
The story picks up right where it left off at the end of the “Secret Movie called “A Fragmentary Passage.” If you are unfamiliar with this movie, it comes at the end of Kingdom Hearts 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue. In it, Sora resolves to leave with Donald and Goofy and regain his lost power, Lea (formerly Axel) and Kairi leave to train as Keyblade Masters after Merlin and Riku and King Mickey plan to enter the World of Darkness to search for the missing Aqua. The search for his lost power leads Sora to think of another hero who was in a similar situation, and Sora’s heart allows him to open a portal to Olympus, which is where our story begins.
The Key to All Worlds
So, as with other Kingdom Hearts games, the real draw here, and Disney’s major contribution to the series, are the various worlds you visit. These worlds are drawn from the rich universe of motion picture and animation properties Disney is responsible for. In this game, for the first time ever, some of the new worlds are based on PIXAR properties. They are: Toy Box (Toy Story) and Monstropolis (Monsters, Inc.). They are joined by the following worlds based on Disney properties: Olympus (Hercules), The Kingdom of Corona (Tangled), Arrendale (Frozen), The Hundred-Acre-Wood (Winnie the Pooh), The Caribbean (Pirates of the Caribbean) and San Fransokyo (Big Hero 6). These worlds are joined by original worlds created for this series, such as Twilight Town, which returns from Kingdom Hearts II, and The Dark World, The Keyblade Graveyard, The Final World and Scala ad Caelum, which are new for this game.
As always, it is the extra little touches that make each of these worlds , special. First off, Sora’s and party change costume in each world, becoming toys in the “Toy Box” world and monsters in “Monstropolis”, for example. My personal favorite of all of these is the pirate outfit from “the Caribbean.” There are other little touches to make the worlds more authentic and immersive. For example, the background music for the entire “Toy Box” level is a looped instrumental version of You’ve Got a Friend in Me. Also, in Arrendale, your first encounter with Elsa happens during the point in the film where she is running away from the Kingdom. This eventually leads to the sequence with *that* song, and the developers smartly decided to make it into a cutscene. So, the ENTIRE song Let it Go is performed by Idina Menzel, with Sora and party inserted into the sequence. In fact, when Elsa takes off her scarf, it flies by Sora. This is an enormous bit of fan service and I applaud the developers for it. All of the worlds are beautiful recreations. faithful to their various properties.
If It Ain’t Broke……
Sometimes, developers get a few games into a series and decide they want to “tinker” with the mechanics to create a fresh experience. While this is a sound practice in theory, most of the times it ends up being a disaster. Thankfully, the developers of Kingdom Hearts III recognize this, and the general control scheme has remained largely untouched from previous installments, with minimal additions to make it feel both new and familiar at the same time. The basic Keyblade and Magic attacks return. They are joined by the new “Attractions” command, which may be one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in any game. When these are activated, you attack while riding a version of a classic Disney theme park attraction, such as the Mad Tea Cups or Mountain Train, which is covered in colored lights. These attacks are usually fairly devastating.
This game continues the trend of “form change” introduced in Kingdom Hearts II, but confines it to certain Keyblades. Summons also return as “Link” Commands. When you use one, it replaces you on the battlefield, and uses your entire magic meter. New this game is a technique called “Flowmotion”, which allows you to perform acrobatic,”parkour-like” moves and attacks by springing off of certain launch points, such as walls or lamp posts. Also new for this game is “airstepping”, which allows you to quickly climb long distances by flowmotion leaping between scattered objects. Blissfully, none of these new techniques require any elaborate button pressing.
Pretty As a Picture
This is the first Kingdom Hearts game made for Next Gen systems and it shows. The worlds are more vibrant than ever before. Each world has light and environmental effects that pop like never before. Water, fire and ice all look better than ever before. Combat is a frenetic symphony of melee slashes and magic attacks and impressive variety of enemy encounters ensures that the game never gets stale.
You Take the Good, You Take the Bad
This game has very few shortcomings, but there are some. The biggest one is the return of the Gummi Ship. The Gummi Ship has been one of the most dividing elements of the entire series among fans. You either like it or you don’t. I don’t. I will applaud the developers for trying to make it more user friendly by allowing you to skip most of the battle sequences if you so desire. But, there are still mandatory boss battles that you must complete before being allowed to land in certain worlds. Also, the sequence at the end where you have to fly through the station and face a boss before you can land in the Keyblade Graveyard can be maddening if you din’t know where to go and you don’t remember where you’ve been. Some of the optional battle challenges require you to upgrade your Gummi Ship, something I really had no interest in doing. However, if you want the Ultima Weapon, you will have to, because to obtain one of the Synthesis materials necessary to make it, you have to win 4 Gummi Ship boss battles. I just wish that the developers had not felt it necessary to force using a feature I really had no use for in order to obtain an item I cannot get any other way.
Another side quest tied into getting the Ultima Weapon that I really had no use for involves the Flantastic Seven. These are seven large Flan Heartless, each representing a different fruit, that challenge you to get a high score on their minigames. These game range from defeating enemies in a certain amount of time, to firing cannons at a fort, to some truly frustrating ones, such as stacking flans up while riding a teacup and riding a shield while trying to hit flan to score points. Again, this is a gameplay element I have no use for, except as a means to an end. That end being the Ultima Weapon.
Finally, there is the cooking minigame. Yes, I said cooking. I will give it up for the developers, this was a very smart way to include Remy from Ratatouille without having to build an entire world around him. But, the minigames require such analog precision that they become pretty frustrating fairly quickly. I beat the game without cooking a single dish other than the ones the game encouraged me to try when the mechanic was first introduced. Fortunately, you do not have to do anything with the cooking minigame for the Ultima Weapon, so feel free to stay away from it if you want to.
There were, however some minigames I absolutely loved. Chief among these is the Pirate Ship segment in the Caribbean world. You are given your own Pirate ship during the course of the story, and, if you so choose you can sail around the sea, exploring islands for treasure, and battling Heartless Pirate ships.
It’s a Lucky Emblem
Is there anyone who hasn’t gone to Disneyland or Disney World and searched for Hidden Mickey’s? For those who don’t know, Hidden Mickey’s are examples of the classic Mickey Mouse emblem that are hidden all over the parks. Kingdom Hearts III brings this popular “scavenger hunt” into the game by tasking you to search for, and photograph, “Lucky Emblems” hidden in the various worlds. Not only is it fun, but it’s necessary for both crafting the Ultima Weapon and viewing the game’s Secret Movie.
All Good Things Must Come to an End
17 years and 9 previous games have all led to this. This game marks the end of the “Dark Seekers” or “Xehanort” Saga. All of your lingering questions are answered, and you finally get the long awaited reunions of Aqua, Terra and Ven, and Roxas, Sora, Axel and Xion. The members of Organization XIII are defeated. Kingdom Hearts is opened and re-locked. And, Eraqus makes a surprise return to assist in the defeat and redemption of Master Xehanort. Namine is also revived. But, in the course of the battle, KAIRI IS KILLED! But, Sora can feel that she is still out there, so he decides to go search for her. In the ending movie, she is back on the Destiny Islands sitting next to Sora, but he fades away.
In the epilogue, the Foretellers, from the Kingdom Hearts x mobile game, have been summoned to the Keyblade Graveyard, where a mysterious figure with a box in a rob reveals himself to be Luxu, one of the Foretellers. He removes his hood and we see that it is, in fact, Organization XIII Member Xigbar. Maleficent and Pete are also watching from a distance. This is the black box she has been speaking of the whole game.
In the Secret Movie, called “Yozora”, Sora wakes up in a city that seems to suggest the setting of the game The World Ends with You. Riku, who has apparently gone after Sora, wakes up in a different part of the same city. As he wanders around, Riku is watched from the top of a building by the Yozora character from the “Vexen Rex” video game seen in the Toy Box world. Meanwhile, on top of another building, a figure in a hooded robe looks up at the moon and makes a heart shape with his hands.
In The End
17 years of story come together as the “Xehanort Saga” comes to an end. Longtime fans of the series get their payoff as secrets are revealed, and questions are answered. Characters are redeemed and reunited and good triumphs over evil. There are shocks and surprises and all of this is at the end of one of the best games I have ever played. Don’t miss this one.
KINGDOM HEARTS III gets a 5 out of 5