After over a decade of waiting for a new mainline Kingdom Hearts game to release, Square Enix and Tetsuya Nomura have finally graced us with Kingdom Hearts III. Was the final product worth the 13 year wait though? Since we are now a week away from release, Aidan Simonds is going to join me as we discuss strengths and weaknesses for KH3. No worries though, we will avoid spoilers as well as we can. Aidan’s thoughts will be first, mine will follow.
My biggest request for Kingdom Hearts III was to keep things simple. Every Kingdom Hearts game following the first one has added new systems and mechanics, to varying degrees of success. From the pretty awesome (the command deck system of Birth by Sleep) to the less awesome (the Drop system of Dream Drop Distance), things could get convoluted gameplay-wise. Thankfully, Kingdom Hearts III refines the gameplay experience. It takes some of the best mechanics from previous entries (Flowmotion, Shotlock, etc.), and simplifies them to a more accessible degree. Plus, returning to the magic system of Kingdom Hearts II is for the best.
I know I sound contradictory right now, but the additions to Kingdom Hearts III’s combat are fantastic. The Attraction Flow system has led to some of my favorite moments in a Kingdom Hearts game and using a giant pirate ship mid-battle is pure joy. Plus, the form changes keep the combat from feeling stale, which is key in a combat-heavy game like this. The best part of it all? You don’t have to engage with these mechanics if you don’t want to! For the first time, it truly feels like you can play Kingdom Hearts as you please.
Quite possibly the biggest benefit for waiting so damn long for Kingdom Hearts III is the super-modern library of films represented. Out of the eight Disney worlds featured, five are brand-new, and two of them may as well be brand-new (and even get new names to boot). Not having to slog through Agrabah or Halloween Town for a third time (if you only count mainline games) is a blessing. But what makes the world selection even better is that the world selections are so diverse.
No two worlds in Kingdom Hearts III are alike. Sure, that was the case for previous games in the series (since no two Disney films are truly alike), but here, each world is like its own mini sandbox. The forests of the Kingdom of Corona stand out from the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. The gigantic galaxy toys in Toy Box is essentially its own world, while sailing in The Caribbean is truly unlike anything I’ve seen in a Kingdom Hearts game. The lineup of worlds may be smaller than usual, but I’d reckon that Kingdom Hearts III has the strongest library yet.
Someway, somehow, Kingdom Hearts III manages to be a satisfactory conclusion to the nearly two decade-long storyline. Sure, you could argue that everything is tied up a little too neatly. However, it manages to resolve the storylines of eight-plus characters and somehow manages to do it cleanly. It builds upon concepts introduced in some of the earliest games and makes surprising callbacks that more than satisfied.
Of course, not everything is tied up. In a way, it almost feels like this is a prologue of sorts, and now the real Kingdom Hearts story can begin. There are some major questions that need to be addressed (yet probably won’t for some time), and the secret ending created both intrigue and concern. However, if playing the numerous side games did anything, it made the impact of playing Kingdom Hearts III that much bigger. I don’t know if another game will affect me like this did, but I’m okay with that.
While the world selection is a true highlight, there are times where the more expansive nature of the worlds was to the game’s detriment. Two worlds in particular, Kingdom of Corona and Arendelle, can be almost impossible to navigate at times, simply because they’re so expansive. It doesn’t help that most of those worlds look so similar, either, especially Arendelle, which is all blue and all snowy. Normally it’s not too bad, but there are segments that instill urgency, and it’s hard to be urgent when you don’t know where you’re going.
While I praised the storyline, there are some glaring issues present, mostly concerning the pacing. In prior Kingdom Hearts games, you had major plot developments intersected with the Disney storylines. Here, that’s not really the case. Save for a few cutscenes, Kingdom Hearts III is pretty much all Disney for 75% of the game, and once you beat the last world, it pretty much goes full speed ahead on the overarching Kingdom Hearts narrative. It doesn’t feel rushed per se, but it does feel a bit odd to have so many giant character moments happening one after the other. And it does make the story feel especially backloaded.
Still, I won’t say that the backend of Kingdom Hearts III wasn’t effective, because it for sure was. However, another glaring issue with the pacing comes with the Disney worlds themselves. While the Disney narratives generally felt more intertwined in the overall narratives than in Kingdom Hearts II, other times they felt more like afterthoughts. There were two worlds where the events of the films they are based on literally happened off-screen. As a Kingdom Hearts diehard, it was jarring, to say the least. While the narrative overall was a success, it did have some stumbles.
Man, I still can’t believe we live in a post-Kingdom Hearts III world. To think that a narrative that began when I was six has essentially concluded is wild to me. Of course, Kingdom Hearts is far from over, and if anything, there are more questions now than ever before. In all honesty, I think no matter what, I would love Kingdom Hearts III. I waited too long for this to disappoint me. But what I was surprised at was just how much I ended up loving it. After years of anticipation, I was expecting a game that would ultimately not live up to the hype. But somehow, it did. In a way, I’m almost glad I waited all those years, and sifted through all those spin-off games, because it made the ending that much more satisfying.
The strengths of Kingdom Hearts III mostly lie in the gameplay. The evolution of the hack and slash style has culminated in a fun experience that keeps pulling me back. Admittedly, it is not a very deep system, but the movement of attacking enemies feels very satisfying. This entry in the series is much more vertical than in the past as well. If there is an enemy located above you, Sora can essentially stay airborne forever. It’s simple combat fun that was a staple of many action games in the early 2000’s. Maybe a little deeper system would be nice, but what they have added here is fun and it works for the game. For example, the attractions are a little too easy to get and they completely dominate the battlefield, but Kingdom Hearts III has been built up to be this spectacle, and they completely fit in with the mood of the game.
One of the biggest additions to the new Kingdom Hearts is the new mechanics surrounding keyblades. In the past, you would unlock a new keyblade after beating a world and largely whatever the newest one you obtained was the best. They would give certain stat boosts and an additional benefit, but that was where the uniqueness of the different keyblades would end.
In the newest game, every keyblade is useful throughout the entire game. They still have their own stats, but will have multiple bonuses to them. They also can transform when you get your attack meter up enough. I loved these so much. Some could transform into pistols that were so useful for big, slow moving enemies, while others would turn into staffs or items like that would be good for multiple smaller enemies. Depending on the situation, I could pick and choose what keyblade to use and every single one had its uses. Being able to equip up to three keyblades at a time and change between them with the simple push of a button is one of the most underrated additions to the newest game.
Almost every world in Kingdom Hearts III is great. They all have a unique tone and I love the vast differences between them. The Pirates of the Caribbean world that I hated in KH2 ended up being one of my favorite worlds in this game. Where my complaints with the original mostly stemmed from how out of place everything felt, they made it work brilliantly in this game. Even Donald and Goofy look like they could potentially belong in the world. It is truly a testament to how much work the team put into this game.
As for the other worlds, some follow the movie storylines and others are sequels to the movies. I like the idea of seeing how the characters of our favorite movies are doing after the events of the movies that made them notable.
If anything is going benefit from the long wait for KH3, it is the graphics. They are absolutely stunning. There are moments where the cutscenes will look exactly like the movies they come from, just with Sora, Donald, and Goofy included. Every time this happened, I was amazed. Everyone looks great and believable for the cartoonish style.
I don’t need to be the one to tell you Kingdom Hearts’ story makes no sense. It is more of the same with KH3. With how hype has been building up for the “conclusion” to this saga, there are still many questions. That is all I am going to go into it here, but I was disappointed with how some loose ends were tied up. Not necessarily for the events going forward, but for some of the events that had to do with past games and them coming together in the end. When you look at game’s like God of War that have an engaging, brilliantly told story, Kingdom Hearts does not hold up in 2019 writing-wise. I would hope going forward the writing is better purposed. When you have characters in your own game commenting about how the story doesn’t make sense, maybe it’s time to change things up a little.
Also, can we move past the cringey dialogue? Having Disney characters talk like they normally would and then having them say “Sora, Donald, Goofy” all out of place has never felt right. It feels like someone trying to mash bad anime writing into these scenarios. I don’t need Hercules to completely slow down his talking to know that the three characters I am going to be playing with the entire game are present.
Where are the Final Fantasy Characters?
When someone tries to describe Kingdom Hearts to someone new, it is always the same description. It is a blend of Disney and Final Fantasy characters and worlds. However, Final Fantasy is largely missing from this game. Aside from Moogles in shops, there are no Final Fantasy characters in the game. Not even a mention of Leon, Yuffie, Cloud, and the others. No Sephiroth secret fight. Nothing. Sora even has conversations with a certain person from Radiant Garden multiple times through the game, and not once do any of them show up. As a guy that has never played through a Final Fantasy game, I am extremely disappointed in this. I cannot imagine how Final Fantasy fans feel.
100 Acre Wood
I truly loved most of the worlds. However, the return of 100 Acre Wood was completely unneeded. I have yet to return to it in my playthrough looking for treasure, but your entire time here during the story is out of place. To avoid spoilers, I will not go into why Sora returns to the 100 Acre Wood, but all you do while here is the same mini-game three times in a row. I much rather would have had this world cut and that extra time put into something else.
No Surprise Worlds
This final one will be quick, but I was disappointed there was no surprise worlds. The ending of the game I know has been the main draw for a while now, but if you have watched any trailers for this game, you know exactly what stories you are going to run through. Maybe it is a nitpick, but I wanted something extra.
While I will maintain the thought that 13 years is too long of a wait for any game, I very much enjoyed Kingdom Hearts III. It was exclusively all I played for a good few days to avoid spoilers from the internet. Hopefully we do not have to wait as long for Kingdom Hearts IV, but the third mainline game in the series is a great experience. So, to boil it down to a simple answer, was it worth the wait? NO. Nothing will ever be worth that long of a wait. Should you play it because it is truly a great game? YES. Absolutely.