Developed By: Square Enix
Published By: Square Enix
Platforms: PS4 & XBOX ONE
Reviewed On: PS4PRO
I feel that it is my responsibility that before I get into this review to just state the fact that I am not a Kingdom Hearts superfan, nor did I play every game in the series. The only games I played were the first Kingdom Hearts and its sequel Kingdom Hearts 2. In this review, I will be sharing my own opinion and I hope that I don’t offend anyone who is a fan of the series. Nevertheless, this series does bring back a lot of fond memories.
I was exposed to Kingdom Hearts by just blind coincidence. Funny enough I grew up on an island and we didn’t have a lot of things as the bigger cities did. Being a video gamer back then was limited to just a few people because it was an expensive hobby. The consoles themselves cost a ton and games were hard to come by.
I remember walking into the hobby store (that’s how these stores survived back then due to how niche videogaming was) and asking the cashier if he has any new games in. He gladly told me that two brand new games arrived not an hour before I did, which were Onimusha 2 and you guessed it…. Kingdom Hearts. Now, I was excited for Onimusha 2 because the first game was amazing, but I had no idea what Kingdom Hearts was. For a young person, magic is everything.
That Image right there was all I had to go on and I had so many questions. Why is the moon heart shaped? Why is his sword a key?
I couldn’t decide if it was cool, but it certainly looked very interesting. Then I looked at the bottom right corner and saw Squaresoft. I was a huge (okay maybe still am) fan of Final Fantasy and was sold on everything Squaresoft touched so I thought to myself why not just give it a shot. I got home, slid the disk in the PlayStation 2’s disk drive and booted the game.
I instantly loved the characters; Sora, Kairi, Riku, Donald, Goofy and enjoyed this journey they were on. It was a little strange, but it was a wonderful journey about finding each other through the darkness and introduced a lot of interesting elements such as the Heartless. When I was finally able to beat the last boss Ansem (who for some reason was crazy hard) I found myself doing everything else in the game, even beating secret bosses and the like.
I thought to myself how this could be the new Final Fantasy and was hooked to any new news that came out. Shortly after Kingdom Hearts 2 was announced to come out in 2004 and I waited patiently. Chain of Memories was set as a bridge between the first and second game but was only coming out for the Gameboy. I remember being so upset that I couldn’t play it but thought I was not going to miss anything anyways.
Kingdom Hearts 2 came out in 2004 and although I loved how the game just felt bigger and better than the first Kingdom Hearts, the story started to lose me a little. There were even more new elements introduced like the Organization 13, the Nobodies, Namine, and Roxas. I kept wondering why I only fought half of the organization and the rest were already gone and eventually found out it’s because of what happened during Chain of Memories.
Six other games were released after Kingdom Hearts 2, not including the compilations released on the PS3 and now PS4. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting for the next numbered entry, Kingdom Hearts 3 was announced as a surprise at E3 2013. Fans rejoiced that finally, we will be able to see how the multitude of plot threads are resolved. Are they resolved? I would say yes, they are. Was it satisfying? Not really. It’s a welcome end to what has been a very dense journey for these characters. So, without further ado, I will do my best to get into it as much as I can and be warned there might be spoilers, but I will try to keep it very light.
Kingdom Hearts 3 starts out with Sora losing most of his powers and back at Level 1 (literally and figuratively) and he is instructed by Yen Sid to journey out and find “The Power of Waking”. What the power of waking is no one seems to know but it will be something only Sora can find out. Sora, Donald and Goofy then venture forth to familiar worlds as well as welcome new additions to the Kingdom Hearts universe. These worlds are Olympus, Twilight Town, Toybox, Kingdom of Corona, Monstropolis, Arendelle, The Caribbean and San Fransokyo.
To be fair though Olympus mostly serves as a sort of tutorial area for veteran players to get reacquainted with the controls and for new players to learn the basics. In the meantime, King Mickey and Riku will journey to the land of darkness to try and save Aqua who has been trapped in there for god knows how long. Also, Kairi and Axel are training in some forest to be Keyblade Masters.
Now I’m generally a completionist as I prefer to do everything I can at every world, so I don’t have to do so much backtracking (unless it’s to mop up trophies). So here I was clocking in at around 39 hours already at the last world (San Fransokyo), realizing that Kairi and Axel are still training in the forest with King Mickey and Riku still on that same beach from the start of the game trying to rescue Aqua. I just found that to be weird as these side characters should have some meaningful story progression of their own. I guess I just assumed that with the number of plot threads established already from previous games they would at least allow some time to properly resolve them one by one, preferably in each of the world you visit to allow some needed closure.
Every world is just where the heroes stumble upon some vague plot by the Organization which is always only hinted at but allow the heroes to exterminate the Heartless or the Nobodies. It was just a wasted opportunity to show how the series has matured from a storytelling perspective. I feel that the worlds themselves are wasted with only some worlds having their own self-contained stories that diverged from the original source material to provide a fresh take or sort of a pseudo-sequel like Toybox, Monstropolis, and San Fransokyo. The rest of the worlds just rehash the plotlines of the movies they are based on with a truncated story and awkwardly just shove Sora and Co. in there to make it work. I mean sure it is cool to see them in these worlds but aside from that from a storytelling perspective it was just not done as well as it could have been.
It is only after you are done with the worlds themselves that the main story picks up considerably and somehow feels like it is taking too long but also hurriedly trying to resolve various plot points. Without spoiling too much I will say that some of it still does not make any sense and is too dense for its own good, but I am glad that it seems like they are closing a chapter on this storyline. I can only hope that when they start a new story in the Kingdom Hearts universe to just know the difference between having rich characters and stories instead of being complicated for the sake of being complicated (if that makes any sense).
I am seriously impressed by the level of detail in this game. Migrating to the Unreal Engine 4 was one of the best decisions the team made, and it really shows the technical prowess on hand. It is just gorgeous almost all the time.
Spells look incredibly beautiful especially water-based ones which in my opinion is probably the best water-based spells in a game I have ever seen. From the special attacks of your keyblades to the attractions that provide so much spectacle and eye-candy for the player. It is not limited to just the graphics as well but the animation here is outstanding.
The Disney characters are so well animated it looks like they just jumped off the original Disney movies into this game. My wife kept commenting on how well done it was.
Presentation & Gameplay
It is a very polished game with little to no technical problems at all. In fact, I don’t think I have experienced any with the exception for the occasional frame drop which happens very rarely. It’s great that they included the Memory Archives for new players as well as players like me who dropped off following the story for several years now to catch up.
There are a lot of new minigames added to add an extra layer to the gameplay experience such as collecting Kingdom Classics which provides a throwback to older games as well as the Cooking minigame which will surely test players patience for accuracy. All these added features provide a welcome break for players and diverse gaming experience.
The actual gameplay itself is great. It is very thrilling slashing and spellcasting your way through mobs of enemies. What’s new this time is the summons have been renamed as Links and they have added keyblade transformations as well as attractions. The keyblade transformations are prompted by how many times you have hit the enemy and will build up a bar. When this is full you may transform your keyblade to a new version with new abilities to better combat the enemies. Some keyblades may even have two transformations.
The attractions themselves are prompted by hitting green highlighted enemies which will randomly load up an attraction the player can summon. These attractions are based on existing Disney rides such as the Pirate Ship, Magic Carousel, Mad Tea Cups, and Blaster Blaze. They also provide interesting battle options although personally I just got tired of using them unless I needed to get out of a tight spot.
What surprised me the most is the gradual progression in each level from the traditional corridor-based section to open seas and open world. It was very interesting to see but did they manage to pull it off? It is a mixed bag. I mean the open world nature of The Caribbean was both incredibly impressive but also frustrating as the entire map was not utilized to the fullest unless you decide to go after collectibles. This links back to my earlier point about how some worlds have new stories within them which play out great but have elements that did not work as good as they thought it would (the mech fighting in Toy-Box). And there are worlds like The Caribbean and San Fransokyo that is beautiful and open but underutilized from a storytelling perspective. it leaves you wishing for more.
Gummi ship is now open space too. Is it fun? Maybe a little? But it’s not something you would imagine spending too much time in other than just to collect treasures or blueprints for the trophy.
What I Loved
- Graphics – This game is beautiful. Truly damn gorgeous.
- Music – Absolutely love the music in this game especially the main menu theme. Maybe some will resonate better than others but I just enjoyed all of it.
- Battle system – Battles are always thrilling and exciting. If I had one complaint was that I played on proud mode only not to die once. I expected it to be a little harder at least. Everything else though was just an absolute blast from start to finish.
What I Wished Was Better
- Story – To be honest this would be my only complaint about the game. I truly wished that it was a satisfying end for our heroes’ journey after all these years. Also, don’t rehash the storylines of the movies in the worlds. Do something different like what was done in the Big Hero 6, Monsters Inc & Toy Story worlds. It felt fresh.
- Committing and expanding on the world choices – At first, I was perplexed as to why they decided to include The Caribbean level in this game. I mean interest in the Pirates franchise has been waning for the past few years but then I realized that it wasn’t because they included it. I didn’t like it as much as I probably should because of how I just felt they could have done so much more with it.
The heart is a complicated thing. It is the cause of the deepest of sorrows and responsible for the greatest of love. My fondest memory of Kingdom Hearts was the budding romance between Sora and Kairi and after losing her decides to fight his way through whatever came his way to get her back. I always believe that at its core that was what Kingdom Hearts was always supposed to be. Sure, at the conclusion there was something there that alluded to that fact, but it didn’t feel heartfelt. I actually rewrote this review due to how I realized that rushing to finish the game made me overly critical of most shortcomings that were not really there gameplay wise. That is where I feel that Kingdom Hearts 3 shines the brightest as I just had so much fun exploring the worlds and collecting Lucky Emblems and Treasures. Unfortunately, even though it did many things right from a gameplay perspective, it failed to get the one thing it constantly tells you is the most important thing in its universe. It has been a bittersweet reunion but aside from the excellent gameplay, I wish the core story connected with my heart more.
Final Score – 8.5/10