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It's been nearly two months since the release of the highly-anticipated Kingdom Hearts title, Kingdom Hearts III! It's given all of us plenty of time to consider whether the game was worth the wait, and the progress of the series as a whole. Kingdom Hearts III, as the first full console title since Kingdom Hearts II, does an excellent job of brining the series to the modern era of console gaming, and wonderfully lives up to the Kingdom Hearts standard.
Here, however, I will layout how well a job Kingdom Hearts III does to live up to the expectations it set for itself in the last 5 1/2 years. I won't be comparing the game to previous Kingdom Hearts titles, or any other video games, but rather let the game stand on its own. I write this review from the perspective of one who is an unflinching fan of this series, but who is otherwise a fairly casual gamer.
Kingdom Hearts III introduces an incredible amount of options to play with. For the first time since Kingdom Hearts II, the traditional Commands Menu is back, and with it, we have the expanded freedom of using commands like magic and items relatively freely. As always, Attack is the main combat command, and we also now have links, which replace the summon function from Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II and appears to be an evolution of the D-link command from Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep.
The basic combat largely lives up to its previous iterations, and to the expectations set in the trailers leading up to the release; there's nothing super fancy about the basic attack commands, though the magic commands now are flashier and effect the environment. In fact, not only can your magic freeze the environment and apparently burn the ground, but it can literally freeze enemies in place and shock other enemies. Additionally, enemies can cast the same magic, and that magic also works on you: getting hit by fire causes Sora to jump around in pain, and being struck by thunder can shock Sora, causing damage if he comes in contact with other shocked allies.
New to the title are attractions, Keyblade transformations, and team attacks. Attractions are incredibly flashy combat attacks based on several Disneyland rides. These attacks are incredibly powerful, though they are sometimes hard to control. Magic Carousel particularly tricky to use correctly, and Pirate Ship is hard to turn (if you learn that you can turn it). I've also had a hard time understanding how to use Big Magic Mountain. Despite the difficulty in their use, they remain incredibly powerful, which is probably where the controversy surrounding them stems from; even though I haven't used Big Magic Mountain correctly, I still managed to defeat the Rock Titan with it. Team Attacks, on the other hand, allow you to team up with one or more party members and attack, also appearing at random. These are also incredibly powerful and flashy attacks, similar to limit attacks in Kingdom Hearts II. Unlike those, to my disappointment, there is no Trinity attack featuring Donald and Goofy. Keyblade transformations are an evolution to drive forms from Kingdom Hearts II, and it features more forms than the original. These are also very flashy, and when entered into, they change Sora's clothing and combo attacks. For the most part, these are incredibly fun to use, though Counter Shields's finisher has proved to be incredibly difficult to control.
As for the enemies you face, they are admittedly fairly easy to defeat. There's not a whole lot of strategy to them; you could, if you really want to, just fight by using the Attack command without any of the flashy commands. I finished the game in standard mode on my first run without much difficulty at all, having died probably two or three times throughout the whole game. And I am, by no means, a professional gamer of any kind; as an example, I still haven't last more than five minutes against Lingering Will in Kingdom Hearts II. Even the post-finale extra boss Dark Inferno wasn't as difficult as I would have expected; I finished him off, using a Kupo Coin, without dying once, at about level 40, in Standard Mode. I could never make it with similar stats against Birth by Sleep's Vanitas Remnant.
All in all, the gameplay is really fun in Kingdom Hearts III. It gives you a lot of variety to choose to fight however you want, something Nomura had said would be the case during the game's development, which is very important. I personally love the flashy attacks, which is probably why I enjoy fighting with magic in most of the games. Others may prefer more physical combat, or simpler combat. Kingdom Hearts III allows you to fight using any of those. Unfortunately, its enemies' strength is far less than desired, something they will presumably fix when the game is patched with Critical Mode in the coming months.
This game is gorgeous. I played on a PlayStation 4, no 4K or PS4 Pro, no special HD TV, and I enjoyed the game's visual quality. I think the game may have stuttered slightly only once throughout my whole playthrough. The use of more pre-rendered cutscenes throughout the game, rather than exclusively at the opening and closing cutscenes, also improves the quality of the game's visuals overall. For example, I could notice no significant difference or degradation of quality between the pre-rendered ending of The Caribbean and the rest of the world's cutscenes. The difference between most of the scenes in the game and scenes like "Ending" is incredibly minute.
Additionally, the visual style of individual worlds is incredibly faithful to the movies they represent. This is most appreciated in worlds like The Caribbean and 100 Acre Wood, where the visual style is dramatically different from the rest of the game. Additionally, you get to see what Hercules would have looked like if it had been made in the era of films like Tangled and Frozen. It truly feels like you're in the very movies represented.
Speaking of worlds, the worlds in Kingdom Hearts III are gorgeous. Each world is incredibly detailed and faithful to the world of the Disney movie they represent. That said, some of the worlds' stories are somewhat lackluster. This is especially noticeable with the worlds that more closely follow the movie's plot, such as Arendelle and The Caribbean. In these worlds, Sora, Donald, and Goofy are thrown in somewhere during the events of the film, and those events are followed fairly closely. However, somehow, Sora, Donald, and Goofy are always also elsewhere for much of those same events; in Arendelle, the gang is constantly thrown off the mountain Elsa has secluded herself to, separating them time and again from Elsa and later from Anna, Kristoff, Sven, and Olaf. In The Caribbean, Sora and the gang instead team up for much of the film with what turns out to be a fake Jack Sparrow, while the real one, along with Will Turner, Elizabeth Swann, and the rest presumably play out the events of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. It makes for an unfortunate disconnect from most of the characters in those worlds, and in turn, from the world. The worst case of these is the 100 Acre Wood, which has an incredibly short and, unfortunately, largely-forgettable story. Not all worlds had this issue; interestingly, the worlds with original stories, like Monstropolis and Toy Box, also had the more engaging stories, and so the world was more interesting to explore.
Unfortunately, the list of worlds is relatively small; in comparison to all other titles (not counting any of the χ Saga titles), Kingdom Hearts III is the title with the third-least amount of Disney worlds, trailing only Kingdom Hearts 0.2 Birth by Sleep -A fragmentary passage- and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. However, where the game lacks worlds, it makes up for in the sheer depth of those worlds. Most of the worlds now take more than an hour to complete the story, more if you, like me, like to explore. I, for example, took probably three hours or so to complete the entire Olympus story. I've heard many ask for more original worlds, particularly Radiant Garden. I, too, would have preferred to see more Disney entities and more worlds generally, and if you followed me prior to the release of Kingdom Hearts III, you may know which movie I specifically would love to have seen. And I definitely would have loved to have seen Radiant Garden back, along with Leon and the gang. That said, the worlds that are included in the game are largely enjoyable to explore.
The overall story of Kingdom Hearts III is incredible. The dialogue is wonderful, and more engaging than has ever been in this series. Of course, as noted earlier, the stories in some of the worlds specifically are not the greatest. But the story overall in the game is incredible. If you have followed the story throughout the series, you'll be satisfied with how this title wraps up the plot lines of so many characters that we've come to know and love.
There are some characters and plot lines that I would have hoped were resolved in this title. There are no Final Fantasy characters in this title helping Sora like in the past or playing much of a story role (the only character from the Final Fantasy series is Moogle). I definitely would have loved to have had Leon and the gang back, especially since Radiant Garden is featured in the game. Sort of. I particularly would have loved to see the Cloud/Sephiroth arc come back one last time, considering how it ended in Kingdom Hearts II. At the same time, their exclusion in light of the whole game's story makes perfect sense; there's no way they could have written in a Final Fantasy story on the same level as Kingdom Hearts II into this game without completely losing you. There was a lot going on, and the team clearly was focusing on wrapping up the story with the least amount of confusion possible for those who are new to the story. It's the same thing that happened with Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep: Leon and the gang were originally meant to appear in that title, before Tetsuya Nomura decided there was enough going on already and it would have been too confusing to throw them into the mix.
The story is definitely a lot more simple as far as how it flows. But it's also a little choppy, unfortunately. The overall story jumps right in at the beginning of the game, picking up right at the end of 2.9: The First Chapter, and it feels a little weird how it drops you in there. While the story progresses rapidly at first, it then progresses throughout the game somewhat minimally until you've finished all the Disney worlds. Nevertheless, the main plot is woven in rather well throughout the Disney worlds themselves, and you only notice the lack of main-story progress between worlds compared to the game's beginning.
And of course, the ending is as difficult to swallow as Tetsuya Nomura said it would be. And then some.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts III is an excellent addition to the Kingdom Hearts series and conclusion to the Dark Seeker Saga. It gives an exciting look into the future of the series in the modern console era. And it wraps up this epic 17-year journey incredibly well. It deals with newcomers exceptionally well, with both the Memory Archive and Glossary in the Gummiphone that even has us running to keep up. It definitely has its flaws, which will hopefully be improved upon in future entries to the series.
On its own, the title is definitely one of the greatest entries in the Kingdom Hearts series. As I played, I couldn't help but be immersed in the story of the game. The dialog feels more real and relatable, the graphics look beautiful, the music is divine, and the worlds feel more full. It felt like home, like closing the final chapter in an incredible journey. There was definitely a sense of nostalgia throughout the title, that also felt entirely new and grand. Despite its flaws, it truly successfully brings the whole series to a new generation of gamers who are picking this title up for the first time.