Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally here. After 13 years the numbered sequel to the long-standing series is upon us! Our favorite trio is back to take on the darkness and save the world one more time, but has this long awaited sequel delivered after such a long time away? The simple answer is a resounding yes!
Kingdom Hearts 3 builds on every aspect of the initial two, numbered, titles. The combat is fast and satisfying, the worlds are breathtaking, the soundtrack is just as catchy as it used to be, and the story tries just as hard to explain just what the hell is going on. Sora and company have received the upgrade they needed to bring Kingdom Hearts into the new era of gaming, and it shines through every beautiful second.
The story in Kingdom Hearts 3 leans heavily on a lot of past events from the series, a big chunk being dependent on Kingdom Heart’s more elusive GameBoy and DS titles, which makes fully understanding what’s going on a bit difficult. Thankfully most of Organization 13 has familiar tropes that doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out their motivations. That being said, as nice as it is to have some explanations and brief catch ups to whats happened in the past, newcomers will find things hard to follow.
Each world has their own isolated story to tell, and those begin with your arrival so following with those isn’t too difficult. It’s generally when a member of Organization 13 shows up that some viewers eyes might start to glaze over.
In short, Organization 13 is lead by Xehanort who wants to make replicas (or nobodies) of himself that he can then use as a way to open Kingdom Hearts. By doing so, he hopes to reignite the Keyblade wars as a way to finally end the battle between dark and light. Sora, Donald, and Goofy must fight their way across familiar Disney worlds as they try to halt Xehanort’s plans to envelope everything in darkness. Clearly there is a LOT more to it than that, but you know, “spoilers are frowned upon”.
As you encounter new worlds and characters you’ll begin to see a pattern with each new area. Find a new world, meet new characters that will help you fight the heartless and nobodies, save said world and it’s characters from darkness, move on to the next world to do similar things. The formula stays the same, but thankfully most worlds offer unique takes on existing Disney stories that tell a familiar tale but works in Sora and company’s presence to a mostly satisfying effect.
Fans of classic Disney characters might feel that Kingdom Hearts 3 is a bit lacking, but the newer characters and worlds fit nicely into the Kingdom Hearts universe. Worlds like Frozen and Tangled leave much to be desired seeing that they pretty much tell the same tale we have all already watched in theaters, but most of the others weave a unique variation of their familiar stories that makes them feel refreshing and new.
Traveling to these new worlds has received a serious upgrade, and the Gummi Ship segments, for the first time, are actually enjoyable now. While it is still very much a “go from Point A to Point B” scenario, traveling there feels much more open. It’s easy to stumble off the beaten path just to find a giant treasure sphere that needs unlocking, or meteors that need destroying.
Before arriving at a new world, players will need to take out the boss that is blocking your way there. These space battles, while interesting, generally end up taking longer than they should. This is primarily because the bosses guarding these new worlds are straight up bullet sponges. Each one has 2-3 life bars too many, and the battles end up feeling frustrating and drawn out because of it. Especially if you go into a fight with an under-prepared ship, having to repeatedly make your way to the boss and then go through the motions of fighting him, it can exhaust things rather quick.
At least you have a great soundtrack to hum along to through these more tedious segments. Most involve a revamped score to a familiar track, but they are all welcome upgrades that breathe new life into familiar songs.
Speaking of breathing new life into things, the new look of the game is absolutely stunning. Character models look great and show a lot more range of emotions. The environments, whether they’re meteor clusters in space, or a sprawling city exude gorgeous detail. The move to Unreal Engine 4 was clearly a smart one. Everything from character models to a regular barrel have received extreme updates, and it was great to see a franchise like this one fully come into the current generation of hardware.
The real selling point of Kingdom Hearts 3 though is it’s battle system. For returning players it will feel familiar for sure. While everything is where you’ll remember, the foundation has been improved upon in almost every way. Sora can still attack, use magic, items, and summon friends to help, but the combat quickly becomes much deeper. A nice thing about this title is that while Sora is still trying to regain his power, they don’t take away all of his abilities. Things like dodging, blocking, and even some techniques are already part of Sora’s move-set and don’t need to be learned at a later date. This immediately gives him a lot more power on the battlefield. The pacing of battles is a lot faster as well. Everything from movement to attacks is noticeably faster than previous titles, and it feels great to fly around the field chaining attacks together.
On top of this, a slew of new abilities really inflates Sora’s potential in a fight. Things like Disney attractions like the teacups or raging rapids ride are great ways for your team to clear out an aggressive heartless crowd. Sora also has specific attacks that require Donald, Goofy, or that world’s character participation. Each dishes out it’s own serious damage, but they never take away from the flow of a fight. Keyblades have their transformations as well which also fit nicely into the new and improved combat scheme. There are so many additions to combat this time around, each and every encounter ends in a different way. The constant addition of a new party member or ability unlocks a new thing to pull off during a fight making combat never feel stale, or old. For how long the game is, that is a testament to the developer.
The one issue with combat is primarily with the Kingdom Hearts 3‘s bosses. Like their interstellar counter-parts, bosses in general feel very spongy. While the later bosses provide enough variety to truly test your keyblade skills, the general majority require you to just hit them until they’re dead. The bosses are unique in design, and some change up their attacks to keep you guessing, but ultimately they’re all sponges that have 2-4 more health bars than necessary. Obviously, you don’t want a boss fight to be a 2 second affair, but they cross the line in regards to how many hit points they have, and some fights can be monotonous to the point where they certainly overstay their welcome.
That being said, after a few worlds, Sora and friends start to feel noticeably more powerful than they probably should be. The game’s progression system is nice because as long as you take on battles as they come, there isn’t much additional grinding that needs to be done. By simply moving from point A to point B, Sora will become over-powered relatively quickly. Where a world might seem difficult at the start, rapidly depleting an enemies health bar becomes commonplace by the time you’re done, and that carries over into the next world. Each world has a recommended level, but after visiting a couple you’ll go from being 5 below the required level to 3-5 over it. This gives you a nice difficulty cushion and helps even things out with enemies or bosses that might have too much health.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is a stunning, gorgeous return to form for the long dormant series. It’s graphical overhaul lends itself to some truly mesmerizing locations and events. It’s story gives a welcome conclusion to an over-complicated arc, and it’s combat is familiar and refreshing all at the same time. Not to mention, the Final Fantasy plugs throughout the game lend themselves to some great, surprising nostalgic moments. All in all, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the long awaited conclusion fans have been waiting for. While it certainly isn’t without it’s shortcomings, this is without a doubt the installment we have all been waiting over a decade for.