Here we go, the time has come. Fans have been waiting 13 years for the next major installment in one of the most beloved JRPG franchise of all time. The moment is here. Welcome to the world Kingdom Hearts III!
Yes, yes, we have all heard about this. We know how many people how been looking forward to this game. It sold over five million copies in its first week. I bought and played and screamed over this game. Now, as a level-headed citizen of the internet, I’m here to talk about it.
I won’t break down the plot of Kingdom Hearts because there’s no point. I only understand it because I played 10 out of the 11 games and, even with that, there’s still plenty I don’t get. So instead, I’m going to break this down by graphics, gameplay, music and a bunch of other little things along the way.
This is spoiler-free.
First let me ask you this, why do people play video games? Games have evolved so much over the last 20 years. They now include epic stories, strong writing and characters, and unreal landscapes. But still, why do people play video games? For those stories? For those moments?
People play video games, at their core, to have fun. In this regard, Kingdom Hearts III does not disappoint. It is an amazingly fun game.
Kingdom Hearts III is easily the most vibrant game in the franchise. Each Disney world feels distinctive and alive. No longer a series of rooms connected by loading screens, Sora and co. can now run through areas with little interruption, making each region feel open and ready for exploration. This change, along with the massive upgrade in graphics, makes each world spellbinding in its own way. Seeing the wind blow through the grass, through Sora’s hair, ruffling leaves on the ground and sending enemies soaring into a fully animated blue sky is something I never imagined in a Kingdom Hearts game. Running through luscious grass, splashing in crystal clear water… I didn’t know I wanted it until I had it. It makes just being somewhere fun and exciting. During some cutscenes, I wish characters were a little more expressive, but this is such a major improvement compared to any of game in the franchise that it’s spilt milk. The graphics are beautiful. The worlds are fantastic.
What you do in the worlds is another story.
A lot of the tasks you need to accomplish in the Disney worlds are tedious. Whether it’s searching for hard to locate items, climbing the same mountain multiple times, or playing poorly explained mini games, I found myself more frustrated than entertained. Also, the stories in some of the worlds are lacking. I wanted them to incorporate Sora, Donald and Goofy more into the movie plots. Instead, in many places, they feel like unnecessary add-ons, standing off to the side while major plot points happen. There are some standout moments (I can’t list any, no spoilers) but all in all, I think the mini-plots left more to be desired.
The actual gameplay, in contrast, is a cinematic, action-packed treat. For me, the biggest improvement in the combat is Sora’s speed. He is so dang fast in this game, which is very important for a game about travelling but also turns the combat up a notch. Sora is a speedy machine with all the combo attacks, transformations, and spells he has access to. You can quickly go from throwing Goofy into enemies, to whacking Heartless with a giant hammer, to blasting them with beautiful, beautiful Grand Magic. This is the first Kingdom Hearts game where I felt inclined to use magic and wow. The game makes you wish you chose the path of the mystic.
The new keyblade transformations let Sora have any fighting style you want. At one second, he’s a brawler. At another, he’s wielding dual pistols. You can make Sora your ultimate fighter, no matter your style. It’s a fun touch. However, between the many transformations and attractions (combo attacks Sora and friends can use that portray rides from Disney World) make the combat a little too busy and hard to follow. In an already cutscene heavy game (1/3 of it to be exact), having cutscenes for every transformation, summon, and attraction is a little much. The first time you sit down with the game, it’s amazingly indulgent. After that, it becomes a distraction.
As a throwback for longtime fans, the game involves many techniques from past games such as Shocklock from Birth by Sleep and Flowmotion from Dream Drop Distance. This is another level of complexity that adds to the gameplay and truly makes this installment feel like the finale.
However, it all lowers the difficulty level of the game. With so many high-tier attacks to choose from, the run-of-the-mill battles are too easy. I am not good at video games. I constantly panic under pressure, make poor decisions, heal myself too much and still manage to die all the time. But I was not challenged on my playthrough. I am playing on Standard Mode but did struggle on this mode in other Kingdom Hearts games. Maybe it’s the constantly occurring special attacks? Or maybe I’ve gotten a little better at video games in the last 13 years?
Kingdom Hearts has never been known for its pacing and subtle storytelling; the same is true for this entry of the franchise. Most the major plot points and character moments happen in the last 6 hours of the game. If only they sprinkled more of the final battle’s setup within the eight Disney worlds, it would have made the game more suspenseful and addicting to play. The emotional moments also would have been more impactful if they were spaced throughout,instead of all at the end. Another issue, with so many keyblade wielders returning to the fight, the fact that you only get the play as Sora is a disappointment. Yes, this is his story, and its final chapter no less, but when I’ve played as all these characters before, over years and years of waiting for this game, it’s upsetting not to get the chance to give them one final ride.
The music, once again, is incredible. I will never not be in awe of Yoko Shimomura’s work in this franchise. Her music is such a staple of this series that you know which character is going to come on screen before they even appear; you can tell by listening for their theme. Shimomura’s music is woven into the fabric of the world of Kingdom Hearts. People cried before they even played the game; just putting the disc into their system and hearing the newest rendition of the main menu music brought people to tears. That is how powerful music is in this game. That is how good Yoko Shimomura is.
The third game’s mix of old and new tracks bring both nostalgia and excitement to the gameplay. I do wish there were more new tracks; as a music fan, I would have loved to hear more compositions to dig my teeth into. The new songs I did hear were great though! I still need more time to sit down and listen to them more intently, but I will definitely be buying the OST when it drops (when is that?).
This is a spoiler-free review so I won’t get into the details, but the ending is a bittersweet culmination to Sora’s 17-year journey. How a finale can end so many storylines and still leave the player with so many questions, I have no idea. I’m still shuffling through how I feel about the ending myself but, as always, the highlight of this series is how it makes the player feel so engaged and investment, even with such a twisted, incomprehensible plot. Kingdom Hearts III is an unforgettable and entertaining journey that showcases the true power and burden of the human heart.
Thinking of you wherever you are, Sora…