Kingdom Hearts III is a lighthearted, ambitious game that aimed to be the best of 2019, but resulted in a fun and satisfying experience. It sits atop the series as one of the best entries so far and is a guaranteed must-play for Kingdom Hearts fans and a highly recommended game for those interested in action games.
Just a foreword, I will be doing my best to compare this game to both prior Kingdom Hearts games as well as other action games of 2017, 2018, and 2019.
The movement in Kingdom Hearts has generally been a clean and well-handled part of the series, especially compared to other games in the genre. I would say that, overall, Kingdom Hearts III maintains that tradition. There are a few minor kinks in the ground traversal including odd, analog-like movement when rotating and moving in short bursts, but this is a small and infrequent issue. In past games, the worlds have been small enough to not worry too much about navigating large, vertical distances, but with the implementation of much larger maps, the corresponding addition of free running is an extremely fun and satisfying way to traverse the worlds. Combined with gliding and Flowmotion (https://www.androidcentral.com/how-use-flow-motion-kingdom-hearts-3), the movement adapts to the new environments very smoothly. The user interface navigation has also been improved greatly from previous games to Kingdom Hearts III. My only question is, why isn’t there an overview map for a given world, or at least something larger than the existing one?
Easily toggleable command shortcut sets, the ability to jump between multiple weapons, and obvious, simple indicators for prompts make menus easy to control both in and out of combat.
Prior to the release of Kingdom Hearts III, I had seen quite a few reports of dedicated fans being quite a bit disappointed in the combat. However, I’m happy to say that the combat feels just as good as, or even better than, previous Kingdom Hearts in most ways. The addition of Flowmotion doesn’t greatly affect the moment to moment combat as it seems better suited for standard movement. Luckily, the addition of Attractions and per-weapon Formchanges does. These additions remove much of the tedium that may have existed in this game due to the laughable difficulty (more on this below) and replaced it with fun combat mini-games. Often the balance of these additions requires more tweaking, but they’re all still quite fun to use in a myriad of combinations. What makes the combat of Kingdom Hearts III memorable is the sheer amount of creativity put into every aspect of it.
After playing the game for myself, it seems like the dedicated fans that were worried about the combat prior to launch were most likely concerned about the perceived lack of depth in the combat system rather than the actual system itself. This perceived lack of depth is more tied to the sheer, unadulterated lack of skill required to play this game than it is the actual combat. On normal mode, the player can get through multiple boss fights by just mashing on the attack key and on proud mode, the player doesn’t even have to use any items. This lack of difficulty led me to not care about the way I played the game in any way. I could equip whatever keyblade whenever I wanted, I could use whatever magic whenever I wanted, and I could use whatever combos whenever I wanted. There is no reason to try and optimize the way you play because it’s harder to lose than it is to win battles.
The progression in Kingdom Hearts III feels greatly deepened compared to previous entries in the series, but average in terms of other, similar action games. Gummi ship’s have been reworked from the ground up, including a brand-new progression system that feels nicely balanced with the overall pace of the rest of the game. The addition of upgrades for keyblades is also a nice touch. This leads to the player not feeling like they must use a given weapon just because another one, that may not be as fun to use, is inherently better. Finally, the game maintains its ability system, allowing the player to slot in whichever abilities they want for a given scenario.
I’m generally not a fan of orchestral pieces in games, even if they do lead to a more timeless experience, and Kingdom Hearts 3 doesn’t necessarily change that. In cutscenes and battles, the music is very fitting with the mood and seems to be balanced nicely with the rest of the audio, acting as a nice support for the voice acting rather than a cover. This entry’s theme songs are fun and fitting with the running theme of both cheesy, yet powerful when placed alongside the game. Also, I’m now convinced Skrillex can collaborate with literally anyone and it will turn out well.
On a different note, the voice acting is by far the best its been in the series’ history. Every member of Organization XIII now feels like an actual character with a personality rather than just gruffy-angry-person-wearing-black-coat. All the characters from the Disney IPs feel well done and nothing feels out of the ordinary or like it doesn’t belong in the game. I honestly can’t give enough credit to the voice acting, it was the only thing that managed to keep me interested during the hundreds of cutscenes.
Back in 2014, Square Enix made the decision to move from Luminous Studio to Unreal Engine 4 and it seem like this move turned out fantastically for the game. Everything to do with the engine is amazing: the particle effects, the cutscene cinematography, the world design, the physics. Honestly, everything but the water blew me away. More specifically, every attack is flashy and fun (especially the attractions). The worlds are expansive, but never felt too empty. The cutscenes always flowed naturally, especially when transitioning back into gameplay. The addition of genuine physics made this game feel more dynamic and when combined with the movement systems, extremely fun and rewarding.
Every character in the game looks beautifully rendered and fit wonderfully with their world. Much of the time, I couldn’t tell whether the game was using a cutscene from the movie, like with the Frozen and Tangled worlds, or if it was a pre-rendered from the game. I’m just happy they never attempted to go for a more realistic portrayal of characters other than Goofy and Donald, otherwise we may have ended up with another Detective Pikachu situation (https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4844/44938071055_87286d563b_b.jpg).
The plot is where Kingdom Hearts III really begins to fall short. The game could have been so much more if it wasn’t held down by all its predecessors. What I mean by this, is that the Kingdom Hearts series has had a constant barrage of plot points all being introduced one game after another. Many of these points were left open at the end of their given game to expand on later. Game after game, the plot got more convoluted and less attractive for newcomers to the series. Kingdom Hearts III attempts remind the player of, as well as wrap up, virtually all these plot points over the duration of the game. At this point, if you don’t have a Masters in the study of Kingdom Hearts plotlines, you most likely won’t know what’s happening at any given point in the game. This is why I strongly recommend this game to fans of Kingdom Hearts and only half-heartedly recommend this game to newcomers or fans of other action games.
I also appreciate the “integration” of Kingdom Hearts Union X into Kingdom Hearts III. As someone who has dedicated countless hours to that game and greatly appreciates the community, it was heartwarming to see that Square Enix views it as a full part of the series and recognizes that the game matters. So, thank you to Square Enix for dedicating so much to Kingdom Hearts III and maintaining faith in single player games and thank you to the Kingdom Hearts community for sticking with the series through all its trials and tribulations.
Note: Review originally written Feb 3, 2019