The day many thought would never arrive finally did at the end of January. After two mainline entries and a number of spin-off titles, Kingdom Hearts is back where it belongs with the latest main entry in the franchise. Thirteen years after the release of Kingdom Hearts 2 on the PlayStation 2, it’s time to see if Square Enix can still captivate us with a story centered around friendship and love.
Title: Kingdom Hearts 3
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4 Pro
Release Date: January 29, 2019
Game Purchased for the Purpose of This Review
The story continues immediately after the events of Dream Drop Distance, which released on the Nintendo 3DS. Before starting Kingdom Hearts 3 for the first time, I highly recommend picking up the compilation games that were released on the PlayStation 4 in order to catch yourself up or take a crash refresher course. The narrative has been convoluted and messy up to this point, but it all really starts coming together and making since throughout the latest game. Sora has lost his powers thanks to Xehanort capturing him, so he and his two pals Donald Duck and Goofy must venture off to different worlds in order to regain his strength and learn the Power of Waking.
The first world players will travel to is Olympus, home to the Disney franchise Hercules. This is not the first time we’ve seen this world in the series before, but it is the first time that we get to fully explore Olympus, including the Realm of the Gods and Thebes. It’s immediately evident just how massive of an undertaking this game truly was. Worlds in Kingdom Hearts 3 are as big, if not bigger, than all previous worlds combined in the other games. Living, breathing worlds and areas fully stocked with NPC’s to interact with, side quests to complete, and secrets just waiting to be found. Expect to spend multiple hours in each world, as it’s very easy to get side tracked and lost while hunting for Lucky Emblems or treasure chests and just admiring the scenery.
Not only are the locations a sight to behold, but the spell animations and combat mechanics are gorgeous and more fluid than ever before. Sora can string together combos to melt the hearts of any heartless around, and the combat never gets dull and only continues to get better as Sora increases in level. All of the magic spells have brand new animations, and the different strengths of each one make a bigger spectacle than the last. For example, Waterza coats the entire area in an explosion of water, and puddles are left behind on the ground for the next few minutes during battle. It was a nice touch that I wasn’t expecting to see, but quickly fell in love with due to the small attentions to detail.
There are a plethora of different mechanics that will be introduced during combat, but my favorite new addition is without question the attractions. Taken straight from Disneyland and Disney World, these heavy hitters have Sora, Donald, and Goofy jumping into an attraction which will deal out mega amounts of damage to enemies. From Big Magic Mountain inspired by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Blaster Blaze inspired by Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, to the Mad Tea Cups inspired by the Mad Tea Party and Splash Run inspired by Splash Mountain. These are spectacles and must be seen to truly appreciate. It was slightly disappointing that one of the better attractions was only used twice in the game during specific boss fights, as I would have liked to see that one more as it was my favorite. But all six attractions featured in Kingdom Hearts 3 are really well done.
Keyblades play an even more important role in combat now, as each new one Sora is granted throughout the story can change forms multiple times. There’s a standard form to each Keyblade, and attacking with it enough times will allow you to transform it into something even more powerful. Keep using it again enough times while it’s transformed, and you’ll have access to another form which is even stronger. From there, there’s an ultra-finisher combo that can be unleashed which has the ability to wipe enemies out very quickly. I was impressed with how natural and well together everything felt. Feeling like a badass during combat is something special, and Square Enix nailed it perfectly.
The Disney worlds have always been a major draw for this franchise, and Kingdom Hearts 3 features some of the best ones we’ve seen to date. Everything from the Kingdom of Corona seen in Tangled to Arendelle seen in Frozen, these worlds are beautiful, vibrant, and just begging to be explored. Previous worlds we’ve seen before such as Twilight Town and Pirates of the Caribbean feel more alive than ever, and newcomers such as Toy Box from Toy Story and Monstropolis from Monsters Inc have quickly moved up into some of my favorites of all time.
Mentioned earlier in the review, Lucky Emblems and treasure chests are hard to find but rather addicting. With 90 total Lucky Emblems (or Hidden Mickey’s as I call them since that is exactly what they are based on from Disneyland), you need to collect these in order to unlock the after credits special movie that otherwise is unobtainable. Playing on Easy means you need all 90, Normal needs 60, and Proud needs just 30. Going through on the normal difficulty, I was able to find all 90 in the 67 hours that I spent playing through Kingdom Hearts 3 doing most everything the game had to offer. I even was able to find all 250+ treasure chests without too much difficulty. In order to collect the Lucky Emblems, Sora will need to take a picture of them with his brand new Gummiphone, which acts as and houses Jiminy’s journal in Kingdom Hearts 3.
The Gummiphone will also allow you to play Classic Kingdom games, which is another side thing to do and find throughout the story. Housed in treasure chests or found on bulletin boards in Twilight Town, these are old school video games done in the classic handheld style from the late-80’s and early-90’s we used to be able to buy in places such as Toys ‘R Us. These are incredibly fun to play through at least once, but subsequent times with each game will start to feel boring rather fast since there isn’t much to them. They do offer a nice distraction from the narrative when finding a new one though, so I think they serve their purpose well.
Speaking of Gummi, the Gummiship also makes a return in a much better fashion. Gone are the straight paths we used to have to fly in order to reach new worlds. Say hello to a fully open and fully explorable star map which houses treasure orbs, crystals to destroy and unlock blueprints, new worlds to find, and powerful enemies to defeat. Flying around in the Gummiship feels a lot better this time around, but it still gets rather tedious after doing it a handful of times. Those who didn’t enjoy the Gummiship in previous games will most likely still dislike it here, even if it is a much better implementation.
Besides that, there are a handful of minor grievances I had with Kingdom Hearts 3. The biggest was the lack of content found in the 100 Acre Wood section. It’s always been the smallest world found in each game, but this time it really felt like an afterthought and rushed. It features one style of mini-game that must be completed 3 times, and then you’re done. From start to finish, I spent no more than 10 total minutes in that world, and it was a damn shame since there could have been so much more seeing what the development team did with the other worlds. Also, the pacing of the story and major plot points felt a little off. It felt like all of the major happenings were saved until Sora and gang reached the final world. Sprinkling some of that stuff in throughout the rest of the game would have made for a more interesting first half of the game instead of a jam-packed, non-stop epic moment after epic moment in the final few hours.
All of that being said, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a technical marvel and was well worth the wait fans of the franchise have been complaining about. Thirteen years is indeed a long time, but things are starting to feel like we’re back on track and maybe, just maybe, it won’t be that long again until we see another mainline entry in the franchise. Without question, this is the greatest Kingdom Hearts experience thus far.
9.5 / 10