Kingdom Hearts III Review
Tale as Old as Time
Published on February 28, 2019
Kingdom Hearts III
Release Date: January 29th
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer/Publisher: Square Enix
To say it has been a long time coming is an understatement when it comes to the release of Kingdom Hearts III. After more than a decade of waiting, gamers can finally partake in another adventure with Sora and company on a home console. While Square Enix used this leap in time to revamp many features, it still clings on to the familiar gameplay from previous titles. What emerges is a game that ultimately combines the best and worst things about Kingdom Hearts.
The story follows the classic formula in which Sora, accompanied by Goofy and Donald, travel to various Disney worlds to thwart the plans of the nefarious Organization XXIII. However, this time around, the worlds depart from the main storyline of the actual Disney movie it is sourced from. It is a refreshing take on the design from the previous titles and does a better job at keeping the overall plot tied together. In addition to this, some areas have been vastly expanded allowing players to explore their environment freely. This creates minor pacing issues as the more linear worlds tend to be slightly faster to complete. Overall, the improvements in level design help remove the feeling of linearity; a symptom that previous titles often ran into.
What helps bring these Disney creations alive is the game’s wonderful presentation. Aided by the upgrade to the Unreal 4 engine, Kingdom Hearts III’s environments glisten with beautiful lighting and intricate details. From small footprints on snowy mountain tops of Arendelle to the bright neon signs in the busy streets of San Fransokyo, Square Enix has put great attention to detail to transport you to these fantasy lands. For this review, I played the game on a PS4 Pro, and the game ran at a refreshingly consistent 60FPS even with the high amounts of detail and particle effects. Accompanying each world is also an assortment of songs that compliment the overall theme perfectly. Finally, while there were one or two original Disney songs, it would have been nice of Disney to license a few more of their songs for the game.
Along with the new engine also comes a revamped movement and combat system that genuinely results in the most satisfying combat ever in the series. Combos effortlessly string together, spells now home in on enemies, and the new shortcut menu makes encounters easier for both veterans and newcomers alike. This is important as Sora has a massive arsenal of attacks to choose from to unleash against the forces of darkness. By combining the combat system from every previous title, as well as adding in a few more, players can easily choose the right fighting style that they find most enjoyable. Although options aren’t necessarily a bad thing to have, it sometimes is a little too much of a choice overload for the player. In my playthrough, flowmotion and link commands were often afterthoughts as I was often too busy using other actions in my engagements.
Even though every skirmish is a blast to play through, some elements end up feeling quirky. The biggest contender for this is the newly added “attraction” attack where Sora literally conjures up a Disney theme park ride – such as the spinning teacup ride - to assail his foes with. At first, they are a fun spectacle to watch, but eventually their low damage output and slow build up time only serve to break up the more enjoyable quick flow of combat. The other odd feeling that emerges is that fighting usually devolves into spamming abilities rather than actual skillful play. It’s an interesting dilemma in that more difficult to pull off moves like blocking and countering are rewarded with less damage than flashy one-button-press attacks like team attacks, keyblade finishers, and spells.
The snag with this design choice is that as Sora unlocks stronger abilities, the fights themselves become increasingly trivial. This echoes a common theme within Kingdom Hearts III in that the game is too easy, even on the game’s hardest difficulty; a setting that was normally quite brutal on previous Kingdom Hearts games. The most blatantly obvious case of difficulty decline is the inclusion of a cheap consumable shop item called a “Kupo coin” that gives Sora a free revive after dying. Square Enix’s decision to make the game’s difficulty more painless isn’t necessarily awful by any sense, but players seeking a challenge will find themselves disappointed and potentially bored.
In between the action, the game litters copious amounts of cutscenes to progress the plot. For those new to the series, this can be quite a jarring experience as an entire 30-35 hour playthrough includes around 10 hours of cutscenes in total. The high point is the drastically improved visual quality. Disney characters are stunning mirror images of their silver screen counterparts. The voice acting, on the other hand, leaves a lot to be desired. It feels that many of the lines were recorded without any context given to the voice actors resulting in a mess of disjointed and unemotional dialogue. Stacked on top of this is the ever so cheesy writing that the series employs, and you have a recipe for a large amount of the game being irritating to sit through. As for the story itself, I won’t delve too much into specifics to avoid spoilers, but it unfortunately follows the series’ trend of opening many plot threads and not closing any of them until the last few hours of the game.
Kingdom Hearts III is the game that fans have been craving for all these years but at the same time is a daunting endeavor for rookies to dive head first into. While veterans of the series are used to Kingdom Hearts’ confusing plots lines and odd idiosyncrasies, the great moment-to-moment gameplay and awkward storytelling has a large potential to create a lopsided experience for first-timers. At its core, it’s a truly enjoyable game with adventures to be had, but is unfortunately bogged down at times by its own story.