let your heart be your guiding key
Kingdom Hearts III was one of NOWO’s most highly anticipated releases for 2019. It released on the 29th January on both the PS4 and Xbox One and has been pretty much the only thing I’ve done for the past week. I managed to finish the game (story wise, collecting wise – I still have a way to go) exactly a week after I received it, so I figured I’d discuss my experience.
The game is a sequel to Kingdom Hearts II (2005) however is the 12th game in the series and places it’s story after Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance (2012). Although Square Enix have been developing Kingdom Hearts games what seems like continuously throughout the last 12 years, Kingdom Hearts 3 marks the first “main series” game in 14 years, meaning that there were a lot of changes. I have a lot of things that I’d like to highlight so I’m going to organise this review into mini sections, enjoy!
Kingdom Hearts 3 was announced to the world at E3 2013 meaning it was in development for over 5 years. This left a lot of fans (including myself) frustrated at each year we were KH3-less. Now that I have played the game though, I almost understand why it took so long! For starters, this is the first full length Kingdom Hearts game to be made using Unreal Engine 4. It is also the most breath-taking Kingdom Hearts game visually. In past incarnations, everything has had a blocky look to it, firstly due to the capabilities of the console it was played on but also so that Sora and the gang fit into the same world as the cartoon character’s they interacted with. For Kingdom Hearts 3, things had to appear shinier and more realistic for the exact same reasons. Everything from the grass, the water, the hair, the fabric looks tangible and reacts well to every environment it is confronted with. Every world Sora found himself in, I found myself fully immersed in. All you have to do is look at a clip from Kingdom Hearts 2 and Kingdom Hearts 3 to see a remarkable difference.
• The smooth transitions from cutscene to gameplay
• The seriously cinematic cut scenes
• From Sora to Goofy to Elsa to Captain Jack Sparrow; nobody looked like they didn’t belong in the same universe.
Where to even begin! When playing Kingdom Hearts 3 I often forgot that I was playing a game in the series. The game felt so new and like nothing I had ever played before whilst still holding a sense of familiarity to it. It hasn’t even been that long between games but when I first picked up Kingdom Hearts 3, it felt similar to seeing my friends back at school after a long summer holiday apart from them. A few new features were added to the combat system in the game, firstly the inclusion of wall running is seriously cool and seriously helpful! I found that I rarely had trouble with this or the sparkling platform hopping, it never usually stalled or glitched just glided seamlessly. Square Enix also added the use of Disneyland attractions as a form of attack for instance: Pirate Ship, Big Magic Mountain and Mad Tea Cups. These acted like the reaction commands in Kingdom Hearts 2, they would appear during battle as timed events that you could activate to help take out hoards of Heartless or deal serious damage to a single enemy without using up your MP. Flowmotion which was first introduced in Dream Drop Distance also makes a return in the form of Attraction Flow, which again comes in handy when traversing worlds and in combat. Finally, Shotlock ability from Birth By Sleep is also readily available.
• Disneyland attractions
• Up to 5 party members at one time (previously only 3)
• Ability to increase the chance of reaction commands
• Ability to switch between 3 keyblades during battle and without going through the menu screen. Keyblades & party members also all have their own special reaction commands
• Begin the game with some helpful abilities (eg: Fire, Blizzard, Scan) and it doesn’t take long to achieve others (eg: Cure)
Character and Story
As mentioned at the start, Kingdom Hearts 3 is technically the 12th game in the series. Throughout these 12 games each follows the same underlining story which has been dubbed as ‘The Dark Seeker Saga’ and follows the story of Sora, King Mickey, Organisation XIII, Master Xehanort and so on. It was announced early on that Kingdom Hearts 3 wouldn’t mark the end of the franchise but would mark the end of the Dark Seeker saga. Therefore, many plot points from previous games and characters were bought back and their stories wrapped up. This was incredibly rewarding to see as almost everything was explained and resolved apart from the odd thing which opened more questions than answers (more on that later).
Throughout the game, characters would bring details up from previous games, they would also slyly give context to what has happened so far when doing this; without the game becoming like an episode of Dora the Explorer. Although I was pretty on top of my KH lore, this did come in handy and I believe must have been helpful to those of you who hadn’t played through every game in the series. We all know that in every Kingdom Hearts game, a character must give a speech regarding hearts, friendship and strength at least every 10 minutes, so it can get a little cheesy at times. However, I feel that the dialogue between characters was much smarter and wittier this time around.
Highlights (Character & Story)
• Repartee between characters
• Rewarding character round up
• Characters seemed to be more developed and each had more to say/give
• Responsive characters (eg: if you point a camera at them, they protest or pose. They also say things regarding on the environment you’re in without being prompted)
The Other Cool Stuff
To stand out amongst so many other games in the series, Kingdom Hearts 3 also features plenty of new features that make the game unique. Firstly, things have progressed so much in game that Sora now has the equivalent to a mobile phone which he uses to contact the likes of King Mickey, Riku and Chip and Dale. He also uses his phone to take photos of ‘Lucky Emblems’ (Mickey Mouse icons hidden throughout the game) and even selfies with the character’s he meets along the way. As well as the Lucky Emblems, Sora is also encouraged to find ingredients which he can give to ‘Little Chef’; a familiar Disney character who works in a new bistro located in Twilight Town. Being tasked with keeping an eye out for these collectables gave me more incentive to investigate the worlds thoroughly and made for replayability once the game had been completed.
Highlights (Other Cool Stuff)
• Gummi phone - taking photos, playing mini games
• Hidden Mickey’s (and the character’s heads up to them)
• Ingredient hunting
• Loading screens are presented as Instagram posts by the characters
• New Song (Face My Fears) by returning favourite Utada Hikaru
The Icky Stuff
Although Kingdom Hearts III has some amazing positives, there were some aspects to it that not only me, but also other fans thought could have been improved. Most obviously, Kingdom Hearts III is too short. So much so that some dedicated fans finished the game within 48 hours of release. Perhaps I have grown more competent at video games over the years as my save files for previous KH games have an average of around 50 hours, whereas I finished Kingdom Hearts III (at a casual pace) in around 30 hours. This could be a result of another point frequently raised regarding the game and that is, that it’s too easy! Even I was surprised to find that the game that would previously send me in fits of frustration, I now breezed through for the most part.
I was also rather disappointed at the lack of surprise when it came to new worlds, I thought that Square Enix would have kept some Disney worlds a secret and that I’d have a few surprises along the way… but they didn’t. Each world that I visited I was already aware of, it’s not a major negative point but it did take away some of the excitement of playing the game myself. Finally, not sure if this is so much a bad thing or just annoying for me but I found that Kingdom Hearts III followed a structure all its own. For example, in previous games you’d usually visit a world, fight some mandatory heartless, investigate the area, some other stuff, then a final boss. However, in KH3 it seemed to be boss battle, after boss battle, after boss battle. Again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it made each world feel more exhausting and sometimes meant that if playing in the evening, when it came to time for bed, I couldn’t always sleep when I wanted to because I’ve accidentally walked straight into another boss fight and the game hasn’t given me the chance to save.
• Too short
• Introduced more confusion when all we want is answers!!
• Overwhelming number boss fights
• Knew about all Disney worlds, no surprises
• Replaced a lot of voice cast seemingly unnecessarily
• No final fantasy characters AT ALL?
To summarise, the final few weeks building up to the release of Kingdom Hearts III were some of the most exciting of my life and the game, for the most part didn’t disappoint. As early as the first world I was astonished at how much progress the game had made since previous installments and how ready I was to start my journey. Kingdom Hearts III has become my new favourite game in the series, a place previously guarded by Kingdom Hearts II, which was once considered the best game in the series. Although this may be a little biased, I recommend this game to literally anyone. That is if you can make your way through the previous titles first!