Kingdom Hearts 3 Review: Some Parts Greater Than the Whole

Having played the first two installments of Kingdom Hearts, it’s third installment was something I was excited to finally pick up, I wasn’t at all bothered about the time it took to finally arrive. Quickly downloading the game into my PS4, I was ready to greet my old friends, Donald and Goofy. It didn’t take long for me to be won over with how it opened using the first game’s introduction with a few twists. How it presented itself did not feel any different from my experiences so many years ago, so perhaps a bit of a nostalgia pass is required, which I didn’t mind giving to Kingdom Hearts 3.

After clearing a considerable section of the start, the game threw me in for a loop as it told me I wasn’t quite ready to proceed through the story yet. In plain letters, it told me I’m about to go through Kingdom Hearts 2.9, a summary of all events past. I groaned and soldiered on.

 

Production (5 / 5)

Square-Enix is without a doubt, peerless in their ability to make impressive graphics for games. They had successfully captured the aesthetic of every world they had included in this game. And the range is really daunting when you think about it, from the cartoony looks of Monsters Inc to the life-imitating characters of Pirates of the Caribbean. Characters also animate beautifully, making them perfectly in cutscenes and in battle. One thing I could never stop noticing was the fact that these black leather coat wearing fellows, Organization 13, had a well-textured coat. It served as a great distraction when I had no idea what they were talking about.

The attention to detail could get pretty astounding, the menu in-combat changed depending on where you were or what weapon you were using. You left tracks in the snow, water parts and splashes as you move in it, characters froze in place when they got struck by lightning, and more. Colorful effects and a lively palette kept the visual experience interesting for me for most of the game. The most astounding part would be how they managed to keep all this going and maintain a stable frame rate for the PlayStation 4. No, not even using the Pro version here. It only started showing real issues when dealing with massive swarms of enemies, which happens much-much later in the game, and not even during combat. I’m quite fond of the fact that this title has completely foregone pre-rendered cutscenes, allowing much smoother transition from dialogue to good old keyblade whacking.

The music, also a treat. They had successfully remixed the themes of each world into something more fitting for a game. Though honestly, the one that’s stuck in my head until now is nothing else but ‘Dearly Beloved,’ the most melodramatic theme this series has. Aside from that, notable would be the theme for battles and for boss encounters. Voices also sound natural for the most part and fit their roles well, which could be a problem if you quickly get sick of listening to Donald Duck. But hey, they pull off their characters well and consistently.

Unfortunately, the screenplay  tends to show its age at some points, particularly on the earlier part of the game. Painfully stretching out conversations as if we couldn’t pick up the hints quickly enough. It starts as a minor irritation but as time went on, I would dread the following cutscene. It really didn’t help that most of these conversations didn’t really seem to amount to much. Despite this, I’m genuinely impressed with what they managed to show for Kingdom Hearts 3.

 

Mechanics (4.2 / 5)

On paper, the concept of ‘flowmotion’ sounds really neat. Being able to fluidly go from one action to another, and being able to incorporate various types of maneuvering into your attacks and evasion to eventually produce this neat, dynamic-looking continuous action through battle. I mean, I can see how that could be fun to watch, however, it’s execution and moment-to-moment gameplay is an entirely different experience.

Sora predictably suffers power amnesia at the start of the game, giving him very limited capabilities at the start. Moves felt clunky as judging distance became a bit difficult, the keyblade sometimes swung too short and that would stop your combo entirely. It also wasn’t entirely clear on when it was possible to cancel an attack into a guard or a roll. So here I am trying to combo a snow golem’s face as much as I could, but that block I wanted to time didn’t happen because it just didn’t cancel into one for some reason. You really want to be able to master this mechanic because it’s one of the most exciting mechanics in combat, but it just didn’t feel as tight as how it did in its predecessors.

Then I progressed and levelled up in the game, unlocking more abilities. Suddenly, you lunge forward as you begin to attack, making it easier to connect. Suddenly, you can continue your combos even if you whiff a hit. Movement feels more natural, I feel more confident about taking risks because of the rewards they net. Those annoying fliers are suddenly much easier to reach. I get to take out enemies quicker. The game is getting easier as I progress. So easy, in fact, I could stop paying attention or needing the assistance of your party members. It’s kind of surprising that Sora gets overpowered without power-levelling. It’s also a bit mortifying that all that time I spent getting well-versed in its attack and movement mechanics is soon overtaken by simply spamming the attack button. It does the job. For this reason, I stuck to proud mode so that at least some of the encounters would force me to use my brain a bit more.

Though even when I was backed into a corner, there were a few too many easy ways to get out of it. New combat ‘events’ can be triggered if they’re available simply by pressing triangle. This can range from unleashing the next phase of your keyblade, to teaming up with your current party members for a unique attack, to unleashing the menace and terror of a Disneyland theme park ride. While most of these functions have been nerfed, they still significantly serve ‘get out of jail’ cards. You want to see that new combination attack? Triangle. Trapped in a mob? Press triangle. Critical health? Enter range mode by pressing triangle. Summons, which are called Links in this game, function similarly. You’re not invincible, but your party gets fully healed and you don’t flinch while the Link is active. Finally, you can buy a Kupo coin which doesn’t cost that much and gives you a free continue if you happen to die in battle. Sure, you can only carry one at a time, but I only ended up using it once.

Kingdom Hearts 3 seems to be more interested in making you feel powerful and cool rather than giving you a meaningful experience in combat. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, it does feel like they were trying to balance this with giving reasonably difficult encounters, but the final result definitely feels heavier on one side.

 

Content (3.8 /    5)

The format for this title feels all-too-familiar with a certain blue robot. Fight in 8 worlds, defeat their bosses and proceed to a grand finale. You are given some degree of freedom on which order you want to take them on. They were able to give you this much freedom because these 8 worlds generally have isolated stories that don’t really interact with each other or the story of Kingdom Hearts itself. Six of these worlds simply retell whatever movie they made, with Sora and the gang being little more than bystanders in their own game. It could get frustrating because you sit through all of looking forward to the story of Kingdom Hearts, and you don’t really get any of that until the finale section of the game.

A few of the worlds were more engaging as they allowed a story beyond the original movie to play out, if at all. They were more action-centered romps through their respective worlds and I was on-board it. I really didn’t need to see Frozen’s ‘Let It Go’ shown one more time. Seeing movies I’ve already watched, wanting to get it over with, the skip button and I quickly became close friends.

However, the end of each world always gave me a really engaging boss battle. These bosses feel really well thought-out. Making use of the world it’s in as a theme, they come up with pretty unique experiences in each one. Even mid-bosses were at least fun half the time. Some of them had some sort of gimmick during the battle and that kept the encounters fresh. They rarely felt repeated and worked well in the context of the boss involved.

Beyond that, you could opt to search for hidden mickeys, hunt treasures, explore space with customized gummi ship, or play games on your gummi phone. Yes, play game-n-watch style games on a virtual phone, while playing on your console or PC. Out there, in the KH3 development team, is someone with a good sense of humor. What’s not quite as funny would be how most of these don’t really amount to much in your game. Mini-games are mini-games, which I got a little annoyed with when I was forced to play some of them. Hidden Mickeys get you prized and unlock certain things if you complete it, food-related games give you temporary buff items (which you don’t really need). But that’s about it, I never felt compelled to do them because I couldn’t see how doing them would benefit my game in the long run.

It’s a bit of a joke when you think about it, but I’m really bothered if I feel like I’m playing a game only interested in wasting my time. Kingdom Hearts 3 presented me with a lot of content that ultimately didn’t make me feel like it contributed to making it a great game. The finale presented a lot of great moments even if I don’t know half of what’s going on. I was delighted to see that it even picked up some ideas from Nier:Automata. But man, was that a journey to get to.

 

Features (4 / 5)

If you ever want to attempt to understanding the story of this game, you can review all the information by choosing ‘the story so far’ on the menu. You can also review all the bigger scenes in the game’s ‘theatre mode.’

On your gummi phone, you can go through the records of various things such as characters, monsters you’ve encountered, and the stats you’ve achieved in the game. If there are mechanics you don’t quite get, you can visit the tutorial mode to iron out your knowledge about it as well.

That’s really about it, I also think this is completely fine for a single player focused jRPG. It’s actually quite nice to be able to have the option of reviewing the story, which I’m happy with so long as that stays optional.

 

Conclusion

Kingdom Hearts 3 was clearly setup to finally tie up all the loose ends its writers ended up leaving as the series progressed. Probably to start over on simpler terms. That much I can appreciate. I can see how this game is filled to the brim with passion with all the various types of content it’s presented to me through its playthrough. Varied weapons, massive worlds, interesting bosses, and more. They made no reservations showing the best they can and Square-Enix flexed its strengths where it knew it can do it best. Though I feel like a good amount of passion and effort got squandered perhaps to fill out a bunch of requirements.

It ended up giving me an experience that felt scattered and isolated. There were parts that I found to be pretty brilliant, specially along the end. But having to go through 8 worlds to get there is quite a tall order. Perhaps if they had sprinkled some more of these along the earlier parts of the game, and make it feel like you’re generally moving in a direction of a long-term goal I wouldn’t feel like most of the game was content to just get through as quickly as possible. For this case, the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts.

 

Despite flaws, Kingdom Hearts 3 is still deserves a crown, scoring 4.2 / 5

Available one PS4, XB1 and PC.

 

We’d like to thank Square-Enix for the opportunity to review this game.

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