22nd Feb2019

‘Kingdom Hearts 3′ Review (PS4)

by Xenia Grounds

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I’m going to say the same thing every fan has said by now, but we’ve been waiting over a decade for Kingdom Hearts III. I doubt I’m the only one to have grown up in the time it has taken for this game to release. Sure, we’ve had story continuation since Kingdom Hearts II and prequel games during that time, but it would really test your patience after a while especially if you’ve been playing this series since it came out in 2002 and you had to do all the console jumping for these games before the remixes came out. The most important question is: does Kingdom Hearts III prove to be worth the unbelievably long wait? I’ll cut straight to the chase here…yes, it absolutely was but this game isn’t without flaw.

Kingdom Hearts III takes place after the events of Dream Drop Distance. Sora still needs to master the power of waking and is sent to a variety of Disney worlds (both familiar and new) to try and unlock it (forgive the key pun) so he can become a true Keyblade Master. Meanwhile, Riku and Mickey go to the dark realm to try and save Aqua so she can help bring Ventus and Terra back. Lastly, Axel and Kairi start their Keyblade training so they can help in the final battle against Xehanort and his thirteen counterparts.

If you haven’t played any Kingdom Hearts games before then that summary will sound extremely confusing which is why I’m going to say this next. Kingdom Hearts III is a game for fans and will deliver if you’ve been onboard with this series for the long haul, so it isn’t too friendly for newcomers. There are chronicle sections for those needing to catch up on the series but if you ask me, you’re better off playing the games as a lot of references are going to fly right over your head if you don’t. They’re great games so I recommend playing them anyway or if you want, watch the cutscene movies on YouTube which will take you about the same length of a Kingdom Hearts game to finish. That said, the story is hard to keep up with even if you’re a veteran. There has been a lot of convoluted and complex storytelling to get to this point. Every game in the series proves to be as important as the other and they all come up in Kingdom Hearts III.

Thankfully, Kingdom Hearts III brings a lot of emotional pay-offs to many storylines especially in its second half. There were moments in this game where I literally screamed in joy or shed a few tears. Kingdom Hearts is no stranger to making fans cry. Personally speaking, not many games get me so attached that I scream upon seeing one of my favourite characters finally getting some happiness. After seventeen years, it was incredibly cathartic to have this whole saga of emotions come to a grand conclusion and that’s what I can share without spoiling anything.

In past games, the Disney worlds have felt like filler and it would be common to go through four or five of them before the plot picked up again. Kingdom Hearts III doesn’t make them like filler but there were a few occasions when I wanted the story to pick up and that was only done after getting through all the Disney worlds. After you move past the Disney stuff, it’s an action packed, story heavy, emotional and intense ride until the credits instead of the little bits you get in the first half. Final Fantasy characters aren’t in this game (minus the moogles) which is a little odd given some of those characters do have unanswered questions surrounding them, but this was a choice by Nomura, but he said if there’s enough demand then they’ll come back. There are a few story elements which are clearly there for a future game because they don’t get a resolution and you’ll tell which things are going to come up again in the sequel to Kingdom Hearts III. You’ll be given more hints if you get the secret ending by collecting the emblems. I believe you must collect all ninety emblems to view it on standard mode. Honestly, if you’re a completionist then I say do it but if you don’t have the patience for it, just watch the ending on YouTube once you’ve beaten the game.

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Speaking of emblems, there is the gummiphone which easily could’ve felt forced but there’s something about it which feels charming. You mostly use it for taking selfies, emblems and playing games. One of the little things that can be enjoyed about it is the loading screens that pop up. The characters are basically given their own version of Instagram complete with heart-shaped hashtags and status updates. Some of the hashtags are a little funny. There was one called ‘Awkward time to find out’ which will make sense in context. It made me laugh to imagine someone as brooding as Riku taking part in this although his updates are naturally a little serious.

Back to the worlds and not every world in this game is going to be a hit. It’ll largely depend on personal preference. I had the most fun with Corona, Big Hero 6 and Monsters Inc for the mini games in the first two and because of the combat variety in the third. I wasn’t a massive fan of the Frozen world and not just because I don’t like Frozen although that didn’t help. It’s incredibly repetitive as for most of the world, you’re basically going up a mountain only to have something knock you down again. Let’s put it this way, even Sora got sick of it. Some worlds also are basically retellings of the movie like Tangled, Pirates of the Caribbean and Frozen just including Sora, Donald and Goofy. They don’t cover everything that happens in those movies as some things happen offscreen and it is assumed you have watched the movies because the game doesn’t bother explaining things. For instance, when Flynn is arrested in Corona, you don’t get to see how he gets out of that situation. I think Pirates is the guiltiest of this. On the other hand, some worlds take place after the events of their movie and I found those stories more interesting as it was original content.

Moving onto the gameplay and Kingdom Hearts III is the flashiest game we have seen yet. It combines a lot of things we’ve seen from previous games like different forms, reaction commands, flowmotion, special attacks and introduces new things to the combat. This would be attraction rides which basically involves summoning a Disney ride like the spinning tea cups or pirate ship. Another would be switching between keyblades in combat which in hindsight, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t introduced sooner. It creates some of the most pulse-pounding combat I’ve seen in JRPGs ever and can be a little disorientating as it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on in all the chaos but it’s incredibly fun. Honestly, difficulty is more of a mixed bag as I played the game on standard mode and I breezed through it. I hear proud mode isn’t that much more difficult either and there isn’t a critical mode in Kingdom Hearts III which feels like a missed opportunity as there are so many options at your disposal when it comes to battles. The most difficulty I had was when I was trying to get used to the combat again as it had been a few years since I played a Kingdom Hearts game but once I found my bearings, it was almost too easy. The final boss was challenging enough but it’s a telling sign of how easy the game is when you get to the toughest canonical part (at level 39) not at the required level (46) and complete it on your first try. I’ve seen let’s plays where people finished the game on even lower levels than mine. There are things you can do to make the game harder like use the zero EXP ability so if you want to put your skills to the test then you can but it’s pretty much the only option you have if you want to make the game a challenge from beginning to end.

The gummi ship is back too, and it’s had an even greater improvement from Kingdom Hearts II. It’s always gotten a lot of criticism from fans, but I think this is the best use of it in the series yet. Well, minus the inverted controls which you can change in the settings if you want. You completely have free reign on how much you use the gummi ship this time. There are very few instances where you’re forced into fighting heartless but for the most part, it’s smooth sailing and you can legitimately just use it to go from world to world. There are treasures and little quests to do in space but it’s up to you if you want to complete them or not.

As far as graphics are concerned, this is the best-looking game in the series. It’s nice these characters finally have updated models as we’ve had the same since 2002 with little change. It’s all in glorious HD now and the attention to detail is incredible. These Disney worlds look exactly like the movies that you could be fooled into thinking you were watching them, and the worlds are much larger this time around. Yes, there aren’t as many worlds in Kingdom Hearts III but that’s more than made up for with how long you must spend in these worlds and how the unreal engine brings them to life. Pirates of the Caribbean doesn’t horrifically clash with the Kingdom Hearts art design this time and that was a relief. There are even NPCs which is a big deal considering Kingdom Hearts games have a history for not including those due to hardware limitations. One world in Kingdom Hearts III is the size of two or three worlds from Kingdom Hearts 2.

The sound is something Kingdom Hearts always shines with and Kingdom Hearts III is no exception. Some are a little divided over the opening track Utada Hikaru and Skrillex track ‘Face my Fears’ but I think it fits given the theme of the game. It’s not in the same league as ‘Passion/Sanctuary’ but it does a serviceable job. ‘Don’t Think Twice’ is worthy of the acclaim because it’s one of the most emotional tracks I’ve ever heard in the series and feels like some lyrics were written specifically for the fans: ‘I’m only crying because I never dreamed it’d take this long’ being one of them. It’s a very stirring song to say the least. The voice acting in III is top notch. It’s impressive how Haley Joel Osment can do such a great job as Sora in his thirties. I did pick up on David Gallagher’s deeper voice for Riku. I’m not sure how much of that is the actor’s choice or because he’s older but I liked it. Riku is the Keyblade Master of the Destiny Island trio and he has a powerful tone to his voice to reflect that. It’s obvious that some characters have new actors like Mickey and Xehanort but their previous actors have passed away so that can’t be helped. Mickey is more obvious and takes some getting used to. Kairi has a new voice actress and I have no complaints about her performance, but she isn’t given much to work with as Kairi doesn’t get much to do. I blame the writing for that as Kairi is still written like a damsel in distress and at this point, it is really getting old because that’s what she has been for the past seventeen years but I’m not saying anything new on that front.

Kingdom Hearts III is a great conclusion to one of the longest running sagas in video game history. Yes, there are more games coming judging from the ending and Nomura has always said III would only end the Dark Seeker saga, not the series. There is still more content for the series to address and I look forward to seeing it (ideally without as long a wait this time). The end is only the beginning for Kingdom Hearts III and is the cherry on top to a saga which has been treasured by fans for nearly two decades. I’ve loved it for its characters and genuinely touching moments, had my heart broken by its raw emotional scenes, been absolutely frustrated with its unnecessarily complicated storytelling at points and yet I’m still so invested. At the end of the day, Kingdom Hearts III proves I am always going to be a fan of this series for better or worse.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is out now on PS4 and Xbox One.

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