Weekender Editor Tony Tann Reviews Kingdom Hearts 3
It’s been over thirteen years since we last saw a mainline entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. Since Kingdom Hearts 2, video games have evolved massively, breaking barriers both in terms of gameplay and storytelling. In some ways, the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III falls just shy of modern gaming standards, suffering from some of the same drawbacks as the games that came before it. However, the game brings to light some successful improvements as well and ultimately is an captivating, jaw-droppingly pretty, fitting follow-up whose strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.
While Kingdom Heart III’s ambition works well with its visuals, it can get a bit convoluted when applied to its combat. There are so many things going on as well as mechanics you have to keep track of, that it can be a doozy to familiarize yourself with everything at first. These include “Flowmotion” movement (by far the most challenging of them all), timed inputs, regular melee, magic switching, link attacks, Keyblade form changes and everything in between. It’s easy to get confused and lose track of the action, especially when you’ve got a cornucopia of colors and other stimulus competing on the screen as well as use something you weren’t planning on using until later and effectively wasting it. It is also quite a bummer that you cannot map buttons. After playing so many games where the X button is jump it’s hard to get back into KH where X is your main attack button. Even when you get a hang of the mechanics, however, there’s still what I consider the biggest issue with the game’s combat: its lack of precision. This especially can be a problem when fighting multiple foes on tiered surfaces where you can fall. It feels great when things are working the way you want to and you’re hitting exactly what you want to hit and heading where you want to go. Sometimes though locking-on to an airborne enemy and landing an attack causes it to fly off the edge and Sora ends up falling several levels below after you dispatch it. This happens mainly after activating a special attack, only to have the attack time out as Sora tries to return to get back up to the mob he was originally fighting.
Interestingly, a refreshing new part of combat are the shooting mechanics or sequences. Stuff like the Blaster Blaze shooting cart special, the Big Magic Mountain special attack and the Panzer Dragoon-esque sequence during the Pirates of the Caribbean segment of the game break up the humdrum of hack and slashing. Even the Gummi Ship shooting portions, which combine mechanics from Star Fox, Galaga and a few other games are fun to play. Gummi ship levels used to be the bane of a KH players existence. These now feel simple and to the point, and easy to cut loose without having to worry about a lack of precision or flying off the edge.
Like the combat or not, Square Enix more than makes up for it in the building and recreation of fresh and new disney worlds. Hercules’ dwelling, Olympus (the first world) and Classic Traverse Town are a nostalgia trip to worlds from games before. The Toy Story, Monsters Inc., Big Hero 6 and Pirates universes are absolutely stunning. The worlds feel alive and thriving, some being mini sequels to their respective films, some going in a standalone route. A player could spend countless hours after the game in these areas. The Pirates of the Caribbean level specifically is a world within a world where Sora actually becomes a pirate and helms his own ship, complete with daring ship battles on top of full islands to explore and find treasure.
However, not all universes are created equal. Frozen world Arendelle is mostly a wasteland feeling more linear than most worlds. Also, finding pieces of Olaf to put together was repetitive and plain which sort of matches with the boring world it’s in. A full performance of “Let It Go” in the middle of the level leaves gives everyone the perfect time to go to the bathroom and grab a snack while Elsa continues to sing the entire song word-for-word. However, Donald Duck has one of the funniest lines in the game on this level. Corona, the Tangled environment, is too reminiscent of past forest motifs in the series and never manages to top them, while barely producing a beautiful kingdom mid-point that we spend almost no time in. Like Frozen, it also retraces the steps of the film far too closely, an odd choice that concurrently spoils the story for folks who haven’t seen it and spawns yawns for those who have (or never wanted to in the first place). It sounds damning, but those two worlds (which have their moments) are really the only lows.
Kingdom Hearts III may be a hack and slash, with a few RPG elements sprinkled in, but at its heart, it’s a weird adventure like nothing that you’ve ever played, except perhaps the other Kingdom Hearts Games. It makes no sense sometimes, but once you’re in the groove things start to get into focus. It truly puts a bow on the ending of Sora’s story. When the game is over, you’re left with a strange feeling of completion and melancholy, and that should be proof enough that you’ve experienced something worthwhile for years to come.