It’s hard to believe that a new numbered Kingdom Hearts actually came out. There were times when I played this that I was in total disbelief at what was on my TV. While there were Kingdom Hearts spin-offs in-between the last main entry, an entire console generation had passed since this franchise saw a mainline title. I started playing this series when I was just a kid, now I’m almost thirty years old and married with a child of my own. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to see a story that you’ve been following for over a decade, reach its end, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally here and by God, is it one hell of a ride.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 is the climax of the Xehanort saga, one that has been coming along for well over fifteen years. Master Xehanort has finally found a way to Kingdom Hearts. His new Organization XIII consists of his new vessels of darkness. These vessels will be used in a battle to clash with the seven guardians of Light to recreate the χ-blade and open the path to the power and knowledge he seeks. The story follows Sora as he tries to regain the power that he had lost by almost falling to darkness in the previous game, Dream Drop Distance. While Sora is out on his journey, Riku is travelling with Mickey Mouse to find a way to save Aqua and Kairi is training with Lea, all in preparation for the final showdown.

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It’s hard to say if the conclusion of this saga will please fans. With a series over a decade old, expectations are going to be all over the place. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory but personally, the game delivered on the personal and emotional story moments I was hoping for and managed to tie things up well. Some character stories could’ve gotten a bit more attention but I’m happy with the way it turned out. I don’t know what the secret movie may mean or hint towards but I guess that’s how Nomura has kept us hooked after all these years. I had however hoped that they would’ve fixed the story pacing by now.

For as long as this series has existed the flow of the story has always been inconsistent. Cutscenes would come in at the worst possible times and go on for too long. The ones featuring non-Disney characters are probably the worst offenders as they’re always foreshadowing and throwing cryptic hints that are ultimately pointless at the end of the day. Kingdom Hearts has never managed to properly balance the Disney stories with its own narrative, and it hasn’t changed with the latest game. That said, it’s something I got used to and it never affected my enjoyment all that much.

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Right off the bat I have to say that Kingdom Hearts 3 is one gorgeous looking game. Everything about its visual presentation is just outstanding and the amount of love and care that went into each and every Disney world is absolutely astonishing. My nephews were watching this game as if it were an actual Disney movie and I would be remiss to not mention just how close they get to looking like an actual one. Hell I’d even go as far as to say that the in-game graphics are on par with some of the Disney movies. It’s absolutely insane, but as a result of the brilliant presentation, the game is just such an overwhelming joy to play.

The environments can feel a bit empty at times which I had hoped they’d improve upon as it’s always been an issue in previous games, but honestly, it did little to detract from my enjoyment. Each area still holds little secrets here and there, with some having seemingly random mini-games tucked away in them. It’s a really nice change of pace from your usual RPG experience. Usually you’ll have map markers showing you where the next item on your checklist is, but here the game rewards you with more, well, game.

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What I love the most about Kingdom Hearts 3 is that it’s so playful. Take the Toy Story world for instance. The World gets introduced with a trailer for a fictional video game, you start out in Andy’s room (which has been lovingly recreated might I add) and then proceed to explore the street outside eventually landing up in a massive toy store. You’ll be facing off against possessed toys but they’re not just any old fights, you can actually hop into these toy robots and control them during combat. There are even three classes of robots, each with their own special ability.

It’s so much fun transitioning from normal combat to mech action and they control so well that it’s surprising just how much effort went into something that’s only a small part of the overall game. There’s also a ‘hidden’ mini-game involving stacking monsters and you can find a new game for your Gummi phone too (yes you have a phone and you play Game & Watch type games on there). There’s just so much game to this game, from Tangled’s dancing segments to The Pirates of the Caribbean’s naval battles. Every world is just such a joy. My favourite side-activity however has got to be the Gummi Ship.

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Hard to believe I enjoyed the Gummi Ship part of the game as much as I did. I loathed its previous iterations in past titles and because it was mandatory I dreaded having to travel between worlds. Here however, I spent an ungodly amount time with it. So many hours were poured into actually building ships. You can acquire blocks of different shapes and sizes to construct your ship while also attaching weapons on to it but these blocks also affect your ship’s stats and performance as well. It’s kind of like how you would build a ship with LEGO as a kid (or adult) and imagine what it would be like to pilot it in space, only here you can actually do it. The entire segment has seen an overhaul though.

Long gone are the days of the on-rails shooting gallery. Now the space between worlds is completely explorable. You have an open map that you can fly around in and find different items and treasures, while also engaging enemies that roam around. The combat this time is actually really freaking good. It was developed by the Einhänder staff and it really shows. It’s fast and exciting and really incentivizes you to play around with different ship builds. Each encounter also has a different objective to keeps things fresh. If I’m being honest, this whole thing could easily be a stand-alone little title, it’s really that good.

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So far all the gameplay elements have really been shining and combat is probably the best this series has seen. The game has gone back to its roots, opting for the Command Menu rather than the Command Deck, meaning you’ll be cycling through menus (but mostly using shortcuts) rather than setting up a defined deck of commands. It’s still the same action based system, only now it’s dialled up to eleven. You have your basic melee attacks that form part of your bread and butter combos as well as a bunch of magic spells. Flowmotion also makes return whereby you can run on and bounce of walls to give you more manoeuvrability in combat. The biggest addition is the Formchange system.

It’s kind of the same as the Command Style system in Birth by Sleep but instead a form is attached to a Keyblade now. Every Keyblade has two forms. You can switch to a second form once a special meter fills up after attacking the enemy enough times. For instance, Kingdom Key has Second Form which changes up your combos and allows you to pull off classic moves such as Sonic Blade and Ars Arcanum. Shooting Star on the other hand transforms into two guns in its second form that you can use for ranged attacks. It’s an incredibly fun system that constantly keeps combat fresh and it’s made even better by the fact that you can switch between three Keyblades now on the fly. That’s not it though and there’s just so much more left to unpack.

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Shotlocking also makes a return from Birth by Sleep where you can slow down time to select multiple enemies and fire homing missile-like projectiles at them. It can also be used for traversal this time around. Then there’s Team Attacks which are special moves you can pull off with other characters as well as a Link Attack which are kind of like the Summon systems of old. Links are really awesome though. Each has their own unique mechanic and one of them even has you summoning Wreck-it Ralph. Finally, the last system is Attractions.

These kind of mimic theme park attractions and are absolutely incredible to behold during combat. One of them has you summoning a giant swinging ship while another gives you spinning teacups that you can knock into enemies. They’re really pretty to look at but can also be a powerful tool to use. Overall, the combat is outlandish and at times a sensory overload, but it’s incredibly fun and manages to not be overwhelming despite all of its moving parts. The only problem however lies in its difficulty.

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Difficulty is always a bit of a touchy subject as we all tend to enjoy games at different paces, which is why having multiple difficulty modes is always welcomed. The thing is, when a game is too easy, even on its hardest difficulty, it detracts not only from the overall experience but from all other mechanics in the game. Why customize your Keyblades or go after the best equipment when you can steamroll through enemies without much effort. You don’t even have to pay all that much attention during combat as you can quite easily breeze through a lot of the encounters.

This was a big problem for me, and it started affecting my enjoyment because I wanted to craft the best gear and upgrade my Keyblades, but there was no reason to do so. Thankfully, there’s an ability to turn off experience points thus halting levelling up. It’s a bit of a hack way to enforce a challenge but man did it make all the difference in the world. Things got tough as the game progressed but you still learn new abilities and magic after major battles so it felt like you were progressing even if levelling stopped. I enjoyed the game much more like this and I was really glad for its inclusion.

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I’ve already spoken about the game’s visuals but where do I even begin on the soundtrack. Yoko Shimomura really outdid herself here. While Kingdom Hearts was always known for its great music, I really didn’t think it could that much better than what it currently is but some of the tracks are easily the best in franchise history. The new battle themes are also incredible with the Tangled World being one of my favorites. It’s magical and enchanting in ways that only come from Shimomura’s compositions. Outside of the music, the voice acting is pretty good with the Disney characters putting up exceptional performances. It’s weird seeing them talk about the Heartless or other Kingdom Hearts jargon, but they somehow pull it off without the delivery sounding unnatural.

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In the end, Kingdom Hearts 3 was everything I hoped it would be, and more. Some of the issues I had with the story pacing hampered the experience a bit but at the end of the day, it was a blip on an otherwise unforgettable journey. It might be hard for newcomers to follow but the excellent Disney content makes it easy for anyone to jump in. It’s sad that a saga has ended and it’s exciting to see what’s next for the franchise but all I know is it’s going be a long and hard wait for the next game.

Last Updated: February 8, 2019

Kingdom Hearts 3
Kingdom Hearts 3 was an unforgettable experience and as a long-time fan, it was everything I could’ve hoped for. Terrible story pacing aside, this is a special game and a fitting end to an over decade-old saga.
9.0
Kingdom Hearts 3 was reviewed on PlayStation 4

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