Just when we thought that Square Enix had forgotten how to count to three, Tetsuya Nomura and company have finally graced us with Kingdom Hearts III. Fourteen years have passed since the last major console installment, Kingdom Hearts II. Since then, we’ve gotten a slew of spin-offs on portable systems, which has kept the fandom engaged and excited.
After a decade-long absence, does the long-awaited sequel capture the old Disney magic? Or is this a heartless attempt to exploit our nostalgia?
For some gamers, the story will be the main reason to snag a copy of Kingdom Hearts III. For other gamers, it’ll be the main reason to avoid it.
Here’s the mistake that Square Enix made: they released 5 spin-off games after Kingdom Hearts II. Apparently, they missed the memo that spin-offs are only supposed to tell side stories not the main story. So, Kingdom Hearts III follows the events of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, and not Kingdom Hearts II. If you haven’t played the 5 games preceding Kingdom Hearts III, you’re bound to be lost.
It’s tough to say much about the story without giving too much away. But if you’re a series newcomer, here’s the gist. Kingdom Hearts takes place in a fantastical universe where there are a bunch of different worlds drifting out in space. The fantastical part is that these worlds are Disney worlds.
Yes, that Disney.
There’s a world that contains Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s a world that contains Frozen. There’s a world that contains Toy Story. Disney worlds co-inhabit the same close region of space. The story concerns a kid named Sora who travels from world to world and tries to vanquish the evil that threatens them all. He travels with Donald Duck and Goofy, loyal subjects of Mickey Mouse (a King, in this universe).
How did this game come into being? Take one brilliant Japanese video game designer, Tetsuya Nomura (associated with the Final Fantasy video game series), mix his work with Disney animation, and you get one of the most strangely bizarre and wonderfully enchanting universe mash-ups of all time. Disney adds the charm, while Final Fantasy adds the intrigue.
The continuing story
In Kingdom Hearts III, Sora is once again traveling from world to world trying to save it from the evil schemes of villains, old and new. If you really want to enjoy the overarching story, you must play the preceding games in the series. You’d be surprised at how complicated the story gets despite the fact that many of the game worlds are loose retellings of Disney films.
There are evil organizations. There are changing loyalties. There are plot devices and twists and lots of characters with lots of different motivations. Most of the characters have been introduced in previous games, so you need to play them first lest you get lost in the madness of it all.
Newcomers take heart
That being said, the story isn’t entirely unfriendly to newcomers. Jiminy Cricket keeps a journal that you can read, which summarizes the events of all the previous games (you can also watch a quick recap here
What also makes it enjoyable for newcomers is that most of the game levels are Disney worlds. Whenever our heroes land on a new world, they get caught up with familiar characters (Captain Jack Sparrow, Winnie the Pooh) and familiar Disney storylines. In essence, you get to play out some of the Disney films in video game form. It’s been the main draw of the series, and it’s still the best part.
But leave no doubt, Kingdom Hearts III is made for the fans. If you’ve followed these characters through each entry in the series, we dare you not to get emotional at the ending. The final three hours of the game is nothing but fan service, fan service, and more fan service. It’s the stuff you’re likely to find on fanfiction boards. Series veterans will get giddy seeing their favorite characters forming alliances and duking it out.
What’s wonderful about the Kingdom Hearts series is that it explores complex themes in a way that’s simple enough for younger gamers to understand: good vs. evil; friendship; memory; redemption. Even if you’re an older gamer, you’re sure to find yourself won over by the game’s relentless idealism and sentimentality.
Like its predecessors, Kingdom Hearts 3
is both an action RPG
and a hack and slash. Square Enix has had many entries to perfect the gameplay elements and they have. This is the most downright fun and intuitive combat system of any game in the series.
Sora’s main weapon is the keyblade (literally a key-shaped sword). If you wanted to, you could run through most of the game button-mashing your way through each battle, watching Sora swing the keyblade endlessly until it vanquishes all opponents in sight.
But you won’t do that because the game offers a variety of other fighting styles which are fun and, at times, a necessity. You can use magic, you can melee, or you can use tandem attacks with Donald, Goofy, and other Disney characters that join your party.
Each battle is frantic, at best. Sora doesn’t just hit enemies. He swipes, he jumps, he flips, he spins, he somersaults. The fighting feels fluid and it’s so dang entertaining to watch, especially when there are spells and projectiles flying across the screen.
Situation command and attraction flow
The “situation command” feature also returns. Occasionally, a button prompt will appear on the screen while you’re battling enemies. Press it at the right time and you’ll be able to enable special attacks, combos, and power boosts (and snazzy, accompanying animations).
There’s a great new addition to the combat system called “attraction flow.” When you’ve garnered enough mana, you can summon certain Disneyland attractions to give you the upper hand in battle. It’s awesome. You can twirl around in teacups and batter poor enemies that get in your way.
You can jump in Astro Blasters and point-and-shoot. Or you can jump into a Big Thunder Mountain Railroad car and bulldoze over anything in your path. It’s incredibly fun and the animations are great. These small moments are successful in briefly changing the pace and style of the gameplay.
There are also world-specific gameplay styles. In the Toy Story world, for instance, you can hop into a toy mech during combat. In the Pirates of the Caribbean world, you’re given your own pirate ship, in which you can sail around the ocean and engage in sea battles.
Other gameplay elements have been retained and improved. While you travel across the Disney worlds, you can collect food ingredients. Take them back to Remy (the rat chef from Ratatouille) and he’ll cook up a tasty power-up for you.
A big weakness from the prior games is also a weakness in Kingdom Hearts III: the gummi ship system. You use the gummi ships to fly from world to world, sometimes blasting away at enemies in arcade fashion. Now, you’re able to freely fly the gummi ship around space, but the combat is still redundant and uninspired. It feels as if the gummi ship was included more for nostalgia’s sake.
The Disney worlds
Leading up to its release, there was a lot of speculation over what Disney worlds would be incorporated this time around. There are Disney worlds based on Toy Story, Tangled, Frozen, Big Hero 6, Monsters, Inc., Winnie the Pooh, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Hercules. There are also a few original worlds from prior games in the series.
The worlds are animated to look very similar to their cinematic counterparts, which is a joy. It’s a great deal of fun to fight alongside Rapunzel, Woody, and Mike and Sully, and it doesn’t hurt that many of the original voice actors from the films reprise their roles (Josh Gad, Kristin Bell, Idina Menzel, Zachary Levi, Mandy Moore, Jesse McCartney, Mark Hamill, and James Woods, to name a few). The worlds look, feel, and sound like Disney.
Some of the worlds closely follow the storylines of the films, particularly the worlds of Frozen and Tangled. Other worlds, like Big Hero 6 and Toy Story, use the same characters but follow their own unique plot threads. It’s a good mix.
The worlds that retell the films are a mixed bag. Part of the fun is definitely getting to take part in your favorite scenes, but it also makes the levels more linear and reduces the amount of discovery and exploration you get to do.
Nonetheless, these Disney worlds are still much more fun to explore than the worlds in any of the previous installments. The problem with many of the last Kingdom Hearts games is that the levels felt too linear. You were always being confined by invisible walls, so the worlds didn’t feel real and expansive.
Tetsuya Nomura and his team have made a considerable effort to improve the quality of all the game landscapes. They’re visually stunning and there are plenty of great environmental details. But now it feels as if there’s a true horizon to gaze upon. Some worlds, like Tangled, have inhabitants that realistically go about their daily routines.
Every environment has been designed to be more explorable. You now have the ability to run up walls, which allows for more areas to explore and discover hidden items. If you’ve ever dreamed of diving into one of your favorite Disney films, here’s your chance.
The Kingdom Hearts series has always had one of the best soundtracks in video games, thanks to veteran composer Yoko Shimomura. The music in Kingdom Hearts III is just as good as it has ever been.
The Frozen world has actual musical mini-game sequences for each of the film’s songs. Aside from that, there aren’t any real Disney scores, but each world has its own distinct sound that closely resembles the soundtrack of each film.
But it’s the Kingdom Hearts-ish music that strikes the emotional chord. If you’ve played previous games in the series, you’ll hear some familiar tunes that’ll set off your nostalgia. The music ranges from dreamlike to melancholy, to operatic, to cheerful. It’s one of the few video game scores you can enjoy listening to when your game console is shut off.
The first two Kingdom Hearts games were notable for beginning and ending with songs by Japanese singer Hikaru Utada, which have remained enduringly popular with fans. Rejoice! Hikaru Utada is back for Kingdom Hearts III with two wonderful songs that’ll get stuck in your head by the time the final credits roll.
Kingdom Hearts III Deluxe Edition
Get the deluxe edition of Kingdom Hearts 3 if you’re a big fan of the series. The deluxe edition features:
- An art book
- A steelbook case
- A collectible pin
Can we expect a Kingdom Hearts 3 PC release?
Currently, the game is available only for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. But there’s a lot of hope among PC gamers
that the game will be released for PC by 2020. The rationale is that the Kingdom Hearts
games have been released over a wide variety of platforms over the years.
Kingdom Hearts III
is the first release on two major platforms. The first two games were only released for PlayStation 2. If Square Enix is now willing to release the game cross-platform
for Xbox One, why not on the Steam platform
for PC, too?
In an interview, creator Tetsuya Nomura said that he’d be open to releasing the game on additional platforms after the initial release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. And game manufacturer Square Enix has created PC versions for many of its other RPG games. Even though no announcement has yet been made, it’s not out of the question to anticipate a PC port.
The final word
We had to wait far too long for the third (actual) installment of Kingdom Hearts. But if it was the 14-year wait that led to the polished gameplay, dazzling design, and versatile combat of Kingdom Hearts III, the wait was well worth it.
If you’re a newcomer, you probably won’t appreciate the convoluted story, but the combat system is so fast-paced and fun that you’ll love running around the Disney worlds, seeking out each new battle.
If you’re a veteran, you’ll appreciate the game’s merging of old and new features, and you’ll probably love the story, even with its manic plotting. The Kingdom Hearts series has always had a way of tugging at our youthful heartstrings, Kingdom Hearts III has the same magic.
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