Game Info:

Kingdom Hearts III
Developed by: Square Enix
Release Date: January 29, 2019
Available on: PlayStation 4 (reviewed) and Xbox One
Number of Players: Single-Player
Genre: Action RPG
ESRB Rating: E10+
Price: $59.99
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After waiting over thirteen years, Square Enix has finally given us the third major chapter in the mega-popular Kingdom Hearts series. Technically the thirteenth entry in the series’ seventeen-year run, Kingdom Hearts III serves as the epic conclusion to what series director Tetsuya Nomura refers to as the “Xehanort saga.” But was the game worth the wait?

To put this into perspective, I was eight years old when Kingdom Hearts II came out. I have waited over half my lifetime for this title, playing all the spin-off titles hoping to have all the necessary knowledge required for the third numbered title. It was a good thing I did too, because the story has become far too complex to jump into a game like this without any prior knowledge. Playing this after only playing Kingdom Hearts II will leave you utterly confused.

The story picks up after the events of Dream Drop Distance and the recently released 0.2: A Fragmentary Passage (which was included in the 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue bundle for PS4). Sora and friends are determined to rescue the fallen Keyblade wielders Terra, Aqua, and Ventus to prepare for the inevitable “Keyblade War” against Xehanort and his newly-formed Organization XIII. But because Sora nearly fell into darkness during the events of Dream Drop Distance, he needs to learn the “power of waking,” which will allow him to resist darkness and revive the people who have lost their hearts. Until then, his friend Riku, accompanied by King Mickey, will continue the search for the three on their own.

If the above paragraph did not make any sense to you, it is probably safe to say that you need to catch up on the story before starting this title. Though most of the games have been spin-offs, they have all featured major contributions to the story. Square Enix has tried to address this by re-releasing all the games on PlayStation 4, but this unfortunately means Xbox owners are pretty much left in the dark. Even if you have played all the games, though, the story can be very confusing. Kingdom Hearts III provides simple explanations to many of the series’ more ponderous plot points, but it still manages to add new story elements that are difficult to understand.

Kingdom Hearts III

Strong Points: Satisfying story that wraps up most of the plots set up over seventeen years, featuring several epic and character-based moments; gameplay takes the best elements of each title and combines them for a great gameplay experience; music and voice acting is among the series' best; world selection is almost entirely original and now features Pixar worlds; graphics are updated and are now comparable to the films the worlds are based on
Weak Points: Almost entirely incomprehensible without playing the other games; in order to set up more stories, some plot points are left open; mild frame rate lag; some of the new gameplay features are forgettable; Game & Watch-style LCD minigames are an entirely pointless inclusion; almost no Final Fantasy characters return
Moral Warnings: Non-graphic violence; some mildly revealing outfits; magic use; alcohol consumption

Which brings me to another important thing that must be noted: Kingdom Hearts III is NOT the end of the franchise. I feel that I can say this without giving anything away, as Nomura has stated that a number of times before. In spite of this, I was surprised at how forward the game is about the story not being over. I assumed that Kingdom Hearts III would wrap up everything so that you could basically end here if you wanted to, even though I knew more games would come out later. Though the main story received the conclusion it needed, the game features a couple of side plots that are intentionally left open for the next game.

Still, as far as the story is concerned, Kingdom Hearts III is a deeply satisfying conclusion to the story that had been building over the past seventeen years. There are several great character moments and interactions that many of us fans have been waiting years for. Almost all of the fan favorites get their moments, though a couple of characters unfortunately don’t get as much time as they probably should. Even so, Kingdom Hearts III most of the time delivers its story with flying colors.

Most of the big story details occur during the final act, however. Through the majority of the game, Sora, Donald, and Goofy travel through various worlds inspired by popular Disney movies. This time around, almost all the worlds are new to the series and are much bigger than the worlds in previous entries. The worlds are, for the most part, based on Disney’s CGI movies. These include modern films such as Tangled, Big Hero 6, and Frozen, as well as Pixar films Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. I’ll say this: it’s absolutely fantastic seeing my childhood dream of Sora teaming up with Buzz and Woody come true! I also really appreciate how the Disney characters are much more involved in their own plots, as opposed to the other titles, where they feel more like extras. Sometimes, the Disney worlds are actually relevant to the overarching story, which makes them feel more relevant than their appearances in many of the other games.

Throughout these worlds, you will experience the traditional Kingdom Hearts gameplay found in the other two numbered titles, but with some major refinements. Like A Fragmentary Passage, the gameplay seems to take all of the best elements of each spin-off title and combine them to make the ultimate Kingdom Hearts experience. One of the biggest improvements is the use of "Situation Commands," which was introduced in Birth by Sleep. By getting enough combos, Sora will unlock a finisher move that is based on the types of attacks he used to obtain it. For example, if you cast Fire enough times, you will obtain a Firaza finisher that does massive damage.

Another type of finisher involves Keyblade transformations. Depending on what Key you are using, it will be able to turn into different types of weapons if you get enough combos. Some weapons include a shield, a hammer, a drill, and dual pistols. Not all of them are as fun as they sound, but they still present a good amount of variety.

There are other additions to the gameplay borrowed from other titles. Shotlock also makes a pleasant return from Birth by Sleep, while Flowmotion makes a comeback from Dream Drop Distance. However, Flowmotion has been dumbed down a bit since then, making it not as useful for fast travel (the game makes up for this by allowing you to warp between save points). As you level up, you can develop your Flowmotion abilities so that it resembles Dream Drop Distance more, but it takes a while before it becomes nearly as useful.

Kingdom Hearts III
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 91%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 4.5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 86%
Violence - 6/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 9/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

There are a few other additions to the gameplay, though they have varying degrees of success. My personal favorite is the fact you can upgrade your Keyblades. I always found it frustrating that my favorite weapons were sometimes the least effective because you get them earlier in the game. Now this isn’t really an issue. Another addition is Attraction Flow, which consists of a number of attacks based on various Disney theme park attractions. To be honest, this is one of the least interesting additions to the game. Though the attacks can be very effective at times, they tend to slow the pace down a bit too much for my liking.

Kingdom Hearts III also has a few extras to it outside of the main story. There is a photo mode that allows you to take pictures and selfies. Between Breath of the Wild and the recent Spider-Man game, I’m starting to think photo modes are becoming a standard for video games. There are missions you can complete with your camera, such as find hidden Mickeys or take pictures of iconic locations for a Moogle. Outside of the camera missions, there are also optional minigames based on the old LCD Game & Watch titles. These are entirely superfluous and could have easily been excluded.

In regards to presentation, Kingdom Hearts III is a masterpiece of graphics and music. The soundtrack is easily one of the franchise’s best, featuring a mixture of new music and spectacular renditions of the series’ themes. Graphically, the game truly stands out from the other entries. The new graphic style might take a bit of getting used to, but proves to be a fine change for the series’ first major title designed specifically for current-gen consoles. Though the graphics are not as good as the films they are based on, they are actually surprisingly close in terms of quality. That being said, I experienced some frame rate lag during the first couple of hours of my playthrough (though the lags seemed to minimize after a patch). I played this on a standard PS4, so this might not be an issue on the PS4 Pro.

The voice acting is some of the series’ best. All of the main characters’ actors return with the exception of Kairi, who is now voiced by Alyson Stoner. All of the actors deliver their lines well, featuring some of the best performances since Kingdom Hearts II. The voices of the Disney characters are also very good. A surprising number of actors return, including Zachary Levi, Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, John Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, and a plethora of others. The replacement voices do a fine job as well. Though some characters clearly have replacements, all of them do a good job sounding decently like the original voices.

In spite of its excellent delivery, Kingdom Hearts III is not without its faults. As I mentioned earlier, there are a few important story points that are difficult to understand even if you’ve played all the games before it. I have very mixed feelings regarding the setup for the next series of games, though it’s difficult to discuss my feelings without giving away major spoilers (be sure to watch the secret ending, though!). The game felt a little short to me, but after looking at my battle report at the end of the game, I realized that it’s the same length as the other titles. I think for me it felt short because the cinematics take up more of the game’s time than the others. The only other complaint I feel is worth mentioning is that the Final Fantasy characters are completely absent from this game. Though Kingdom Hearts has certainly become large enough to go on without them, it feels odd that many of the characters who were important in the other two numbered titles never show up.

In terms of morality, Kingdom Hearts III is not really any different from the other titles. I appreciate this, as there was some speculation over the years that the game would end up being T-rated. Instead, Kingdom Hearts III maintains the usual E10+ rating. Violence is about as dark as the other games. You kill several magical creatures in non-gory ways. The Kingdom Hearts universe features many sorts of magic, though none of it is related to demonic forces in any sense. A couple of character dress somewhat immodestly, with Aqua exposing much of her back. However, this game is pretty modest when compared to other RPGs. {spoiler}Like many of the other titles, the game is very emotionally stirring. Main characters do die in the game, including one who is actually killed by being sliced in the back (the character sort of disappears with no blood involved). It’s worth noting, though, that hardly anyone ever stays truly dead in these games. {/spoiler} If you’ve been able to emotionally endure all the other entries, you should be able to handle this one. I only feel like I should mention this in case young children are planning on playing this. The only other thing I think is worth mentioning is that there is a world based on Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Unlike the Pirates world in Kingdom Hearts II, it doesn’t feature any blood, and you don’t fight any undead humans. Still, there is some alcohol consumption and the story involves one of the characters stabbing a beating heart in order to kill the main villain (the heart is never shown, though).

I couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived when Kingdom Hearts III was released. I had never anticipated a game this much before, and I can thankfully say that Kingdom Hearts III delivers in almost every way. There are a few disappointing elements, but it would be hard not to be disappointed in some things related to a game you have waited over thirteen years for. The story, gameplay, graphics, and sound have all taken the necessary steps to make this the biggest Kingdom Hearts game yet. Hopefully, Kingdom Hearts IV will not take nearly as long to develop, as there are still plot points that need to be resolved. Overall, though, Kingdom Hearts III is a fantastic experience that gives fans the resolutions they have been waiting for.



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