by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Dangerous, huh? In Piratetown? Underwater? Nah…
My apologies that this took so long to get out, but I had two multi-day press events to attend, and I was only able to take my Xbox One on one of them. So it took me a little longer to get this out than I would have liked. I was very much looking forward to reviewing Kingdom Hearts 3 because I am not a wild fan of the franchise – I love it, conceptually, but never really got into it. Thanks a lot, KH2’s 75-hour tutorial. That is one of my favorite things about the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 3 – while Olympus might be the “Tutorial” area, it just feels like a regular zone. The pop-ups for things you need to know are quick and can be dismissed. You won’t see anything about the story in this review, or as little as possible. That’s mostly due to wanting to avoid spoilers for people who still have not started, and also, let’s be honest: This series is very confusing. You control Sora and his pals Goofy and Donald tag along to help you do battle with The Organization, and everyone out there who wants to bring more darkness into the world.
For people who don’t remember the story, or simply never played some of the previous games, the main menu can lead you to lots of videos to get you caught up, but I have to say, I enjoyed playing this game even without the others. Does it make me want to go play the games I missed, or revisit the previous KH installments? The jury is still out on that. I enjoyed a lot of the quality-of-life changes made in Kingdom Hearts 3, and most importantly – no Final Fantasy character cameos. I feel like I’m probably in the minority here, but let me plead my case. I’m okay with cameos that “make sense”. But shoehorning in Squall, Yuffie, Yuna, et cetera for the sake of “star power” is repulsive to me. Maybe in Kingdom Hearts 1, where it was a new franchise, and needed a little star power to get people’s eyes on it, that can be overlooked. But when I saw Kingdom Hearts originally, I really wanted it to just be these new characters and Disney worlds, being built and enjoyed on their own merits. Perhaps it’s a silly thing to complain about, but I didn’t care for it. But the brief references to the franchise in Kingdom Hearts 3 were nice, made sense, and were just fine with me.
As in the previous games, you will fly around in your cool little Gummi Ship, traveling to different worlds. Gummi Ship combat and customization is easy, it’s awesome, and the exploration of space is a lot of fun. There are plenty of treasures to acquire out there, and I loaded my ship down with tons of guns and blasted everything in my path. Each of these Disney Worlds has its own suggested level. This didn’t really matter much to me, even playing on Standard. To be frank, Kingdom Hearts 3 is very easy, except for one spot for me. I only found one stumbling block, and that was mostly due to motion sickness in Pirates World.
That was the first point in the game where I received a Game Over. As I was traveling these worlds (eight in total, five of which are new), something hit me: These worlds feel empty, compared to their Kingdom Hearts 2 brethren. You only go to each world once, and 100 Acre Wood, in particular, was disappointing. No pages to collect, no vast areas to explore and soak in. Each world visually is breathtaking. They “feel” like their namesake, and each area does tend to take a few hours to complete, but somehow I still felt like I wanted more. I enjoyed each world, but I still felt like it was a hollow experience.
Speaking of the game itself, I absolutely loved the intro of the game, where you pick what “type” of Sora you will be (magical, physical, strength-based, et cetera). That particular area and all of its stained-glass were stellar. I went with Vitality/Strength because I just wanted to bash things in the face with my keyblade, and bash them I did! On that note, combat is very simple. You can have up to three Keyblades equipped at once, and can swap them back and forth at will with the Left/Right Dpad arrows. Locking onto an enemy will send you leaping towards them when you attack (within reason), and as you deal damage to enemies, it will activate various special, powerful techniques. Each Keyblade has transformative powers, activated with the Y button. My personal favorite one came out of Monsters, Inc. It has tons of range, tons of damage, and is just a treat to wield.
As you land combos, you can also use “Attractions”. These are attacks based on Disney World/Land rides, such as the Teacups, Merry Go Round, and a Tron Bumper Car. At first, I loved these Attractions – they deal tons of damage, are fun to see, and can really turn a fight around. But as the game went on, I would go out of my way to ignore them, because they can also make fights drag on much longer. These also activate with the Y button, as do your various Team-Up powers (Flare Force, Goofy Bombardier, et cetera). Let’s not forget that Sora has forms to activate too! You will virtually always have a new attack outside of your melee/spells to use. You cycle through them with one of your bumper buttons, so you can cycle to the one you want. Combat was very easy, even formulaic. It was fun to do, but it lacked any kind of challenge.
Crafting is back, too! You can craft most of the useful items, and can also increase the power of your Keyblades, which was a neat way to justify exploring every nook and cranny of the worlds for materials. There are things to do outside of actually playing the game, but not as much as I was hoping for. For example, the cooking mini-games are fun, except for cracking eggs. You can purchase a lot of the cooking materials, but they are also littered across each world. It was a neat concept, but not one that had me eagerly going back to it constantly. The stat bonuses for eating foods was, however, very nice. There’s not a lot of exploration outside of the main worlds to be done in Kingdom Hearts 3, and that admittedly did disappoint me. I was looking for something more but did not find it. While the side content was lacking, as were additional trips to worlds.
You know what I did love about the game? The writing. The characters were expertly written – even Sora! Sora is a goofy teenager, cocksure and obnoxious. He may seem like kind of a dork, but it fits him as a character. The Disney characters felt very much like their original selves, even if some of the voices did not seem familiar. I’m not going to complain about that at all, because it’s been 13 years – people pass on, and things change. This was arguably my favorite part of the whole game, soaking in character interactions. In particular, Hades and Pete. Even if the actual story is tied in proverbial knots, the character interactions and dialog did make me smile. I loved going through Disney film-themed worlds that I have not seen, such as Frozen and Tangled too! I was hoping for more worlds, or trips back to them to complete more story-themed missions, but I took what I could get.
A (Mostly) Whole New World: 3.5/5 (Good)
I had a lot of fun with Kingdom Hearts 3, on a personal level. Far more than I initially thought I would. It’s considerably shorter than its predecessors, but there is a very important Hidden Movie to unlock. It tells me that the next installment of Kingdom Hearts will be even more intense than this one. It’s not what I expected to get when I started playing, but I did still have a great deal of fun. I enjoyed using the Gummiphone, taking selfies with my team and desperately trying to find Lucky Emblems (which are key to getting the Hidden Movie). However, every single time someone said: “Hey look, a Lucky Emblem!” I would desperately scrounge around for 10 minutes trying to find out where those buffoons were staring. I did have a few stand out complaints though. For the standard difficulty level, this game was insanely easy. I only died in one area, and that was in Pirates of the Caribbean. That is partially due to motion sickness and dealing with that damn ship. The other sort of downer is how empty the worlds themselves were, in terms of content. You only go to an area once, and that’s it unless you’re hunting Lucky Emblems or something like that. It’s fun, but it feels a little hollow.
I didn’t want it to blast me in the face over and over, but I was hoping it would not be quite so simple. The Xbox One S version did have some bad frame rate drops in some of the cutscenes though. The retro games you could unlock, in the style of Tiger Games/Mr. Game and Watch Games were a treat, and I spent way more time playing those than I thought I would. I loved the glut of abilities you could unlock for Sora, all of the spells and attacks were incredibly cool to watch, and the game itself is very cinematic. Sometimes that’s a stumbling block though – Having to wait 20 or so minutes for the next bit of gameplay was starting to grate on my nerves a tiny bit. I’ve heard some voices state how disappointed or angry they are about Kingdom Hearts 3, but I wasn’t. I was mildly disappointed, but most of my experiences were positive.
A copy of Kingdom Hearts 3 for the Xbox One was provided for the purpose of this review.