It’s been a few weeks since Disney and Square Enix finally released the much-awaited sequel to their hit “crossover” franchise. Kingdom Hearts III proves fans who love a series so much can wait XIII (hehe) years for a sequel. Not only that, but there’s actually such a franchise to garner so much hype that newcomers have become extremely interested in starting the series.
And while some folks and big fans did buy the game on Day One, others are still on the fence about buying the title. I’ve played a bit of Kingdom Hearts III and there are a few things to talk about if you’re thinking of getting this for yourself.
DISCLAIMER: We’ll avoid spoilers in this first impressions, so here’s a general rundown of what you’ll encounter in the game:
Kingdom Hearts III… is really just a case of “light versus dark.”
Outside Disney and Final Fantasy, both fans and newcomers get to know Kingdom Hearts for one other thing: the story. And it helps to answer concerns on the story to move on with the rest of the discussion.
If you’ve been a long-time fan, you will likely want to catch up on the game’s complex story. And if you’re only starting, “Should I play the previous games before this?” might be the question in your head.
First off – the theme. In terms of an overarching theme, the series remains quite simple. At the core of it all, it remains a straightforward “good versus bad, light versus dark” tale.
For a game that will supposedly cap a major story arc in the series, you can expect Kingdom Hearts III to be a bit on the nose with its thematics. Unfortunately, it’s the minute details that actually make its simple theme extremely complicated.
And on the topic of simplicity, it helps to mention that dialogue doesn’t necessarily live up to the series’ rather… grandiose setup. Like in the old games, dialogue in KH3 remains a bit simple. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, some of the dialogue may feel like it’s simply droning on in the cutscenes, and this does no good for both exposition and storytelling. Constant talks of friendship and light and dark, can only go so far without sounding… well, boring.
Simple And Complicated Might Not Mix
Secondly – the story. As mentioned, outside the theme remains the complicated bits of story in the franchise.
In fact, some players may actually just pause the game and question the relevance of some aspects in the plot. And while the inclusion of Disney and Final Fantasy makes Kingdom Hearts what it is, it’s important to tell as early as now that you won’t get too deep a story while playing the game. Fans might get mad at me but Kingdom Hearts III, like the other entries in the series, is basically fanfiction.net: The Game.
We agree: Kingdom Hearts III, and by extension Kingdom Hearts, did a good job working with the elements it had. After all, a “simple overarching theme” works if you need to make sure players can get Final Fantasy characters, Disney characters, original characters, and a talking mouse have a sensible conversation.
And then again, I don’t think we should demand too deep a story from a game with this kind of setup. Unfortunately, given Square Enix’s reputation for worldbuilding and storytelling, Kingdom Hearts‘ story does leave much to be desired.
This isn’t to say you wouldn’t have fun discovering what Nobodies, Heartless, Unversed, and keyblades are. These remain quite the interesting aspects of the franchise’s story. It’s just that, we really could’ve gotten something more out of these.
What About The Other Games?
Long and short of it: Sora, Donald, Goofy, Riku, and Kairi embark on a journey to save the world against the evil Master Xehanort. They need to conquer the forces of darkness with light found across multiple worlds, which they can access through keyblades. It’s really extremely simple.
You don’t need to play through the other games to play Kingdom Hearts III. The game contains a Recap option that helps give a gist of what’s basically happened in the previous games’ story.
To be honest, though, even the Recap option may not enough to cover all your bases. And you might still feel a bit lost if you haven’t played any of the other games yourself. If you want to get into the trouble of playing the previous games, do remember to play these titles:
- Kingdom Hearts 1
- Chain of Memories
- Kingdom Hearts 2
- Birth By Sleep
- Dream Drop Distance
Yeah, it’s a lot.
The Visuals Remain Stunning
The visuals, in my opinion, is one of the strongest points Kingdom Hearts III has going for them. It’s such a visually-appealing game. Fans will already recognize the series as a visual powerhouse, considering its penchant for splashy and sparkly effects. And even a first-timer will likely recognize the game’s fast-paced nature. Kingdom Hearts III amps it up to 13,000%.
There’s never a dull moment in your eyes. Aside from powerfully-engaging backgrounds, enemy designs remain varied and colorful. Sora can be equipped with a myriad of attacks, techniques, and spells that all have unique sets of animations and effects. No matter how grindy the game gets, they remain so joyous to watch.
Much wider maps give world settings a feeling of grandeur. Not only that, but this factor itself lends itself well to certain gameplay aspects. Gameplay aside, surroundings in each world are beautiful, and their lighting and design complement the theme, mood, and feel of what particular world.
Cutscenes have become extremely gorgeous. This appears to be perfectly in line with Square Enix standards. Going into a world in Disney’s 3D animated “universe” feel like getting into the films themselves. The graphics this time really capture the visual feel of the films to the point of amazement. I sometimes ask myself whether they just directly lifted scenes from the movie. In fact, cutscenes transition to gameplay seamlessly.
Gameplay Still Has Its Ups and Downs
The Good: It Takes The Usual And Elevates It
The gameplay is in a lot of ways similar to the usual Kingdom Hearts formula. Action/adventure, bonk enemies on the head, get experience, yay!There are, however, changes on how you can go about doing that. As mentioned earlier, the game adds a ton of new abilities to your arsenal. They added Attraction techniques which basically summon Disneyland rides and act as your means of attack.
For newcomers, yes, this can be a thing.
Other than that, each unique keyblade now has its own special ability. Sora can transform a keyblade into a new weapon after filling a gauge. These can be in the form of guns and hammers, among others. This can really change the feel of combat. Add in the fact that you can switch between three (3) keyblades in a during combat, and you’ve got battle tactics galore.
More enemies now appear on the map, too, probably because there’s more headroom to do so hardware-wise. However, all the aforementioned abilities complement this as they are good at routing chunks of enemies.
And when we say bigger maps, we don’t just mean wider maps. Bigger maps meant higher maps. And yes, the game lets you do vertical movement such as running up walls and cliffs.
You no longer have to switch out guest party members. Gone are the days where you had to swap out Goofy or Donald if you wanted Mulan or The Beast in your party. This is good because if I’m in a world, I want to see the featured character in the party without having to make a choice.
Gummi ship sections feel more fun now. Granted, customization still contains the most fun. However, during the gummi ship segments, your ship is not stuck on a rail anymore. You can now explore the space-in-between-worlds where you can find treasures, gummi ship parts, and even battle!
The Bad: Is There Too Much Of Everything?
There really isn’t any challenge playing in Normal. In essence, the game basically plays like your typical hack-and-slash game, and that’s fine for most players. I’ve personally set my game to Proud mode, and I’m still looking for a bit of challenge.
Sure, they’ve given you these new abilities that add a lot to the game’s feel and aesthetic. Unfortunately, you’ve never given a chance to really need them or use them creatively.
Granted, they can be good at routing a huge chunk of enemies. Unfortunately, it seems you can go around the whole game with just one keyblade. You may never even have to activate any special ability and still be fine. I’ve never even used a Summon yet, and I’m around 30 hours in.
Come to think of it, I rarely use magic other than cure.
While we’re on the subject, upgrading gear doesn’t seem much of a necessity as it is a routine. This is what you usually do on Action-RPGs, so you just do it anyways. And while you have the option of equipping items on guest party members, I never do it because it’s not a necessity anyway.
The Meh: Mini-Games Are Too Mini
The game contains a myriad of mini-games, but they seem half-baked. The cooking sections with Remy (Ratatouille) had considerable potential to have a really fun twist on Cooking Mama and Overcooked. Unfortunately, it just feels like it’s missing something.
The Classic Kingdom mini-games are basically just old school games with Mickey and Sora in them. I feel like they should’ve just put more effort into the cooking segment than put that in the game. They can perhaps take cues from the Yakuza franchise in terms of mini-games.
While the animations and effects on Attraction techniques and the new keyblade transformations are cool, they do take control away from the player for a few seconds when they activate. Some players may find that annoying. So much so that, personally, sometimes I’d rather not bother using them. Again, your mileage may vary.
Also there are no Final Fantasy characters in the game which was like half the fun of the games, so “WTF Square-Enix?”
All in all, even with these flaws, Kingdom Hearts III is a blast. I think younger me would’ve loved to play this game. It’s fun.
It’s the same old Kingdom Hearts but at the same time introduced new things that made Kingdom Hearts just a tad bit more enjoyable.
The difficulty issue remains a point of contention. Then again, I’ve played
Dark Souls and Bloodborne in the time I played Kingdom Hearts II to the release of Kingdom Hearts III. This experience may have colored my view on difficulty.
They are adding DLC to the game, so Final Fantasy characters may be in the works. Of course, this is DLC, and there’s that argument that it should’ve been in the game in the first place. That’s a topic for another time and I think the fans have waited for Kingdom Hearts III for too long.
For those new to the series, you’re welcome to play all the previous games, or just get Kingdom Hearts 1.5+2.5 which has most the games you need. You could also just dive right into Kingdom Hearts III and enjoy it for the visuals and the gameplay.
For the fans of the series, reconnect with the characters, continue the story, and be reacquainted with your younger self.
Seeing this game, playing it and discovering what it had in store for me, and seeing all these characters again just put a giant smile on my face and warmth in my heart.