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Whether you are a fan or not, individuals who have knowledge of the gaming world have more than likely heard about the Disney mash-up known as Kingdom Hearts. If you are a fan like me, you have played the first and second main console games and then waited for what feels like forever to scratch that Kingdom Hearts itch. But finally, Kingdom Hearts 3 is out and making quite an impression. With roughly 13 years between the main game, I came in super excited and ready to finally dive back into the worlds that I loved so much as a kid.
What’s a few more hours of waiting!? Well, maybe a lot of it.
The team behind Kingdom Hearts are no fools. They know that people are going to be fuzzy on the details of this storyline after such a long gap between the major console release. The game does a good job of trying to bring you up to speed by going through what felt like an hour of “Last time on Kingdom Hearts!” before I got anywhere near gameplay. They even slap you with a title screen that says “Kingdom Hearts 2.9” halfway through. Are you serious? An hour in and I’m still not even playing the game I’ve waited so long for. Not to mention the fact that cinematics are so heavily used in this game that it can often feel like more of a movie with gameplay elements sprinkled in between. That being said, having these story recaps available at the very beginning of the game is a big help for those who might not have had some time to brush up on their KH history, and if I’m being honest, I did get a kick out of the continuation of crazy decimal based titles.
Combat Mechanics set to Maximum Overdrive!
Once you finally get away from the movies, it’s time to start swinging that keyblade around like a maniac! The battle mechanics at first don’t deviate much from previous titles. You have your basic attack, lock-on mechanics, spells and items to use. However, this game take an interesting approach at putting so many random combo events that at times it can feel almost overwhelming. I attempted to explain to a friend how crazy the game was while I was about half-way through by showing him that my keyblade can transform into a giant hammer that propels me like a rocket and then claws, all while hitting green highlighted enemies to get a Disney attraction ride and then special abilities for each of my characters I have with me (which by the way can now go up to 4 other party members in certain worlds). And yes, you read that right. Disney attraction attacks! You can get a special that will allow you to ride a carousel, which has you play a timing based mini game in the middle of combat to deal damage to enemies.
All of these abilities and more are added to combat which at first seems amazing because there is just so much chaos. But a few hours in, the combos start to get repetitive and depending on which combos you use, it will end up taking a second or two to play the animation. Doesn’t sound too bad at first but these additional attacks show up quite frequently resulting in a lot of down time. There are ways to speed up these things in the settings but it can still add up. It also makes battles against hordes too easy in comparison to the boss fights. I suppose I could have put on the zero experience perk to make it so I never level to push the difficulty but I wasn’t really looking for me to feel like my character was underwhelming, just that I wasn’t shredding through mobs so darn quick.
Boss fights seemed more on par with pacing because they had much less chance for the random specials and more intricate ways that you would have to deal with each. Even though, as per Kingdoms Hearts style, most battles just end with a lot of button mashing, the bosses required more thought and tactic as opposed to facing regular foes. Those battles stayed fresh because each one had something new to learn, such as a weakness or pattern. Perhaps a little more variety in mini bosses and less frequency of the OP attraction rides could have left an interest in more varied gameplay to make the mob fights have a closer feel to bosses where you felt more in control of the outcome rather than pressing the triangle button and everything blowing up before your eyes.
Even though I did mention the craziness of my keyblade turning into a hammer, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy that game element. I think the addition of keyblade forms and upgrades was super smart. Upgrading it made it unlike previous titles so that the keyblades you obtained earlier in the game could still be relevant later on. Also, having these different forms and being able to quickly swap through your keyblades made for varied gameplay depending on whatever enemy appears. I hope that in later titles they expand this by creating keyblades that have more varied perks like something better against heartless vs. nobodies rather than just being more focused on magic or strength boosts. Most keyblades would have an extra perk like extra water damage but it was often hard to tell what they were used for or just didn’t feel like they made much of a difference. The forms however did! I found myself frequently going back and forth between my keyblade that could shoot projectiles when facing an enemy with too many attacks to block or switching over to my giant hammer when I wanted to just smash some faces in.
Each Level is Jam Packed.
This time around, the team decided to focus more on quality versus quantity of the worlds. With only about 8 “Disney” worlds (others being Kingdom Hearts based), I was a little disappointed but I obviously can’t fault them for wanting to focus more on creating quality levels. Especially so we don’t get any more of those Tron or Under the Sea worlds from Kingdom Hearts 2. I did really enjoy about half of them, such as Toy Story and Monsters Inc., where they created new story arcs for these worlds. But for Frozen and Tangled, they were basically a copy of the movie, sped up, with Sora tacked on to say something about hearts leading to a lackluster experience.
It wasn’t only the story telling in these worlds that irritated me. Kingdom Hearts 3 has so much unique content in each world, which at first glance is something you want to keep things fresh. But the problem with doing so many things at once is that you don’t really perfect anything. Very little in the worlds seems greatly implemented, most of them feel good, but nothing felt like it was a “must have” addition to the gameplay. From chopping carrots, flower puzzles, dancing rhythm games, to collecting 300 crabs (Don’t even get me started about how terrible the Pirates world is), the game felt like there was just too much fluff that will be easily forgettable.
For the elements or additions that did shine, those however, were something I would love to see continue. Things like the mech suit, AR obstacle course and the odd looking pudding monster mini games are things I wish I could have seen more of. The game has some great pieces but put together with the other filler elements and it feels very rough.
Jamming out with the Kingdom Crew
During the entirety of the game, something that always was top notch would be the music. Starting out with a Hikaru Utada and Skrillex mix was very different for the series but just like always, everything is catchy and appropriate for each moment in the game. There is something so iconic to the Olympus Coliseum song that I just couldn’t help myself from humming along as with others brought back from the previous titles.
Unfortunately, the same sentiment cannot be shared for the dialogue in this game. I love the idea of being with Donald and Goofy throughout this series but jeez, with all this time, you would think they would have utilized a deeper script. The banter between characters when they try to mock one another is just so cringy that it amazes me. This game can sometimes feel like a guilty pleasure because it is too awkward for its own good. Which is surprising because there are so many official Disney voice actors that you would think it would be a masterpiece. It is not that the actors are at fault. A lot of the voice acting is very well done, it just doesn’t seem to blend together. Many cut scenes felt disconnected in conversation. At the same time, just having this vision into a world that shouldn’t exist (a Disney crossover game) where you can get more of Hades or Maleficent just still fills you with wonder and magic so at times it’s almost as if it doesn’t matter because you just can’t believe you are getting more of these worlds.
From a story perspective though, the start of the game was a little too loose for my tastes. There really wasn’t a true point to going to any of the worlds other than the last one when your team is ready to finally fight Xehanort. Sora is searching for the power of waking so he is just traveling from random Disney world to another. Which is fine for the most part, but it didn’t feel like there was much consequence or pressure to get anywhere. The story could have had a stronger glue to tie the travels between worlds and why a certain order should be done but perhaps this is being too nitpicky.
Even though I am still thoroughly confused at many things that happened and had a rocky start, a sense of closure to this story felt worth it at the end. The game walked far away from Disney for the last hours or so and focused on finally just trying to finish what had been started way back in 2002. Being able to fight alongside so many characters throughout the series and finally clashing against Xehanort for (hopefully) the last time felt so epic that at the end it made sense that this was how the story would be completed. A few loose ends here and there for a potential continuation but still enough is resolved to say that this saga is concluded.
In the end…
At the end, I gathered my thoughts and still wonder how I would rate and criticize this game differently if I had never been a part of the series from the start. Nostalgia is a powerful thing and this game feels very similar to its predecessors. But I still feel that regardless of that or my gripes, this is still a good game and has a way of pulling at the strings of your heart. Honestly, I had expected more and wished that many aspects in this were polished a bit cleaner but I would still highly recommend the game for the feeling you get while playing. Even if you are not a Disney fan, there is no denying that there is something very special about these games that people can connect with in many ways. It is a story about believing in yourself and standing up for the ones you love. The magic of Disney will always be around in these games and I can’t wait for Kingdom Hearts 4 when it comes out, most likely in 2030.