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Review: Kingdom Hearts 3 (PS4)

9

Amazing

After being away for so long, I was worried that things would feel alien, different. The person I was when I first put Kingdom Hearts into my PS2 in 2002 and who I am now in 2019 is quite different. But within moments I was a teenager again, caught up in Sora’s life and the struggle of light vs dark. It was like returning home again after a long absence, everything was comforting and a soothing balm to the soul. The goosebumps were there with the first big cinematic and a mixture of the warm fuzz of nostalgia mixed with going on a new journey swirled around me as Sora went off, once again, on a dangerous quest.

A long, winding road

One of the many jokes levelled at Kingdom Hearts fans is that to play the game in the franchise, you require a degree in the lore of Kingdom Hearts. Tetsuya Nomura and his team have created a vast, intricate network of worlds and characters for an epic struggle between good and evil. The main villain, Xehanort, is a master schemer, akin to a chess master or a spider in the middle of a large, invisible web. For years he has been manipulating characters, feeding them half-truths and lies to get them to do things that further his own goals. He has backup plans for his backup plans and now it is a race to find the assemble the seven guardians of light to fight against the 13 darknesses.

It was like returning home again after a long absence, everything was comforting and a soothing balm to the soul.

Sora is left weakened after his last encounter with Xehanort, and it is up to you to find that strength as quickly as possible before the big showdown happens. Once again Sora, with Donald and Goofy in tow, has to travel to new worlds to try to find strength and control of the Keyblade.

A whole new world(s)

Kingdom Hearts 3 goes to a whole bunch of new worlds, adding new characters and Disney or Pixar favourites to the Kingdom Hearts universe. Meeting new characters, getting new looks and Keyblades has always been a highlight, and re-visiting old worlds always lost the magic of going there the first time. In each world, Sora makes new friends and helps them, as always, before showing what other people are up to, preparing for the final conflict. What stands out is the lack of backtracking through worlds unless you want to, and every world has a slightly different size or pace to keep the game moving in a fresh way.

Sora’s moveset has upgraded, meaning there are almost no platforming puzzles due to him being able to run straight up the majority of walls in the game. He also has means of warping to points or wiping out large groups of enemies with his Shotlock, which makes fights against big groups much shorter, if you can find the space to charge the attack up. Everything feels a lot smoother, from movement to combat, but framerate drops will cause you to miss those parry and block timings as the console fails to keep up. While spells definitely look bigger and more impressive than before, it is unfortunate that it isn’t smoother and hopefully this will be patched in future.

Meeting new friends no longer means choosing who to kick out the party, as they will tag along as an extra party member, bringing some new combat techniques to take down enemies. Depending on what is happening in the world and who is involved, get ready to fight enemies from the history of the franchise as you help improve things in each world. While you aren’t on a journey to lock off the hearts of worlds anymore, there are still things worth protecting in each one.

The attention to detail in the new worlds is staggering. When you enter the Toy Story world, everything looks like it came straight out of the movies and besides a few exceptions, the original cast is back to record voice lines for these trips. In one world they even recreate a scene for a popular song so that it is frame by frame perfect while inserting Sora and co into it. The variety also keeps things from getting stale: one world is all about verticality and exploring massive skyscrapers, while another lets you play Assassin’s Creed Black Flag the Kingdom Hearts way.

Upgrade!

While fighting, Sora has a bunch of new tricks up his sleeves, called the Formchange, grand magic and Attraction. While fighting an enemy, if you hit someone enough times you will fill a bar that allows you to unlock the power of the Keyblade you wield for a short while. One Keyblade becomes a massive rocket-propelled hammer, letting you hit enemies in a circle while slamming the ground and knocking them off their feet. Casting enough fire spells at enemies will build up to a massive fire spell, or fighting near your friends will inspire them to pull off a team manoeuvre, which can hit enemies all over the stage. The attractions are some of the hardest hitting moves if you can get them placed properly, with Sora, Donald and Goofy hopping on a theme park attraction and having fun while doing massive damage to everyone nearby. With these new moves, combat feels like a lot of fun, and you will never sigh or frown at having to fight a room full of enemies as it means you have a whole bunch of things to hit and have fun hitting.

The variety also keeps things from getting stale: one world is all about verticality and exploring massive skyscrapers, while another lets you play Assassin’s Creed Black Flag the Kingdom Hearts way.

The grand game

While helping people and making new friends, a lot of final bits fall into place, but some new elements start to show as well. So much happens in KH3 that I do not want to spoil, even though I am dying to talk about the various things we see and learn during the game. What I can say is that this is a satisfying ending to a massive arc, and not the end of Kingdom Hearts.

The game could have used more attention to the big story and events that happen throughout the game, rather than putting all of Sora’s time into Disney worlds. Some important moments happen with hardly any pre-amble or focus on how big a revelation or moment it is, and for anyone other than a dedicated fan of the franchise, you might find things to be confusing as names and characters pop up. While some of these moments are then explained, often the full impact is left to the player to unravel and comprehend. So much ends up shoved into the last world of the game that could have been given a bit more room to breathe or time on screen earlier on. It also means characters don’t react to some big things that happen in a natural way as they are too pre-occupied with the big event unfolding.

I felt a sad pang the first time Xehanort spoke. Xehanort’s original English voice actor, Leonard Nimoy, died in 2015. While Rutger Hauer does an admirable job of recreating the cadence and speed that Xehanort spoke at, it doesn’t have that same charm or impact as Nimoy’s unique timbre.

For a fan of the franchise, Kingdom Hearts III delivers and will tug on your heartstrings. For everyone else, hopefully, the fun combat and superb soundtrack are satisfying enough as you wait for someone to explain what just happened and why. Reviewing, and scoring this game is a rather tricky process as not many games expect so much dedication from players to follow the story, and fans will, most likely, already be working their way through the various worlds with a smile on their faces. I think it is possible for a newcomer to hop on here, to enjoy the various Disney worlds and the slick combat, but be ready to be opening yourself up to heading on a long journey because you will probably want to go play earlier games to make sense of everything.

Good

  • Combat feels fun the whole way through the game
  • Worlds feel varied and fun to explore
  • Soundtrack is absolutely stellar
  • *Those* moments we have been waiting for...

Bad

  • Where are the Final Fantasy cameos?
  • Graphical slowdown
  • Big moments are squished in the end

Summary

Fans have been waiting a long, long time for Kingdom Hearts III and the wait was worth it. Smoother movement and combat, better graphics and large worlds for players to explore feel great, while the story finally ties up many many loose threads that the various prequels, sidequels, alsoquels and the like have added to this spiderweb.
9

Amazing

If it has the letters RPG in it, I am there. Still battling with balancing trying to play every single game that grabs my interest, getting 100% in a JRPG, and devoting time to my second home in Azeroth.

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