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Kingdom Hearts III

is an action role-playing game developed and published by Square Enix. It is the eleventh installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, sequel to Kingdom Hearts II, and the... read more

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review (PS4)

Author: Brodie Taylor
15-Feb-2019

Category: Review

Kingdom Hearts 3, after a long wait, is finally out. But is the newest edition to Squares beloved franchise worth your time? Read on and see!

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review (PS4)

Context

It’s hard to find someone in the gaming hemisphere these days who hasn’t, at the very least, heard of the Kingdom Hearts series. After its first game came out to critical acclaim in the early 2000’s, followed by a stellar sequel in 2005, Kingdom Hearts has struggled to be a cohesive franchise after it began to release spin off after spin off on a variety of different consoles.

However, after 13 years, we finally seem to have a continuation of the tumultuous story rather than another expository game release. But has Nomura outdone the first two main entries, or instead created another confusing story experience. Let’s see shall we?

Kingdom Hearts 3 is available for purchase on the PS Store


Story

Kingdom Hearts 3 picks up at the end of Dream Drop Distance. Having failed his mark of mastery exam and losing most of his powers, Sora sets out to regain his lost strength for the upcoming battle against Xehanort and Organisation 13.

It’s not an easy story to understand if you don’t already have a basic understanding of the plot. The game does a mediocre job of catching people up with a series of summary movies accessible from the main menu, but it’s told in a broken fashion and you can’t watch them before you start up the game for the first time. Chances are you’ll be dropped into the confusion without a chance to catch up.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. Goofy and Sora are ready to fight!
For the story that’s portrayed throughout the game, it’s hit or miss. Most of the Disney worlds have a unique plot that’s separate from their movies and keeps most of the characters faithful to their initial characterisation. However, the Tangled, Frozen and Pirates of the Caribbean worlds all feature relatively accurate re-telling’s of their movie plots with Sora added into it. They’re all fun stories and it’s interesting to see how these characters from beloved movies will interact with Sora.

The over-arching plot is however a bit more complex. It tries to bring together all of the plot points that have been introduced over the 13 year interlude. Some of them are done brilliantly, such as the reintroduction of Marluxia and Larxene attempting to gather new princesses of heart. Others don’t land so well: the organisation encounter in Monstropolis falls flat because, despite being a huge plot realisation for the characters, everyone seems to accept it.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. You'll team up wiht familiar characters, like the gang from Big Hero 6.
The climax brings characters that were long gone back into the fray and there are character interactions that genuinely bring a tear to my eye. The final battle feels like a worthy finale to this arc of the game. All of the characters are accurate to what we’ve seen of them before and are only let down by some poor voice acting. The finale of the game, the final cutscene, leaves a sour taste in a few people’s mouths. All in all, the story is a fun, if flawed, romp across the Disney worlds followed by an epic conclusion to the long running saga of Kingdom Hearts. Both the epilogue and the secret movie have left us all guessing as to the future of this crazy franchise.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. Characters we haven't seen in years return.

Gameplay

Kingdom Hearts 3 attempts to be a connector to the rest of the series in more ways than just its story; its gameplay borrows the best aspects of the various games and melds it into a system that’s brilliant fun to play.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. Flowotion now allows you to run up cliff faces with ease!
Running through the worlds is a joy in itself. It feels weird to comment on the walk cycles but I had a surprisingly fun time simply running through the opening area of Olympus, the busy square of Twilight Town and the snow covered mountains of Arendelle.

Combat is the bread and butter of the game, and there’s a lot to it. Square seemingly decided to merge the Drive Forms from KH2 with the command styles from BBS in Keyblade transformations. If you get enough hits in with a keyblade, you can transform it. The transformations give you new combos, finishers and change the way certain spells work. You can transform some of them even further to get two unique combo changes in a single keyblade.  Each transformation is also associated with a form. These forms are more reminiscent of the Drives we’re all used to: they grant Sora new abilities based on whichever form he’s in.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. The Keyblade Transformations are both flashy and powerful!
Sora still has abilities for his base form; you can extend combos, add more defensive options and add more finishers to your combo in order to be just as lethal in your base form as you are in your transformed states. On top of this, flowmotion is back. This grants Sora powerful movement abilities and unique attacks that chain off of them. Guarding is now complimented by a counter system, rewarding you for playing it safer in open encounters. Chaining magic, team attacks with your party and attacking highlighted targets reward you with situation commands, often granting you powerful attacks such as upgraded magic spells and attraction flows, attacks that utilise the Disneyland rides in a powerful attack. They even reintroduced the shot-lock system from Birth by Sleep, allowing Sora to use attacks with significantly longer range.

And all of it is extremely simple. Despite how much there is to just combat, the system itself doesn’t stray from the Kingdom Hearts formula of “mash X and sometimes triangle.” All of your combos are achieved by pressing X, and the magic is still accessible from the quick select menu by pressing … and following up with a shortcut selection. The situation commands are activated the same way that reaction commands worked; press triangle when the time is right. Of course there’s a bit more to it, you can dodge and guard with square and augment your combos with circle, but most of the systems available within combat are useably with the standard mash X gameplay we’ve come to expect. There’s an awful lot of depth present in such a simple system.

The main issue is that many encounters simply aren’t large enough or long enough to benefit from a system this complex, excluding the boss battles. Most encounters often occur in tight spaces as opposed to open arenas and feature lots of basic enemies that don’t challenge the player individually. As such, it’s often timelier to use the counter attack system or flowmotion attacks than it is to just combo it to death.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. Familiar areas like Andy's bedroom from Toy Story are now playable areas.
Enemies themselves greatly vary from world to world. Yes, there are the same basic sets of enemies that you will encounter from world to world, but often you’ll be fighting enemies styled specifically around that world with a great emphasis on uniqueness. In one world your fighting long ranged archers but in another your fighting a giant toad that can sprout living turrets on its back and in another your fighting possessed toys and giant mechs. Though many of the enemy types essentially do the same thing, they do them in just different enough ways that each encounter with a new Heartless or Nobody feels fresh and new.

Almost every boss feels unique and like a challenge. The games relatively easy but if you’re not progressing in your skill level then the bosses will punish you. Each of them features a different sort of gimmick; from locking you inside a wooden cage and pummelling you with acorn bombs to a giant ball of slime that covers the room in sludge-based arms and shoots fireballs at you. The later bosses you encounter towards the end of game are mostly humanoid. Unlike Kingdom Hearts 2, where the humanoid bosses felt fair in their difficulty, have now become more spongey and less threatening with their actual attacks.

The game is also, as I have said before, easy. Not always a bad thing, but the noticeable lack of critical mode hampers the game. Critical mode was a difficulty introduced in the final mix version of KH2 and doubled the damage Sora took and dealt along with giving him some extra abilities. It was very difficult, but a fair challenge. Proud almost feels like a joke, with much of the game being easy to progress through despite it being the highest difficulty setting. Sora does less damage, yes but with the vast array of tools we have for taking out enemies now, this isn’t enough to make the game feel Nomura has stated a potential DLC plan for KH3 may arise at some point, and if it does, the game could certainly benefit from critical being reintroduced.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. The Gummi Ship returns.
The Gummi Ship is back but is largely a pointless addition. They made it open world, allowing you to complete side content within the gummi ship mode, but unless you’re going for 100% or the Ultima Weapon, there is little to no reward for completing these extra missions apart form more Gummi content. The ship builder is a lot more streamlined than in previous game, and the actual missions themselves are much faster paced but they just slow down time for travelling to another world, which you only need to do once. Once you’ve unlocked a world, you can fast travel to it whenever you want, making the Gummi Ship’s only practical purpose in game unlocking worlds. The system hasn’t functionally evolved from KH2 and feels like something they gave us because they felt obliged to.

The game certainly has an array of extra content to do after the credits role. Each world has its own mini game to achieve high scores on, a new version of mushroom 13, the Flantastic 7, is waiting in 7 of the worlds for you to complete their challenging tasks. There are 4 extra keyblades to unlock, one by completing an extra world, 2 for minigames and one from synthesis. The game isn’t devoid of extra content, but the games secret boss leaves a wanting for something more after being treated to the Lingering Will in KH2, and, apart from the Ultima Weapon, the extra keyblades don’t feel unique as their transformations are copies from keyblades you unlock in the early game.

Graphics and Audio

This is very much an open and shut case. After years of trailers showing off some pretty janky animations and designs, it’s a pleasure to say that KH3 is one of the best looking games I have ever played. It runs at a consistent frame rate with occasional dips if the action gets too hectic. The models are both so close to what we see in the Disney movies and exactly like something we’d expect from a Square Enix game. There is the problem of the characters sometimes looking a little plastic when you start out, but you quickly move past that to only see the beautifully done character models.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. Sora looking stunning in Unreal Engine 4.
The music is a spectacle for the ears. The soundtrack was once again composed by the wonderful Yoko Shimamura and she again knocks it out of the park. The battle theme for Toy Box, the upbeat wintery sounds of running through the mountains of Arendelle and the heroic soundtrack of Olympus are all highlights. But if you take only one track as a show of Shimamura’s prowess, look no further than the title song; this arrangement of the classic “Dearly Beloved” reflects how much growing Kingdom Hearts has done over the years, how it’s evolved alongside its fans. It’s a beautiful arrangement that genuinely knocked me over bawling when I heard it for the first time.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Review. Epic Battles, featuring the entire cast, await you in this game!
Once again, Hikaru Utada returns again for the games two theme songs, the first being her song “Don’t Think Twice”, an emotional ballad that was used in almost every trailer for the game to reflect the emotional moments they presented to us. The real standout however is the games actual theme, “Face my Fears”, a collaboration with Skrillex of all people. You might find it an odd listen at first, but it’s a great song that just fits the game perfectly.

Conclusion

I had a blast with my time in Kingdom Hearts 3. The gameplay is fun and satisfying, if a little complex in parts; a complex story weaves a satisfying and impactful conclusion and leaves the future of the games open to interpretation. I’m not sure if it was worth the wait, but Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fantastic start to 2019 for gaming and I am ready to dive right back in for a second playthrough.

PROSCONS
 + Beautiful Visuals - Gummi Ship is Pointless
 + Amzing Soundtrack - Confusing Premise
 + Deep and Fun Combat - Lackluster Story Moments
 + Satisfying Conclusion - Simplistic Battles



SCORE: 9.5/10

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