By this point, I am ready to be done with Kingdom Hearts. We have had plenty of titles in this bizarre series that are important story-wise and even improved upon the gameplay of the original. It surprises me then that we finally got the third installment, as it did not seem to break any boundaries from what I could tell by looking at trailers. As you might predict, I was not really giving in to the hype, but fans certainly were, which could either mean that I was in for a pleasant surprise or have my negative predictions confirmed. It did not help much when I saw that the gummi-ship segments would return, but there is a difference between watching something and actually playing it. After beating it for this review and playing it extensively, I can safely say: I am simply done with this series.
GOT IT MEMORISED?
So, this is going to be difficult to give a quick introduction to due to that I don’t want to spoil previous events (because people go insane over spoilers), and a lot has happened since the first installment. Because of this, it is a safe assumption that you have played previous titles or hopefully read up on the major events, as Kingdom Hearts 3 tries to tie in everything that has happened in this final chapter of a saga, which surely makes for a confusing mess. Basically, Sora needs to reclaim the “power of awakening” after he failed the Keyblade exam due to almost being taken over by Xehanort, and thus lost all of his powers once again. However, this must be done as soon as possible, as Organization 13 is returning in order to create the great keyblade war and summon the keyblade. While this is going on, Kairi and Lea are starting their keyblade-training, while Riku and Mickey search for Aqua. However, we will mainly follow Sora’s search for his powers to restore hearts.
These are just parts of the plot, as there are terrible amounts of exposition, outside of the Disney-worlds that need rescuing. Replicas for Roxas and Xion, finding the keyblade wielders from Birth By Sleep, adding in data from Re:Coded and more that just feels like forced additions to tie in every event from previous games. Why do they feel forced? Really because none of these go anywhere, and are just added in with most segments being shallowly “resolved”. Lea and Kairi’s training happens offscreen and never amounts to anything, Riku and Mickey-segments are slow and long even though their journey should have taken them 2 minutes or less to finish, and Sora’s powers are clichedly revealed in a game about the power of hearts. This, the inevitable reveal of the bad guys and the story’s climax, are underwhelming and nothing goes anywhere, with the lore on replicas and data being shoehorned in. In fact, they are basically your savior for any expositions that goes on for far too long. It is basically like using “magic” to cover up any plot holes in other poor fantasy-titles.
While even the game itself states that it has no idea what is happening and doesn’t take itself too seriously, multiple moments strive to actually be taken seriously, with losses, twists, and lore-explaining that are constant and tedious factors. The most bizarre aspect of this is just how forced some of these can come of, such as drama and fights that are resolved in the very same cutscene, or exposition that could have been summed up in one sentence. Because of this, it all feels like a big middle-finger to fans who invested time in these titles or just exhaust fans who came for the charming and whimsical aspects the series is known for. Yes, this is a series that is abstract and silly, but it always tried as well as it could with its setup. This title shows that the series has clearly just given up. However, while the overall plot is a lost cause, we, of course, have the characters to turn to and the beautiful mix of Final Fantasy and Disney, right? Not exactly.
The characters are sadly forgettable, both the Disney-icons we know and love, as well as the main-cast we have spent countless hours with. No one gets a moment to shine, and are rather stereotypical with maybe one quirky comment that is meant to highlight their past or their single personality-trait. This even goes for the Disney-cast and it is impressive when you have some of the biggest movies to work with, be it Toy Story, Tangled, or Pirates of the Caribbean for example, yet can’t make any character be entertaining, engaging or relatable. Oh, and if you were hoping for any Final Fantasy-references, you sadly have to be okay with Moogles and one character in the late-game. This is confusing, but nothing to lose sleep over, despite that the search for recipes could have used a cross-over with characters from Final Fantasy 15.
So what about the worlds then, the star for many Kingdom Hearts-fans? Well, they are just as underwhelming. There are tons of forced drama, abridged retellings of the movies instead of being fleshed retellings with Sora, Donald and Goofy involved, and it all feels rushed. Granted, there are clever reasons for why the organization explores these locations, such as Monster Inc researching negative energy from children’s screams, or how Elsa’s powers in Frozen come from her own fears. However, it is completely wasted because of the terrible pacing, the awkward and undeveloped dialogue, and the tons of plotholes or unexplained aspects that just hurt every charm these worlds once had.
Where to start with this. These segments within Disney-worlds are heavily shortened, making it hard to follow story-elements, such as what Flynn from Tangled has in his backpack, why Elsa is suddenly not talking anymore to Sora despite doing so early on, and why Buzz suddenly throws a whiney tantrum at Woody that is resolved in the same cutscene. There are some original stories in three of the Disney-worlds that take place after the movies they are based on, but while it could have given some neat “what if”-scenarios, they end up going nowhere and are just there for getting you quickly up to speed and fight heartless.
As for the dialogue, I will honestly admit that Kingdom Hearts has been corny and offbeat, but always done so with a clear sense of heart and childish wonder, even if it went with philosophical aspects and complex ideas. Sadly, there is no good balance with it here, as it feels rushed with random lines and deliveries with long and awkward pauses, that can come of as misplaced breaks for laugh-tracks. It really feels like the translation was done subpar and the scenes themselves, aren’t presented well with silence being common, awkward mix of audio, or interactions coming off as forced. You really can’t be friends with anyone by being a wooden plank, Sora!
I could probably go on and make a whole article covering just the story, but this is probably the best place to stop as you might see why I don’t understand that this is a numbered title: the story goes nowhere and thus amounts to nothing. Even Re:Coded felt more insightful, and its story was shallow and dull as well. The progressions, potentials, atmosphere, characters, and the mix of complex ideas and charm are just simply not here, and for a game featuring 10 hours of cutscenes, you can imagine how life-sucking it all was. There is no heart put into this story and one entry fans can ignore story-wise and one title newcomers will be completely lost on, especially when the encyclopedia is so vast, catching up on all the events will itself be tedious. And why does Sora have a phone with hashtags and Instagram-posts? This is just dumb.
Story Score: 1/10
The definition of a button-masher and lost-potentials
Kingdom Hearts 3 doesn’t just try to mix up all of the previous stories into one, but also tries to combine most of the previous title’s core mechanics into this final instalment, with more added in for variety. Sadly, it is a mess, but let’s start with the major aspect of this Action RPG: the combat. Similar to the first and second numbered Kingdom Hearts-titles, the command-bar on the lower left is back, where you can alter between using the X-button for attacks, cycle through magical spells to cast, choose items to use, or call upon summons, which is here called Links. The physical attacks are simple button-mashing with the X-button, and honestly nothing more. You do have a button for dodging as well as blocking attacks, but I never needed it in general, as enemies aren’t aggressive or diverse enough to require different combos, tactics, or test your reflexes.
Because of this, the rest of the abilities you have are just lost potential. Returning from Dream Drop Distance, is the ability to dodge into environmental objects or walls to create faster and quicker attacks for some style and flow, but it is never necessary and because of the spacious areas; it is hard to keep up. The same can be said for the magical spells, since while they are strong and powerful, no enemy requires more than a hit with the keyblade. This especially holds true when your MP bar is quite large and will have to completely recharge when used up, when you either heal yourself, or use a Link which also heals you. Links can summon creatures from other Disney-worlds or Kingdom Hearts-titles for some unique attacks to take out enemies, and are short-lived, but powerful. Unfortunately, I would not have used them if it were not for having healing included, as they also prone to button-mashing the X-button, with triangle conducting a finishing-move before they disappear.
The last bar you have is the focus-attack, but just like the magic-attacks or the parkour-moves, it is far from necessary. It basically acts like a screen-nuke where you aim at multiple enemies or continuously on one and release it in order to do a barrage of attacks on them. It is forgettable and rather just an extra. Instead, the only thing that constantly was intriguing and could have been more than enough, are Sora’s keyblades. While they have different stats for magic and strength, you can in this installment upgrade them with materials and equip three to swap between. Why is that? Because each Keyblade comes with unique power-attacks. By striking enemies enough times, you will eventually be able to press triangle to make the keyblade switch form, be it to dual-wielding guns, a longer keyblade, or even a yoyo to name a few examples. This is a great idea to make the playstyle complement yours and create fun strategies, and by hitting enemies, you can extend your weapons to their next level.
However, these concepts and ideas don’t work when enemies are an afterthought and nothing in this game is challenging or entertaining. In fact, since attacking also goes for the closest enemies, I often found myself playing the game with one hand while sipping coffee with the other. Even Goofy and Donald are an enormous help for fighting of enemies and keeping you safe, and combine these two NPC-supporters with the Disney- worlds letting you have upwards to two extra companions, you are easily overpowered. It is a shame that ideas such as skating on ice, or combining attacks with your supporting cast, are completely unneeded when no fights require any form of skill.
Triangle is basically all you will need outside of the X-button. Besides upgrading your keyblades temporarily, they will also act for whenever you can combine attacks with one of your companions (which seems to happen at random) or to summon one of the Disney-rides. Yes, you read that correctly. By hitting enemies with green circles around them or gaining them at random by hitting bosses, you will be able to summon Disney-rides that are a different form of screen-nukes that either has you board the pirate ship, ride teacups, create waterslides and more. As you can see, the game is always in your favor.
This also goes for other elements that can support you, such as equipment for stats, items to hold, or the ability-points that can be used to tweak on and off effects such as air-recovery, depending on the amount of points you have available. I begin to see why no XP-mode is a thing here, as the game could use a better form of challenge. If you were wondering about the boss-fights, they are on the same level and I never found myself in a dire situation because of that, with one exception. The fights against other keyblade-wielders had me more on edge and required dodging & blocking, which made for fun fights, but sadly, there are only a couple of these. Considering this happens after you are done with 80% of the game and are spares in the last 20%, it is just a sad revelation for what could have been. However, while combat is a main-focus, Kingdom Hearts 3 provides other gameplay-aspects to vary itself up, such as exploration and side-activities. It is a tragedy that none of these helps and can even make the experience worse.
Exploring areas can be a chore as they are huge, with some being long and linear designed corridors, while others are so dense and ginormous, it is hard to remember any parts of them. What you also get from exploring is rarely worth it due to the game’s lack of challenge or creativity, so it comes of as worthless. Unfortunately, fetch-quests will be forced upon you, such as when you need to find white crabs in the Caribbean, or when you must literally find yourself. Both come of as tedious, and even the gummi-ship has this annoyance. Yes, this drab inclusion for the sake of nostalgia is back and is even worse than it has ever been before. It must be used whenever you want to travel to a new location and is this time a tedious, free-roaming air-shooter,, even with your three boost-panels that recharge over time. You fly slowly to every location, and there are tons of unlockable elements to find in order to power up your ship. While it does certainly help with more speed-boost, fighting enemies is never hard and rewards are only worth it to go faster.
The combat in these sections is just as thoughtless. Like traditional turn-based RPGs, once you connect with an enemy ship, you will be taken to a battle-arena, which is here reminiscent to a third person rail-shooter. Your ship can shoot rapid-fire bullets and when the fire button is held down, lock onto and fire against enemies. It can also dodge-roll, which makes it quite maneuverable, but just like with the normal fights, the enemies are clearly an afterthought, including the bosses, so I just found myself spinning around and never died in these segments. In fact, the first time I played through Kingdom Hearts 3, I got through fine without ever upgrading my ship, and when I did so for my second run, it was basically like swatting a fly. Thankfully, you can at least skip the general fights, but it feels like even the developers knew what an afterthought this was.
Bizarrely enough, Kingdom Hearts 3 does not want to stop there with the variety, and forces itself with plenty of other implementations in each world you visit, and all comes of as padding. Toy Story has mechs that turn the game into a slow and clunky FPS with nothing interesting to them, Hercules and Frozen force you on sliding-runs that both are underwhelming with no clever level-design or test of your reflexes, and the fetch-quests are constant and tiresome. The only one I kinda liked, was Monster Inc’s idea of a rail-shooter while grinding, as you would have to dodge electricity and hang underneath the rails, but these are so short-lived it felt worthless. In fact, all of the side-elements are short and never evolve. This also goes for the minigames, such as rhythm-dancing in Tangled, the forgiving Bust-a-Move in Winnie the Pooh, and Ratatouille’s cooking-segments that are just microgames that can be finished with ease.
As you can see, there is a ton of variety that never lasts or gains meaning. It is actually similar to Sora’s new ability to run up walls, that is just context-sensitive movements. Yes, you have to run while you use it, but it never changes the core mechanic as you can instantly start running again on these areas. What is even worse then? Side-elements that last and never evolves. Big Hero 6 has a run-segment through rings that is tiresome and never challenging, and Pirates of the Caribbean’s ship for traversing and fighting is just slow and dull, with no interesting areas to visit. The ship-battles are an afterthought where you simply aim, shoot, and press triangle, similar to the combat.
Already when I was done with the 3-hour intro, I was drained. 6 hours in, I was bored and wanted this to end. After the end-credits, 26 hours in, I felt like I wasted my time and questioned what I was doing with my life. It is a shame that Kingdom Hearts 3 could not have just focused on smoothing out the combat and make enemies more diverse, and neglect some of Sora’s ability to make this title more challenging, which could go well with the aspect of him losing his powers. You can play in proud mode, but even that does not provide more of a challenge, just more grinding. This is the essential button-masher game, with tons of variety that are just aggravating. At least you look cool by doing absolutely nothing.
Gameplay Score: 1.5/10
Beautiful like a sunrise without a world
One thing I cannot deny is what a technical marvel this title is. Kingdom Hearts 3 is a gorgeous-looking game with excellent lighting, great lipsyncing, and amazing attention to textures. My favorite example is how one of the weapons seems to be made out of dream-dust right out of sandman’s pockets. Not to mention, the diverse and acrobatic attacks, the screen-covering spells, or just the hilarious summons, such as making a train appear out of thin air or Simba nuking the entire area, are sights to behold. They will become repetitive, but are still impressive. And while I have heard of frame-rate drops, my journey had no noticeable dips.
It is also quite impressive how many creatures can be on the screen at the same time and the sense of wonder in Disney-areas are held up well due to strong colors. Sadly, it also comes at a price. While there are some heartless that try to represent some aspects of each world, such as archers and plant-monsters in Tangled, wolves in Frozen, huge machines in Toy Story, they are more different versions of heartless than unique monsters, making the world not as creative as they could have been. Speaking of such, areas with naturalistic locations such as the Caribbean, have reused setpieces and can make locations look eerily similar, making it easy to get lost and bored of them. Yes, the details are impressive, but copy-pasting will be noticeable. I also find it a shame that they could not make some other aspects more imaginative, such as making Donald into a rubber duck in Toy Story, instead of a generic action-figure. At least the command-bar adorably represents the area you are in, so traditions are upheld.
The voice-acting is not terrible, but the direction is rather off and stilted, making it feel confusing and awkward whenever characters talk. It is almost as if they read the script on the spot and tried their best with what they had. Their voice-work is good and they obviously do their best with what they got, but effort can only go so far. Then we have the music, which I find the hardest to talk about when it comes to the presentation. Most tracks are taken from previous titles, and they are wonderful and engaging, but often misplaced. One great example is when Anna from Frozen talks over a song or when there is complete silence in a scene before a fight is about to happen. It is incredibly unfortunate, but there are just as many well-placed scenes, such as again, when Anna sings when it is cold all around her, terrified of losing her sister. This inconsistency makes it a mess, and it would have been fine if everything was as strong as it could have been.
Sadly, this is where it all stumbles. The quality is impressive on a technical level, but the variety and the use of the materials are lacking. Because of this, you will be sick of Randy Newman’s You got a friend in me from Toy Story, the world of Frozen has too many similar enemies, and the hours of cutscenes (as well as the minor scenes), are filled with tons of exposition, instead of letting the visuals tell or have moments appropriate to discussions. I think the best example of all of this, is how the character-models can be stiff, but still have good lipsyncing: it looks incredible, but also at the same time, unpolished.
Presentation Score: 6.5/10
There are plenty of other titles in the series
There might surely be DLC and there are even some announced as this review is being made, but I am not going to talk about those except for Critical mode. It is just an added extra for more challenge, so if you are a die-hard Kingdom Hearts fan, you will be happy to see this here. Otherwise, there is really nothing to come back for, as all activities are underwhelming. For example, you can find hidden Mickey-symbols and take pictures of them with your gummi-phone. It could make for some fun exploration, but when the world is uninterestingly designed, it comes of as just there. At least, the team lets you know when one is nearby, similar to ingredients. Speaking of, filling up Remy’s menu with food by mixing ingredients, is also not fun due to the short minigames, and the boost from food you make being never needed or intriguing.
There are also missions both in combat and while riding gummi-ships, but it never changes the core-mechanics. Outside of these and finding equipment and materials for upgrades, we have another form of minigames, because Kingdom Hearts 3 has no idea on when to stop. Reminiscent to Tiger Electronic-devices, we have old-school LCD-games with predetermined pictures, where the goals never change. Some titles are platformers, others are puzzles, or even tackle stealth. These are decent ideas, but lasts so briefly and are incredibly repetitive with no evolution in difficulty, I wonder why they were included in this package. This is why they feel more like Tiger Electronics than Game & Watch: there is no enjoyment in getting high-scores in these.
Extra Score: 1/10
This is only if you care about lazy fanservice, looking cool by doing the bare minimum, and nothing else. Kingdom Hearts 3 is just a terrible game overall that only is visually intriguing, and you got to be a severely forgiving fan to even consider playing this, as it does not feel like a numbered entry story or gameplay-wise. In fact, it feels like a poor fan-project, that is a mess of combining everything one “thinks” is Kingdom Hearts, coated in a technically impressive presentation. Even kids would be impatient thanks to the plenty of cutscenes. Really, this is the reason why I most likely will never touch the series again going forward.
I will say there are a lot of intriguing ideas, but none of them were fleshed out or engaging to do due to the poor execution. Thus, this is just a mess that no one needs to indulge in. I’d rather recommend any of the main-entries in the Final Fantasy-series (even 13) or do like me and marathon the Disney-movies you have. The 26 hours should be spent on something worthwhile. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to watch Winnie the Pooh!