We made it. All those years of anxiously waiting for Kingdom Hearts III to materialize have come to an end. The game is real, has launched, and has been out for a while now; it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. It took 13 years for the last entry in the Dark Seeker Saga to arrive on consoles. It’s not like there haven’t been Kingdom Hearts games since then—there have been plenty—but fans have been eager for another numbered entry for over a decade.
So was Kingdom Hearts III worth the wait? Well, it depends on how long you have been waiting and what your expectations are. If the last KH game you played was Kingdom Hearts II, you’re going to be a little lost and possibly even disappointed. If you’ve been following the series consistently, playing games like Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, you’ll be thrilled with Kingdom Hearts III. Let’s dive into my Kingdom Hearts III review so I can tell you why the game is such a triumph.
Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far
There are plenty of negative perspectives on the Kingdom Hearts series’ complicated story. Most of the frustration comes from people who haven’t actually followed the series since KHII. This series, more than most others, is one where you need to play every game to really understand what’s going on in the narrative. I’m not saying you can’t play the third “main” entry without playing the others, but you won’t get as much out of it.
There are more than three main games in the Kingdom Hearts series; there are actually almost 10 entries in the series now, with six of them being absolutely essential to the plot. For those of you who have missed out on several entries, it would be beneficial to go back and play through them. If you fall into that category or you’re completely new to the series, I would consider getting ahold of Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix and Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 Remix for PlayStation 4; You could also purchase Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far, which has everything included except for Kingdom Hearts III. All that being said, I think KHIII does a pretty great job of summarizing what has happened in previous games without being overbearing. It won’t give you every little detail, obviously, but you’ll get enough about the main plot so you’re not completely lost.
Convoluted or Calculated Conclusion?
So how does Kingdom Hearts III handle having Sora, Donald, and Goofy back as the main stars of the plot? In short, I caught myself smiling dorkily as I saw these best friends really get to interact again. Although there have been several KH games since the second entry, there hasn’t been one starring these three as the main party since then. The dynamic between the three is just as you remember it, if not better. Donald is just as aggressive, Goofy just as caring, and Sora is just as dumb and lovable as you’d expect. Square-Enix and Disney did a fantastic job of pairing these three amigos together; they’re the glue of this game’s story.
Kingdom Hearts III’s story is a satisfying end to an incredible series—there will be more KH games, but this is the end to the Dark Seeker Saga, which featured Xehanort as the main villain—I can’t get over how perfectly everything was tied up in the end. As a big fan of the series, my perspective is that the story is the most important aspect of the series. Well, that’s true of the main story. The Disney world stories have always been pretty choppy or just a summary of the movies they’re derived from.
That said, the developers have done amazing work with the Disney stories in KHIII. Some worlds, like Corona (Tangled), are a summarized version of their movie counterpart with Sora and company tossed in. Other worlds, like Toy Box (Toy Story), bring new story arcs that weren’t part of the movies. Even still, these side stories feel like distractions from the main plot. Don’t get me wrong, they’re definitely enjoyable, but we know we’re all here for the main cast.
I won’t spoil the main story for you, even if the game has been out for almost a year now, but it does everything I wanted it to and more. You can expect to see many familiar faces on your journey, even ones you may not have considered. By the end of the game, you’ll be feeling a lot of emotions based on your connection to the characters. Sadly, Kairi gets the short end of the Keyblade again. She just doesn’t get the screen time or character development that she deserves. That’s one of my minor gripes with the game, especially considering it has such a character-driven story. Some characters just don’t get the spotlight they deserve.
Keyblades and Lucky Emblems
There are fewer worlds than in previous main entries, but that’s due in part to the size of each one. Each world has a significant amount of space to fight and explore in. The worlds almost feel too big at times—it helps that you can use fancy flow moves and a targeting maneuver to get around quicker. You can expect to wander around opening chests, defeating enemies (including Heartless), and progressing the narrative mostly through cutscenes. It’s nothing you aren’t used to if you’ve played previous entries.
Kingdom Hearts III Sora’s fighting style is like a blend between the combat of Kingdom Hearts II and Kingdom Hearts 3D. It’s really floaty and flashy; it’s really gorgeous to see in action. I’m personally a fan of the fast-paced, spectacle of this type of gameplay. But for some people, they’re going to end up disappointed. The challenge just isn’t there, even when playing on the Proud Mode. A patch has added a harder difficulty, Critical Mode, but that’s for players who want an all-in challenge. It’s designed to be played after you’ve already beat KHIII.
The biggest flaw in the combat system is the availability of special moves, most of which are based off Disney rides. They pop up as a prompt far too often and it’s hard not to use them. You aren’t obligated to tap triangle to initiate those moves, but you’ll have a tough time controlling yourself. In the end, they could have been more special if their frequency of use was cut significantly. The same can be said of team-up moves.
As for Sora’s moves, he’ll level up and gain additional abilities and attacks like in previous entries. He can cast all types of magic until his magic bar is emptied. Then, you’ll have to wait for it to fill up again before you can use any magic. There are several other techniques you can play around with, but I’ll end it here for the sake of brevity.
Outside of combat, minigames are back for this entry, giving Sora and company several distractions along their journey. You can cook meals with Remy from Ratatouille, dance in Corona, and screw around with different tasks in 100 Acre Wood. There are even some Game & Watch-inspired retro games you can play, along with photo missions, fetch quests, and more. You can’t forget about those Lucky Emblems. They may be a nightmare to locate every so often, but you’ll be rewarded for snapping in-game photos of them. Did I mention Sora can take selfies now?
Pretty as a Princess
Kingdom Hearts has never looked this good. Obviously, new games will always look better than their predecessors, but the series hasn’t ever really had a big jump in graphics. Almost every entry has had relatively similar art direction and visual quality hasn’t really evolved all that much. Kingdom Hearts III’s presentation feels like what the series was originally envisioned to look like. Everything, from the textures to the animations, is some of the best visually that I’ve seen in any game with a cartoony style. For example, some of the Toy Story scenes look better than in the original films. I would say they even rival Toy Story 3. There are even drastically different visual styles depending on which world you’re in. 100 Acre Wood is softer and more cartoony than, say, The Caribbean, which boasts almost life-like graphics.
There are additional physics that weren’t in previous entries, allowing Sora to interact with the environment in new ways. It’s just all so beautiful, even as you’re smashing everything for munny and items. I think what blows me away the most is the combat effects. The fire, lightning, and generally all magic and battle effects are stunning. Square-Enix is known for their flashy graphics, but this is a whole new level of polish. Even with so much going on during combat, it never feels like you’re being drowned out.
“This might be a good spot to find some ingredients.”
Voice acting in Kingdom Hearts III is some of the best in gaming. The developers have gone and secured many of the original voice actors from Disney films to reprise their roles in KHIII. The rest of the non-Disney cast delivers some of their best performances in the series. It all fits; every character sounds like you would imagine them, except for a few where you can tell they changed the actor. Sometimes the voice lines are repeated a few too many times, but generally, it’s pleasant to the ears.
The soundtrack for this game is, in some ways, a bit of a letdown. On one hand, the game gives us some of the most memorable world themes (Corona and Arendelle’s themes in particular), on the other hand, there are many repeat tracks from previous games. Now, the repeat tracks have been re-recorded, and rearranged in some cases, so it isn’t the worst news. But I still wish we received more new songs than what we got.
It still remains that Yoko Shimomura and company produced plenty of original songs for this game that blew me away. Most of the best music in KHIII is done by Yoko herself, and it shows. Her work is so far ahead of her peers’ that I can pick out which songs she wrote and which ones she outsourced. I’m not saying the others didn’t write any good material, but Yoko is just that good. So while I wish we got more new material, the soundtrack for KHIII is still better than most games.
In addition to the soundtrack, Hikaru Utada returns for the theme song and ending theme, which are two separate songs this time. Skrillex has joined Utada for the theme song and it really sets itself apart from previous games’. “Face My Fears” is a killer anthem, one I’ve kept on repeat for the better part of 2019. “Don’t Think Twice” brings everything together as an ending theme; we’ve been spoiled by Utada with this game.
The Dark Seeker Saga
In the end, Kingdom Hearts III should satisfy longtime fans and possibly overwhelm new ones. It’s significantly shorter than Kingdom Hearts II, but it’s still at least 30 hours long, with several additional hours for the completionist. I wished Riku and Kairi’s arcs were developed more fully, but we all know Sora always gets the spotlight. I think the main story could have used another five hours or so to really wrap things up, but I’m satisfied with what we got. There will be some who wanted a longer campaign, and that’s understandable due to previous games’ length, but I’m satisfied and I hope you will be too.
This review of Kingdom Hearts III is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
Kingdom Hearts III a beautiful game with a heart like few other games. It does have a harder entry point than most games, but catching up is worth it. Even newcomers can jump in. Just don’t expect the game to hold your hand narratively. Kingdom Hearts III is not a perfect conclusion to the saga, but it’s pretty damn close.
Word player, note manipulator, and logic breaker. My favorite game is The Last of Us. I’ll argue with you about it all day. Try me. “To the edge of the universe and back, endure and survive…”