Kingdom Hearts III is finally here, and what a gorgeous adventure it offers up. The game is far from perfect overall, but that’s not to say that several of its elements are not damn near flawless. There were moments in this game that quite literally took me aback, and these moments were hardly few and far between. That being said, the game isn’t without its issues. Several times I found myself sitting there in disbelief, or confusion, breaking the immersion that the game’s many pros effortlessly achieved. We’ll get to that shortly, but for now, let’s take a few steps back and go from the top. What is Kingdom Hearts III all about?
Well, you don’t need me to point out that this game marks the first in the series to release on Xbox hardware. Further to that, this game serves as a conclusion to that series, or specifically, a conclusion to the trilogy. There’s a heap of intel that I couldn’t possibly nor coherently relay to you, in the space of this review. Luckily for you, Square Enix released a series of videos to get you up to speed; five in total. Titled ‘The Story so Far’ these videos aim to give you a firm recap so that you’re good and ready to dive on in without feeling out of your depth. Check them out here; one, two, three, four, and five. You’re very welcome.
In Kingdom Hearts III, players dive back into the role of Sora as he bobs and weaves through a collection of Disney worlds in an attempt to obtain power and strength. He lost his powers and abilities when he failed his Keyblade Mastery test back in Dream Drop Distance. On the flip-side, Sora’s buddy Riku passed his test, and was subsequently sent to the Realm of Darkness alongside Mickey, to rescue Aqua. Only once Sora has regained his powers may he accompany them in their challenge, and hopefully defeat Xehanort and the evil Organisation XIII, once and for all. The adventure that unfolds is a convoluted one, I’ll say that much.
Kingdom Hearts III isn’t one story, it’s several. There’s the overarching story as outlined above, and a collection of smaller stories that are isolated to each and every Disney world that you visit. Oftentimes, these smaller stories will intersect with the bigger picture, but it’s pulled off in a way that doesn’t really come together as fluidly as I had hoped it would. Oftentimes I found myself bored and slightly confused by the constant interruption, simply because of its poor execution. The Disney stories, on the other hand, are more contained and delivered at a much better pace. That being said, there’s some issues that I have here.
The Disney stories feel more like the movies’ greatest hits. I appreciate that this is relative to the Kingdom Hearts concept, but with the sheer lack of a Final Fantasy presence, these smaller stories don’t have as much grip as the stories in the predecessor titles. That’s right! Did you come here for some Disney/Final Fantasy crossover? Well, you’re going to be very disappointed. Outside of a few references and some design choices, there’s nothing here that remotely resembles Final Fantasy. That’s no doubt going to hit home for a lot of fans. I mean, the thing that made Kingdom Hearts so appealing in the first place was this formula.
Nevertheless, I don’t want to come down too hard on the game for what it lacks, because what it packs is magical. The crux of play sees you moving through a cluster of Disney worlds as you aim to obtain Sora’s lost powers. You’ll visit a world, typically be thrown into a slightly altered scene from that world’s movie, and off you go. I’ll commend Kingdom Hearts III for this; these insertions feel very well adapted. There’s something remarkably compelling about how it’s all been handled. Sora’s, Donald Duck’s, and Goofy’s presence in these worlds are naturally alien, but they never feel like that whatsoever. It all plugs-in quite nicely.
Whether you’re chasing Elsa through Arendelle’s snowy mountains as she sings ‘Let it Go’ in solitude, or aiding Captain Jack Sparrow on his quest to defeat Davy Jones, or even helping Hercules put a stop (once again) to Hades’ titans, it all feeds together remarkably well. It’s just a shame it’s tacked to a nonsensical plot structure that never really provides much of a payoff. Nevertheless, there’s no shortage of entertainment to be had here. I don’t want to spoil too much on this front, so I’m going to leave it there. Sora’s first trip in the game is to world of Olympus, in which you’ll aid Hercules on his trek to defeating Hades, yet again.
This world doesn’t take all that long to work through, and almost serves itself as a tutorial that gently pushes you into understanding the game’s many mechanics. Whilst there is indeed a lot to digest here, the game is very easy to pick up and understand. General traversal is tight and precise, with Sora and crew moving in unity at your every command. I quite enjoyed the new functionality of running up and across walls, which can pretty much be achieved anywhere in the game, at any point. You’ll grow in capability as you move through the adventure, opening the doors for more combat moves, abilities, and so forth.
Combat is broken into several aspects; melee, magic, special, and summon. They’re not named that in-game, but you get the idea. You’ll need to use the D-Pad to access much of that from the combat menu (in real time), but you’re afforded movement at the same time, so it never really puts you in harm’s way. If you want to make life a bit easier, you can do so via creating your own custom shortcuts. This, in effect, allows you to tie specific spells or item uses to a singular button, allowing you swift access to your favorite magical casts and necessities. The item usage in Kingdom Hearts III is as easy to utilize as it ever has been.
Each and every item serves a purpose in one way or another; potions replenish HP, ether restocks your MP, and so forth. It’s relatively simple to get the grips with, and each item comes with a vivid description as to what it accomplishes, should you need a recap. Combat is every bit as responsive and as fluid as it ever has been. In fact, I daresay that both the combat and the general traversal are the game’s greatest strengths. Not only are these systems so well defined and so rich, but they feed into one another perfectly. It helps, of course, that everything is laid out and mapped so simply that even a monkey could achieve some remarkable feats within.
Sora’s attacks are mapped to the A button, with access to a jump tied to the B button. Hitting Y will utilize a special attack or ability when the game calls for it (to which it does frequently and variously), and as alluded to above, you’ll have swift access to magical abilities, shortcuts, summons, and items, through the D-Pad. You’ll gradually earn new magical abilities as you move through the game, starting with the basics; fire, thunder, water, and so on, before unlocking their buffed-up versions later on. Flowmotion makes a comeback, allowing Sora to bounce off structures, swing around posts, and grind on rails, to a collective, excellent effect.
That’s not to mention Sora’s Shotlock ability. This nifty tool allows you to dart around the environment at rapid speed. By utilizing it, a small window will appear on the screen and allow you to instantly boost yourself to anything that Sora can grapple to; regardless of distance. It’s a fun and effective way of travelling around, allowing you to reach great heights in the blink of an eye. It also doubles up as a combat tool, giving you the ability to target several enemies at once, or target the same enemy several times, to unleash a chain of attacks in rapid succession. Handy for when you find yourselves surrounded and out of luck.
The game features a level-up system, which will see you leveling up as you kill more enemies. Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy, all have their independent systems here, with new traits and abilities dished out in rapid succession. It pays off to kill whatever enemy you come across, if for anything, to stay on-par with the game’s difficulty. Once you’re done with Olympus, each new world has a suggested strength tied to it, and although you’re never forced down a specific route, you would be wise to choose which world you visit, carefully. The characters abilities can be assigned in the game’s clean and concise menus, but, there’s a kicker here to be mindful of.
Whilst these new traits and abilities are dished out like sweets in a candy store (glide, double jump etc..) you can only assign them providing you have enough AP. There are ways to bolster how much AP each character houses – such as through the use of accessories and gear – but I found I always had to drop something in favor for something else. That being said, you can indeed assign a hell of a lot of abilities per-character. Abilities cost a set amount of varying AP, so it pays off to intelligently consider what you want to add to each party member. Either way, the whole system is fine-tuned and truly allows you to create a build that’s catered for your style.
Throughout my time with the game, I’ve yet to tire of the movement and combat. Kingdom Hearts III, on this front alone, is one of the most empowering experiences that I’ve had in recent memory. Chaining together attacks and then unleashing hell via any of the above commands or opportunities, never gets old. Sora will hack and slash his foes in mid-air as if gravity is non-existent, all through merely tapping A as many times as you can before momentum is broke. To maintain this momentum, clever use of your vast and varying abilities remains key. It’s a seamless fluidity that I haven’t witnessed since Devil May Cry.
That, ladies and gents, is one hell of a compliment. There’s just so much here to utilize, be it standard attacks, magical attacks, special abilities, or summons, it never gets old and it never gets repetitive. Your summons consist of other Disney characters, such as Simba, or Ariel, all of which will come to your aid with some grand attacks to dish out mass damage. Outside of that, team attacks present further opportunities at a frequent rate, in which Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy, will collectively gather to pull off some jaw dropping sequences in unity. These commands will appear above the combat menu for you to use.
They also stack with a timer present, in which they’ll be removed if you don’t utilize them before the timer hits zero. There’s usually plenty of time for you to make use of them though, and you can indeed move between the stacked options to use these special moves in any order you please. This really comes in handy depending on the situation you find yourselves in, and of course, depending on what enemy you’re facing. Nevertheless, even by your third world, you’ll have amassed more than enough abilities to get a taste of the game’s impressive variation when it comes to the combat alone, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
By the game’s finale, and thereafter, I was still unlocking some wild goodies to have some fun with, and as touched upon above, I’ve yet to grow tired of the system. There’s more depth than that, believe it or not. The more worlds that you complete, the more Keyblades that you’ll obtain. Each Keyblade offers unique attacks, which when you chain enough attacks together, will present you with the ability to utilize either a second form or a grand attack. These additions are usually fashioned on the world that you retrieved that Keyblade from, giving you that magical feeling as though that world has come with you for more adventure.
Then there’s the attraction attacks, which like the team attacks and the specials, will appear above the combat menu when available. When these are present, you’re able to summon wild rides that will hammer your enemies with successive attacks. Yes, it sounds outlandish, and yes, it is pretty wacky, but it’s super fun and greatly entertaining nonetheless. In summary, Kingdom Hearts III has an outstanding amount of depth when it comes to combat and traversal, ensuring that you’ll not only have the capability to pull off some memorable feats, but a constant influx of varying and fun ways to achieve that. It really is a wonderful system.
The game’s enemy variation plays well with this too. Enemies in the game tend to revolve around the design of the world in which they’re found in. Furthermore, enemies are more resilient to specific attacks than others, forcing you to toy wisely with the many tools that you have at your disposal. The game rarely holds back, oftentimes throwing tens and tens of enemies at you, at the drop of a hat. One has to appreciate the amount of work that’s gone into the design of each foe, as well as how distinct each type is in comparison to one another. There’s no shortage of enemies to tackle, all of which come with distinct behaviors and attacks.
They’re not overly hard to suss out, and many of them can be laid to waste with some button mashing, but they still prove to be very formidable, especially in packs. It’s the boss battles that steal the show. Kingdom Hearts III is crammed with boss encounters that are as imaginative as they are challenging. Again, these tend to be designed in unity with the world that they belong to, but either way, they’re memorable, unique, completely distinct, and above all else, captivating. It’s safe to say that amidst my rambling, I’ve been very impressed with the game’s variation overall. I can say the same about the worlds within in general.
Once you’re done with Olympus, you’re free to travel to the worlds in any order you see fit. These worlds take from popular Disney franchises; Tangled, Frozen, Toy Story, Pirates of the Caribbean, and more. Upon visiting each world, you’ll be introduced to the story of that world, and then you’re set free to fulfill its overarching mission. The game’s worlds are faithful to their source materials, and more importantly, carefully selected to ensure that you never feel like you’re retreading old ground. The stories within each world typically slot in to their movie counterparts in one form or another, allowing you to relive all that magic again.
Sadly, this is where my second major gripe comes into view. The world’s seem to be catered to each movie’s best moments. Sure, there’s the occasional world that relays something more original, but for the most part, you’ll be all to familiar with the story that each world encompasses. By and large, this is a collection of worlds that borrow too heavily from their movie counterparts. It would have been nice to see something more robust, but on the whole, I suppose its serviceable at least. Unfortunately, I cant be as forgiving when it comes to the approach of each world’s gameplay; each new world offering their own gimmicks.
To be clear, I’m not talking about traversal or combat. I cant praise those systems enough. Here, I’m talking about the gameplay structure that each world offers up. It’s very hit and miss, putting forward a mixture of brilliant ideas, and downright lazy development. Each world has its own gameplay design; though for every pro, there’s a con. For instance, in Pirates of the Caribbean, you explore islands and command your own ship – with excellent naval combat, I might add. However, you’ll find a chunk of your time wasted on hunting for crabs in Port Royal, consisting of little more than hitting everything in sight throughout.
It’s sloppy filler, and some very tedious moments come from it as a result. I would love to say that this is isolated to that world, but it isn’t. Most of the worlds within have the same mixed quality. Monsters Inc. sees you energetically grinding on rails as you hunt for Boo’s door. It’s truly inspiring and utterly fast paced. However, moments later, you’ll find nothing more than a wave based-like segment of rooms that see you clearing enemies, moving to a new room, clearing enemies, moving to a new room, and rinse and repeat. I can extend the same opinion of Big Hero 6’s world, which is by far the most irritating world in the game.
This world starts out really well, rapidly throwing some giant enemies in your path, but then instantly falls flat in regards to its mission structure. Hopping through hoops? Yes, we’ve never seen that before. There’s an entire level based on that. Jumping on top of a large ball and chasing another large ball through the city? Meh. It’s a shame really, because there’s clearly a lot of ambition driving the game forward, but it’s all slightly pulled down by poor design choices and lazy ideas. That all begin said, when you’re playing the sections of each world that are actually fun, thrilling, and exciting, there’s really nothing quite like it.
There’s a considerable amount of filler, though. Many a times you’ll find your progress gated by waves of enemy attacks, clearly put in place to ensure that you remain on-par with the game’s difficulty, and to stretch out the length of each world. Thankfully, this is easier to forgive in comparison to my issues above, simply because the combat and traversal is so freaking epic. That’s the crux of play here. You’ll bounce from world to world as you obtain new powers and abilities, and eventually find yourself staring at the end game. Still, even then, there’s much more depth to the game than meets the eye. Take the Gummi Ship…
Yes, the Gummi Ship is back and serves as your means to travel from world to world, with a universe of mystery and dangers sitting between you, and them. Here, you can fight heaps of enemies, hunt for goods, upgrade your ship or, or just explore the lush surroundings. There’s a lot of depth here alone, so if you enjoyed this the first time, you’ll find much to love here. Special mention to the clever space battles that ensue, together with some very impressive multiple-tiered boss battles to tie it all together. The only drawback being some minor framerate inconsistencies.
When you’re not doing that, there’s still plenty more things to get up to in your free time. You’ll likely have noticed through the game’s promotion that you can take photos and selfies here, at any point in the game. Mercifully, this system wasn’t just tacked on for the sake of it. You can take on a growing list of missions from Moogle, who wants you to take photos of very specific things throughout your time in the game. This also feeds into the game’s lucky emblems. There’s just shy of one hundred Mickey Mouse shaped silhouettes stuffed across the game’s locations, in which you’ll get heaps of items and rewards for snapping a picture of them.
You’ll also get to view the game’s secret ending if you snap enough of them, so be sure to be on the lookout for them. Outside of this, you can hunt down hidden treasures across each world, and stock up on items and goods to upgrade your Keyblades and gear. There’s even games that you can play on Sora’s Gummiphone, and more besides, pushing the game’s replay value through the roof as a result. In regards to the game’s level design, its visual design, and its audio direction, I can only sing the game its praises. Kingdom Hearts III is a visual and audio treat, not just for fans of Disney, but for fans of gaming across the entire board.
Every single sequence to every single character model, to every single set piece and every single detail, is outstanding to say the very least. Kingdom Hearts III is an exceptionally beautiful game, and although it can oftentimes be quite linear, its level design is fantastic. The game makes you feel as though you’re in the movies, with sharp and precise presentation oozing at every turn. The game does a near flawless job at recreating the movie worlds, with vibrancy and variation like no other of its kind. I’ll say as much about its locations that are not borrowed from Disney, putting forward one hell of a memorable trek overall.
My favorite world by far is Tangled. I recall Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy, collectively commenting on the world’s lush locale, which is something that hit me and stayed with me, long after I departed. This level of care and attention to detail very rarely buckles throughout. This is all upheld by the game’s decent soundtrack, setting that fantastical vibe nicely. The voice acting is a little bit off for some characters, which does indeed break immersion, but even so, this is fairly easy to overlook in the grand scheme of things. The bottom line in all of this is that Kingdom Hearts III is well worth your time and attention. It’s not perfect, it has its faults, but it’s still one hell of a good game.
The combat and traversal in Kingdom Hearts III is simply outstanding, with each massively in-depth system intertwining perfectly to produce a widely compelling basis that constantly excites. There’s a fantastic amount of variation as far as the game’s worlds, its enemies, and its activities are concerned, bolstering its already impressive value. Unfortunately, some sloppy development choices and a convoluted plot hold it back from greatness.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.