This week saw the release of “Kingdom Hearts III” (KH3), the latest installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, developed by Square Enix and Disney. Many fans, such as myself, have been waiting a long time—14 years to be exact—for the game which is the next installment in the main series of Kingdom Hearts.
While the franchise spawned several side games such as “Dream Drop Distance”, “Birth by Sleep” and “Re:Coded” during the gap, many have been waiting for the main game. “KHIII” released on Jan. 25 in Japan, and worldwide on Jan. 29.
I was one of the thousands in line to pick up my copy of the game as soon as retailers released it. Over a period of about two days, I logged around 12-15 hours of gameplay and am roughly 40% through the story. During this time, I’ve come to appreciate many aspects of the game, and have come to terms with its shortcomings.
“KHIII” is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. Every part of the game is rendered masterfully, from the perfectly animated cutscenes, to the space travel between worlds, to the work in each world. Despite the immense variety of the various Disney and Pixar worlds available to visit, each one has been done justice. From the exploration of The Kingdom of Corona (“Tangled”), to saving citizens in Thebes (“Hercules”), to hanging out with Mike, Sully and Boo (“Monsters Inc.”), everyone and everything has been animated beyond expectation.
Previously to create items, players had to journey back to the main base world (Traverse Town, Hollow Bastion). Now players can create items at any Moogle shop they visit, with the new items automatically deposited and shared between shops.
“Kingdom Hearts” is a straightforward game where the player travels between worlds, beating each world in turn, and repeating the process until the game’s completion. The cutscenes in previous games in the franchise could sometimes drag on, but with “KHIII” this isn’t an issue, as each cutscene is extremely well done and immersive. In addition, the fresh feel of each world and gameplay mechanics keep the feel of the game fresh from start to finish. From running around in “Toy Story” to fighting naval battles in “Pirates of the Caribbean”, you will always be entertained
Each world is relatively long, with the starter world taking about an hour on the hardest difficulty setting, and each one after taking around 2 hours with exploration. Along with all the side quests, such as finding constellations, emblems, and making food in “Ratatouille”, the game will definitely keep you sitting in front of your monitor for hours.
DONALD IS FINALLY USEFUL! A running gag in the series is that Donald Duck (the wizard in the party) is mostly useless because he won’t heal you when you’re about to die and dies quickly. However, Square Enix beefed up our favorite duck with better combat AI and he now comes in very handy at times. As well as the new fighting mechanics, players have an array of weapons, from magic to different keyblades. Additionally, Square Enix brought back both form changes from “Kingdom hearts II” as well as links from “Birth by Sleep”.
As much as it physically hurts to do so I must point out where “KHIII” felt a bit lackluster.
While the combat mechanics are a pro, they’re also a con. It feels like the company tried to put a lot of novelty into the mechanics, but unfortunately, they overused the new additions, so players get used to them pretty quickly.
One such example is the addition of attractions—throughout battle, Sora can summon attractions based on the ones at Disney Park (Splash Mountain, Carousel, Laser arcade, Tea cups etc). It’s a fun and cool concept, but its novelty would make you think it’s reserved for use during certain events, such as boss battles, or after some highly specific conditions are met. It happens pretty randomly, but frequently, making the novelty and appeal of the moves boring after a while. In one battle I summoned three attractions in succession, so it can quickly get repetitive.
Before, when you entered a world, that world had a character you could add to your team. You would switch them out with Donald or Goofy. Now, any extra members are simply added to your party, essentially creating an ultra-party. While this is fun, it can make the game seem easier than previous installments.
One of “Kingdom Hearts’” best qualities was all the different worlds it brought together, from “Alice in Wonderland” to “Tarzan” to “Winnie the Pooh”; and even Mickey Mouse’s “Steamboat Willie”! While this installment does have some exciting worlds, we only have nine of them. By contrast, “Kingdom Hearts II” had 17, including the two optional worlds.
Final Fantasy (or lack Thereof)
One of the greatest aspects of “Kingdom Hearts” was that it was the lovechild of the Final Fantasy series and Disney: two elements you wouldn’t think would mix but did so beautifully. However, there are essentially no major elements of Final Fantasy within the latest installment. All we have from the series are Moogles and a slight cameo of “Final Fantasy XV” characters. Besides these minor aspects, there are no appearances of Final Fantasy characters or elements at all.
Where’s Leon with his gun blade? Or Cid to help with ship building? Why is Cloud not kicking butts a third time in a row, and for the love of God, why am I being robbed of the intense side battle with Sephiroth? “Kingdom Hearts” is missing a whole half of what made the franchise what it is.
That’s about as much as I can say for what I have done personally. Overall, while the game falls a bit short of the hype (can anyone really live up to 14 years of hype?) it is still a very well-made game. I will mostly likely be somewhat emotional by the time I finish, because this series was a big part of my childhood. Including the side games, I’ve probably dedicated about 500 hours to this series—likely a bit more. To fans of the series, I hope you all enjoy it, but to anyone thinking about getting into it for the first time: you’re going to get on one crazy, amazing ride.