The moment that some people thought might never happen has finally become a reality. Kingdom Hearts 3, developed and published by Square Enix, is available now for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For fans of the series, this title has been a long time coming, having gone through many delays since 2012, when the last console installment in the series - Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance - was released for the Nintendo 3DS, not to mention the 6-year gap since Kingdom Hearts 3 was officially announced at E3 2013. Square Enix and Disney certainly had a tall order with Kingdom Hearts 3 and thankfully, they delivered. Kingdom Hearts 3 succeeds in continuing its story of the power of friendship that has so compellingly captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of players.
One of Kingdom Hearts 3’s best features is simply the fact that Square Enix didn’t change much at all, in terms of the overall gameplay and controller mechanics found throughout all of the Kingdom Hearts games. For those who have played previous titles in the franchise, jumping into the fray in Kingdom Hearts 3 will come pretty naturally, even after a multi-year hiatus. The game’s tutorial features a couple of battles against the Heartless, which allows muscle memory to kick in and quickly refamiliarize veteran players with the game’s control scheme, while aiding newcomers to the series with getting used to the controls.
Kingdom Hearts 3 takes place following the events of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, with Sora having lost the majority of his powers after nearly falling under the control of Xehanort. While Mickey and Riku search for Aqua, and Kairi and Lea train to become Keyblade Masters, Sora, Goofy, and Donald Duck travel to Olympus to speak with Hercules about regaining his strength. However, Sora leaves empty-handed. Eventually, the trio heads off in search of Roxas, who is believed to still be alive. They travel to other worlds, battling the Heartless and Nobodies that they encounter, all while trying to keep Organization XIII and its members at bay.
If you were able to read the preceding synopsis and understand any of it, you will have no problem following the plot of Kingdom Hearts 3. The game continues its famously convoluted, yet beloved storyline, tying together nearly two decades of complicated lore. In fact, the game kicks off with a cutscene featuring a chess match between a young Xehanort and young Eraqus as they discuss the Keyblade Wars. Their round-about conversation regarding the dark and the light basically reiterates the fact that players are in for one confusing, albeit incredibly enjoyable ride.
Kingdom Hearts 3 also continues the tradition of telling its story through the use of cutscenes, of which there is certainly no shortage. But that is what gives Kingdom Hearts games so much of their charm. Watching Sora, Riku, and Kairi interact with Disney and Pixar characters in their respective movie worlds is almost like rewatching the movies from a different perspective. This is especially true in the Kingdom Hearts 3 worlds of Arendelle (Frozen) and the Kingdom of Corona (Tangled). Players (along with the Heartless and Nobodies) essentially insert themselves into the original storylines of the films, allowing players to play through their favorite retold moments, such as Rapunzel’s “slightly” conflicted reactions to leaving the castle for the first time.
And what would a visit to the world of Frozen be without a complete rendition of Elsa singing “Let It Go,” which she performs in its entirety. You might think that the popular (some say “overplayed”) song would sour the in-game experience, but honestly, it was surprisingly impactful knowing that I was basically watching the scene from the movie, but doing so from Sora’s perspective, which ends with him appropriately stating, “Wow. I don’t know what we just saw, but… wow.” 2013 moviegoers couldn’t agree with you more, Sora.
The combat system remains relatively unchanged, but Kingdom Hearts 3 does introduce special group moves performed by Sora, Donald, and Goofy that give a nod to the rides found within the rides of the Disney Theme Parks. During battle, the special moves create elaborate, digital versions of Disney rides such as a mountainside coaster, water raft, carousel, and even the iconic teacups, all of which dish out considerable damage. Actually, Kingdom Hearts 3 is pretty generous with all of the special power moves available to players. As such, we recommend using the special moves as often and early as you can to help take down the swarms of enemies that you will encounter. The “Aerial Recovery” move is also an ability that will serve you well during combat.
Almost all of the things that can be said about Kingdom Hearts 3 are positive, but there is still one in-game feature that the game could stand to live without: the Gummi Ship. The Gummi Ship is understandably used as a way to travel from world to world within the Kingdom Hearts galaxy, but the mundane process has marred the franchise since the beginning. Surely there are players out there who enjoy the Gummi Ship expeditions and customizing their vessel, but it remains an unnecessary and time-consuming element in the game.
Although the history and lore of the Kingdom Hearts franchise might intimidate some people from playing Kingdom Hearts 3, it deserves mentioning that you don’t necessarily need to have played any of the games within the long-running series to enjoy what Kingdom Hearts 3 has to offer. Sure, the overarching storyline may not make much sense; it barely makes sense to veteran players. But, if you are a fan of Disney, you will enjoy your time spent within the whimsical, beautifully designed worlds, which feature variations of the musical scores associated with each specific world’s corresponding movie.
No doubt about it, Kingdom Hearts 3 was well worth the wait. The game grabs you from the start with the soul-piercing Skrillex and Hikaru Utada composed intro song, “Face My Fears,” and doesn’t let go even after the game concludes. This review did not touch on anything regarding the game’s normal ending or its other secret ending. This was intentional. It is best to experience the Kingdom Hearts 3 ending for yourself, allowing for your own interpretation. Whatever your take on the ending is, you won’t be sad to have spent more time with Sora and crew in the long-awaited next chapter of the Kingdom Hearts series.
4.5 out of 5 stars
A copy of Kingdom Hearts 3 was purchased by The Gamer for this review. The game is available now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.