It’s hard to believe that Kingdom Hearts III is finally here. Fourteen years (and multiple spinoffs) after Kingdom Hearts II, it is finally here. You would think there would be some dampening in enthusiasm, but some things have a momentum that simply cannot be denied. This is not the first time that a game has left gamers on a low boil for a while by having such a long lapse between sequels. The long waits for Final Fantasy XV and (infamously) Duke Nukem Forever can attest to that. Kingdom Hearts III however is everything we hoped it would be and then some.
Kingdom Hearts III is finally out for both the PS4 and (in a series first) the Xbox One. It tells the final chapter in the “Dark Seeker” Saga that’s been building since the very first game in the series. Bringing together all the characters and threads from each game for the finale. Continuing from the events of 2012’s Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Sora starts on a journey to recover his lost power and bring together the Seven Guardians of Light to stop Xehanort.
It has been two console generations since Kingdom Hearts II came out, so obviously a major leap was to be expected. While that last game was good-looking, it was still very much of its time. But, it’s now 2019 and the game is beautiful. The previous entries in the series don’t hold a candle to the quality shown here. For one, the worlds are gargantuan compared to their predecessors. There’s a lot more to see as opposed to compressed linear paths of Kingdom Hearts II or Birth by Sleep. It also doesn’t hurt that the hardware is far more capable of creating distinctive feels to the worlds. Having played it on a PS4 Pro, I’ve gotten to take advantage of experiencing It in 4K. Considering the game runs the gamut of traditional animation, to CGI animation, to live-action films, the game is something of a visual feast. While previous entries have attempted to do the same, it didn’t have the full impact that this one does in realizing that vision. There have been plenty of 4K games out for both the PS4 Pro and Xbox One, but this is one that takes full advantage of the technology involved.
There’s only one warning that one could give about the Kingdom Hearts series and it is this: you’re either in for the ride or you aren’t. While the game does kindly provide a recap for new players, coming into the series at the curtain call pretty much requires you to either be a fan already or accept that it is a series that runs on very wild dream logic. That said, the game is very much what it claims to be. The big clash between the Keyblade wielders, the various versions of Xehanort, and its accompanying plot threads. It’s huge, goofy, and very angsty in that Lynch-esque way Kingdom Hearts has always been. The game takes full advantage of the new Disney worlds offered up. It also makes the wise decision of not making any of the worlds feel like filler by tying them into the main story, as opposed to partitioning them as just adaptations. It also doesn’t hurt that the game embraces the spirit of its complex mythology and brings back virtually all its characters for the finale, which helps tie nearly twenty years of stories into a bow. This reviewer however, doesn’t begrudge anyone who finds the constant breakup of gameplay with cutscenes frustrating. Kingdom Hearts is many things and one of them is dense when it comes to its plot, in that respect it is very much still in the PS2 JRPG era.
Kingdom Hearts III doesn’t deviate sharply from previous games. The core gameplay is still largely based around that of Kingdom Hearts. You have the hack-and-slash gameplay, magic attacks, summons, and transformations that the series has run on. It also includes additions based around spin-offs like Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance such as Shotlocks and Flowmotion. As well as a new element in the Attraction Flow system. Attraction Flow is fun to a degree given that you’re riding decked out versions of Disney Theme park rides, however they tend to break up the flow of combat in a way that’s somewhat counterintuitive to the enjoyment of the game.
Based on my first few hours playing the game, I can say that the game has lived up to my expectations in all its goofy glory. This is Kingdom Hearts. A game that can take every strand of Disney nostalgia and paraphernalia it can find and wrap it into a boy band JRPG aesthetic. Tetsuya Nomura is certainly as true to his vision as ever. Both the gameplay and the look of the game while updated for 2019, are still very rooted in where we left off in (ignoring the spinoffs) in 2005. Whether that’s a good thing to you is based on how willing you are to accept what kind of game this is. If you’re a fan or willing to cast aside certain expectations in how storytelling and gameplay have progressed, this is a game you can enjoy with no regrets. As for this reviewer, I’ll gladly be indulging in what this game has to offer.