For over 13 years, fans of the Kingdom Hearts series have waited for a true sequel to “Kingdom Hearts 2,” which released in 2005 on the PS2. During this wait, Square Enix has been able to release side games that continue the story indirectly while the main team worked on “Kingdom Hearts 3.” It was revealed to the world at E3 2017 with a release date marked for 2018. However, the game hit a major delay and was pushed back to early 2019, finally releasing on Jan. 19. After 13 years of anticipation, the game bolsters interactive gameplay with tons of features returning which fans and newcomers can enjoy. However, the unfortunate consequence of the 14 years of buildup, is that “Kingdom Hearts 3” fails to completely seal the deal and falls flat in its execution.
Square Enix has proven many times over that they know how to make games look amazing. “Kingdom Hearts 3” only furthers this, as it is no slouch when it comes to graphics. The visuals are stunning and definitely treat fans to a true next-generation experience. With all that happens on screen, the framerate of the game does dip under 60 frames per second (FPS), however, these issues are fixed on the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X versions. Besides that issue, the game looks very stunning and suffers from no real graphical issues.
Over the course of the story Sora, Donald and Goofy travel to different Disney worlds to explore and to help Sora regain his abilities to aid King Mickey and Riku in the ensuing Keyblade war. There are a total of 10 different areas that can be explored, and each area unlocks two extra party members. In each new world there are a variety of enemy types with a big boss fight at the end. While each one is fun to explore and look at, I found myself racing through the latter half of this game because the later levels felt excessively drawn-out. These worlds are also very linear in design, so as soon as you reach a world and complete it, there is very little reason to come back afterwards. Not all worlds drag on of course, and some have interesting and funny bits features that make them enjoyable and exciting. Yet, as the story progresses, you’ll feel an increasing lack of desire to keep exploring since these levels feel rather unnecessary to the main plot. However, this problem is mitigated by the engaging combat elements that make up the majority of the gameplay.
The combat system that Square Enix built this sequel around is amazing. In “Kingdom Hearts 3”, many well-known features from other iterations make a well-deserved return. As always, you control Sora who wields a Keyblade that can be upgraded or switched out to three different other keyblades that Sora collects in his inventory. He also has access to a long list of magic to give his attacks an buff and empower himself and his allies. Drive forms make a comeback, with the keyblade form changes switching how Sora attacks with his main weapon. The shotlock system, which allows the character to deal quick bursts of damage or rapidly move far distances, also makes a return here. This uses up a focus bar that must be replenished with pickups or items. Alongside these two returning systems are the link abilities that allow Sora to call out for help from past members of the party.
The newest addition to combat in “Kingdom Hearts 3” is the attraction system that allows the party to summon a version of a ride that exists in the real life Disneyland and Disney World locations. These attractions are outlets that affect large areas or a controlled space to output ridiculous damage. All of these systems work by doing basic attack combos that fill a gauge which outputs the correct enhanced version of the combos performed. For instance, if a lot of magic has been used, the gauge will fill accordingly and give you an enhanced type of magic to use.
One of the better elements in Kingdom Hearts has always been the music. The sound design and soundtrack included is truly a spectacle and quite the upgrade to what has come before. Many of the tracks are masterfully conducted and are sure to become fan favorites. Vocal performances from Utada Hikaru are stunning and bring to life the story in a new way that is unmatched by any of the previous titles. It’s a great reflection and backdrop to the already epic story taking place, and one of the most refined parts of Kingdom Hearts as a whole.
The game may look amazing and live up to the standards set by its predecessors, but the story is where the game comes to a halt. The game’s plot is extremely convoluted and cutscene heavy. These cutscenes attempt to spread themselves out by including them as the player progresses, but that doesn’t excuse the hour-long breaks in between gameplay just to explain some plot element that only becomes relevant later in the finale. Due to this game being the conclusion to the 11-game saga, the plot is laid on very heavy and is deep in the lore of Kingdom Hearts as a whole. To new players who want to play the game and be enriched in the story are unfortunately going to be lost in the details and ultimately left out of the major picture. The game tries to rectify this by having some of the characters try to paraphrase major plot points, but the significance is lost unless you understand the underlying lore. Of course, this being the finale of the series, it’s to be expected that it would be story heavy.
While the game has its ups and downs, “Kingdom Hearts 3” is a fitting end to the franchise Square Enix has spent the latter half of two decades building up. While it drags on at times, there’s nothing quite like the final hours of this game, which feature satisfying moment after satisfying moment. And when I was finally finished with the game and reached that spectacular finale, the wait was well worth it.
Verdict: “Kingdom Hearts 3” is a great example of a modern RPG that goes further to make the experience that much more special. Square Enix has definitely found a nice hold on what a true next generation RPG experience should play like. In the future I am excited to see what Square Enix does with the franchise moving forward from this exciting conclusion.