Now I know what you’re thinking. That this Kingdom Hearts 3 review is almost a month after the title’s release and I must have dug into every corner and completed everything possible before writing up the review. I am a KH super fan after all. Sadly, my playtime and body were severely limited before and especially after this game’s launch. I ended up contracting strep throat, flu, fevers, bronchitis, and pneumonia. While amazingly fun those were, I believe it did a good job at mitigating the ungodly hype Kingdom Hearts 3 had alongside my natural cynicism. Like I feel the best way to describe this third entry so early in the review is with a comparison. My opinion is that with each arrival in the series, the gameplay gets better but the story gets worse. Kingdom Hearts 3 continues this subjective tradition, just multiplied for the umpteenth time.
Kingdom Hearts 3 (the eleventh title in the series) picks up right after Dream Drop Distance. Sora is weakened from a failed, and Master Xehanort-hijacked, Mark of Mastery exam and needs to go do some beefing up in order to become strong enough for the final battle. After learning there’s really nothing he can do except learn the ‘Power of Waking,’ Sora, Donald, and Goofy go gallivanting about mostly new worlds with no set objective in mind. Just that the main character has to get this power and rescue friends somehow. Something tells me the Riku from Kingdom Hearts 1 would not be happy with our main hero right now. While this is the primary mission for nearly 3/4th of the experience, there are much more interesting things going about the universe like Riku and King Mickey in the Darkness Realm trying to locate Aqua or Master Xehanort setting up an ever convoluted scheme with new and old members of each Organization XIII. Hell, I would have rather been with Axel and Kairi’s training session.
If you’re sensing that I’m utterly disappointed with the story to Kingdom Hearts 3 then you’re right. Did I mention that non-Disney antagonists only show themselves to Sora and the gang to spout needless exposition and simply disappear after a few minutes? It got to the point where I was getting sick of running into these lectures instead of a boss battle or a sudden turn of events. I won’t continue eviscerating the Final Fantasy XV-esque levels of story as I’m planning on writing a separate piece for that. Once my symptoms let up a bit more I’m going to maul the precious series I hold so dear. Although did I mention that Woody from Toy Story tells off Young Xehanort in amazing fashion? Honestly worth sixty dollars alone if I’m being honest.
Gameplay is the most frenetic and badass in the entire series, for better or worse. All the control schemes remain the same with dodging, jumping, attack, locking on, selecting, etc. However, nearly every Kingdom Hearts gameplay implementation makes its way to Kingdom Hearts 3 and then some. Most areas on all nine worlds (except for Hundred Acre Wood of course) will provide objects for Flowmotion where you can spin and dash around enemies with the quickness or setup opportunities for you to perform summons or attractions. Most KH fans should know what summons are and how you can bring old Disney (and Dream Drop Distance) friends into the battle for a short amount of time, but attractions are one of the new additions to the series. And I must say while they are pretty cool at times, they do seem really out of place being recreated as actual amusement park rides from the Disney parks. Like they didn’t fit the mold of the already crazy and wacky Kingdom Hearts lore.
As a game developer I follow on Twitter said, “I just killed a Hercules titan by piloting an electric light parade version of Thunder Mountain Railroad around its face. And everyone is like ‘yep, that’s the way to do it?’”
By far the best and coolest new gameplay mechanic are keyblade form changes and upgrades on the fly. Courtesy of Yen Sid, who is still guiding and mentoring nearly every good guy in the series, Sora attains the power of keyblade transformations. As you whack the heartless, nobodies, unversed, or the confusing time travel, world hopping, replica villains who all make a return, an equipped keyblade’s bar will rise. When it gets to a certain point you can transform the weapon into its next form which will have more powerful attacks or unique gameplay uses. My two favorites were from Toy Story and Pirates of the Caribbean. The first transformed into a deadly hammer that smashed the ground for crowd control and then turned into a drill that bloodlessly skewered my enemies into the great beyond. The second became a badass lance that made me feel like Cloud (who isn’t in this damn game, but we’ll get to that) with how fast it let me strike and teleport around the area. Then this one’s second form turned into a mast flag that let me summon parts of a kraken’s tendrils. If you’re looking for the best parts of Kingdom Hearts 3, it’s these amazing keyblade possibilities.
Now I said most things returning gameplay-wise for better or worse because of only one reason. Even on Proud mode Kingdom Hearts 3 is ridiculously easy which I only choose because I thought it would be easier to get the secret ending. A big part in this is having so many super powerful abilities at your fingertips near constantly. Almost every battle I had party commands to choose from or other gameplay resources to pull from. One time I had a companion command from Goofy, a separate Mike and Sully one from Monsters Inc., an attraction command, a keyblade transformation option, and a Firaga magic spell I built up from using the fire magic for a short period of time. Needless to say, I cleared out any room I stepped into with this much fire power or dealt MASSIVE damage to any given boss. What’s sad still is that if none of these helped in my fight I could still heal myself, use an item, perform a summon to get another body on the field and instantly heal me, or even at times just run up a wall. Sora can now also defy gravity at ninety degree angles.
Outside of the incredibly easy combat experience and story, there are a handful of side activities to gorge yourself on. Such as what’s apt with that adjective I just used, cooking with Remy from Ratatouille. You can collect ingredients from all over the worlds and special flan enemies to make an assortment of quick-time dishes with the rat controlling your hair. These can be eaten and provide temporary state bonuses of which I never took advantage of. I really didn’t need to considering, you know, how easy the game is. Then there’s ninety Lucky Emblems plastered around Kingdom Hearts 3 as well. These collectibles have the shape or take the form of the classic Mickey Mouse head and can be captured on camera that Sora is given early in the game. There are rewards for how many you collect and these for some reason play a part in unlocking the secret ending depending on what difficulty you choose.
Other activities include messing around on said camera for fun or missions, classic games on the phone, collecting treasures, entering Battlegates which have selected fights for you to partake in and earn the equivalent of Secret Ansem Reports, mini-games in a few of the worlds, and the whole Gummi Ship section. It’s a bit more involved than previous entries and while that’s a good thing for some, it just didn’t fit my playstyle this time around. The space traversal segment of Kingdom Hearts 3 is more open world and you can choose which direction you want to go whether to arrive at new worlds, fight strong enemies, or discover treasure. The customization of what you can create for ships really is mind-blowing. I’m sure some of you readers have even seen screenshots of certain creations online already. For those like me though you can just buy/select premade blueprints assuming you have the correct amount of materials. There’s also special power-ups you can equip to your ship and smaller ships around your main one for added support. Also, for some reason there’s a post-game secret boss fight in the Gummi-ship and I still don’t know how to feel about that.
Kingdom Hearts 3’s graphics are amazing and would be even better if all the worlds had the design and complexity of Pirates of the Caribbean. Like I have to wonder why not all worlds had that level of detail. There’s also plenty of other design choices I have to question because they severely ruined the tone and moment in so many instances through my forty hour journey. Such as the downright cringy dialogue or script on a handful of occasions. Just one example is Sora introducing his gang to the Big Hero 6 troupe as “Keyblade Hero 3.” I facepalmed, rolled my eyes, sighed, and had a nosebleed all in equal measure. Granted Baymax was there to point out how cringy this was, but it didn’t excuse what I had just witnessed nor the many other times this played out. On the same line of discussion, I know Sora wasn’t always the smartest character of the bunch and his power came from his selfless caring. However, it seems like Tetsuya Nomura keeps pushing the hero of the series into a dumber and dumber role for no reason that I can understand.
Another problem was the boss battles and how meaningless they were throughout the entire adventure. Each world’s boss, except Davy Jones and the Titans, were just amalgamations of darkness or heartless. It was just an enemy thrown at you that had no connection to the story and because the game was so easy in the first place the generic battles didn’t offer anything special. On top of this were the confusing predicaments of actual villains in the story. More questions were raised than answered, in a title that was supposed to wrap up the Xehanort saga, and what you thought about characters weren’t actually happening with them. Not in a good way or plot development way, just Kingdom Hearts 3 being so convoluted with its own lore that little to nothing is making sense anymore. Lastly, no Final Fantasy characters?! Did Square Enix forget how actually relevant they were to the plot?! It just seems like the creators got lazy for the sake of pumping out a game that has the Kingdom Hearts name on it.
Kingdom Hearts 3 PS4 Review
As far as Kingdom Hearts 3 goes with those who’ve been with the series since 2002, it’s a big disappointment. Especially on the story front, simply because it’s not there, and I’ll be sure to go more in detail on that with a separate article like I did with FFXV. As a game for people just looking to have fun smothered in Disney and excellent gameplay, the latest Kingdom Hearts can be pretty fun. It’s just missing a lot of staples from series past like a story that still made sense to even post-game boss battles. Am I happy I finally played Kingdom Hearts 3? Of course and I’m glad to see the story continue however misguided. My only wish is that the entire plot/lore didn’t feel like Tetsuya Nomura making things needlessly complicated because he knows he dug himself into a hole long ago and can’t explain his way out of it.
Best gameplay in the series to date
Great graphics, especially in Pirates of the Caribbean’s world.
Nonsensical and convoluted story gets more nonsensical and convoluted
Cringy dialogue and script
Lacking classic Kingdom Hearts staples
No Final Fantasy characters
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital copy of the game purchased by the reviewer at retail. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using a PS4 Pro.