Kingdom Hearts, as a franchise, is weird. The idea of a game comprised of both Final Fantasy and Disney characters with a protagonist swinging a giant key is weird. Being a fan of this game and having the dedication to cross a plethora of consoles and handheld platforms, to follow what is arguably the most convoluted plot in video game history, is weird. Waiting thirteen years for the third major instalment of this franchise, and somehow finding a reason to still care about Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Mickey – all while taking down the time-travelling, body-possessing, silver-haired and quad identity-having Big Bad Xehanort/Young Xehanort/Ansem/Xemnas – is also weird. None of this should work. At all.
But surprisingly, it does. Really, really well.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fantastic and natural expansion of the what made the fanbase come to adore it over the years. At its core, the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts 3 is familiar to anyone who’s followed the franchise. With the 13-year gap offering a new array technological power, the enhanced visuals are stunning, and the expanse of each world has higher ceilings and wider stages. The first world of “Olympus” is a great introduction into this new aesthetic, as it contains the winding city streets of Thebes, the majestic Mount Olympus, and the grassy fields outside the city. This is a far and welcome departure from the first two-room confines of Olympus Colosseum.
The new tech also offers new depth to the combat system that makes the reputably flashy, some what button-mashy combat more strategic. For instance, Sora’s iconic keyblade can now morph into one or two different forms after performing a certain amount of actions. Combined with another new mechanic of instantly switching between three different keyblades, this leads to a possible total of nine different sets of animations, combo attacks and powerful finishing moves the player can choose from using only their keyblade. To continue on finishing moves, the game has cleaned up it’s reliance on the “triangle” button finisher attacks.
In Kingdom Hearts 2, PlayStation users would use the Triangle button to activate whatever strong ability showed up at the time – and it was not really controllable by the player. It functioned like a quick-time command, rather than a choice ability. In Kingdom Hearts 3, rather than spamming it for a cool cutscene attack, the powerful triangle button attacks can now be stacked, and chosen by the player for whatever the situation calls for. These can be powerful magic attacks, the newly implemented “Attraction” attacks based on Disney rides, keyblade finishers, or the usual fight-specific quick time command. These combat changes give the system sense of strategy and to balance out the delicious Advent-Children like eye candy, without sacrificing what made the combat fun in the first place.
Kingdom Hearts 3 also has a surprising amount of genre switching. When you’re venturing out into the world of Toy Box (Toy Story), you’ll quickly find yourself taking on the trademark Heartless villains piloting giant mechs so you’ll have to jump into a mech of your own to take ‘em down quickly. In The Caribbean (Pirates of the Caribbean), you’ll be sailing the seas in your own pirate ship, trading canon fire and boarding enemy vessels. Admittedly, that component becomes quite a great pastime. In Olympus, you’ll be hopping on Goofy’s Shield in Thebes to “surf” over fields of fire. There’s a healthy amount of gameplay diversity in Kingdom Hearts 3 that, should be messy and weird, but felt perfectly natural and fluid. It’s weird, and it probably shouldn’t work, but against all odds it does.
The plot of Kingdom Hearts 3, while complex (involving Heartless, Nobodies, Time Travel, Replicas, two different dudes with the same name, two dudes that LOOK the same but are completely separate people, and so much more…) is woven surprisingly tight. KH3 goes out of its way to give a concise plot explanation two or three times, and that goes deeply appreciated and proves very helpful. I found myself astounded at how much thought went into making seemingly unimportant events of the past feel crucial to the plot of this game. Some of these references even made their way into gameplay! There’s one particularly great example of this that the diehard Kingdom Hearts fans will love in one of the closing fights of the game that involves thousands of keyblades. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed by the lack of Final Fantasy characters in this game, but there’s still plenty of references in your weaponry and magic.
The movement to fully-voiced dialogue also compliments the games plot very well, and in turn thoroughly immerses you in the narrative and on-hand characters. Still, this story-driven addition also came with a price. The voice actors, as talented as they are, have to dub over Japanese lip movements – which creates some awkward mouth points from several of the characters. In previous instalments, text dialogue could offer some clarity as a means of avoiding this complication. With fully-voiced dialogue, however, the voice actors dubbing over Japanese animation – with additional script edits to try to mimic the mouth movements – creates some moments that don’t really communicate the plot to the player in an effective manner.
Then again, there are moments where the dubbing is impressively clear! Notably, Hades and his smug mouth synced really well with the animation. It’s a grab bag at time.
Kingdom Hearts 3, as a whole, was a surprisingly neat package to wrap an infamously complex narrative. With some of the most stylized combat in video gamedom, the title is a pretty cathartic experience that fans will enjoy. It’s a natural improvement, and gigantic conclusion for Sora and the gang. Truthfully, even though I’ve only just finished this adventure, I’m looking forward to seeing what this unlikely partnership comes with next.
Kingdom Hearts 3 arrived for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on January 25, 2019. Square Enix provided Okay, Cool with a copy of the game on PS4 for coverage purposes.
You can find Milen on Twitter at @milenps if you want to chat more about Kingdom Hearts 3 or music. That’s right, he plays like three different instruments. Does he play them all at the same time? Well, there’s only one way to find out.