As a child and a teenager, Disney movies such as Toy Story, Monsters inc, Tangled and Frozen have given me so many fond memories and remain important parts of my childhood. Seeing these films/worlds recreated in movie-like visuals in a video game is both nostalgic and breath-taking. Square Enix have delivered a truly satisfying conclusion to the story that has been built up over the last 17 years, with fast-paced combat, gorgeous visuals, good characters and richly detailed worlds to explore. While there are some issues with the pacing and story threads, the overall experience will be enjoyable for fans, and to new players to a certain extent.
As the conclusion to this saga of the Kingdom Hearts universe, the story needed to be strong enough to provide a satisfying ending for long time fans. For the most part it succeeds, however, there are aspects that falter from delivering on things set up by previous games. We follow Sora, Donald and Goofy as the former sets out to find the ‘power of waking’, which will help in stopping the nefarious Xehanort and his group of nobodies from obtaining kingdom hearts. Rikku and Mickey are off in the Realm of Darkness to try and rescue Aqua, who knows the location of Ventus. Then there’s Kairi and Axel who are training to become Keyblade Masters themselves.
While the narrative is overall good, it is important to stress that this game is mainly for the fans, meaning new players will struggle to understand what is going on owing to the infamous vast and complicated story. While there is a number of short story recaps the player can watch from the main menu, they gloss over or completely miss out a number of events and plot points that will leave you confused. In all fairness, I don’t know why you would decide to play the conclusion to a long running franchise without playing the others, especially when all the games are playable in collections on the PS4 and Xbox.
The main narrative is relatively straightforward at this point, where practically all plots reach their conclusions in a satisfying manner. However, in order to do this, some threads are quickly addressed without much care, particularly Kairi and Axel’s training which are delegated to a couple of short cutscenes that don’t actually show them training. My main frustration with the story is that we are shown Maleficent trying to find a black box, however, these scenes end up having no relevance to the main plot, and only serve to set up another potential series of games. I was waiting for the payoff, only to find out it was meaningless for this game. The ending was well done, and it left me emotional, satisfied and confused all at once. The pacing did suffered when traversing the many worlds and their individual stories, especially when you are forced to watch cutscene after cutscene with little break, but overall it kept me wanting to find out what happens next. Even the writing, which is a as cheesy and cliché as ever, succeeds in pulling off a sense of charm and made me continually invested in the characters.
Now the major selling point of any Kingdom Hearts game is the Disney worlds. They are absolutely stunning and rich in detail that genuinely makes you feel as if you are wondering inside a movie. Particular standouts are the ToyStory, Monsters inc, Tangled and Pirates of the Caribbean worlds. Half follow the stories of their respective movies, while other craft their own narratives in a surprising and enjoyable way. Seeing iconic characters in cutscenes and helping you fight never gets old and is a testament in showing how far video game graphics have come. Each world is expansive, some more than others, while retaining huge amounts of detail and well thought out level design. There are often little mini-games included, such as dancing and cooking. Sailing around the Caribbean seas in a ship was surprisingly well done and is pretty fun. I will say that there are quite a few times where the story causes you to backtrack through the worlds where, like mentioned earlier, you are have to watch so many cutscenes it gets frustrating. Even more so when one finishes, you walk a few meters then instantly enter a new cutscene, it gets pretty annoying at times and is only offset by the fact that the characters look so good in motion. Despite this, the many worlds are the heart and soul of this game and are a blast to explore.
The universally despised and unnecessary system is back, the Gummi Ship. I don’t understand what Square Enix were thinking when deciding that this was feature that deserved a continual appearance. It adds nothing to the experience, breaks up the pacing and remains a slog to get through. The only positive is that you only need to face it when travelling to each new world for the first time, then you can fast travel. There is no real incentive to play through this aspect longer than necessary and I guarantee that 95% of players will only do the bare minimum. It needs mentioning that it has been made a bit more bearable by improved traversal, but it is still a dull experience.
Combat is once again fun, challenging and varied. While on the lowest difficulty you might be able to get away with button smashing, on normal and above you will need to take advantage of nearly all the features available to you. The many different keyblades offer different strengths and weaknesses, allowing you to pick and choose a playstyle that suits you. They can transform into more powerful versions in the heat of battle allowing you to perform strong combos and visually appealing moves. Magic is useful, however, the cure spells will likely be your main port of call throughout the game and boss battles in particular. Summons are beautiful to watch and can help out in a pinch, however, the link moves are pretty useless and do not provide enough incentive to really utilise.
The main addition to combat is the Disneyworld rides. These range from small scale blasters and teacups to full on map spanning roller coasters that can obliterate your foes. It does feel a bit strange these just appear out of nowhere and are pretty over-powered at times, however, they are mechanically well made and are really fun to use, and can really help out in very tough boss battles.
Throughout my 35-hour playthrough, I experienced a number of highs and lows. Its narrative wrap up will please the majority of long time fans, where new players will likely be left confused and unsatisfied. But this game was clearly made for fans and not the newcomer, as it was expected. The combat and gorgeous worlds kept me playing right till the very end, even through the ridiculous amount of cutscenes and pacing slumps. While I would have liked certain characters and plot threads to have been expanded on, Kingdom Hearts 3 fulfilled many of my expectations for the series. Cheesy and cliché the game and series may be, but its endearing childish nature and characters have set it apart from many others and remains a strong and unique RPG.
Score = 8/10
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