Ok, so this review might be a little overdue – by one year to be precise.
Publishers tend to give out review copies days, if not weeks in advance of a game’s release, but with Kingdom Hearts III that sadly wasn’t the case. It came as a surprise (especially given the sequel’s size and the surrounding hype) but hey, these things happen. When I finally got my hands on a copy there was the temptation to blitz right through KH3 but I quickly came to the conclusion that it would not only be irresponsible but likely to churn out a hasty, poorly considered verdict.
Zoning in and out over the past twelve months, my thoughts on the sequel were allowed to ferment and despite failing to click with Kingdom Hearts III in those opening hours eventually I turned…
Like many fans of the franchise, in those weeks building up to its release, I spent hours swatting up on Kingdom Hearts lore. Devouring wiki entries, weaving together timelines, then sacking it all off, searching for YouTube videos that could explain everything as slowly and simply as possible.
Even then, the series’ overarching plot is fairly impenetrable. Although everything ultimately boils down to the unending conflict between light and darkness, Kingdom Hearts yanks that narrative thread in a multitude of messy directions, looping back on itself, and plugging loops with an expanding pool of characters and concepts.
The moment I stopped trying to understand every story beat being thrown at me, I started to enjoy Kingdom Hearts III so much more. I became more interested in the self contained adventures of Sora, Donald, and Goofy as they bounced from one caper to the next, instead of fussing about the mushy meta stuff holding the game together.
In truth, I initially wasn’t a big fan of what Square had done with the gameplay either. KH3 felt even more button bashingly brainless than its predecessor, lacking the precision and heft that has come to define the action RPG genre in recent years.
It took several hours to realise it, but there’s method in the game’s madness. Sora’s list of combos, spells, and abilities rapidly expands and some of them feel superfluous while others are laughably overpowered. Enemy waves are far from challenging on the default difficulty though there’s a strategic sense of satisfaction from devising the quickest way to dispatch of them using the various options at your disposal.
Where combat in the original Kingdom Hearts was mostly grounded in small arenas against a handful of enemies, here you’ll likely spend as much time up in the air, running up walls or zooming across huge open spaces only to launch into a bombastic mini-game.
At first it all felt a bit overwhelming, as if Square were plastering over a lack of depth using set pieces and flashy throwaway gameplay segments. Take a step back, however, and you’ll slowly come to appreciate the amount of variety the developers have tried to stuff in at every given opportunity.
Kingdom Hearts III has many of the thrills and spills of a rollercoaster, but that also includes the long queue times. It’s not quite Metal Gear Soild 4: Guns of the Patriots, but you will be forced to sit through a solid several hours of meandering cutscenes. Thankfully, most are teeming in melodrama and spectacle, not to mention gorgeous recreations of your favourite Disney and Pixar characters.
The level of passion poured into each world is clearly evident, from Monstropolis and the enchanting kingdom of Corona to Frozen’s Arandelle and the Caribbean. Even if you don’t know all the words to “Let It Go” you’ll appreciate the amount of diversity here though there’s one gaping omission that continues to leave fans frustrated. What drew many to Kingdom Hearts in the first place was how it pulled in various elements from the Final Fantasy franchise, but there’s none of that here. Not one whiff of Cloud Strife and his Buster Sword. That’s a big thumbs down.