After many years of spin-off games and patience among a very large fandom of Disney and Square Enix fans, Kingdom Hearts III is finally here. The culmination of nearly 13 years leading up to the release of the third mainline entry of the series is both surreal and relieving. All new Disney worlds and even more crazy plot to get lost in only makes up part of what Kingdom Hearts III essentially is to many fans. But was the drawn out wait for this game worth all that time? Luckily for everybody it really is, but not without a few hurdles and bumps along the way to the conclusion of the dubbed Xehanort saga. Even with a few frustrating and confusing elements to Sora, Donald, and Goofy’s latest adventure, Kingdom Hearts III is a fun and emotionally wild ride that wraps up most of what everyone was hoping to see come together once again.
If you’ve been following the story of the Kingdom Hearts series, or catching up with all the rereleases and compilations Square Enix has put out, then you’ll be happy to jump right into the action. It goes without saying, but you SHOULD NOT play Kingdom Hearts III without first finishing a few of the previous games. Many of the callbacks, nods, and abundant references will go right over your head if you haven’t, especially towards the middle portions of the game. From the very start, Kingdom Hearts III lightly recaps the story up to now before dropping you into everything. A slight inside joke at the very start might irk a few fans who are tired of waiting but things rev up and start to move quickly once you find yourself in the game’s first world. And it only gets more wild from there.
The entirety of the story is really bringing together all of the previous plot lines and character arcs together in one place. Remember those faces from Birth by Sleep and Chain of Memories? Now they’re in the same scene talking to each other. The focus still remains on Sora and his companions Donald Duck and Goofy, but not there’s a lot of intersections and crossing paths that will make any long-time fan excited. Not every plot line we see play out is satisfying, however, and there’s a bittersweet feeling by the time things wrap up. Tetsuya Normua and the dev team really stretch out some of the logic and happenstance for some characters and previously established ideas in order to keep the story moving along.
Does that mean the bigger moments of Kingdom Hearts III feel any less important or lackluster? Not at all, but eventually some things get forgotten or straight up ignored when the more important stuff to the larger story begins to happen. Overall, fans of Kingdom Hearts are going to see climaxes, returning faces, and conclusions to just about everything in some way; which is a great thing for everyone who was waiting for some form of finality.
The biggest omission from the story this time are the Final Fantasy characters we’ve seen so prevalent throughout the series. While there are a few references early on to characters like Cloud and Auron, don’t expect to see Leon, Yuffie, Cid, or Aerith. Unfortunately, they’re complete absent from the game. Even with the appearance of Merlin in Twilight Town, who previously interacted with the Final Fantasy cast a lot, they’re never mentioned at all. It’s a real shame to see that since Kingdom Hearts was always a big blend of Disney and Square Enix characters, but it seems like the Square Enix aspect is more focused on the original characters built up throughout the series. Though some fans might be totally fine with that since there’s already so many around, others will feel a bit cheated that their favorite Final Fantasy heroes who were important to the story are no longer present. The possibility of downloadable content could help change this, but for now this is how things are.
Gameplay is what will unanimously stand out to everyone, as it’s the most different from previous Kingdom Hearts games. You’re still controlling Sora with Donald and Goofy at your side, as well as teaming up with Disney heroes and other characters; but Kingdom Hearts III adds much more beyond that. Depending on the world, you can have a group of up to 5 characters at a time, each with their own level and stats, and explore much larger-in-scale areas with even more enemies appearing before you. The environments in Kingdom Hearts III are much bigger than anything in the previous games and have many seamless transitions between different points, with a few withstanding that break up the much larger areas. Traversing them is made even better with abilities that make Sora and crew feel more powerful than they ever have.
This works out for the best however, especially when you have a literal city to explore later in the game with Big Hero 6. The stories of each world go between recaps of your favorite Pixar movie and pseudo-sequel to them, with Toy Story, Big Hero 6, and Monster Incorperated being the best highlights of the bunch. Pirates of the Caribbean and Frozen on the other hand aren’t as strong however, even with a complete retread of the song “Let It Go” in its entirety and the gorgeous visuals of Jack Sparrow and all the Pirates crew.
For some people however, the worlds may be overly big with how many places you’ll need to explore. The Pirates of the Caribbean world not only has Port Royale from the films, but a whole sea you can sail and explore with your own ship. The same can be said for San Fransokyo from Big Hero 6, a massive city that you can run up buildings and fly around in the day or night time. It can take a long time to get around these worlds, with many spots feeling a bit too empty in some sections, but the game rewards you heavily for putting in the effort to explore.
You might go for a long time without seeing anything on the open sea in Pirates, only to come across a small island with a grotto that has a ton of treasure chests to open. It’s moments like that which can keep you from fully checking out of the games wide open sections and continuing to look around with Donald and Goofy. Eventually after completing the story you have even more reason to go back into these larger areas to explore. New Battle Arena portals and other collectibles open up after doing so, which can be somewhat easier to find once you have many key abilities you gain from playing the story. Does it take too long to get some of these, not really unless you’re hoping to be flying around worlds with Sora early on.
Combat is standard fair for Kingdom Hearts, but the battles are bigger and look a lot more spectacular than ever before in Kingdom Hearts III. Sora now can change the forms of his keyblades he wields for powerful attacks and crowd control, while Donald and Goofy get a huge upgrade with their own abilities that can wreck house just on their own. There are many different keyblades Sora can gather with different Form changes, each of them feeling somewhat different from the other in their own way. Watching Sora pull out dual-wielding pistols or a massive hammer to smack the area with can be satisfyingly fun and really over-the-top. Even more so are the Attraction Flow and Link Summons that make an already powerful Sora even more powerful, with attacks that can clear the area within seconds. They are fantastic to look at and devastating in most situations.
The best parts of the combat however are the boss fights in a few worlds, where the scale of the battle and visuals really shine. Some fights will have you battling a giant Heartless wolf casting its version of Meteor, while others will bring about an even bigger 1000 Heartless fight that is exciting and great to look at. The boss fights in the late game don’t always live up to the same level of craziness as earlier worlds, especially towards the big climax, but their importance is more based on the plot rather than being a visual spectacle.
Outside of fighting the Heartless and Nobodies different side quests to complete, some of which aren’t always fun but necessary. Moogles are here again to synthesize all the items and weapons you can need, requiring you to gather materials from fallen enemies to make new and more powerful ones. This is always fine and works alongside the combat you get into in every world, but things really start to crack a bit when you start exploring the mini-games of Kingdom Hearts III. Most of them are tedious and will take you a good while to complete, especially if you want to fully see everything in the game.
Capturing the game’s 90 Lucky Mickey Emblems will have you searching EVERYTHING around you, as they’re cleverly hidden in every world in the most obscure of places. Some of them are borderline impossible to find without the use of a guide, even though Donald and Goofy will occasionally speak up and give you a hint about something they notice nearby. Discovering all of them is definitely worth it however, especially if you want to catch a glimpse of other things yet to come down the line.
Other tasks are more annoying to complete, such as the Flantastic Seven mini-games. These are inconsistently challenging and can really get frustrating to complete since they’re tied to some of the game’s more powerful weapons for Sora. Each Flan you find in every one of the game’s worlds has a different task for you, but you need to get a near perfect score in order to complete it for the items you need make the Ultima keyblade. This becomes a major issue when some of the mini-games are incredibly though to deal with due to poor controls or harsh criteria for getting the high scores necessary to do so.
Trying to control Goofy’s Shield sled in a tight area is borderline infuriating and waiting for a very long time for Flan to strike one pose you’d otherwise never see can get very boring. The Flan mini-games are varied between each other overall, but you might not enjoy the idea of needing to perfect them in order to get the final keyblade. Mind you this also includes the Winnie the Pooh stage, which has taken a huge step back with its mini-games from previous Kingdom Hearts titles. You hardly spend any time with Winnie the Pooh and its puzzle-like mini-games compared to before, which is a real shame.
The biggest change in Kingdom Hearts III for the series are the Gummi Ship sections. This time you can control the Gummi ship in a wide space and travel from point to point, rather than being limited to on-rails sections. This makes the Gummi Ship feel a little better to control and use as you visit new worlds, but the space you fly in can feel pretty empty and drag on when you’re trying to reach a new area. There are random battles against Heartless ships you can get into, which put you in an on-rail sections similar to that of Kingdom Hearts 2, but you can avoid them altogether if you like.
Unfortunately, in some places you can get into a Gummi Ship battle have enemies that are incredibly strong (or borderline impossible to defeat) unless you take the time to customize your Gummi Ship. Gathering the parts to upgrade your Gummi Ship is a little tedious since you have to fly around and destroy objects in the Gummi Stages, unlike in previous games where you can gather pieces from chests scattered in the different worlds. If you’re able to do so, however, you can really outfit the Gummi Ship to be incredibly powerful.
With all of that being said, did Kingdom Hearts III live up to the hype it’s built for fans all these years? There are parts that feel bittersweet, but the total package is still an incredibly solid entry into the ongoing dearly beloved series. Kingdom Hearts III brings big moments that will stick with you if you’ve been aboard the emotional roller coaster this whole time. It’s gameplay is phenomenally fluid and its visuals and soundtrack are top-notch, continuing a legacy that now looks towards even more brighter and bigger things to come. Was it worth the wait? Yeah, it most definitely was.
This review was based on a digital review code of Kingdom Hearts III for the PlayStation 4, provided by Square Enix.