Is the final chapter in the renowned Square/Disney franchise really worth your time?
Today we are going to discuss, pick apart, and review the 14-year-old game in the making, Kingdom Hearts III. First off, I may slip and include a spoiler here and there, so if you don't want anything ruined you may want to click or look away before we go any further. However, if you don't mind a mild spoiler or two, let's jump right in and get started!
Overview: Square-Enix in association with Yensid, er, I mean Disney, has brought us at long last a true sequel to Kingdom Hearts II. A game that was originally released in Japan in late 2005 and in NA/Europe in spring of 2006. The genre of this title is action/RPG, with heavy emphasis on the action and a light to moderate notion of the RPG aspect. We will be looking at an array of features in this game, ranging from graphics to gameplay, and dissecting the story and seeing in the end if it's truly worth your time!
Graphics: In terms of visual style and polish, I can say without hesitation that this is one of the few key areas where KH3 shines. And I mean literally shines. By using the Unreal 4 Engine, the shiny and robust environments, textures, and landscapes are truly a feast for the eyes. Even the cinematic cutscenes will have your jaw agape in awe that they are using in-engine graphics to undertake those scenes. The transitions from cutscenes to in-game action are near flawless as well, allowing you to jump back into the action after a scene plays out without having to wait for a loading screen or any type of fade-to-black scene to transpire. There is an extremely noticeable difference from past KH titles to KH3. You'll begin to notice little nuances such as Sora's hair flowing in the wind as he's jumping in the air, to Donald and Goofy's clothing swaying as they're running around. I was playing this on my PS4 Pro and it seems to have an output of 1440p overall and does not include an option for HDR on either versions of the game, which is a little disappointing, but this does not hinder the core experience. There is an option for framerate to either be locked at 30 FPS or a free flowing framerate mode, which is defaulted from the start. I cannot stress enough that you should just leave the default settings as is because the game runs much, much better without locking up the framerate. The framerate, in fact, on free flow mode is almost consistently over 50FPS, nearing 60, which is impressive considering I was playing the game on the PS4 Pro and not the Xbox 1X, which tends to be more of a powerhouse in terms of hardware. Overall the graphics are pristine and what you would expect from the Unreal 4 Engine.
Gameplay and Control: The hack and slash action returns ten-fold in KH3 and honestly more so than I would have liked or expected. Don't get me wrong, the gameplay works and overtime at that. There are numerous moments when you're struggling to keep up with the fast paced mayhem transpiring on screen as you keep mashing X, while waiting for that inevitable Triangle action command to prompt to go into a little mini-game mode with yourself, Donald, Goofy or whichever 4th party member you have from whichever world you are presently in. In my opinion there is just too much relying on mashing one or two buttons here and in the beginning when you're in the honeymoon phase with KH3, you will rejoice and possibly say this is the best action game you ever played. However, when you're three or four worlds in and doing the exact same carousel or water slide mini-game, you'll begin to feel burnt out from the tediousness that never seems to differ. One of the biggest problems of KH3, besides it's overly convoluted story, (which don't worry, we will get to shortly), is it's over-saturated reliance on one or two buttons to kill an enemy with the same move over and over again with a teeny weeny hint of magic here and there and washing, rinsing, and repeating until the very final moments of the game. The combat honestly feels like it's just been slightly enhanced from other KH titles and does not do anything to evolve the core fighting mechanics as time goes on. You mash a button or two until something dies, use cure or a potion here and there when need be, and keep on repeating until the credits roll. The controls feel tight, slick and responsive as you move Sora around the map. By the simple press of a button, you can instantly send him wherever you want to go, in whichever fashion you like. The camera works with you, too. The free camera control is always a welcomed sight and the only time the camera almost got in my way was during the final boss fight when it switched to an overhead view to better scope out your surroundings, but it was a minor hiccup in the end. But you would think after over a decade in development, Tetsuya Nomura would focus more on the combat aspect instead of just tossing in a mere handful of random action sequences that replay more than a sitcom does reruns in the summer. But no, Nomura-san decided to invest all of his time and energy into providing us with one of the most complex storylines known to man that can even rival trying to figure out the proper timeline in The Legend of Zelda series, only much, much more nonsensical.
Story/Narrative/Campaign: Now herein lies the Achilles' heel to not only KH3, but the plethora of all KH games to date, leading back to KH2 when the overly complicated cast of Kool-Aid cultists known as the Organization XIII were introduced, killed out, reintroduced, renamed and resurrected into different bodies. It's just plain old unwarranted for a game that revolves around Disney and Final Fantasy characters. Oh, and speaking of Final Fantasy characters, or should I say lack thereof, KH3 shifts the focus to solely Disney and no, delete delete, Pixar characters in its entirety. If you have the smallest expectation to see Cloud, Squall, Auron, or any of the other beloved Final Fantasy cast, then you best not ever even dare to dream about picking up and playing KH3 for the sheer amount of disappointment that will ensue. There are maybe one or two references to the Final Fantasy characters but they are nowhere to be found here in KH3. There are only Sora, Donald, Goofy, Mickey, the Organization XIII wackos and the four new Pixar worlds they added in. The returning worlds are Olympus Colosseum, which opens up the prologue of the game (and my personal favorite in the entire game because you fight a ton of titans and Hades with James Woods reprising is role) and for some daft reason Pirates of the Caribbean, because why not? The Pirates of the Caribbean story is also as complicated as a monkey trying to solve Chinese algebra so why not marry it to the conundrum that is the KH storyline? It makes sense right? Yeah, as much sense as strapping your nuts to a car battery because you like the way it feels. Now moving along, besides the lack of Final Fantasy characters, the story and plot itself is very loosely explained. Sure there are some subtexts you can find and revisit in the main menu, but it rarely does justice as Square and Tetsa Nomura-San really wanted to you play either all 10 of the prior KH games prior or spending full price on the Story So Far PS4 title and watching the 17 hours of cutscenes so you are all caught up, because why else do we exist on this planet, if not to uncover the intricate meanings of a game about why there's an organization trying to steal people's hearts who also have a nobody and unversed counterparts with Disney characters somewhere mixed in? And excuse me, because after reading that sentence back to myself I think I just gave myself Syphilis stage 3. But this is not the sole issue of the KH story. In KH3 especially, there is no focus on the plot, even as complicated as it may be. The vast majority of the game you are trying to get Sora to find the power of waking and from the opening prologue (which I kid you not as you enter Olympus the words spew across the screen Kingdom Hearts 2.9, you sleazy rat bastards) once it is mentioned and as you begin to traverse the worlds, Sora and pals tend to forget what their goal is and what they are doing, other than visiting worlds and getting intertwined with their own unique dramas. In the final act of the game, the story picks back up in tidbits only to try it's best to close out the supposed final chapter in what has already been a painstakingly long and drawn out franchise. Lastly, if you think the story is over after KH3, hilariously the way the game ends makes it feel like The Dark Knight Rises, where you can create your own ending and definition to the fate of Sora. Only if you manage to collect all Mickey emblems can you see the "true" ending, which again doesn't even make sense, much like the rest of this game. Sora and Riku are on some kind of Final Fantasy Versus like world on another adventure insinuating a KH4. Right. KH4, coming in the year 2099 after all the nukes finish dumping on the world and all that's left is KH4 and a handful of mutants. If I had to rate KH3 on it's narrative alone it would get a C- but luckily the slick gameplay and amazing musical score helps balance out the awkwardness of its plot.
Sound, Voice and Music: One saving grace in KH3 is its musical opus. When it wants to, the score is reminiscent of a grand orchestra that can damn near rival the likes of such famed composers as Hans Zimmer, Harry-Gregson Williams, Bill Conti, and even John Williams at times. Some very familiar tunes return from previous games and the final battle music is a delight to the ears. The sounds of a beautifully integrated choir with a robust orchestra really bring the world around you to life. The voice acting holds up well too for the most part, when they aren't talking complete gibberish about the plot. Disney characters sound as you imagine they would in their respective films. Although Tom Hanks and Tim Allen couldn't reprise their roles as Woody and Buzz Lightyear, their stand-ins do enough to make you feel like you're playing a side tale of Toy Story. Meanwhile, the return of almost the entire cast of Frozen makes you feel like you were watching Frozen 2.0. And lastly, the sound effects sound crisp and clean. There is some stale voice acting though from time to time, such as whenever some Organization XIII members try to explain the plot and they sound like they're reading off of a bad script from an Uwe Boll or Paul W.S. Anderson movie. At the end of the day, the music is exemplary and the voice acting is solid.
Replay Value: At best, it all depends on how big a fan of Kingdom Hearts you are. I would consider myself a moderate fan of the series, so when the credits rolled after 30 hours, I felt satisfied. I felt no further need to return to a previous save and collect all of the ingredients for the Ultima Keyblade and/or go around hunting down those fat pieces of flan goo taking pictures of them along with those Mickey emblems for a trophy and a secret/true ending. The amount of tedium present in KH3 is heavy in terms of combat that doesn't escalate beyond pressing one or two key buttons and a narration that runs circles around itself providing little to no answers or logical sense. It's a solid action game at it's core with lots of flash and little in terms of substance and depth unless you count the ridiculously deep never ending rabbit hole of its complex plot.
Overall Score/Worth Your Time?: When all is said and done and the smoke and Disney pixie dust has settled, I cannot help but give KH3 a 7 out of 10. It upsets and pains me in a sense to have to say this, but after waiting oh so very long for this game to come out, something very, very wrong happened in its prolonged and obtuse production and development and it's really hard to pinpoint exactly where, as this game is a mess in many areas. While the gameplay and controls are tight and fluid, it suffers from overusing the same stale combat over and over again in tandem with a story that is just too damn hard to put time and energy into figuring out. The musical score is probably the only area of KH3 where I can safely say it's flawless. The rest of the game is in shambles, endlessly clashing with itself and can't figure out what direction it wanted to go in for the majority of it's campaign. And that's not just present in KH3, it's now present in most of the other KH games after KH1 as well. It seems that Tetsu Nomura bit off more than he can chew when in reality a cute and cozy video game about Disney and Final Fantasy characters should have simply been about crossing over the two franchises and not trying to engross the masses in a plot that would make Interstellar, The Matrix and Inception look like Cool Runnings or Encino Man. (Remember Encino Man? Yeah, I liked Brendan Fraser in the 90′s...) But I digress, is Kingdom Hearts 3 worth your time at the end of the day? And in all honesty, unless you're a super nerd and have played all 10+ games in their entirety and took a course to understand the intricate workings of the story, then no, it is not worth the 30 hours of your life. Go play Resident Evil 2 remake instead, which I beat twice and is simply glorious.