Kingdom Hearts III is finally here and there is a mixture of sadness and anticipation for the conclusion of a story that has spanned multiple console generations, remasters, and a few hand-held titles.
Expectations for Kingdom Hearts III was understandably high, partly due to its long and eventful development cycle, and because it is the right time to move on, as the kids who played the first two games are now adults, and whose taste in video games have understandably shifted. And while there will always be a market for games that are encapsulated children’s imaginations, it will be hard to top the experience with Kingdom Hearts.
The first thing that stands out to me is that the visuals are still faithful to the previous installments’ albeit on a much sharper resolution. There is much more detail and the animation is a lot more fluid than previous games.
The sharper visuals make the cut-scenes more vibrant and robust. They now have the feel of those later Pixar/Disney movies, so much so that when you get to worlds featuring those characters, it is almost as if you are watching a true Pixar/Disney film.
Part of the reason the game looks and plays as good as it does is due to its usage of the Unreal 4 Engine. Eschewing development of a new engine, the developers decided to use a tried and tested engine and I believe the results speak for themselves.
One of my biggest concerns with the game is the accessibility of its lore. Kingdom Hearts’ lore has grown exponentially with each new game. This includes the numbered titles and the expanded entries.
Thankfully, Square Enix has included an option of viewing past events on the main menu. I took advantage of this as I was only ever got to play the main installments and it’s been over a decade too. Now at least, I have a better understanding of the stories of the other characters like Aqua who I’ve heard so much about but haven’t really played as.
The franchise has always been geared towards young gamers. For a game developed by men and women who’ve created one of the best J-RPGs that had mature themes, Kingdom Hearts’ story seems straight out of a Disney movie. And it does seem more enjoyable if you approach it that way.
Mature gamers may balk at the prospect – and presentation – of having Goofy and Donald Duck as your partners. But the story does have an interesting take on friendship and the goodness within each of us. Despite having long outgrown these Disney fairy tales, Kingdom Hearts 3 surprised me by making me feel really invested in each Disney/Pixar world I went to.
When it comes to controls, Kingdom Hearts 3 is more of the same. While sequels tend to modify or completely change their control set-ups, this game saw no need to shake things up considerably. Basic attack is done through the X button, jump is via the Circle button, dodge and dash via the Square button, and Triangle button is for contextual actions like opening chests or doing special and link moves. As you complete worlds and increase Sora’s level, you will get access to more moves and Keyblade forms that increase your attacks.
I find the simple controls both nostalgic and refreshing. The whole scheme hearkens back to a time when games use very simple and accessible set-ups, plus I find it really great to play a game with simpler controls after the large and complicated set-up of Red Dead Redemption 2.
On the other hand, hardcore gamers might be turned off by the simplicity of the controls because the industry has understandably moved on to complicated set-ups in AAA games. In an age where timing and context-heavy moves are the norm in action games, Kingdom Hearts 3 is somewhat of a hold-out.
That didn’t bother me, since I knew that this is part of Kingdom Hearts’ charm. If there is something about the controls that I have issues with, it’s the difficulty to pull off defensive moves like the block for example. The animation that should prompt me to hit block (square button) is difficult to spot.
The music and sound effects are similar to what you can expect in Pixar games. I personally liked the music of this title more than Kingdom Hearts I and II. Perhaps because I am using a head-set, and it amplifies the audio in a way that makes it better? But I also played other games like Fate/Extella and the audio integrity isn’t this good.
I guess this is where Square Enix’s strength is shown. Their games may be inconsistent but their music had always been top-notch. Yoko Shimamura returns to compose the soundtrack with additional contributions from Takeharu Ishimoto and Tsuyoshi Sekito. The theme song, “Don’t Think Twice“, was written and performed by Hikaru Utada. Another song, “Face My Fears“, a collaborative effort by Skrillex, Poo Bear, and Utada, was used for the opening of the game. The music is solid, and trademark Kingdom Hearts.
The journey to the different worlds is done via the Gummi ship is itself a mini-game, and this is where I feel the game falls flat. Not that the Gummi ship mini-game is itself bad, but it feels quite out of place, like a feeble attempt to elongate an already long game.
So the next big question is: was it worth the wait? Kingdom Hearts 3 is a good game, certainly one of the better Square Enix titles in the past year. It manages to stay mostly the same but still feel fresh. But it is the resolution of the story that made the wait worth it.
Fans were expecting the story to be resolved definitely, and it does. Satisfyingly too. And they did it via long cutscenes like the games of old.
And that’s the feel that I have while playing: this is a game from a bygone era. Long cut-scenes that advance the plot, game data is saved via a save point, and themes that hasn’t changed for more than a decade.
But this is the charm of the Kingdom Hearts 3: a game whose sole purpose is to wrap the series up by going back to where it came from. And so, I can say that Kingdom Hearts 3 is a good game and worth the very long wait. It is a good, fun game that endeavored to just be that.
Finally, it’s all over. The “final” installment in the franchise wrapped up most (if not all) of the loose threads to bring the story to a definite conclusion. It was a very long wait, but a really fun ride. There will always be another weird, fun, colorful, and popular game out there, but there will never be another Kingdom Hearts.