"Kingdom Hearts 3" Review

In all the years I have been gaming, I don’t think I have ever experienced something with the sense of importance and eminence like "Kingdom Hearts 3". As one of the last few “gaming white whales” (highly anticipated games that have taken forever to make and are still highly anticipated by their fans) to be released on the heels of similar games like "Final Fantasy XV" and "The Last Guardian" in 2016, there surely has been no shortage of anticipation and expectations for this game in the 13 years since the last main console entry was released. Yes, "Kingdom Hearts 2" released back in the time George W. Bush was still president, the iPhone didn’t exist yet, the Xbox 360 was the only “next-gen” console available and yes, I was in sixth grade.

Goofy, Sora and and Donald, together once again after 13 years.

Even though the waiting time between the main numbered entries has been asinine, you still can’t ignore the fact developer Square Enix released important story follow ups during that period to tide fans over while they completed work on Kingdom Hearts 3. The 2010 PSP prequel “Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep” featured one of the best stories in the series by giving the non-Disney side of the Kingdom Hearts lore a lot more depth while also reshaping the context of the first two entries. 2012’s 3DS game “Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance”, on the other hand, could have easily passed as a third entry with how important the story developments were on the game. That’s also not ignoring the Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes-style prologue they released in the "Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Collection" in 2017 that basically leads directly to where Kingdom Hearts 3 begins.

The Gumni ship is back. Yay?

If the previous paragraph makes you think the series has become too daunting to follow if Kingdom Hearts 2 was the last game you played, the reality is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I’ll say upfront that Kingdom Hearts 3 is not a direct continuation of where the story ended in the second game. The stories from both Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance are too intrinsically tied to the third game, it often feels like it’s more of a follow up to those stories than Kingdom Hearts 2. With that said, Square Enix understands that many people will probably have not played everything that came between main entries (even though they made sure to release different collections on the PlayStation 4 for people to catch up if they wanted to), so they’ve built a pretty good, completely optional onboarding process to Kingdom Hearts 3 to catch new people up with the basics. While a lot of nuance may be lost, you’ll still be able to understand the main story of the new game.

With all that said, you may ask: how is the new game?

For a game with so many expectations put into it and a rather long gestation period, I’m glad to report the game turned out pretty great! While there are some old series hangups and rough edges, Kingdom Hearts 3 still manages to pull out all the stops to be a worthy entry for long time fans who waited ages for it.

It only takes a bit to show what it's capable of.

The story is as saccharine and over-the-top as it's ever been

The story of Kingdom Hearts 3 once again follows the journey of long time series protagonist Sora as he partners with Donald Duck and Goofy to go on another merry go round trip through new Disney Worlds as he journeys to recover his “Power of Waking” (don't ask). While world hopping has always been a series staple, the series finds itself with more of a drive thanks to the story developments introduced in Birth by Sleep and Dream Drop Distance, which add a new sense of impending doom and finality not felt in previous entries. Which makes it all the more annoying when the story sometimes moves at a glacial pace as you make your way through the new, gorgeous Disney Worlds. The first two games operated with the same mold, where things only kicked into gear near the end after you made your way through the various Disney Worlds and their sometimes-self-focused stories. But with the new drive carrying the series, it was hard not to think that going through the new Disney Worlds was holding you back from more important matters, despite how delightful it is to actually live in these gorgeously recreated worlds.

Untangling the Heartless in Corona

The final couple hours of the game more than make up for it, however. Once the Disney worlds are done, payoffs started flying left and right, and long-time fans will be left in awe and delight as long-time events and reunions start happening before their very eyes. I wouldn’t say what transpires in the end is going to be too surprising, but the final hours totally deliver on the series' theme of love and friendship in a way that moved me in its own saccharine way. The series has always held its heart (pun intended) up on its sleeve, and anyone that’s been invested in this long-running saga will be left with happy tears in their eyes by the game’s ultimate denouement (and also will be left with their heads spiraling by the game’s surprising epilogue and secret ending. Let’s just say, there’s still more to come for this series).

The Titan battle from the Olympus level showcases the game's epic scale

Despite being the first official entry in the current generation of consoles, the game feels like something toeing the line between the old and the new due to its long gestation period. When you look at the game in motion and feel how it plays, it is clear this is the best looking and best playing Kingdom Hearts game to date. Any stiffness of movement has been ironed out to almost perfection, which will make any playthrough of previous entries feel incredibly dated going forward.

"Yo-ho, Yo-ho" the "Pirates of the Caribbean" level is uncannily pretty

Despite the prettier looks, the game sometimes wavers back and forth between being the prettiest thing ever all the way down to feeling like a PS3 remaster, especially in the early sections of the Olympus level. Keeping the “PS3 remaster” thing going, the early levels still suffer from some of the obtuse design that plagued some of the older entries, with plenty of invisible barriers and lack of direction that’ll sometimes hinder your exploration. These problems are ironed out the deeper you get to the game and you reach what you can assume are the levels made later in development (both in looks and design), but it will make you wish the game’s presentation and design was a little more consistent.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally a Pixar movie as a videogame

Also inconsistent is the game’s style of storytelling. This is a Kingdom Hearts game through and through, so if you’ve played one of these before, you know what to expect when it comes to dialogue and story delivery. It’s still a nomenclature of senseless nouns and pronouns followed by sometimes weird dialogue delivery between the characters. This was the same in the older entries, and it’s something that remained the same here despite all the technological advancements surrounding it. Me being a fan of the series, the sense of earnestness more than made up for any weird storytelling, but others may feel a little different.

Yes, they'll pose to your selfies

But the thing with this game is, even with any issues anyone could level at it from any aspect, there’s still nothing in gaming quite like this. This game, for all its weirdness, always has a way to fully engross you in it. Almost every aspect of it, from its characters, its saccharine story to the over-the-top gameplay, contains a sense of charm and magic you simply don’t find in modern videogames that like to take themselves more seriously. The way the game has recreated so many of Disney’s modern movies and classics (like Toy Story, Frozen and Big Hero 6) just reminds you that when Kingdom Hearts goes for it, it goes for it. The fact I got chills at seeing the scene of Frozen featuring Idina Menzel’s “Let it Go” recreated perfectly on screen shows that there’s nothing like that Disney magic.

Sledding fun in Arendelle

Many have joked the Kingdom Hearts series has transcended to the point it has become “critic proof”; the only series where people who have already made up their minds about it will remain the same regardless of the side they fall on. So in a way, anything I wrote in this review may not matter in the end for some of them. Such is the power of Kingdom Hearts. For casual and diehard fans of the series, Kingdom Hearts 3 is everything they could have ever wanted. For people that have always scoffed at it, I wouldn’t say this one will change their mind (even if I’d like for them to try it). 

San Fransokyo, a surprisingly lively world for the series

This game is a nice reminder of the kinds of games that used to dominate the conversation in generations prior. An era not dominated by the endless “games as-a-service” and open-world games we’re flooded with these days. Sometimes, what was old can be new again. Kingdom Hearts 3 may wear its “oldness” proudly at times (for good or bad, from a certain point of view), but between this and last week’s Resident Evil 2, I’m glad old design sensibilities can find their place and be embraced in 2019. As for this game, the joy of living in its worlds, the ridiculous level of spectacle in can conjure and the way the saccharine ending touched me, makes this game something that'll stick with me for a long time.

So, how many decades before we get Kingdom Hearts 4?

Highly Recommended

Written and edited by Alejandro Segovia.

Kingdom Hearts 3 was reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4 with a copy purchased by the reviewer. Game played to completion for a total of 31 hours in the game's Standard Mode. All pictures used were captured via the PlayStation 4''s SHARE feature.

Game Scoring rubric:
★ : 1 point  ☆ : 0.5 points

★★★★★: Essential. Excellent games. Close to flawless. Transcends any minor flaws it may have. 
   ★★★★: Great/Highly recommended. Great games. Some flaws worth mentioning, but nothing to worry about.
      ★★★: Okay/Recommended. Good games. Contains things worth playing & experiencing, but flaws can hinder the experience.
         ★★: Caution/Questionable. Mediocre games. The flaws start to significantly hinder anything good the game has.
             ★: Avoid. Bad games with terrible design decisions and flaws. No fun to be had. Don't waste your time.


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