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Kingdom Hearts III

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Square Enix
Release Date: Jan. 29, 2019

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PS4 Review - 'Kingdom Hearts III'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Jan. 29, 2019 @ 12:01 a.m. PST

A mature Sora sets out on a new adventure, as Kingdom Hearts III makes full use of next-generation console technologies to deliver more exhilarating, action-packed gameplay and various fun features.

Buy Kingdom Hearts III

Kingdom Hearts III returns us to the oversized shoes of series protagonist Sora. The villainous Xehanort has unleashed a complex scheme involving time travel, body switching, and cloning to create a new Organization XIII, who wants to take over reality. Sora's only hope is to gather seven Keyblade wielders who can stand against him. Unfortunately, most of them are missing in action, so Sora sets out across the many worlds to find a way to bring them back and stop Xehanort's plans.

The bulk of Kingdom Hearts III's plot is spent in the worlds of Disney. Almost every world in Kingdom Hearts III is new, with the exception of series mainstay Hercules and a return to Pirates of the Caribbean — although the latter follows the plot of the sequels. The new worlds are pretty much universally from Disney's CG renaissance, which features characters from Pixar classics "Monsters, Inc." and "Toy Story" as well as Disney newcomers "Big Hero 6," "Frozen," and "Tangled." Overall, the Disney worlds are well integrated, and there are also plenty of cameos by everyone from Scrooge McDuck to Winnie the Pooh.


If you're playing Kingdom Hearts for the Disney side of the story, KH3 is one of the better games in the series. It has a lot of fun and charming interactions, and a lot of love was clearly put into the worlds to hit as many favorite points as possible. Not every world is as good as the others, but overall, it's a fun romp through Disney worlds. Oddly absent are Final Fantasy characters, who make only the briefest of cameos.

To get one important thing out of the way: If you haven't played or at least read up on every single Kingdom Hearts game, including the mobile game, be prepared to be very, very, very confused. KH3 serves as the climax to every game released since 2005, and that is a long list. The plots of 358/2 days, Birth By Sleep, Re:coded, Unchained and pretty much every single thing bearing the Kingdom Hearts name play a very big part in the game. The climax in particular is custom-tailored to people who have followed the entire franchise, but it may be an inaccessible wall of nonsense and unfamiliar characters for those who haven't.

It's strange to say it for a series that's full of convoluted and complex stories, but KH3 manages to wrap up the story. It's almost fastidious about making sure every lingering plot thread, every unexpected connection, every little bit of minutia is handled. If there are future titles in the franchise, they will start off a new story. The actual story is borderline incomprehensible, but the emotional beats hit the spot for people who've followed the series. It feels like an appropriate climax to what may be the most confusing story in JRPG history, and that's remarkable. If you aren't a fan of Kingdom Hearts' overall meta-plot, you may want to mash the skip-cut scene button once you finish the Disney worlds.


The core combat system in KH3 builds on the one in KH2 rather than the Command Deck system seen in recent games. It's an action-RPG where you attack, block, dodge and move in real time. Magical spells drain an MP meter, which is shared between all spells, although Cure spells instantly drain the meter. It's going to feel very familiar to longtime fans of the franchise. There's a lot of fresh newness here, but it's built on the bones of a solid and enjoyable combat engine.

The ability to change forms in KH2 has been replaced by something more interesting. Each keyblade now has a distinct special form that's built by combining enemies. For example, Starseeker transforms Sora's keyblade into twin bowguns, which allow him to perform ranged attacks and change how his magic functions. Combo enough with these, and they can transform again into a giant cannon. The Ever After keyblade from "Tangled" becomes a staff that lets Sora create clones of himself and bombard the area with magical lasers.

Earlier games made keyblades a straight upgrade, so it could get outdated. In KH3, you can upgrade any keyblade, and you can even equip up to three at once to transform instantly in battle. The balance is a little off since some are incredibly overpowered, but they're fun to use. I particularly liked the "Frozen" world's keyblade, which let players transform into an ice-armed, magic-fueled berserker.


The keyblade transformation and many other elements are governed by situational commands. Replacing the reaction commands from KH2, situational commands are special attacks that are earned by doing various things. For example, repeatedly using a certain kind of magic can unlock a "Grand Magic" command, which lets you cast a more powerful spell. Beating up enemies can unlock form changes. Donald, Goofy and other party members can occasionally trigger team-up command actions, which can provide powerful advantages.

The combat in KH3 is perhaps a bit too busy for its own good. There are a lot of interesting elements to the combat system, but they get bogged down in how much there is. Any given battle many involve multiple keyblade transformations, special team-up attacks, summoning attractions, calling upon Disney characters for help, and goodness knows what else. It's busy, and while most moves have their use, it's easy to picture the majority of players just mashing buttons to get through. In particular, the attractions, which summon Disney theme park rides, aren't a good fit in the game and mostly serve as a way to trivialize random battles.

With that said, the boss battles are a delight. Almost every single one is an interesting battle with a distinctive gimmick. I'm not fond of all of the gimmicks, but the game does a good job of making them feel cool, fun and interesting. A lot of this is in the presentation. Even the simplest boss battles have a ton of spectacle and style. There are a few disappointments here and there, but by and large, the game starts big and keeps going.


With that in mind, the game's overall difficulty is rather low. You have access to so many extremely powerful moves and gimmicks that if you're playing on standard difficulty, you can probably mash buttons and press "Cure," and you'll finish the main story without trouble. You can customize the difficulty slightly, such as turning off certain powerful moves, but die-hard fans will probably want to start on Proud mode for a real challenge. For those who enjoyed it in the previous game, the EXP-Zero option is also available by default on the standard difficulty.

KH3 is a ridiculously packed game. There's an absurd amount of things to do and explore. There are multiple minigames, including collectible game-and-watch-style games and a surprisingly fun take on Puyo-Puyo. There are 90 hidden Mickey Mouse heads scattered around the world, huge areas to explore, and extra enemies to fight, so this game is worth the asking price. You'll probably finish the main game in about 30-40 hours if you're rushing, but there's enough extra content to make it feel worthwhile.

This even includes the return of the Gummi Ship from KH2. Reconceptualized as an open-world space-shooter, Gummi Ship was oddly addictive. I wish it had a little more weight to it, but the ability to explore strange bizarre space zones, fight enemies and collect parts to build a powerful laser-spewing death ship was just fun. It's pretty tame as a "forced" minigame, since you can just fly to your next destination if you don't like it.


KH3 is a visual treat. The graphics are amazing and do a fantastic job of capturing multiple art styles without looking out of place. It helps that many of the original characters were also computer-generated. The gameplay runs smoothly, and it was a delight to watch from beginning to end. One particular thing I enjoyed is how the game plays with filters and stylization. The 100 Acre Woods are done in a soft Valkyria Chronicles-style watercolor filter, while "Pirates of the Caribbean" gives everything a slightly more realistic look. It really helps to sell that the worlds feel different.

KH3 is similarly strong on the audio side. The soundtrack is phenomenally good, and a dozen different songs ended up stuck in my head for hours. The voice acting is mostly solid, but the quality fluctuates. Some actors knock it out of the park, while others sound stiff or dull. Perhaps the most distracting is that several characters have their movie actors or actresses, while others have sound-alikes, and it can sound a bit strange. Unfortunately, some of these are inevitable, as many of the cast members have retired or passed away, leaving us without Christopher Lee's Ansem the Wise or Leonard Nimoy's Xehanort.

Kingdom Hearts III is exactly the sequel it should be. Despite the absurdly long production time, it manages to hit all the right notes and feel like a satisfying and enjoyable conclusion to Square Enix's most confusing story. It's charming, it's funny, it's emotional, and it's a boatload of fun to play. It has its flaws, including a low difficulty level and a borderline incoherent story, but they're not enough to detract from the enjoyment of Sora's big adventure with Donald and Goofy.

Score: 9.0/10



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