This is part of my Kingdom Hearts III special. This is the Proud Mode (aka spoileriffic) version. This review is made for those of you who fall into any or all of the following categories:
- You’ve finished KH3, including seeing the secret ending.
- You don’t care if the ending or anything else is spoiled.
- You just want to freely talk about the game.
If you belong in this group, I hope you will read on!
Kingdom Hearts III, perhaps more than any of its other siblings, is a bit of misnomer. It is titled as the third game in the series, but depending on how you count them, it’s closer — or is — the tenth. But unlike other Square Enix (Japan) flagship series Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest, each Kingdom Hearts does not exist in a vacuum. The games all build upon the existing mythos and expand it in its own way.
Ways that, as many players argue, ruin the series more than help it. Although I won’t go deep into that, there’s little doubt that the abundance of games since 2005/6’s Kingdom Hearts II has made Kingdom Hearts III difficult for newcomers to understand. Which perhaps is a bit ironic considering the gameplay is probably the most newbie-friendly.
Kingdom Hearts III kicks off right after the short game 0.2, which was originally the prologue of Kingdom Hearts III. It itself takes place right after the game Dream Drop Distance, and if you’re lost already, strap in, because things get even more muddied from here. While all Kingdom Hearts games are significant in some way, those two (especially 0.2) are tightly bound to this game’s setup and provide a good tonal base for progressing through Kingdom Hearts III. In some ways, I think that is more of a trilogy than a trio of Kingdom Hearts, Kingdom Hearts II, and Kingdom Hearts III. There are a couple of sections taking place in the Dark World that probably only make sense in the context of 0.2, and if that had been kept as Kingdom Hearts III‘s opening, we might truly have had multiple playable characters rather than some sudden Boss fights with someone else in charge.
I can kind of understand why Aqua’s days in the realm of darkness was moved to a stand-alone though. I mean, things might have been streamlined so that she isn’t facing the same Bosses over and over again, but players want to get Sora and not waste time adapting to another character’s playstyle. It’s not like the Roxas portions either, where he passes his power onto Sora, so there would be more of a disconnect even though later parts of Kingdom Hearts III are a callback to 0.2.
Sora starring in his own prologue gives a couple of other benefits — and surprises. I was not expecting a Dive to the Heart scene where you can sort of customize his starting stats and the order of learned abilities. I think a lot of gamers will have fun on replays as players compare the nine setups. More importantly though, KHIII doesn’t let players suffer through a barebones opening. I was shocked to see Sora, Donald, and Goofy (SDG) are given many abilities right out of the gate. Most openings to RPGs boil down to just attacking with maybe one special or magic-related ability, but Kingdom Hearts III gives players many options from the beginning. Block, Air Slide, offensive magic, jumping off poles to create a shockwave… Sora is hardly helpless from the start. I was like, “Dude, Sora, you sure you lost your power?!?!” I’m sure there will be challenges where gamers will only stick to the starting abilities.
But of course most gamers will want to equip additional abilities, and they are more clearly labeled and organized than ever before. I know I’ve been guilty of equipping everything in the two previous main games, and that’s because the games didn’t do a good job of explaining modifiers versus finishers. The game does a fairly good job of introducing the mechanics, and AP is also much less of an issue if you’ve run into those problems before. For those concerned about low level runs, relatively few abilities are learned during level up. Lots are given after key fights, and whatever you’re missing can be given via equipment, which you can buy, find, or synthesize.
Synthesis (aside from the ultimate weapons) seemed easier than ever. First of all, you drop off your item drops with the moogles, so it’s fine if you’ve collected 99 Lucid Shards or whatever since the moogles will take whatever you have off your hands. You may get a lot of these minerals thanks to having ways to get Lucky Strike early and some good, easily repeatable postgame farming spots (battlegates). Players can also make some of the high-level drops, but not the super rare materials. Unfortunately, most of the items you create are lackluster; you can find a majority of the goods in shops or in treasure chests. I admit being disappointed by this. There are 88 items to synthesize, but considering that includes Ethers (which can be bought for… 100 munny I believe? A couple of whacks from breakables in areas will get you this much.) and small elemental boosting items that are found in chests, the list should have been chopped in half for some rare equipment with unique abilities and combinations.
As for those abilities in combat, KHIII is still a button masher. It’s very easy to power your way through, particularly since KHIII does not have a Critical Mode. 0.2 was perhaps a bit too unfair to the player in its Critical Mode (especially before the game was patched), but I can’t believe Square Enix didn’t include one at all.
The cornerstone of battling is the situation commands, a much-improved spin on the Birth By Sleep battle system. Whack things fast enough with your Keyblade, and you can (but don’t have to!) use a completely different fighting style for a short period of time. Use two-handed guns, magical staffs, even fly around in a chariot as a finisher. You can have up to three Keyblades available, allowing you to switch playstyles in mid-battle, and you are able to save their special attacks for later. Meanwhile, spam magic enough, and it’s a possibility you’ll cast the next tier spell for free, and you all three levels of magic will be available in your arsenal eventually.
Enemies will swarm you a la 0.2, but Sora has a ton of options to keep things in his favor. Perhaps a little too many. Besides the above, he still has more abilities in his arsenal. Sacrifice your MP to call upon an ally’s powers. Hone in on enemies and unleash a special attack (Shotlock) from the Focus gauge that changes depending on your Keyblade. Attack marked enemies and you can summon an Attraction. I thought Attractions would be reserved for key fights, but you end up having the option to use them in almost every battle — sometimes multiple times. Although it’s a heck of a lot of fun to destroy Heartless by guiding a river raft ride over them. But I’d love to see him fight with Riku or somebody when he uses them.
Riku: Man, these enemies are tough!!
Sora: Leave it to me! *flash of light*
Riku: Sora, what the hey are you doing?!?!
Sora: I’m going to ride a fake horsey made of lights and ride it around. Wheeeee!
Riku: … Are we trying to save the world or going to an amusement park?!
Okay, he technically uses Mountain Coaster near the end, but we don’t know if anybody saw him. That was a nice throwback to the opening though.
It was also an interesting spin to have access to all three levels of magic. The base effect is the same, but the highest tiers have a bigger area of effect and, of course, a higher MP cost. So you can choose to place some lower-level spells in your shortcut in exchange for more casts. That makes for some interesting decisions and helps adds some strategy to the game outside of “get good”.
Having trouble? There’s also the option of eating food to give you temporary boost to your stats. You can also buy an item for a one-time rescue, but you can only possess one of these coins at a time.
Although it is easy to lose control of Sora and let him go on a combo frenzy, all the different techniques are pretty flashy and cool to use. You can steer Sora to fit your type of playstyle (attack, magic, defensive), but no matter which you choose, it’s just so much fun. Except for Links; those required work with their weird ways to use them., and I felt my MP was better spent casting spells. Shotlocks I also pretty much ignored since I didn’t find them necessary. So if you use these regularly, there are even more ways to have fun. There are even a few times where it’s a gimmick (alternative) type battle instead of the regular combat, which adds some variety. Somewhat ironically, those were often the toughest parts of the game. Stupid race to Port Royal. *grumble grumble* (In my defense, I’m not the only one who thinks the map is misleading.)
In addition, Donald and Goofy are also surprisingly tough and smart. Donald in particular has gone from being extra squishy to a surprisingly sturdy mage. I’m so proud of you, Donald! In some ways, they were actually better than me. I found Lock-On to be near useless in this game, as enemies would often be off-camera or would just vanish. Donald and Goofy’s AI, however, would know where they are, and using the default AI for them meant they never let up. Plenty of times I would just follow their lead in trying to nail down those annoying opponents that I had a hard time finding. I never felt like they were dead weight even with tons of enemies in almost every battle. It really feels like Sora, Donald, and Goofy are a well-rounded team.
This next part also goes back to the whole story issue: because the whole game is building toward a Keyblade War of seven lights versus thirteen darknesses, battles against humans/humanoids are very rare. Some of the most rewarding, rich battles in the series have been against a single person rather than than the ones against the monster(s). Think Riku in Hallow Bastion in KH or the Organization fights in KHII. Here, though, it’s almost 100% Heartless Bosses until the very end, and they’re pretty forgettable. I’ll remember the fun of fighting, but not who I was fighting against.
Now, the much ballyhooed Keyblade War battles look and feel rather cool, and this was something I wish was expanded upon. In my head, I had predicted things would be similar to the final Bosses of Final Fantasy X-2. The seven warriors would face off against different Organization members, but Sora would keep going around after finishing his fight to help everyone else out. Donald and Goofy probably wouldn’t be around, but you’d get one of the other six as your party member for the fight. It pretty much works like that, but each fight is as a stop-and-start affair. When I was just getting my groove on, stop for a cutscene! This approach meant these fights lost a lot of impact for me.
I do hope that either a Critical Mode is released or there is someway to refight more powerful versions of these opponents a la the Data Battles of Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix. This would force a lot of players to rely more on learning patterns and defending rather than powering through. Outside of the couple gimmick battles, I only died once in the maingame. In my opinion, the Toy Story world is probably the most difficult level… if you fight normally and don’t use the robot toys. (And, it turns out, it’s good practice for later.) Otherwise, despite Olympus returning, the Coliseum does not. It makes no sense. I figured one of the reasons Olympus was a good choice to be the one returning world was because of the Coliseum — and it would have made a perfect way for Square Enix to add some fights via DLC. I know that Square Enix is reconsidering their DLC approach after the Final Fantasy XV scenario, but still. There are some bonus battles postgame that mostly exist to give this game’s secret reports and make it easier to collect the last few Synthesis materials, but there’s only a single Superboss, and he’s not very tough.
Going back to the story, despite the big bads all hiding out until the endgame, it was nice to see some of them creating discord throughout the worlds SDG visit. Some of the lands feature a rehash of the original movie they’re based on while others are more or less sequels. It was a good mix, and the trio all add their own charm to the worlds as well with their optimism and good-natured ribbing. Some of the characters there will join you, and for once you aren’t forced to choose who to bench. Again, even though enemies show up in mobs, this means Sora has a party of five at points, and with all of Sora’s action abilities, the game is too easy.
The areas themselves also feature a good mix of handholding and free exploration. You don’t have to worry about falling to the bottom of Hallow Bastion (KH), but places aren’t just long tunnels either (KHII). Sora can climb walls, fall from heights with a dramatic slash, and eventually even teleport to far-off distances at points. You will need all these if you want to find all the treasures and hidden Mickeys. If you miss a jump or do an incorrect fast travel technique, you can just try again without having to go too far back. Still, there are some tricky areas to navigate (like in Toy Box), and it is easy to get lost at a couple of points. Usually just doubling back to the previous save point and retracing your steps will make you realize there’s a wall or something you missed that you can climb. The Pirates of the Caribbean world in particular is a wide-open area with plenty of areas to discover both above and below the surface. I didn’t think I’d like it, but I actually had fun. But I guess I was having fun because Sora was so jazzed about being a real pirate.
While The Caribbean was full of adventure, Arendelle I felt was the most poorly designed. You know the ice palace she creates? Yeah, we don’t even go there but some dumb ripoff that makes no sense. How does a lightning-using knife thrower suddenly create an elaborate three-level ice maze? I guess Roxas was sleeping they day the Organization taught its members how to randomly create labyrinths out of the world around them. Don’t even get to visit to actual Arendelle or Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post and Sauna. We should have gone into town to meet or at least hear about Hans before we see him.
Also, Pooh’s world was an incredible waste of time for the design team, and it should have been skipped or had more of the minigames located here instead of so many out there in the main game. (More on that later.) Spend the time creating the Coliseum and giving poor Phil some lines.
Either way, what was a major disappointment was the low number of worlds. especially not visiting Radiant Garden. Thanks to Chip and Dale’s new invention, Sora can check in with some people there, but not any of the Final Fantasy characters (who have been some of Sora’s biggest allies). Not having any Final Fantasy characters has been a common complaint to the game, and for me, it’s not so much the lack of Square Enix crossovers as not seeing Leon, Yuffie, Cid, and Aerith. Considering they were going around trying to gather Ansem’s data and fix their home, I find it almost egregious they wouldn’t have been clued in or invited to work at the palace. It feels like Sora should have swung by to check on things. The locations themselves might have been bigger, but the journey feels a little short. Again, part of the reason is that so much is reserved for lategame and the Keyblade War.
One or two more worlds would have helped in another way: spread out some of the cutscenes a little. It’s a good idea to make sure you have some free time after finishing a world, as it can be a while before you can do anything again. There are always going to be some interruptions as SDG go through a world, but the lengthy breaks between being able to just beat up some enemies can be very annoying. Yes, cutscenes can be skipped, but don’t go skipping the non-Disney world ones. There is a lot to take in thanks to some complicated plot points, especially if you haven’t played through every game in the series. KHIII tries to explain the current situation and new revelations, but even I was left confused as points. While much is wrapped up here, it appears like the mobile game is going to be very important to the next installment. I’m not a fan of gacha games, but the movie Back Cover is just not going to be enough to understand the Union x connections in Kingdom Hearts III.5, IV, or whatever the completely new game is titled. I’m hoping for a full, enhanced port — maybe that will be 2020’s Kingdom Hearts game since Nomura is obviously going to be busy (hopefully) finishing up the first part of Final Fantasy VII Remake? But yet isn’t Union x itself an enhanced remake? Oy vey, I’m getting a migraine.
And trust me, there will be a next (brand new) installment. I mean, I figured whatever new entry probably wouldn’t take nearly as long as KHIII considering all the time invested into making the graphics and battle system. It’s possible Arendelle and Kingdom of Corona will return because of the New Seven Hearts; by then, Frozen 2 will have been released, and then there’s the Tangled TV series to take inspiration from. Otherwise, I would think we would visit the worlds of the other three princesses. Tiana, Moana, and Merida are likely candidates, but it would be interesting if perhaps some of Fox’s animated lineup gets added. C’mon, the Anastasia movie was cool! Although I still think a live action Beauty and the Beast world would be really cool. Gotta be something they can incorporate about different worlds, similar hearts or something. Goodness knows it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing they ever did. And we could finally beat up Gaston!
But maybe we need to talk less about Disney movies being included versus Square Enix games… or fake Square Enix games? Yet-to-be-announced Square Enix games? Because that ending… it’s something alright.
I didn’t believe Kairi would be able to take down an Organization member. She trained, but she’s still the least experienced fighter. Plus, and I don’t mean this as a put-down, but she’s more of a crafty, flowery, feminine/girly-girl type. Just like how Naminé loves to draw. Yes, Kairi can fight Shadows, and she went training for a long period of time, but she’s the only one of the seven without years of fighting experience. Even she, in game terms, leveled up to the mid 30s, considering her opponents are easily 60+, of course she’s going to be the weak link.
… But Xehanort took Kairi and shattered her so casually! He doesn’t give a crap about capturing or killing anyone else?? And what was with Sora’s earlier freakout, giving up so easily? But I think his worry about being alone is in character.
I also don’t fully get how Sora was using the Power of Waking wrong. He’s supposed to just jump to hearts not worlds I think, but exactly how did the other guardians’ hearts end up in different worlds? And only Lich(es) can take Keyblade wielder’s hearts or something?? I get the part about Kairi saving him, but it’s confusing. This series needs a Kingdom Hearts for Dummies book instead of all the light novel adaptations. Lingering Will’s reappearance was cool, but I missed the scene where it’s hinted he’s coming (and that Naminé is at least somewhat awake).
So, for now, Sora’s dead. We can argue the semantics, but at least dead-ish. I do admit chanting, “We’re going to Shibu-YA!” in a conga beat once I saw the Scramble Crossing, but Verum Rex I guess is more than a video game. Is it the RG? Either way, the ending wasn’t some sort of closure with a hook a la KHII nor the subtle beauty of hope in KH. It’s less of an excitement toward the next game and more like we’ve waited all this time to get Kingdom Hearts III and are already back in waiting mode.
I guess the game is saying to go play Union x and The World Ends With You Final Remix while we wait. Not going to lie, a little disappointing to see everyone else partying on the beach (including Hayner, Pence, and Olette — get to break the “must stay in your world rule”?!) while Kairi’s off crying as she imagines Sora or says goodbye to him before he disappears. Geez, guys, go move the beach party to the other side of the shack and give them a little privacy. (I kept yelling at them to just kiss already.) Although it was weird for Sora and Kairi to have their first moment in this game while Riku is just a few yards/meters away talking to himself.
Graphics-wise, the game looks amazing. KHIII feels like you’ve landed in these movies. I do imagine that standard PS4s and Xboxes will be pushed to their limits at points, as even I experienced a slowdown on PS4 Pro. A glitch too in a Battlegate. Defeated all the enemies… and nothing happened. I kept wandering around in case there was a Heartless I missed, but even my party was just standing around. Luckily, I didn’t lose too much progress.
On the other hand, the game has a few beautiful surprises in store for you. As for the voice acting, Sora’s voice actor gives his best recent performance, although I’m sure the advancements in technology and Sora getting out of his KH/KHII mode also helps. Most of the cast returns, although there were a few glaring omissions. I mean, death is one thing, but I am curious why certain voice actors either passed or were passed over, especially Hayden Panettiere as Kairi since she voiced her in some games with very few lines. (She says she wasn’t contacted, which leaves the question as to why.) I’m sure we’ll never know for sure, but most of the replacement cast does a good job, like Rapunzel’s voice actress. (Told ya Mandy Moore wasn’t returning. No way she was left out of that big announcement when it confirmed Mother Gothel before it was even known she was in the game.)
Part of it is that the script is better than some other games, bringing the Disney charm without being too cheesy. It also helps that Sora isn’t kept out of the loop for the entire game, even being pretty chill about things that I thought would get a big reaction, like about Ventus’ heart. (And Ventus never dreamed about or saw what Sora looked like before meeting him? Weird.)
I myself had some big reactions… to the minigames.
Most of you are probably aware already of the Gummi Ship portions, which are required to reach new worlds. I do admit the Gummi Ship is probably the best it has ever been thanks to a large explorable 3D world, but here’s the issue: lots of the Trophies/Achievements require you to play the Gummi Ship and all the other minigames available. Classic Kingdom, which was previewed in the mobile game, would have been enough. But taking photos, cooking, fake video games… it’s too much. Where are all the combat Trophies proving your fighting prowess? Of course, can’t have these without some more Superbosses, but hey, just dance and sled your way to 100% instead. I ended up spending time on things I thought would be required for completion (like upgrading Keyblades), but it turns out they weren’t required. I also thought I would need parts to upgrade Ultima Weapon, but it starts off at max level. That was more wasted time.
I think a lot of gamers will find at least one of the minigames bleeping annoying. Me, I think I spent over three, almost four hours on that Verum Rex game. I kept losing my chain when the second wave comes in. Then I finally got a 26x chain… and my score was still way too low because I didn’t kill enough with the gas tanks. Finally got lucky and ended up with 17 million. I think the game needed some sort of indicator you’re about to lose your bonus, as it’s really hard to tell if you should go ahead and shoot or wait a few more seconds to get a combo. Maybe in the future, people will find some sort of loophole or easy trick in the minigames. All I know is that I never, ever, ever, ever, ever want to play Verum Rex again… and I hope Riku Dark Firagas all those annoying robots to heck if he sees any.
Most reviews with a score are placing this in the 80s/B range. That’s pretty much on par with how I would rate Kingdom Hearts III. It’s a lot of fun overall with a lot of enthusiastic spirit. However, the reliance on players knowing several games worth of content (especially a gacha game) and a lack of epic fights muddies the experience. Some good (and reasonably priced) DLC would be nice on that front because it’s going to be a long wait until we see Sora happy, healthy, and whole. Guess it’s back to waiting for Final Fantasy VII Remake for now…
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