My relationship with Kingdom Hearts is as complicated as its story. On the one hand I love the world it’s created throughout its long history and I think the Disney/Square-Enix fused environments are brimming with charm and personality. I also think the gameplay for each game is unique in its own way and each entry improves upon it one way or another.
On The Other Hand.
The writing and general story for this entire franchise absolutely infuriates me, and that is not an exaggeration. With each passing game, Kingdom Hearts somehow finds a new way to completely twist itself around and get so stuck in its own narrative that it makes my head hurt. Also, the games worlds, as fun as they can be, have been getting more and more linear and streamlined to the point that many of the recent Disney worlds have started to lose the charm that they once held over the series. They feel less like exploring a movies world and more like, funnily enough, generic areas in an RPG. The most recent entry in the series, Kingdom Hearts III, is probably the most conflicted I’ve felt about an entry in this series because not only does it improve on MANY of the praises and complaints that I’ve had with the franchise for a number of years…it also somehow makes them WORSE.
Kingdom Hearts III starts out really promising with the only returning world from the first game, Olympus. This introductory segment (called Kingdom Hearts 2.9, by the way……thank you, Nomura) is very helpful in teaching new players the ins and outs of the game, and giving returning players enough time to get used to the returning mechanics. The visuals and music are absolutely stunning and it has a phenomenal amount of spectacle. From dodging fires in a crumbling Athens, to experimenting with the new traversal techniques by climbing the stormy ascent to Mount Olympus, and eventually fighting Hades and the three titans, it perfectly sets the tone for the adventure….perhaps a little too well. After this you get tasked to go to Twilight Town and this is where one of the games problems start to show up.
One of the main issues with Kingdom Hearts III is unfortunately its strongest selling point among players, the worlds themselves. The Disney worlds this time around are all mostly themed around Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters Inc.) and Disney’s recent CGI animated films (Tangled, Big Hero 6, and Frozen). The only exceptions to this are Olympus and The Caribbean, which return from the first two entries respectively. Now the biggest issue is that every world in this game is surprisingly small and offer very little variety in terms of landscapes, Kingdom of Corona and Arendell especially suffer from this. It could be said that this is due to the movies they’re based on not having a lot of varied scenery but Kingdom Hearts has taken liberties with world designs before. You really think the inside of Monstro looked like this in Pinocchio?
Probably the stage that got it the worst wasn’t even a Disney world, it was the returning Twilight Town. Almost every recognizable landmark was removed and you’re only allowed to explore the market place, the forest, and the outside of the mansion which is an absolute shame because that was one of the more fleshed out worlds in the 2nd game (and a personal favorite of mine). Of course that’s not to say that all of these worlds are lackluster. Toy Box had me smiling ear to ear from start to finish, mostly because fact that I’m a massive Toy Story fan, and I honestly think that The Caribbean is a really impressive looking world and contains the best looking visuals in the entire game. I really enjoyed the naval combat and the exploration in that world, along with the amazing thrill ride that was the boss. This spectacle also ties into the games combat and it is by far one of Kingdom Hearts III‘s best aspects.
Hitting things with a giant key feels really good in this game. If there’s one thing Kingdom Hearts is consistent about it’s improving upon its fighting mechanics with each new game, and Kingdom Hearts 3 is no exception. You’re given much more freedom this time around in terms of both offensive and defensive options and you unlock extra combos and aerial maneuvers MUCH faster than it previous games; combine that with the returning Flowmotion system from Dream Drop Distance and you have a fighting system that’s more frantic than ever. My only real gripes with the combat is that the summons aren’t too useful outside of the returning Simba (seriously that summon is HYPER busted against bosses) and that the new “Attraction” system really grinds the flow of combat to a halt. The action deck is a also a bit of a mess since actions can be stacked on top of each other and it can be irksome to select the action you want during combat. Outside of these minor gripes though I think the combat is an absolute blast and provides hours of fun throughout the games length. The action helps keep the player moving world to world so you can experience more of the story.
Look. Kingdom Hearts has a bad story, we all know this. It’s nonsensical, it’s silly, it’s cheesy, but we all love it for that. It really shouldn’t be any surprise that the story in Kingdom Hearts III is bad…but this time it’s a different kind of bad. This is the penultimate conclusion to the Xehanort saga, the story that this series has been telling for well over Ten Years. It’s supposed to show how much our main characters have grown and how ready they are for the final fight. It’s supposed to wrap the story up with few loose ends and answers any unanswered questions.
Kingdom Hearts III does none of these things.
Fellas I’m going to be real I’m going to be going to some major spoiler territory here. If you don’t want the plot of Kingdom Hearts III spoiled for you then I recommend scrolling down to the bottom paragraph for my final thoughts on the game. But if you have played the game already or just don’t care, let’s continue.
The main crux of Kingdom Hearts III’s plot is Sora trying to acquire his lost powers along with “The power of waking” (a continuation of the ending of Dream Drop Distance) so he can save Ventus and Riku and Mickey “The King” Mouse’s mission to rescue Aqua so that they can finally have the seven warriors of light to fight Xehanort. This sounds simple enough…except that it drags on for FAR too long. MANY of the plot threads and details could have been trimmed down to a far shorter length and none of what’s really happening outside of the main plot really matters to what you’re playing. One of Kingdom Heart’s original strong suits was the way it blended the Disney worlds into the plot, having each world be just as important as the next to further the pace of the story. This time around though all the worlds just feel like filler to further pad out the story. Very rarely do ANY of the worlds tie into the plot, the only exception being the gathering of “The new seven hearts” which guess what? Amounts to N O T H I N G. Sora barely learns any form of lesson in each of these worlds and none of them really help him gain any insight on how to get the power of waking outside of Olympus. And after about 18 hours of gameplay Sora just kind of….pulls the power out of his heart’s proverbial ass and wakes up Ventus. He just..kind of remembers he actually has. This isn’t even going into some of the minor characters plots because they…don’t matter. Especially Kairi and Axel.
Out of every character in this game Kairi gets it the worse BY FAR. Not only is the promise of her become a Keyblade warrior completely wasted as she only fights once in the ENTIRE GAME. She just ends up getting killed in near the end just so she can serve the purpose of motivating Sora…again. Like in almost every other game. She has no personality or really ANY lines in the game, only about 2 or 3 cutscenes and that’s it. For being a part of the “Destiny Trio” she sure did get third wheeled. Axel was just kind of there. That’s it. There’s no real point in even mentioning him.
Back to the main story, what about the Organization? They’re the villains right? Well this time they’re trying to open Kingdom Hearts to do……….something. To defeat it? Combat the darkness? I don’t know anymore the point is the Fake Leonard Nimoy is putting his soul into other characters to make his goal come true. With this he has brought back several Organization members, but we learn something a little later in the game. See not every Organization member knew each other before they became Nobodies…so where did they come from? You want to know? Well you know how Kingdom Hearts’ story has spanned multiple console generations and consoles? Well this particular point was a part..of the mobile game.
That’s right. In Kingdom Hearts III there are several instances in the story that require FULL KNOWLEDGE of this mobile game to even come close to understanding. Near the end of the game, you arrive at a place called The Final World, an admittedly cool world which is essentially limbo. You meet a bunch of formless lights that talk to you about themselves. Many of these characters are theorized to be ones from the mobile game, ONE OF THEM BEING MARLUXIA’S SISTER. NONE of this s properly explained to you at any point in this game. You can argue that these are meant to be Easter eggs for truly dedicated players and I would normally agree…except there’s a point earlier in the story where Xemnas tells three of the Organization members that they’re whole reason for being there is to bring out an “ancient Keyblade legacy” which NEVER gets resolved, explained, hinted at, ANYTHING.
This is one of the main issues with Kingdom Hearts III’s story and why I think it’s the most frustrating in the series to date. There are so many instances of plot lines not getting resolved, answering one question but then leaving a million others, characters not even coming close to realizing their full potential. For a game that’s supposed to be a conclusion to a story, it comes off more like a footnote in the grand scheme of things.
With ALL of this being said, do I dislike Kingdom Hearts III? Like I said at the beginning, it’s complicated. On the one hand the gameplay is the best it’s ever been and Sora, Donald, and Goofy are just as likable as ever. The game is stunning, and the music is wonderful.
On The Other Hand.
The story is absolutely maddening, half of the characters don’t matter, and the Disney worlds are a shadow of their former selves with barely any distinguishing features from one another and any real plot relevance.
Kind of like how Sora lost many of his powers at the start of his journey, I feel Kingdom Hearts has lost a lot of its charm. The feel, the look, and the sound is there…but ironically it’s missing the heart of what made this series special in the first place. Kingdom Hearts III isn’t a bad game at all, in fact I would recommend it to most people on a purely technical level, but as a conclusion to this saga…it’s a disappointment. And a pretty big one at that.
I hope whatever the series has planned in the future can help the series get back to basics because as mad as this series can make me, I will always come back to it. No matter how bad, how ridiculous, or how confusing it can get.