Kingdom Hearts 3 SPOILER Review: A sequel that made the wait feel worthless
Reviewed on: PS4 (Original)
There’s really no game I can think of that I’ve anticipated more in my life than Kingdom Hearts 3 (KH3). One of my favorite memories of watching the PlayStation E3 conferences has to be when the game was announced back in 2013 and proceed to jump up and down in my room screaming: “Yes!” Frankly, I’ve been a fan for a long-time and the first two “main” entries in the series are among some of my favorite games of all-time. The incredible combat, insane boss fights, nicely abridged versions of Disney classics, and characters that were fun, but showed some complexity in tough moments was seemingly promised with this third main entry as well as a solid conclusion to the main plot that fans have been following for years.
That’s why, as a long-time fan, it really hurts to say that Kingdom Hearts 3 not only couldn’t live up to years of waiting, but is an absolute disappointment. Conceptually, the game is mostly sound and has some interesting ideas that could’ve been a solid direction for the gameplay as well as the series. However, even with new innovations, the overall experience doesn’t feel like one that reminds me of much on anything that I love about the series.
I think the best place to start is where Kingdom Hearts has always had my heart with the combat. What I’ve always loved about the series’ combat is the amount of variation players can have with a unique set of abilities and stats, fun team-up attacks with some of your favorite Disney companions, and some special reaction commands that players can activate with a single button to turn the tide of battle. All of these make a triumphant return and have some solid improvements and are accompanied by some new mechanics.
Rather than having Drive Forms, each Keyblade that Sora obtain contains special transformation abilities that can change the way players deal with enemies. Players now can shoot enemies from a distance with the Star Seeker’s Double Arrow guns, that can transform a second time into a long-range launcher, and even get up-close and personal with the Monsters Inc. styled Smile Gear Keyblabe’s Agile Claws.
Sora can also call upon powerful Disney characters, like Ariel and Simba, and even call on “attraction rides” that let players battle against enemies with park rides. It’s tough to say how connected they are with the Disney parks because they kind of come off as generic with Sora and company being able to defeat enemies with a pendulum pirate ship ride as well as a magical carousel. Combat can even become more varied with more environmental battle options with KH3’s flow-motion battle mechanics.
There’s also more environmental mechanics that can change battle within each world. Players can now topple enemies with a snowball that grows bigger the more Sora rolls it while in Arendale and they can also have Sora jump into different variations of mechanized toys that will mow down all kinds of enemies. As a whole, the worlds feel much livelier this time around as worlds, like The Kingdom of Corona and Twilight Town, have more NPCs running around making it feel like a living world.
While I enjoy having all of these new gameplay mechanics and I actually think that they bring some freshly creative ways to do battle, all of these new mechanics bring out an incredible flaw in the game: it’s way too easy. In past entries, even playing on the standard/normal difficulty would at least present some tough challenges but that seems to be forgotten in KH3 as most of the mechanics do way too much damage and make the game feel a little broken. Even my friend, who played the game on Proud mode, said the game presented zero challenge and didn’t even die once. Attractions and Keyblade transformations come up way too often and do so much damage that I literally never feared of dying throughout the entire game. Even the toughest bosses would fall to certain attractions easily and I quickly realized that summoning Simba was an easy cheat to killing bosses with no problem as he literally drains bars of health with his final move.
Even the end-game bosses feel like complete jokes as team commands with Donald and Goofy as well other party members’ attacks would do so much damage that they never stood a chance. I remember fighting Xemnas and seeing him have around three and a half bars of health only to have Riku knock him all the way down to one hit after I look away for just a few seconds. Honestly, I wasn’t even that highly leveled and never really had to grind for experience because I would just slaughter every enemy in my path. Even having to fight multiple bosses at once, while a nice change of pace, wasn’t even slightly challenging and made the overall game experience feel lifeless.
Even the characters themselves felt lifeless throughout the game as the story is tiring to watch because the game is pretty much cutscenes filled with either tongue and cheek humor that misses much more than it hits or is just stripped from a Disney movie. What made visiting some of Disney’s classic worlds wasn’t just going through the story again, seeing and playing alongside fan-favorite characters, or even getting a themed Keyblade. Rather, it was seeing the characters and story through the eyes of Sora and seeing how his story connects to theirs.
Kingdom Hearts 3 captures absolutely none of this for the most part and trades this in for shot for shot remakes of scenes that feel cheap and Sora feeling totally disconnected from what’s happening. I almost feel completely insulted that I had to watch scenes from Frozen, Tangled, and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End that were just cut from the movie and didn’t even have Sora in it. Having to sit through the entirety of “Let it Go” and scenes from Tangled felt like a true betrayal and makes me question how this came to be. Well, I have my ideas considering the fact that all of the Final Fantasy characters have been stripped away and feel like they have been completely forgotten.
Yep, that’s right, there’s not a single one present in the game and there is no battle with one of the most legendary video game villains of all-time: Sephiroth. The moment I realized they were absent, it felt like a part of the game was missing. Leon, Yuffie, Cloud, and the entire group have had a deep impact on Sora as a character and even some fans wouldn’t even recognize some of them from their original Final Fantasy games and hadn’t heard of them until this series. As a long-time fan, it feels like a real slap in the face.
Kingdom Hearts 3 also has some of the worst pacing that I have seen in a game in quite a while as the cutscenes feel way to long to have nothing important going on and pointless banter. Most, if not all, of these cutscenes completely drag and contain a ton of pointless banter between Sora and Donald that leaves Goofy to be the voice of reason. Yes, Goofy has to be the voice of reason and this GIF below should show you why that’s so ridiculous:
Either way, Sora feels like he has lost all of the complexity and intrigue that was building from past games and comes off completely immature. When I am asked what I like about Sora, I immediately jump to a scene in Kingdom Hearts 2 where Sora is left with a tough decision to keep heartless even though it’s helping Xemnas complete his master plan. It’s a moment that shows some complexity past Sora’s typical goofy demeanor and made me realize that he has something more to him. Kingdom Hearts 3 does show this towards the game’s end, but it takes so long to get there and there’s so many cringe-worthy moments of Sora talking that it left no impact on me.
What’s most disappointing, though, has to be the story that has only gotten more confusing and has had me less intrigued than ever. Frankly, even with them adding a memory archive section that lets players catch up on the story of the series, this story has so many issues and confusing decisions that make the game feel like a headache. There are things that just happen that never really get explained or are just questionable decisions as a whole that I will now lovingly place in this paragraph below:
Why does The Lingering Will show up for five seconds and no one reacts to it? Why instead of Anna, Elsa, or honestly anyone else did they choose some random snow golem as a party member? Why does the Frozen world not even have an ending with the characters and has Sora have little interaction with them at all? Why is Sora so excited to be in San Fransokyo over any other world? Why would you have a Hercules themed world without bringing back tournaments? Why are the graphics so inconsistent that it leaves so worlds looking amazing and others like total garbage? Why would you bring Maleficent and Pete back into the story just to set up another game?
Honestly, the game has no sense of finality to it and doesn’t even treat the villain it has been setting up for like six games like a bad guy. Rather, they’re all treated like they still are good at heart and it leads to goodbyes and reconciles that feel way more frustrating than satisfying. It also shamelessly sets up a sequel that I can confidently say that it doesn’t really deserve.
It’s unfortunate that the 31-hour gameplay experience couldn’t even get me to go back (except for the secret ending) for the post-game content that isn’t that bad. There are hidden emblems that are scattered throughout all of the worlds, smaller challenges that can lead to a hidden boss, and smaller minigames specific to each world. They also try to include small minigames that are based on Tiger Electronic games that are fun the first time you play them, but ultimately leave no impression. Even the Gummi Ship missions are better with some more battles and better movement, but were never good enough to even make me want to touch them again.
Those that know me personally know how disappointing this truly is for me. With all of the baffling decisions and un-challenging gameplay, Kingdom Hearts 3 doesn’t feel like a game that was made for me as a long-time fan. Rather, it feels much more like a Disney sell-out than the gripping finale that fans have been waiting for and deserve.