Kingdom Hearts is a bit of a strange IP to me. I’ve never exactly disliked it, in fact, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is one of my favourite games from my Nintendo DS days, but it was a series that I couldn’t really bring myself to play. That being said, I did try my best to attempt to wrap my head around the previous events of the games to better my knowledge of what’s happening with Kingdom Hearts 3. The game only took an eternity to be developed, but it is finally here and it’s… something?
To start things off, I was greeted by a recap video with some wildly inconsistent music that gave me a headache, though this is probably due more to me having an incredible distaste for Skrillex and his sounds. The recap video did a very mediocre job at informing me what had happened previously in the story, but at least there was some form of effort. Whether this is because the game took forever or because the storyline is incredibly convoluted and skewed, I’m not sure. But all that I’m sure of is that the game follows the events of Sora and his crew as they try and regain Sora’s lost Power of Waking (basically smelling salts for the heart) whilst also trying to track down some of the lost Keyblade Masters. The adventure sees Sora travel throughout various worlds, old and new, accompanied by Goofy and the ever-so-annoying Donald Duck. My personal favourite world was The Carribean (the world of Pirates of the Carribean), but that’s just due to my love for the Pirates IP.
Kingdom Hearts 3’s strength when it comes to writing is with the individual characters and small stories within the worlds themselves, but not the overall story arc. This is probably due in part to the fact that they have Disney’s well-established and predefined ideas already to play with, instead of having to come up with an entirely new direction all by themselves. When Kingdom Hearts 3 has to rely on its own writing, the game kind of loses its flair. There comes a point in the story where the game randomly throws in a bunch of plot points which are from the previous game, but never even references them properly in the game itself. So unless you’re dialled into the greater Kingdom Hearts universe they are meaningless dribble, and take a game from simply having average writing to being more or less incoherent. I understand that they are supposed to connect the dots with stuff from previous games, but by throwing in random elements from other games for no apparent reason within the context of the game itself you create a needlessly obtuse and confusing story, not a deep one.
Even though Kingdom Hearts 3’s gameplay is very simple, that does not mean that it is not enjoyable. I found it quite nice just playing a game that opted for simple controls and mechanics rather than trying to inundate the player with gameplay ideas and design that would be overbearing. Yes, the combat can be on the rather easy side, but it can also be rough if you aren’t careful. Some of the later enemies can very easily pin you in a corner and just combo you until you die, but most of the time this is your own doing. I will admit that there were certainly points where I wished the game would ask more of me in terms of combat, but that’s also the inner masochist in me talking (the person who played through Dark Souls without levelling up for the fun of it).
One of my more favoured aspects of the combat had to do with the different Keyblades that you can equip. While the designs of the Keyblades themselves can be a bit much, the variety of moves which they offer is anything but. They also offer their own unique special moves, my personal favourites was the Shooting Star Keyblade which had the Double Arrowguns. This basically made it a third-person shooter for a brief period of time. I loved this as it really mixed up the gameplay.
Speaking of mixed gameplay, Kingdom Hearts 3 does this awesome thing where each world has a unique gameplay element. The game makes a very strong start with the first world outside of Twilight Town becoming a Mech Shooter (and I loved every second of it). The different gameplay elements that each world holds helps keep the gameplay fresh, as over the course of the game the gameplay can (naturally) get a bit stale with how simplistic and forgiving it is. I found myself actually increasingly enjoying the game as the varied gameplay meant that the standard gameplay was even more fun due to the game’s lack of reliance on it. It’s an element of game design that is hard to get right. Experiment and vary it too much and it becomes a clunky mess. The only game prior to this that I’ve played which correctly varied gameplay was PlatinumGames’ NieR:Automata, but it is nice to see that other developers are willing to take risks, however small they may be, if it means benefitting the overall game.
Square Enix’s artists have done an incredible job with Kingdom Hearts 3. Faithfully recreating some of Disney’s most popular worlds within the setting of Square’s fantasy adventure could not have been easy, let alone having to create new parts just to fit the design of a game world. Each world has its own unique art style and beauty tied to it, but my personal favourite for art would have been Hundred Acre Wood, the world of Winnie the Pooh. Using some of the more advanced features that Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 has, Square were able to perfectly capture the simplistic-yet-intricate design of Pooh Bear and Co., which also made me the happiest I’ve ever been in a game (I grew up with Winnie the Pooh). The previously mentioned Pirates of the Carribean world also has what is probably some of the highest detail textures in the game, which the game’s art shifting from a consistent cartoony tone to a more photorealistic tone. The artist’s renditions of characters like Elizabeth Turner, Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbosa are incredibly accurate and it was hard to believe that I was playing the same game.
Now it would not be a Square Enix game without some weird performance issues. I’m not sure how exactly they managed to get a game on Unreal Engine to perform poorly, but my PS4 Pro (which should be more than capable of stably running the game at 60 frames per second) really struggled with the game. It never really dipped too far, and consistently felt higher than the standard 30 frames per second, but it still should run a lot better than it does given the technology behind it. Something which always frustrates me with games is when the game runs at one framerate and the cutscenes run at another one. This is something that generally pertains to games that opt for pre-rendered cutscenes, and for a bit I thought this was true of Kingdom Hearts 3. It was not until one of the later worlds where I saw the game actually trying to render the world during the cutscene that I realised it was all done in-game and in-engine. Little things like this can make the cutscenes more jarring and seem out of place. If you are going to have a game run at a certain framerate, make sure the cutscenes match it.
The last thing of note is Kingdom Hearts 3’s sound design. For the most part, the sound design is about what you’d expect from a Kingdom Hearts game. Hitting enemies with your Keyblade(s) makes a satisfying sound that causes the enemies to feel a lot squishier than they look. The only time I really hated Kingdom Hearts 3’s sound was whenever Donald Duck would open his stupid mouth. Shut up, Donald. You suck. If this game were on PC I would gladly spend hours figuring out how to either delete you or just remove your audio from the game.
Kingdom Hearts 3 offers a unique adventure which remains unrivalled by any other IP due to its crossover nature. Featuring various characters from an impressive array of Disney worlds, players are bound to find some form of familiarity within one or more of the game’s worlds. Unfortunately, the game really lacks cohesive writing as it purely relies on knowledge of games from the myriad of precious games (a majority of which are fairly unknown in comparison to the main titles) without even making so much as a reference to their importance and plot point before throwing them in your face. Looking past this (as Kingdom Hearts games were seemingly always good at that), Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fun game which tells a story that I really don’t understand, but holds its own with fantastic art direction and interesting gameplay variation.
Reviewed on PS4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher