After a six-year-long wait, the release of “Kingdom Hearts 3” finally arrived Jan. 29, 2019, and fans, myself included, could barely think about anything else that day aside from acquiring a copy. I’m still not exactly an expert on every aspect of the Kingdom Hearts series, as I only began playing the games early last year. That being said, the experiences I’ve had with the gameplay, music, and characters have been nothing short of wondrous. “Kingdom Hearts” mixes the game “Final Fantasy” with a Disney-based setting and has the player take on the role of Sora, an aspiring keyblade master and the main protagonist of the series.
Sora traverses through several worlds to get rid of the heartless, which are creatures that form from the darkness in people’s hearts. These worlds are taken straight from Disney movies like “Hercules,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Pinocchio,” and many others.
Familiar with the “Kingdom Hearts” series or not, this story is undoubtedly convoluted and confusing. There are seemingly countless villains contained throughout the series, each with their own motive.
The third installment consists of Sora traveling to various Disney worlds along with Donald Duck and Goofy. Sora and his companions must find the Seven Guardians of Light so that he and his allies may combat against the overall antagonist of the series, Xehanort. I don’t want to get too into the details of the story, as it would take way too long. Instead, I shall provide my thoughts and insight on the latest installment.
I’ll state right off the bat that I don’t only play “Kingdom Hearts” for the storyline. The gameplay and music are major components of these games, and this installment continues that trend with no exception.
“Kingdom Hearts III” is an action role-playing game that allows the player to roam freely and attack enemies when they appear. The game heavily emphasizes this element of freedom, as the Disney worlds are larger and more massive than the series has ever seen. There are eight Disney worlds in total, and some of them include more recently animated Disney properties like “Big Hero 6” and “Frozen.”
Some worlds can take up to two hours to complete if you go all the way through with exploring different areas for collectables, which is absolutely the way you want to go about things in the game.
Not to mention, the inclusion of “Lucky Emblems,” which are Mickey Mouse shaped marks scattered all across the worlds that Sora and company can snap photos of with an in-game camera. This adds a lot more intrigue to the exploration aspect of the adventure.
Capturing shots of these emblems can earn the player certain beneficial rewards and prizes. Usually one of the trios will announce when they spot one, but I often found myself searching every nook and cranny after they say they found one and being unable to find it for a moment or two. Sometimes they’re simple to spot, but at times it’s the opposite. It’s hardly bothersome, as you can venture back to certain locations to where there were missed emblems.
In “Kingdom Hearts” fashion, there’s plenty of post-game content, including the previously mentioned emblems to search for, the challenge of crafting the Ultima Weapon keyblade, and even a secret boss. There are even more things you can do after the game is over than just the ones listed above, creating an incredible sense of replayability.
The gameplay is by far the most thrilling and compelling part of this game. The combat in “Kingdom Hearts III” is as satisfying and enjoyable as ever, especially due to the introduction of new battle elements like “Attraction Flow.” This has Sora, Donald, and Goofy take control of various Disney theme park rides like the swinging pirate ship and magic tea cups. This is a genius component that was executed phenomenally because it really accentuates Sora’s improved battle abilities and tactics since his journey first began. It’s extremely satisfying to pull off.
Another new battle element is Sora’s keyblade transformations. If the player lands enough successful consecutive attacks, their current keyblade transforms into a unique weapon based on the Disney world in which they acquired that keyblade. I really appreciate these unique gameplay elements the developers added because they greatly enhance the overall experience and make it more diverse than it has been thus far.
“Kingdom Hearts III” consists of mashing the attack button to unleash combos. Although it never felt stale or boring, this makes the game’s vibrancy so much more exciting.
On another note, one aspect of this game that has never been the slightest of an issue with me is the soundtrack. The games wouldn’t be at all as great as they are without the enormous amount of melodious tracks that play all throughout. While a portion of III reuses tracks from prior titles, I don’t see much of an issue with it simply due to my love for the music. The music the developers did create for III specifically are indescribably spectacular. There’s not even one track worth mentioning for its repetitiveness or annoyance.
The song accompanying the opening cinematic for the game was, as always, sung by Utada Hikaru, who’s been making songs for the series since 2002. This time, Hikaru was able to collaborate with dubstep producer Skrillex on the opening song “Face My Fears.” While I don’t particularly care for the dubstep genre, Skrillex did a great job of implementing an upbeat dubstep-esque sound to Hikaru’s voice.
Each track complements each scenario wonderfully, whether it be a throwdown with the heartless, a major boss battle, or simply roaming the massive worlds. One of my personal favorites was the recreation of “The Other Promise” and “Vector to the Heavens” into one track. It’s a somber and empathetic tune from II that then became an intense and triumphant piece that I can’t get enough of in III. It reminds me that composer Yoko Shimomura hasn’t the slightest clue of how to go about creating an unsatisfactory or distasteful soundtrack. Props to you, Ms. Shimomura!
Not to mention, the game’s graphics are indisputably the best they’ve ever looked in the series, running on the “Unreal Engine” software. This program allowed the developers to make the entire game look as if it’s one big animated movie, which payed off immensely. To add, the frame rate hardly ever goes down, running at a smooth 40-50 frames per second for most of the adventure.
Prior to its release, I remember worrying about whether or not the game would perform sufficiently on my standard PS4 Slim. The PS4 Pro seemed like the best way to play this game graphically. Thankfully, I was wrong, as I have no complaints with the game’s graphical capabilities on my PS4 Slim.
What I wasn’t a huge fan of was the fact that still, after seventeen years, these games have scenes with character interactions that have the characters speaking with expressionless faces and flat lip animations. I don’t mean to say that every scene containing character dialogue is like this, in fact, III does the best job of delivering well-designed facial animations and movement out of any of the other games prior. It’s just slightly off-putting to have what was intended to be an emotional or serious scene be shown off as bland or flat in the character’s expressions. Although, it hardly offers any reason to skip the cutscenes or disregard the story.
In addition, the voice acting is nothing to complain about. Most of the voice actors from the previous games reprise their roles of the characters, with few exceptions. Haley Joel Osment, the man behind Sora’s voice since the 2002 original, adds a lot more emotional depth into Sora in III. It makes Sora seem like an overall more expressive and fleshed-out character. Osment has been acting since he was 11 years old, his first major role being “The Sixth Sense.” He also found success playing roles in movies like “Forrest Gump” and “I’ll Follow You Down.”
However, there are still a few characters that seem to have emotionless lines, Aqua being a great example. Since 2010’s “Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep,” Aqua never really seemed to have an enthusiastic or emotional inflection, as a lot of what she says remains the same pitch and speed throughout the game. This is something I thought would be fixed in the third game. While it’s not dreadful to hear her talk, this is another aspect of the game that, in my opinion, deducts the excitement and intrigue from certain scenes.
Aqua’s not the only culprit of this issue, as most of the characters at times speak in an unexciting and sterile-like tone, making for a few awkward scenes. For a good 85 percent of the game though, I think they nailed the voice acting.
As stated before, this game wraps up the story that’s spanned since the first one in an extremely bittersweet way. The endgame, in terms of story, is easily my favorite portion overall because it’s a culmination of all the main characters meeting up and working to accomplish the goal of defeating Xehanort. Some of these characters haven’t interacted with or seen one another for several years, and seeing them reunite really tugs at the heartstrings.
“Kingdom Hearts III” retains the heart and charm that many of the games prior have had, and while it’s not perfect, it certainly has become one of my favorite in the series. It’s undoubtedly a game that the community, myself included, will cherish for a long time to come.
Fans that have eagerly awaited the release of “Kingdom Hearts III” over the past six years owe it to themselves to give it a go.