Kingdom Hearts 3 will not be for everyone.
Shocking statement I know but you do have to understand the real life history of my love for Kingdom Hearts to see what I mean.
Kingdom Hearts first launched on the PS2 back in 2002...I was 12, at first I scoffed at the idea that Disney characters were messing up my final fantasy experience. Really I think that a lot of people reactions were the same...how can Tidus, Cloud, Kefka, and Squall all play nice with Ariel, Snow White, and Mickey Mouse? As it turns out it works well, granted as the series matured it took fewer characters straight from Final Fantasy and instead took themes and the palette from it to use on original characters. Fast forward to 2007-2008 when I had moved to Tennessee and was without internet access for a solid amount of time. However we did have Gamefly and we got Kingdom Hearts 1 and Planet Coaster...you can tell which one left a lasting impression. I remember playing it on a 14 inch tv in the basement in awe that these characters were honestly going through a lot of the same things I was… growing up and losing friends to time and distance, wanting to see and do more in life, and trying to keep up with current friends. Sora lost Kairi and Rikku to...something, he and Rikku grew up wanting to explore the worlds, and even when he caught up to Rikku he was outpaced by him.
Cut to Christmas of that year and Kingdom Hearts 2 was nestled under the tree and they had captured lightning in a bottle once again. After completing it, I didn’t touch the other games because it was either on DS or GBA and they didn’t look interesting. After all Chain of Memories was basically Kingdom Hearts 1 but with card and by time a new game called 358/2 Days (pronounced 358 over 2 days) I was going to college. After college there was now about a crap-ton of games and it felt like a lot to go through to capture that magic of sitting in a cold unfinished basement trying to finish the Tarzan world before the heat death of the universe.
With 10 games now in the series it became almost a joke that Kingdom Hearts 3 would never come out. Then it was 2013 when it was announced that it was a thing, I was living on a buddies couch and honestly I remember seeing the trailer and being dumbstruck by seeing Sora fighting the Rock Titan on the Train and it was magic. That was 6 years ago though and with every year passing it felt like it was lost in time. So much was promised and it felt like a waste, kinda like Starcraft Ghost...it wasn’t meant to exist.
January 29th rolled in and my copy of Kingdom Hearts 3 was neatly installed and I was ready to play it. I fed and watered the cats to prevent them from being howling jerks, same with the fiancee (kidding... she ignores me so she can read anyway), and I saddled up to flip on my PS4 and once again enter the world of Kingdom Hearts. And now we can begin the review!
Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fantastic game, provided you like Disney, strong emotional feelings, and a plot line that when looked at looks like chaos but when studied actually makes sense. In addition they don’t spend a lot of time going over what happened in the previous games which is both a blessing and a curse. If you’re like me you took a crash course in KH lore via about 40 different YouTube videos promising full lore in under the time it takes to get a history degree. This led to a bit of knowledge gap when a character was mentioned and you was like “Wait was that the clone of a heart inside the heart of another boy?” However they mercifully added in Jiminy’s journal a who’s who of the story every time a name is mentioned, and there is even a “Last time on Kingdom Hearts Z” on the main menu. Every time I was wondering who someone was I didn’t have to pause and run to Wikipedia I was able to look it up right in game. In addition they did cut out a lot of bloat to the game that was present in previous games, 100 acre woods wasn’t a two hour slog listening to Pooh wanting honey, it was about 20 minutes of playing bubble pop and having an interesting question asked. They also made the gummi ship segments mercifully painless yet in depth, now instead of playing Starfox trying to shoot down Heartless, you are dropped in a galaxy that realistically you can fly from Point A to Point B in no time. However by exploring in the gummi ship you can find new blueprints and things to collect (If your like me you can collect for hours and be content).
Without spoiling anything each world is as usual not very long but each world is distinct in its feel and story. In some worlds you are living out the events of that movie world or are just after the movie credits ran. Usually a character from the Organization pops up, says something cryptic, problems rise up then get solved, and then said Organization member further complicates the questions in Sora’s mind/heart. At about 30 hours in and done with about half the worlds I am still in the asking questions phase of the Kingdom Hearts story arc. That being said, the actual game play is pretty simple; hammer on the attack button and occasionally let out a burst of magic or Keyblade powers. I definitely plan on going back and doing a Proud Mode (Hard mode) run on the game, but so far I have been able to 100% each world after resolving them.
However I do have to be very honest and say Kingdom Hearts 3 is really easy and if it weren’t for the Kingdom Hearts story or the Disney love I wouldn’t be as motivated to play it. I’m not seeing any extra goals beyond 100% item collection to trigger a secret ending; I haven’t even seen rumors of a Sephiroth fight as is tradition in the games. I hope there is more to do, as waiting 10 years (6 of which were after announcement) to 100% a game over a long week or two is sort of terrifying. Story wise the game is top notch as it is tying up loose threads and still asking more questions, characters are given time to grow, and universe problems are being resolved. Game play wise it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before in a sense from Final Fantasy 15 (confession I haven’t played FF15 however Derrick has and says KH3 has way more understandable combat). However I still adore the game as I am more invested in stories than in game mechanics, it's the same reason I love the Telltale Batman games more than the Arkham games...story beats.
Overall I would rate Kingdom Hearts 3 at a four out of five stars as it hits all the beats I am looking for but I do see the game play mechanics as weaker than the previous games. If you are a Disney fan or a lover of Kingdom Hearts as a series I would highly recommend playing it, but if you are on the fence I would suggest borrowing it from a friend or renting it from somewhere.