*DISCLAIMER: Yes, I’m very much aware that Kingdom Hearts is a video game and not a movie or a TV show. I actually thought about doing a gaming blog in the past but such a thing would require a consistent gamer with an unbiased point of view, whereas my gaming habit is fairly sporadic and my taste in games is VERY picky. However, due to my love of Kingdom Hearts I just HAD to write a review, so this blog seemed the most appropriate (it is on a screen, right?)
I’m also well aware that a ton of people have beat me to the punch with a review of this game, but I honestly don’t care. I wasn’t able to buy the game the day it came out and I don’t have the sort of the time on my hands required to beat it all in twenty-four hours anyhow. Anyway, here goes.*
*DISCLAIMER II: There are also a s***load of spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.*
*DISCLAIMER III: I do not claim ownership of any photos, videos and/or links used in this post.*
Okay, so after twelve excruciating years of waiting (eschewing the five hundred final mixes, remasters, spin-offs, side games, mobile games, demos and two point eight and a halfs plus three quarters that have so much plot stuff it’s impossible to even understand the main story without them), Kingdom Hearts III was FINALLY released in January of 2019.
I still couldn’t believe that this day had finally come. I (begrudgingly) kept up with all of the side content released over the years since KH2 just so I could be fully aware of what was going on in 3. The week it was released, on my day off from work, I picked up about six games that were collecting dust around my house, stopped by GameStop who gave me generous trade-in quotes for each of them (something else I can’t believe happened), allowing me to buy this brand-new game for roughly $20 and made my way back home. I was smiling ear from ear as I popped it in the PS4, excitedly watched the intros and began playing……..Kingdom Hearts 2.9.
You’re behind this, aren’t you?
Yes, this actually happened, and the crazy thing is, now that I’ve played it, I’m REALLY scratching my head over why this distinction was made at all. It’s a gameplay training level which serves as a prologue to the main plot. Functionally, it’s no different than the Roxas-centered intro to Kingdom Hearts II, and that wasn’t called Kingdom Hearts 1.9. So what gives? It’s been widely theorized that this was tossed in as a sort of brick joke to troll us after how vocal the KH fandom was over their annoyance at 2.8. Yeah, I don’t think anyone here is laughing, dude.
Thankfully, once this is all over, Sora gets some new clothes and Kingdom Hearts III officially begins. Let me break it down for you all:
The Story – I’m…..a bit conflicted to be honest.
This game was widely pushed as being the darkest game in the series yet, but having just finished Kingdom of Corona (the Tangled world), the vibe I’m getting is the opposite. So far, I’ve found this game to be very upbeat, optimistic and dare I say it, even lighthearted in feel. On one hand, it’s actually refreshing. As you all know, the KH series has a TON of side-games, and pretty much all of them are very bleak and depressing in tone (well, I guess you could say Coded is an exception, but I try to pretend that one never happened personally). Even the “happier” ones like Dream Drop Distance and Chi/Unchained/Union still manage to end up in a place of doom and gloom eventually. So to have a lighter and softer game more like KH2 is quite the relief.
On the other hand, it’s also very weird. It feels a tad too happy when you take into account what’s going on. When Sora, Donald and Goofy arrive in Kingdom of Corona, the three of them are all like “hmmm, don’t know why we’re here, but it’s beautiful so let’s just mess around!” Even Riku, Mickey, Kairi and Lea/Axel all appear to be beating around the bush in the scenes where we visit with them. Like….y’all do realize you’ve been tasked to deal with a mad man with twelve potential clones who’s seeking to spark a war that would destroy the universe, right? For the stakes to be this high, everyone seems pretty lax about it. I was honestly hoping Kingdom Hearts III would operate in a sort of middle ground between idealism and cynicism. Akin to how the first game in the series was, albeit less lopsided.
Oh, and speaking of the series……….now, I personally did play, or at the very least did my homework on the side games and spin offs, but I know this isn’t the case for everyone. And yet, III doesn’t even try to ease you into things or offer explanations of what’s going on. Instead, you’re basically tossed right in the middle of everything which is very inconvenient to people who haven’t been keeping up. I’m pretty sure there’s a pretty good amount of people (and before anyone goes on some “real fans vs. bad fans/bandwagoners” nonsense – please don’t) who’ve only played the first two numbered entries in the series, because they assumed that the side-games were inconsequential (as they should have been really). I feel horrible for these individuals as they likely have no idea what’s going on at all.
To be honest, it really gives me flashbacks to when I first started II. I was just LOVING that opening cinematic until it cut to scenes from Chain of Memories where all I could do was scratch my head. Like, okay, I recognize Ansem, but what is this place? Who is this person with pink hair (I honestly wasn’t sure if Marluxia was a guy or a girl at first) and a scythe that’s attacking Sora? Who is this blonde girl and why has she put Sora in a flower pod? And that’s to say nothing of the numerous other references to COM, which I didn’t bother playing or even look into due to the fact that I assumed it was just an unrelated side-game involving cards. I already felt lost due to ignoring that, and now we have III, which requires 358/2 Days, Birth By Sleep, Dream Drop Distance, Chi/Unchained/Union/Back Cover AND 2.8 to understand what’s going on. Coded is the only one that can reasonably be skipped, since pretty much all it did was reiterate a bunch of stuff that was revealed in BBS and Days anyway (then again I could just be saying that since I really don’t like that game). It just feels so unfair to the people who didn’t bother with the other games.
Of course, that’s to say nothing of how a lot of loose ends STILL aren’t being cleared up. Like, what’s the deal with this black box everyone is talking about? Where on Earth are Terra and Aqua? Just who are all of the thirteen darknesses? And the list goes on from there.
The Character Development – I’m….also feeling conflicted over this.
Now, there definitely have been a lot of steps in the right direction here. Sora started out as a fairly complex character; he was very upbeat and optimistic, but his smile always hid a lot of emotional turmoil and anguish underneath, and while I’m no fan of Chain Of Memories, I did appreciate how that game’s story in particular really highlighted his flaws as a person. Cue KH2. I mean, Sora’s always been a goofball, but aside from a few moments of despair in the middle, he was honestly WAY too happy in that game for me. Also, while KH1 made it clear that he wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box, there were a number of instances where his absent-mindedness and reckless impulses just felt over the top. DDD made this even worse; he was just outright stupid in that game.
Long story short, yes, I am very happy with Sora’s development in this game so far. He’s maintained his trademark happy demeanor and “everyone’s-my-friend” attitude while still taking things seriously. His dimwitted moments are nuanced and spaced out enough that they’re able to remain funny. Frankly, it’s all very BALANCED and I love it!
Beyond that, Riku is still my fave and I’m really hoping we see a good amount of him in this game. Donald, Goofy and Mickey are all as lovable as ever, as is Yen Sid. I’m happy we finally got to see Zeus and the other gods in Olympus. Hayner, Pence and Olette all continue to be a lot of fun. Xigbar’s as enjoyably troll-ish as ever……and that’s about where my praise stops to be honest.
My main issue so far is really with the villains. The only one I’ve really found all that engaging so far is Xigbar. He’s the dictionary definition of chaotic neutral; it’s never clear exactly who’s side he’s on nor what his real agenda is, and that’s what makes him interesting. Particularly, I’m intrigued over the part at the end of Olympus, where he’s watching over Maleficent and Pete searching for the notorious black box. As they walk away, he says “May your hear-” before the screen cuts to black. I’m going to go ahead and assume he said “-t be your guiding key,” a mantra that seems to be used only among ancient keyblade wielders. This definitely raises quite a few eyebrows. The only person whom I imagine he would have learned that from was Xehanort, and even then I HIGHLY doubt it. And why would HE of all people be saying that? I also get the vibe he knows a thing or two about this black box as well.
Other than him……I feel rather apathetic towards the villains. Maleficent and Pete have become the Team Rocket of the KH villains (I could excuse this with Pete but how are y’all gonna do that to MALEFICENT?). Ansem Not-The-Wise and Xemnas have both been reduced to schoolyard bullies. Young Xehanort still feels like a troll and nothing more. Marluxia feels borderline inconsequential. Yeah, I’m not impressed.
And that’s to say nothing of how they’re doing Kairi. We were promised there’d be a lot more of her this go round and so far she’s only been in ONE scene…….which involves her writing letters to Sora. Like s***, can y’all at least TRY to develop her in a way that DOESN’T REVOLVE AROUND SORA??? I’m not really feeling how they’ve done the “reformed” former Organization members either. Now, I like Axel, but he was quite the manipulative and conniving bastard back when he was in the Org., and I feel that when he returned in DDD everyone was WAY too forgiving about him. III has continued that trend, and the same goes for Ienzo who was a HORRIBLE person when he was Zexion. Like, Riku, you mean to tell me you just totally forgot about being relentlessly mind-raped by this guy in COM? And then you have Aeleus, who shuns Sora over something Roxas allegedly did long ago when 1.) I legitimately can only remember Roxas and his nobody (Lexaeus) interacting in one scene, where the latter smacks him across the face for no apparent reason anyway and 2.) RIKU was the one that put an end to his nobody in Castle Oblivion, not Sora, so WTF? They’ve also done a few of the Disney characters wrong as well.
Oh, and speaking of such: The Worlds – Uh, it’s been pretty hit and miss.
In a lot of ways, III has been a breath of fresh air in it’s level design. In KH1, the worlds had a tendency to be very cramped and cluttered. The worlds in KH2 were much more vast, with more detailed design, but at the same time felt kinda empty and a bit too linear at times. The emptiness and linear structure only gets worse in BBS and DDD (don’t even get me started on the numerous scenes that referred to people being around only for the camera to pan out to completely empty rooms).
With III on the other hand, so far it’s taken all of the good aspects past games (the “puzzle” aspect of the worlds in I, the vast and intricate worlds of the latter three games) while dropping the flaws. There’s NPCs. The environments feel much more interactive and alive. The layout and structure of each world is challenging without being utterly confusing (I got stuck in SO many worlds in KH1 due to the fact that I simply just got lost). Instead of a bunch of tiny rooms which require a screen change to enter, the world is broken up into two or three large sections which contain smaller rooms within that are marked with a quick notification when you enter. There’s regular changes in scenery. The worlds actually feel like they’re worth visiting again once you’re finished. In these ways, it’s a vast improvement over prior games.
And yet, I still have my qualms. This may be more gameplay related, but I feel like you can’t walk ten feet without encountering another mini-boss. The more “open” feel of the worlds still lends itself to getting lost very easily (tempting as it may be to utilize the free fall feature, on your first run through of any of the worlds, trust me – just don’t do it). Also, in spite of the size, they all feel rather……well, short. Granted, this could just be a side-effect of how there’s no annoying loading screens when you go from room to room, but still. Which brings me to my next point…..
The Gameplay – A vast improvement in some areas, needs work in others.
The gameplay utilizes a combination of various aspects from KH2, BBS and DDD. There’s a high reliance on triangle attacks, flowmotion and command styles. Some lovely new features that have been added are free-fall attacks (which deal a lot of damage when executed properly), Keyblade-shifting, in which each blade has unique abilities unlocked once a certain number of conditions are met and the ability to not only equip three keyblades at once but to switch between them mid-battle as well. Oh, and need I note that summons are ACTUALLY USEFUL for once?
These are the aspects I love, now for the aspects I’m more “eh” about: I feel like there’s been a lot of artificial difficulty so far. In particular, a lot of boss battles repeat the trend introduced with Demon Tower and Demon Tide in 2.8 in which there’s hardly any rhyme or reason to when and/or how the enemy attacks and even more difficult to actually hit them (made all the more worse by how Demon Tide actually DOES return in Twilight Town for a battle that ultimately ends up being pointless).
And, besides the excessive amount of mini-bossses, a lot of the random encounter Heartless have unnecessarily high amounts of HP. Also, while the KH series has always had mini-games and gimmicks, they were usually optional and/or when they were required, they weren’t all that difficult, unlike here where it seems you’re not only forced into them, but you more or less have to perfect them as well. There’s a particularly weird section in the Toy Story world, Toy Box, in which Sora is transported into a video game (yeah, it’s VERY meta) and has to fight as a robot. Lost doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt here. Now that I think about it, this game has a number of moments where it slips back into KH1’s bad habit of giving you very vague and cryptic directions in regards to what to do next. Quite jarring when just about every other game in the series since (with the slight exception of Days but even that was nowhere near as bad) has literally spelled out what the objective is for you.
Oh…….and gummi ship travel has more or less reverted to how it was in KH1, only this time with in space bosses like KH2 and DDD. UGH. Dear Squeenix, get it through your heads, we KH fans don’t want you to make gummi travel more challenging and interesting because we simply DO. NOT. LIKE. THIS. PART.
Overall: ……..let me just keep playing. Happy as I am to have a new KH game (that isn’t something miscellaneous I should add), I feel like it’s been falling flat in a lot of areas to be honest. I’ll be back to let you all know my overall thoughts when I’m done.