The wait is over and Kingdom Hearts III is finally released after a long period of development ever since it was first announced back in E3 2013. Sure, there are several spin-offs and remaster titles released sparsely in-between those years, but fans have been desperately wishing for the next numbered game in the series for more than a decade now. Understandably, there were a lot of doubts and worries during such a long wait, as there are several examples of prolonged development periods ending up marring the overall quality of games.
Before we get into the game, there’s something that needs to be sorted out first. If you are one of those newcomers who’d like to try Kingdom Hearts III as your first game in the series, you might have heard the horror stories about how convoluted the story is and that you must familiarize yourself with all previous games to even remotely understand what is going on in the sequel. Regrettably, these horror stories are true.
Despite its title, Kingdom Hearts III is not the third game of the series. There are literally a dozen of games between the original Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Heart III, spanning across multiple platforms. What started as a simple crossover game between Disney and Final Fantasy characters has grown into a convoluted tangle with several prequels, sequels, interquels and HD remakes. Needless to say, the story is a bloated mess. Kingdom Hearts III doesn’t even start from where Kingdom Hearts II had ended - it starts from the end of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, a 3DS interquel between Kingdom Hearts II and III.
Kingdom Hearts III is the end of the Dark Seeker saga. The story follows Sora on his journey to regain the power he had lost in Dream Drop Distance and to battle Master Xehanort and his “real” Organization XIII. Sora, Donald and Goofy must traverse between various Disney and Pixar worlds once again.
The improvement in visual quality is clear right from the very start. The game looks crisp and refined. From character models to the environments, everything is crafted with great attention to detail. It’s not all about how ultra-realistic the visuals look, but about how each Disney/Pixar world impressively reflects the looks and feels of their original film. The lighting, textures and details are all set in a near perfection whether you are toying around with Buzz and Woody in a cartoony Toy Story world or swashbuckling on the high seas with Captain Jack Sparrow in a photorealistic Caribbean world.
Kingdom Hearts is known for its flashy and graphically impressive combat since PS2 era, yet Kingdom Hearts III still manages to take it to another level. Being a Keyblade wielder is extremely fun here. Each Keyblade has its own secondary and tertiary forms that you can activate by continuously attacking enemies. Going into advanced forms allows you to chain even flashier combos, such as turning your keyblade into a giant mallet, a spinning giant yo-yo or twin crossbows. Even casting magic looks and feels great. Casting strongest za-level magics is so satisfying as they devastate the very ground you walk upon, leaving smoldering craters and raging tornadoes behind.
Music is, once again, one of the highest points of the game. Yoko Shimomura has outdone herself with absolutely blissful musical score. You know you are in for a treat when the best rendition of ‘Dearly Beloved’ greets you in the title screen. Two new theme songs from Hikaru Utada are also godsent for the series. If you have high expectations for music and theme songs, you will not be disappointed.
There are a lot of improvements in the gameplay, though there are setbacks as well. The core combat is similar to the previous games but it’s now even more fluid, floatier and flashier. The new form-change system rewards you for playing offensively by letting you release streams of devastating combos. Combined with the new Shotlock system that allows you to warp-strike between one enemy to another in a flash, you find yourself zooming across the battlefield and dishing out all forms of crazy combos.
However, improved combat also makes Sora obscenely powerful for someone who just lost his powers. Gone are the days where you had to carefully allot ability points into certain skills you wished to gain. Instead, you have end-game ready Sora from older Kingdom Hearts games right from the start. Moreover, some of the most powerful abilities, such as Attractions, can be used for free frequently. These skills are insanely overpowered as they can wipe out entire group of enemies with a single press of a button. This trivializes the challenge of the game, even if you are playing it on the hardest difficulty.
The game emphasizes exploration compared to previous titles. The uninteresting “room-like” maps are gone and each world is crafted like a sandbox now with only a few loading screens in between. It’s enjoyable to explore every nook and cranny to look for hidden treasures and lucky emblems.
The Gummi Ship is also vastly improved. Instead of travelling between worlds on a predetermined path like in a rail-shooter game, you can now freely traverse in an open-space. Gummi Ship customization is also amazingly robust and addictive. There’s nothing to stop you from building a ship that looks like a flying shiba dog on wings with lasers and rockets, and watching your marvelous creation rain death and destruction in spaceship battles. There are even multiple superbosses to challenge with your Gummi Ship.
The game’s pacing, however, is problematic. Kingdom Hearts III is oddly imbalanced as the plot is backloaded too much. While adventuring in Disney and Pixar worlds is fun and interesting, there’s nothing really happening plot-wise until the very last part. You could just skip to the last six hours of the game and you still wouldn’t have missed any important plots. But when the story starts to unfold, it becomes one hell of a ride, especially if you’re really invested in the series. Kingdom Hearts III may not be able to bring a satisfying end for everyone, but it does tie up a lot of loose ends that have been hanging around for years.
Kingdom Hearts III is an amazing yet flawed game made for the most die-hard fans of the series. While newcomers can still enjoy the quick-paced gameplay, the extremely complicated story will surely leave them bewildered. Even if you understand so little of it, prepare to embrace the wacky and bizarre nature of Kingdom Hearts III with an open-mind and it will be a fun ride.
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