Review: Kingdom Hearts III

There was once a Japanese man slumped over his desk. A half drunk bottle of sake and full ash tray showed that he had been at work for many hours, and the crumpled balls of paper surrounding the bin meant that work had not been very fruitful. “A keyblade war is coming”, he mumbled to himself in his drunken stupor. He could not go to his superiors to ask for more time, the project was due to be submitted the next morning and was already behind schedule. A flash of inspiration suddenly struck him, “A spin-off title!”, he exclaimed loudly as he feverishly squiggled some ideas down before passing out. Arriving at his meeting with seconds to spare he begins to spew as many rambling ideas out as he ccould, hoping that the executives took a liking to at least one of them. Unfortunately, the first idea was met with applause, and every further incoherent sentence was met with yet more approval. “Each and every idea should have its own game!”, the executives proclaimed, and the man was given a stay of execution. He would not have to worry about the third numbered game in his franchise for some years to come.

That's some neat yo-yo control.
Combat is full of set pieces that interrupt the flow.

And so, on 29th January 2019 Kingdom Hearts III was released, thirteen years after the last numbered installment in the series. Kingdom Hearts III is not a direct sequel to Kingdom Hearts II, no, there are three other games that take place in the interval between the two numbered titles and seven other that are set before or after Kingdom Hearts. This means that even with the memory archive feature (available as part of a day one patch) that helps to catch new and returning players up on the story, there are still many details that will leave players scratching their heads. This crops up at the start of the game with Sora searching for a way to regain his lost powers, a convenient way to start him out at level one, though it is never explained in this game why they are missing.

To bring new players up to speed, Kingdom Hearts is a series of action RPGs in which various Disney and Square Enix properties are merged into an original storyline that sees players visiting various Disney worlds to battle the heartless, minions of the darkness that are snuffing out the light of the Disney worlds. Kingdom Hearts III introduces several new worlds to the series, and Sora, Donald, and Goofy are on the usual mission to visit these places with very little reason behind their actions. Most of these worlds play out like a cut-down version of their movie counterparts with the trio slotted in to progress the plot. This makes it feel like someone has created a work of fan fiction in which they have tried to insert their own original character into the script. Completing one of these worlds is required to advance the overall plot of the game.

Kingdom Hearts I & II featured many characters and themes from Square Enix’s Final Fantasy series. Kingdom Hearts III has all but abandoned these in favour of tying up the many loose plot threads that have become quite frayed over the years. Moogles and item naming remain consistent from older titles, but the likes of Cloud, Leon, Sephiroth, and all the rest are absent from this sequel. This does not mean that the story is made any simpler with their absence as the majority of the overarching plot is delivered after the player has completed the Disney worlds and is heading for the end game. Many cut scenes, one after another, affect the pacing of the game and make the Disney plots feel throwaway by comparison. Kingdom Hearts III exists to tell the Kingdom Hearts story and the Disney is window dressing.

Some are better than others.
Sora can work with other party members to execute team attacks.

Combat in Kingdom Hearts III feels like it has been sped up compared to previous numbered incarnations of the series. The button mashing returns, but this time it is more than a single button that needs to be pressed. Occasionally an enemy will be surrounded by a green circle that slowly disappears. If the play can hit the enemy within the time limit they can use an ‘attraction’, a special move based on a fairground ride. These are not always great to use however, as depending upon which attraction the player has access to they may not be able to hit much. Thankfully they can be dismissed should the play accidentally use one they do not like.

Keyblades and magic have more powerful forms. Should the player cast the same spell enough times they gain access to a ‘grand magic’ spell, a more powerful version of the same magic they used. Hitting enemies with a keyblade repeatedly allows the player to morph it into a new form for a limited amount of time which increases its attack strength and unlocks new attacks. Each keyblade has unique forms, so players will want to experiment to see which works best for them. Keyblades can also be powered up, so once the player has found their favourite they can increase its strength further.

Kingdom Hearts III has some excellent graphics. The quality has come a long way since even the last entry in the series, though flashbacks are all taken from the remasters that have previously been released on the PlayStation 4. Sora and the gang often change their looks to match the world they are in Entering the Pirates of the Caribbean world attempts to put the cartoon characters in a realistic setting, and actually pulls this off rather well. Animated movie worlds look accurate to the source material and some scenes play out beat-for-beat with the original.

Just..... no....
Selfie cams are aimed at a generation that have likely not played a Kingdom Hearts game.

Voice acting is pretty good on the whole. Many of the cast are voiced either by the original talent from the film, or by a veteran that has covered the character in the past. Themes from the various movies play in the background whilst the player is in the relevant world. Only the Frozen world contains songs sung in the movie, this is likely because the film has one of the most popular songs with younger children. Many of the themes in the game seem to be made to appeal to a younger generation, a generation that is unlikely to have played many other games in the series.

Kingdom Hearts III relies far to heavily on players having knowledge of many other games in the series. It may have some appeal to fans who wish to see how the series ends, though this would be easier to digest by watching a couple of videos on YouTube. Newcomers to the series may find the heavy amount of story a turn-off as the characters discuss events they would have not experienced themselves. The amount of side content on offer could be seen as a detriment to all but the most hardcore collector and completionist. In short, this is almost a movie with some Disney content tacked on for good measure, none of which is relevant to the Kingdom Hearts plot.

Box Art
Box Art
Review Grade F
Review Grade

Game Information

Title: Kingdom Hearts III

Genre: Action role-playing

Developer: Square Enix

Publisher: Square Enix

Platform Reviewed: PlayStation 4

Release Date: 29 January 2019 (Worldwide, PS4)


  1. Distressing that even with our best efforts to improve your reception of the game, it still warrants a rare Imitanis-generated F!

  2. I was surprised to see the F grade, because the bulk of the review wasn’t neccesarily scathing in its descriptions of the different aspects of Kingdom Hearts 3. I agree with your criticisms though, after playing through the 1.5-2.5, and 2.8 remasters, just to see what all the hubbub this series has garnered, before moving onto KH3. For a game with such a convoluted plot, it spends the majority of the game frolicking around retelling Pixar movies without a sense of urgency a final game of such plot heavy magnitude should seem to have. Even on standard difficulty, it played like an easy mode with all of the battle options. After the Disney/Pixar world’s, it seemed to try to tie all of the KH plot specific threads in a needlessly rushed final chapter— in my opinion if they spread out some of these threads and organization boss fights throughout the entire first and second half of the game, it would’ve been a lot better paced. Seems like an amateur mistake to ferry you through prewritten Pixar movie plots, and then at the end, like some type of stoner who forgot to turn the oven off, go “oh shit, I guess we need to end the kingdom hearts storyline”. I wouldn’t have given it an F, but definitely in the C minus-D range. It was for sure, very underwhelming. Thanks for the review, Imitanis.

  3. @Fumunshu: KHIII sucks in its own right, but you also have to look at this as an appraisal of the entire bloated catalogue of Kingdom Hearts products that it has taken to get here. It has cost a bunch of money and even more time to follow the story so far, and where has it got us? Such a high barrier of entry for such a pathetically poor payoff… I’d say that Imitanis has shown remarkable restraint at not having petitioned Lusi for the creation of a brand new rating just for this game. He could have given it an F for every game in the series! 9xF!!

  4. @Fumunshu:You share the same opinion as I have about KHIII. I feel like the plot was better spread out through the worlds in I & II. III could have done away with the Disney altogether and wouldn’t have lost much for it. Adding to this that they made the decision to ship the game incomplete to avoid spoilers and I wound up at the low score.

    Had the game not been bogged down with so much extra plot from the various spin off titles it could have been a fun game in it’s own right, even with the simplistic battle system, and would have deserved a score closer to a ‘C’.

  5. @Siliconnoob & @Imitanis— thank you both for the clarification, I understand the score much better now, and it makes sense when adding those elements into consideration.

  6. I’ve felt with almost every previous Kingdom Hearts game that they were more than the sum of their parts. I haven’t completed III yet, but my feeling is that it is absolutely less than the sum. The Disney worlds are more interesting and robust than ever and I have never cared less. I don’t think it’s a matter of just outgrowing the series either. I’d rather have things confusing than over-explained. So weird to not have any new Kingdom Hearts worlds in between the Disney worlds (only a stripped down Twilight Town) and – at least after I’ve finished all the Disney worlds – not have a single Final Fantasy character except the Moogles.

    Good review, Scott!

  7. @Ethan: I’ve felt that every KH game after II has felt really empty and uninspired. For all their faults, the first two games were genuinely charming in a sort of innocent childish way, and it is this intangible aspect that has been absent from the series since 2006 or so.

  8. I’ve started playing the game now. The combat, and especially the boss fights are the best the series has ever had – but the narrative is a complete disaster, even by series standards. I don’t yet have an opinion on the game’s content and level design.

  9. One big weak point of kh3 is that you have to play dream drop distance (or see the videos on youtube about the plot from that game) to understand some things (included why sora lost some of his powers), kh3 tries to explain it but in a very very very rushed fashion.

    I knew what the game was going to be in the plot area (weak), played the game for the gameplay and I had fun. I even enjoyed to some extent the disney worlds, so maybe I was lucky . I liked the secret ending too.

    I am looking forward for the FFVII remake to have a fighting system a la kh3 which was so much fun for me ( no doubt I will be alone on this though XD) .

  10. @Siliconnoob The combat, while very easy due to the amusement park super moves and added key blade forms, was a lot more fluid, though I more enjoyed the option to equip your special moves which was present in Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance (probably the best feature in those games). It’s not bad, though still button mashy. That and the graphical polish were what might tip the game above the F grade for me, but unlike Imitanis, I just recently played through BBS and DDD, so I didn’t have the problem he had being a bit lost with the plot. That said, the pacing is quite boring for a game trying to wrap up a complicated 8ish game series.

  11. @SN – Yeah, I remember that we started to differ when it came to BbS and beyond, but the DS game (I forget the name and refuse to look it up because I remember it was the worst title in a sea of terrible titles) actually provoked the strongest emotional reaction from me. There is so much I think is truly terrible about KHII, but overall I think it’s stronger than III. I think the Disney worlds are the worst designed with the worst tie to the story (at least half of the worlds in KHIII are new stories with familiar characters, not a retelling of the plot of the movie) in KHII. But – like the original – it was so sincerely itself that it didn’t matter in the end. I also loved separately leveling up Sora’s forms.

    KHIII seems to feel too responsible in tying up its own one thousand plot threads to ever have much of a heart of its own. But then again, I did end up enjoying the last section of the game more than I expected.

    In any case, the thing I’m most surprised that nobody is talking about is how clearly the Unreal Engine shows. It was almost the most disappointing part to me. I felt it from the moment I got control of Sora and the sensation never really left me. It doesn’t *feel* like Kingdom Hearts in a mechanical sense. It feels like a Kingdom Hearts skin on the Unreal Engine, which – of course – it is. A well done skin, but still a skin. I know this was a practical matter for them to ensure the game ever came out at all, but it was still the most glaring not-Kingdom Hearts aspect of the game.

    @Fumunshu – I wasn’t lost with the plot either. I just didn’t care. It’s nice that every scene is not just a recap of plot details (see Golden Sun: Dark Dawn), but more that it had collapsed under its own weight and had too much to attend to to have emotional significance of its own.

  12. Another laughable point to the game was after they were saying for a long time that KH3 would be the last in the series, the “secret ending” which was stupidly earned by a camera Where’s Waldo hunt “mini-game”, of course left it open for another sequel. They should stop calling them secret endings and start calling them Tetsuya Nomura job security Powerpoints.

  13. KHIII seems to feel too responsible in tying up its own one thousand plot threads to ever have much of a heart of its own.

    Kind of ironic in a game about hearts, no?

    It feels like a Kingdom Hearts skin on the Unreal Engine, which – of course – it is.

    Better than a KH skin on the FFXV engine imo.

Comments are closed.