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.
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.
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.
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.
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)