Three Half-Pints Make a Whole.
The Kingdom Hearts series is one of the most unique experiences in video gaming. Even now, more than a decade after the original game launched, it is hard to imagine Disney agreeing to such a risky and ambitious project with not just one, but almost all of their most notable properties. So seeing a fully fledged Kingdom Hearts game in 2019, no matter what the end result is, is truly amazing, because in all honesty I never thought I would play it, nor could I have imagined I would be reviewing it.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is the culmination of almost 20 years of gameplay and lore all coming together for what is supposed to be the climactic end of the Xehanort saga and for fans of the series it is everything we could have hoped for, all of the important characters and character arcs that have been culminating to this one moment finally come to fruition in this game as we see the resolution of so many story lines that have been built up over the history of the franchise. For new players however, it is basically sink or swim for them. The game does little to provide context to almost any situation or prove to people picking the series up for the first time why they should care about these characters. And, there are a lot of characters to meet and start caring about for newcomers, characters like Aqua, Xion, and Saix are given extremely little screen time even though they play major parts in the story.
Kingdom Hearts has a similar feel to it as Red Dead Redemption 2, in that you are a small part of a much bigger world happening around you, however, unlike Arthur Morgan, Sora always feels just a step behind the narrative and what is going on in the larger world and it really affects the game. Whether it be the Disney worlds in particular or just the story in general, Sora just feels parallel to most of the stories. Many of the worlds that Sora visits that have stories that aren’t driven by the overarching narrative just tell the exact same story of the original movie and the gang has no real affect on the overall outcome of the Disney character’s stories. Sure they help defeat the added presence from the organization, but in this game that’s all they’re really good for. Even in the real plot of the game, Riku and King Mickey are doing the most dangerous work while Sora adventures to find the power of “waking.” While there are many issues with the Kingdom Hearts lore in general, nothing exaggerates the problems more than making the player feel like their character is almost inconsequential to the plot.
The gameplay doesn’t stand out very much either, unfortunately. X button mashing simulator 2019 would be the name of the game if it was based purely off of the gameplay, it is kinda boring and kinda easy. While I wasn’t expecting the most complex of combat systems, I found myself fumbling over odd U.I. decisions. For example, the attractions were fun at first but I generally didn’t find to be in my particular play style, which is fine. The part that was frustrating was that there was no easy way to skip it in the que. Abilities can stack up quickly and being able to easily maneuver between which special ability you want to use when could have added a lot more depth to the combat in general. Forcing a particular que to go in order as it appears forces the player to either wait out the timer and hope the other commands last, or burn through a command you didn’t want to use to get to another one.
The battles overall were pretty easy, generally I found the gummi exploration and puzzles in the world to be more difficult than the combat, and even that wasn’t straining. I primarily struggled with one boss fight which took about 3 tries max to pass, and the rest doesn’t even really stand out. I certainly got close a couple times, but with hidden in game mechanics, abilities, and kupo coins (which revive you if you have lost all of your Health.) There are plenty of ways to recover and stay alive in the fight, if you utilize your resources, the game is really no trouble at all.
My biggest gripe about this game is that I wish it was much, much longer. A story that has gotten this big needs time to develop and grow so we can establish a connection with the characters and familiarize ourselves with them. Giving the proper time to every side character in a 30 hour experience is impossible and the end product feels rushed. If the game had found ways to expand the story and have Sora interact with the world more then this game could be a fulfilling 70 hour experience. In a post Persona 5 world fitting such a dense story into such a small package just leaves so much on the table that could have been done. My hope for Kingdom Hearts 4 is that instead of releasing an insane amount of spin-off titles, they take all of the plot lines and story elements and craft it into one combined 80 hour experience. That would mean a lot of changes but I think the series deserves that kind of treatment. There’s no way the story can be taken seriously if the proper time isn’t given to every plot point they throw in there. If it matters they need to show why it matters. In retrospect this might end up being the worst numbered Kingdom Hearts game yet, not a bad game by any means, but it just didn’t have something to set it apart from the other two titles.
All that being said, I still love this game to pieces. It made me feel like a kid again playing a fresh story in the universe. Hearing the full game have voice acting for every bit of dialogue is a childhood dream of mine and it made me straight up giddy to hear Haley Joel-Osment’s voice again. And, as a long time fan of Kingdom Hearts, the story really hit home for me. I was pretty emotional by the end of the game and had to hold myself back from ugly crying at the very last image of the game. Beating this game and finally seeing the end felt like a small weight was lifted off my shoulders. And, they very clearly set themselves up for Kingdom Hearts 4, which we can probably expect around 2040 but at this rate it’s anyone’s guess.