Last week was a bit of a downer. Let’s look at something more positive; Kingdom Hearts 3. I warn you, if you’ve not seen/heard of Kingdom Hearts this may not be a review for you. This series is deep, endless, convoluted, spread over dozens of games and dozens of platforms. I don’t understand half of it, so I’m sure as hell not going to be able to explain it all to you. Go read the Wiki or watch a video or something. There are some funny ones out there!
My History with Kingdom Hearts
I came to the series in a really weird way. I started playing Kingdom Hearts 2 when I was much younger, on the PS2. I don’t remember why I got it and didn’t get 1. It was a confusing experience.
My main takeaway I remember was I played for hours, did a whole bunch of stuff as this character I didn’t really know or recognise, got really invested, and then the whole game flipped on its head.
You see in Kingdom Hearts 2 you start off playing as someone called Roxas in his home town of Twilight Town. He’s hanging with his buddies when stuff starts getting strange with the appearance of weird creatures called Nobodies. He eventually begins to summon a mystical weapon called the Keyblade (although he doesn’t know that), fights some off, has some conversations with someone called Axel who seems to know him, explores a haunted mansion…. All good stuff.
Then you discover a hidden chamber full of technology and discover a pod with someone very familiar to Roxas in it, though he can’t place them. The pod opens, and Roxas is disappears, merging into this person. This person is Sora, the protagonist and main character in all 3 of the mainline games.
At that point Sora is whisked away, leaving Twilight Town and the friends who can’t quite seem to remember Roxas now, heading off to another world to meet Yen Sid (from Disney’s Fantasia) along with his recently awoken buddies Donald Duck and Goofy.
At that point the title screen appeared and what I remember is thinking “Dang, this game is gonna be huge. I’ve been playing for hours and I’m just at the title screen? What the heck!”.
I was right too.
I went back to Kingdom Hearts 1 eventually, but only when it came out as “1.5” as part of a re-release. You’ll see if you look into it that Kingdom Hearts has a big problem with re-releases, i.e. KH1, 2, 1.5, 2.8 etc.
Summary in Brief
This series is weird and complicated so I’ll do my best.
You play as Sora, a young boy from a strange island in the middle of nowhere, who falls out of his world when it’s consumed by Darkness. Sora is chosen by a Keyblade, a magical weapon that is the only thing that can fight back the Dark. He goes on an adventure to find and rescue his friends and in the meantime discovers some of them have fallen to the Dark, and some of them contain pieces of light that are needed by the bad guys to assemble the namesake Kingdom Hearts, which everyone wants to assemble for various reasons.
The big selling point of the game is that it’s a combination of Square Enix and their characters from a very Final Fantasy setting, and Disney’s characters and stories. There are multiple worlds in Kingdom Hearts, each one is set in a different Disney movie. For example in the original games there was a Beauty and the Beast world, Lion King, the Little Mermaid, all the classics.
In this game we get some new worlds; Toy Story, Big Hero 6, Tangled, to name a few. The graphics on these are a real step up, what’s particularly cool to note is that the Monster’s Inc graphics to me are indistinguishable from the movie. Particularly cool when you consider the movie was rendered frame-by-frame by Pixar’s god-tier rendering cloud, and now it’s being rendered live by my PS4. Neat.
Why is this game a Big DealTM
KH3 is a big deal for the KH community because it was a long time coming. The Kingdom Hearts series has always had a tenuous relationship with timelines. There are 13 games, below is their in-universe chronological order as well as the year they were released and the console they were released on (order stolen from u/Elfdemon)
- Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover (2017, Film)
- Kingdom Hearts χ[chi] (2013, Web Browser Game)
- Kingdom Hearts Unchained χ (2015, Web Browser Game relaunch of χ[chi] )
- Kingdom Hearts Union χ[Cross] (2017, Web Browser Game relaunch of χ[chi] )
- Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep (2010, PSP)
- Kingdom Hearts (2002, PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (2009, Nintendo DS)
- Kingdom Hearts Chain of Memories (2004, Game Boy Advance)
- Kingdom Hearts II (2005, PS2)
- Kingdom Hearts coded (2008, Mobile Phones)
- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (2012, Nintendo 3DS)
- Kingdom Hearts III (2019, PS4)
Wow. That’s a mess. The main takeaway is that the series has been on so many consoles over the years, and that the time between the main line games (in bold above) was 3 years from 1 to 2, and then 14 years from 2 to 3.
So this was a big deal. Especially as it was announced in 2013 and took 6 more years to be ready.
So what happens in this game?
Usual story, fight of light against dark, recurring villains we thought dead were alive, everyone we killed last game was back, time travel shenanigans, the power of love triumphing all…..
Sora has to uncover the “Power of Waking” in order to be considered a key blade master. One of his friends has done this and is working with King Micky (yes Micky Mouse) in order to fight back the dark and Sora wants to help, but isn’t considered ready.
There’s travel through all the worlds where you help everyone solve their problems and beat the baddies hovering around. As you go you piece together more and more of the story and uncover the Big Bad is working to bring Kingdom Hearts about so he can wipe all life from everywhere and start over. Typical bad guy stuff.
The overarching massive meta plot isn’t super necessary to enjoy the game. Sure you’ll miss some bits, but the basic bits of the game are go here, enjoy a little riff on the story of the original film, kill some dudes, and rescue some people. Then there’s a fancy boss fight and you win. It’s enjoyable, but if you’re not clued in on certain things you do feel left out thinking you should find a particular moment more impactful. Worse if, like me, you know a good chunk of story but not all of it, you start getting worried about if this mysterious person is someone you should recognise from other games or someone new and genuinely mysterious!!
So what about game play?
It’s a game, it’s about the game play.
The basic core game play is built around a core set of abilities and then a thousand thins you’ll never use.
The core ability is hammer X to attack with your keyblade. This then does different things depending on what skills you have equipped. You learn new skills (or abilities) as you level and you have a point cap, so each ability costs a certain number of points and you swap them out as needed. This point cap was completely redundant to me, as I was easily able to buy enough items to increase it such that I could always have all abilities slotted at once.
Depending on what you’ve got you then have combos on the ground, in the air, slams, throws, finishers, etc.
The new gimmick of this game is that the keyblades are all much more different to prior games. Instead of giving you a boost to a certain thing each keyblade has a set of forms that are unlocked as you do combos and you can swap out to their more powerful versions as combat carries on. Keyblades have 2 main focuses; physical and magic. You generally unlock a new keyblade as you finish a world, and you can level them up with a crafting mechanic using enemy drops.
Next up are spells, you have a few basic types: fire, blizzard, thunder, air, cure. Each of these then has higher tiers which cost more but do more damage, so you start with Fire, then Fira, then Firaga. You can map these to hotkeys and they’re pretty useful.
Then you have Attractions, another new draw for the game. Certain enemies will have a trigger icon on them and if you hit them before it runs out you get to use an Attraction, all modelled off of traditional Disneyland rides. There’s the Pirate Ship, Splash Mountain, Carousel, Tea Cups, Blaster Blaze, and a Roller-coaster that’s locked to a story mission. These are mostly huge flashy high damage events that turn the tide of battle, but honestly they were a real bother after a while playing. They take so long to wind up and play out, and they’re so repetitive, I did everything possible to limit use of them.
Speaking of situational commands they’re all over the place, hitting △ will activate a contextual thing depending on the situation. Especially used in boss battles or with certain abilities slotted this can cause a big stack of contextual commends, some of which are useful and a lot of which are the bloody Carousel. They can be cycled through with L2 but it’s panicky and tricky.
Lastly there are Link Summons where you summon a Disney character to fight with you. Available (after unlocking) are “Wonder Balloon” (from a KH game I hadn’t played), Ralph from Wreck it Ralph, Simba from Lion King, Ariel from the Little Mermaid, and Stitch from Lilo and Stitch. These are the mechanic I used the least as they deplete your magic bar (which was a pain if you needed a valuable cure) and caused a long animation and bunch of effects.
What I will say about the gameplay is there’s too much of it. So many mechanics that although they were introduced in bits and pieces I never needed to use anything other than hitting things and the occasional cure when I got beat up too much. It did feel like the game was chucking mechanics at me to see what would stick, but on the positive side I was never penalised for not using one of them if I didn’t like it.
There were a few other bits thrown in for good measure. Gummi Ships were back, this has been a strange staple from the series. See most of the time you’re running around as Sora with a team of up to 2 extras, usually Donald and Goofy, but you can swap out for one of the characters form the world you’re in. Gummi ships take out out of that on the travel between worlds as you fly a space-ship made of brightly coloured blocks that you can build. Think space invaders.
There’s nothing wrong with the Gummi sections but they’ve always been a bit of an odd addition. They were definitely more annoying in earlier games where you had to fly specific routes, but once you’d flown the route you could just fast-travel to your destination. This time you’ve got an open area you can fly around freely in and there are more objectives and stuff to do, with some fun bosses and some big set pieces that are pretty cool.
Good game! I was really eagerly awaiting this one, I’ll be honest, but I did enjoy it. It looked beautiful, it played really well, there was just enough challenge at key points (disclaimer I was on Normal mode), the stories were nicely done, mini-games were engaging. A few minor problems with the amount of stuff thrown in, but still a great game and would recommend.
That’s all for now! Stay safe, and remember to love each other!