Kingdom Hearts III concludes 17 years and multiple spin-offs with a beautiful story and a fantastic gameplay experience, becoming the best game in the series.
In 2002, Kingdom Hearts debuted on the Playstation 2. Bringing together concepts that nobody thought had synergy, Square-Enix combined Final Fantasy and Disney to create one of the most memorable games of all time. Kingdom Hearts took the RPG gameplay and character designs that made Final Fantasy iconic and bridged it with iconic Disney characters and locations. The mix brought forth a game that can get heartwarming and cheerful, ringing to our childhoods, to dark and layered, where death, rebirth and violence is prevalent. While to many, this wouldn’t gel right, director Tetsuya Nomura delivered with a game that is still cherished today. From Kingdom Hearts, came a direct sequel, Kingdom Hearts II, and multiple spin-offs across different consoles and eras. 17 years from that day, the finale to the saga is released on Playstation 4. Not only does Kingdom Hearts III meet expectations, it surpasses them.
Kingdom Hearts has had multiple gameplay styles over the years. The core titles had a strong RPG presence and a combat system that was easy to grasp for newcomers and enjoyable to master. It has also had varying success in its spin-offs. Card battling, Flowmotion, Command Decks and more have been used over the last decade. Being the finale of the saga, Kingdom Hearts III combines almost every element of previous games while staying true to the two core titles that preceded it. This comes out to the greatest battle system the series has seen yet. Up to this point, Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix had the best combat, with extremely fluid movement and multiple ways to go into each battle. Kingdom Hearts III surpasses that combat system by-in-large through copying most of it. The core battle system of KHII is based of the KHII blueprint. The movement style, core mechanics and ability system feels directly ripped from its perfect predecessor.
What gives KHIII the edge is taking small elements from every other game, making it feel like a true culmination. The game takes Flowmotion from Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, Focus from Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, emphasis on Summons from Kingdom Hearts, emphasis on combat from Kingdom Hearts II while bringing new elements as well. Chief of the new elements is the new Keyblade transformations. Taking the place of Drive forms, each Keyblade transforms and gives the player unique gameplay options and strategies. Likewise, the addition of Attraction Flow brings a sense of power that can save you in a pinch. Overall, the gameplay of Kingdom Hearts III is a massive joy to play. While the game tends to be easy, even on playing on its most difficult game mode, it still brings all the thrills that KH is known for.
Kingdom Hearts III had a massive task ahead of it for story. One of the largest complaints newcomers had to the series was a lack of cohesiveness in the plot. Characters with the same names, same designs, and same voice actors end up being completely separate characters. At the same time, multiple games on multiple consoles made it hard for new fans to understand. While this is certainly not an issue for longtime fans, myself included, it is a justifiable complaint. Squre-Enix rectified that by bringing the entire series to Playstation 4 through Kingdom Hearts 1.5, Kingdom Hearts 2.5 and Kingdom Hearts 2.8. These titles remastered the PS2, PSP and 3DS titles and brought them to life on the latest gen while smaller spin offs were made into easy to follow mini movies. Even so, Kingdom Hearts III reminds the player time and again of the events of the past and does an excellent job tying together every single thread and plot point into a concise story. Without getting into plot details, it is pleasing to see how every single Kingdom Hearts title has meaning and importance in Kingdom Hearts III. The ever charismatic Sora is back, with his longtime friends Donald and Goofy, traverses the various Disney World while solving a larger plot. Kingdom Hearts III does a great job at pulling at the heartstrings of fans and delivers on many moments fans have been waiting to see in emotional and bittersweet fashion. One thing is for sure, Sora is one the best video game protagonists we’ve seen in gaming.
One of the most important parts of every Kingdom Hearts title is the Disney worlds Sora and the gang get to visit. For a core title in the series, Kingdom Hearts III comes with significantly less worlds than its counterparts. It makes it up with each world feeling more alive than ever. Loading screens are by and large gone from each world, making them feel like individual sandboxes. While some worlds tend to feel repetitive and the pacing of the story mostly keeps the player in a linear direction, the environments all feel lush and authentic to their Disney counterparts. Outside of all the original worlds, the Disney worlds of Toy Story and Monsters Inc. feel very much torn from their original pages. While worlds like Frozen and Rapunzel almost feel like you’re in their actual films, with accurate recreations of iconic moments. Of the Disney Worlds, Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Hero 6 Stand out as the most vibrant while original worlds resonate most when it is all said and done. Overall, the title does a masterful job bringing each Disney character and world to life and blending them with the darkest storyline that Kingdom Hearts brings to the table.
Overall, Kingdom Hearts III is truly the hallmark of the series. Fantastic gameplay, stunning graphics and rich, layered characters complement the engaging story and strong message. The game boasts strong voice acting for all characters and captures the same magic that Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts II did over a decade ago. Jumping back into Sora’s shoes and traversing the Disney worlds with Donald and Goofy will bring out the kid in everyone. The title will have longtime fans mesmerized with how it calls back and ties together the 17 years of story while newcomers will be pleased with how easy it has become to grasp it all. The story is bittersweet and the ending will leave fans completely stunned. Make no mistake, while the Disney Worlds have a light and heartwarming feel, when Kingdom Hearts III truly becomes KINGDOM HEARTS III, it is a spectacle truly worth being mesmerized by. While this is the finale of the original Kingdom Hearts saga, it is clear why Square-Enix and Disney should never let it this magical franchise go.