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Review: Kingdom Hearts 3 – a Heartless adventure

Way too Simple and Clean.

kingdom hearts 3 cutscene
Image: Josh Knowles / KnowTechie

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I absolutely adore the Kingdom Hearts franchise. The 17-year long adventure is finally coming to an end, but I honestly have to say my feelings on the end of this trilogy are bittersweet. Not because it’s nearly two decades of a story wrapping up, but because Kingdom Hearts 3 is somehow the worst-best game I’ve ever played.

Put the pitchforks away. Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fantastic game, but scores high on mostly technical merit alone.

The Bad

As the official third numbered entry into the Disney/Final Fantasy crossover series, Kingdom Hearts 3 is effectively the culmination of the numerous games that have been on PlayStation, 3DS, PSP and mobile gaming platforms. There’s a lot of games that fit into the lore of Kingdom Hearts and oddly enough, the most important lore of Kingdom Hearts 3 seems to lean heavily on the mobile game Kingdom Hearts Union χ[Cross]. There’s a lot that has changed in the last two decades, but for some off reason, I can’t say Kingdom Hearts has deviated from the game that was released 17 years ago.

At the start of Kingdom Hearts 3, you get a quick refresher that explains that Sora has lost all his levels, skills, and keyblades from the last adventure. This conveniently happened in Kingdom Hearts 2 as well but was told in a far more believable way. In Kingdom Hearts 3, they explain that after Master Xehanort nearly possessed Sora, he lost all his abilities. They don’t show you that this happened, they just tell you and Sora shrugs stupidly.

The story continues to wind down the path to nowhere, having Sora visit Disney worlds along the way. This time around, Final Fantasy is nowhere to be found, with only some fleeting imagery serving as a reminder that characters like Cloud, Squall, Auron and others were in the game. When it became apparent that this was to be expected, I didn’t realize that it also meant that characters that struggle with their own darkness were going to essentially be omitted as well.

In prior Kingdom Hearts titles, Sora would generally interact with Disney characters while they explore a somewhat original story unique to that world and the featured Disney character. In KH 3, worlds like Frozen‘s and Tangled simply have Sora there to ride along with the plots of the movies. I don’t know if it was Disney with their typical stranglehold on their properties, but those two worlds are actually incredibly lame in comparison to worlds like Monster’s Inc, Big Hero 6 and Toy Story. Heck, in the Toy Story world, they even go out of the way to address the concepts of toys and video games. There are brilliant moments in the game, but the game never maintains a full stride, something that the last two named games did at about the halfway point.

It’s so weird that after all this time, Kingdom Hearts 3 still feels like a rush job.

kingdom hearts 3 gameplay

Image: Josh Knowles / KnowTechie

Combat in KH 3 feels both easier than in any other game in the series and also completely untouched at the same time. When Final Fantasy XV came out, I commented that I imagined that they would be using the same combat engine for Kingdom Hearts. Instead, you still have Flowmotion but with more camera issues and fights and bosses that can be killed by hitting the A button over and over.

Gone are the days of dodging Sephiroth’s attacks to hit a quick combo, instead you just get in close and spam attacks until you get your special moves or an attraction to summon. Attractions are one of the worst things to be added into Kingdom Hearts 3 and while the flash and glam will catch your eye briefly, the effortless damage they do will let you beat bosses on Proud difficulty at 2AM in the morning when you are 75% asleep. I’m not joking. I don’t know what it is about recent JRPG games, but they don’t require a lot of work and that’s kind of a shame.

I’ve harped a good bit on Kingdom Hearts 3 and for the most part, the game deserves it. It’s kind of the equivalent of buying some expensive steaks and cooking them in the microwave. The quality of meat is still there, but the cooking method sucks and your meal isn’t going to be anything special. But, fortunately, it isn’t all bad news.

The Good

For almost everything that Kingdom Hearts 3 does wrong, there is almost definitely something the game does right. The moments when things click in the game feel so good that the warm fuzzies will literally hold you over and keep you playing each and every time some bullshit pops up to rain on your parade.

While not always remotely challenging, some of the battles in this game are absolute cinematic masterpieces. Almost every boss has at least one moment where you get to set up a move that does tons of damage. These moves are flashy and fun and show just how powerful Sora can be. Outside of that, there’s something always going on when you are in any meaningful battle. Sora has a plethora of special abilities and magic at his disposal, as well as team-up moves with Donald, Goofy or the featured Disney protagonist. These moves are fun but do trivialize a majority of the combat.

kingdom hearts 3 cutscene

Image: Josh Knowles / KnowTechie

While the story is generally hard to follow, there are some moments and payoffs that are quite exciting. As much as I was initially apathetic about the inclusion of Toy Story, the story in their world was one of the most enjoyable points of the game. Also, there’s a payoff that happens in the game that has been running for the last 15 years of Kingdom Hearts and when it happens, the resolution it really hammers home that this is the end of this part of the story. It is also apparent that Kingdom Hearts isn’t completely over yet either, but I’m not quite sure if this means we will see more direct games or DLC that puts a bow on the remaining plot holes.

When it comes to presentation,  Kingdom Hearts 3 is an absolute treat. There were many moments within the game, at least once per world, where I stopped to bask in just how fantastic the game looked. Sora’s movements feel so organic and fluid, even in small moments, like pushing companions out of the way. The soundtrack is so good that I found myself stopping from time to time to take it all in. Even the voice acting itself isn’t inherently horrible, just that the delivery feels over-rehearsed. I recently got a 4K HDR television and Kingdom Hearts 3 absolutely shines on it. There are definitely parts of the game I’m going to use to show off how great things look on my TV.

Is Kingdom Hearts 3 a good game?

kingdom hearts 3 riku

Image: Josh Knowles / KnowTechie

I gotta say that as much as I anticipated Kingdom Hearts 3, it isn’t an objectively fantastic video game. At the same time, it’s not exceedingly horrible. It’s a story-driven JRPG that doesn’t tell a decent story with action that has failed to evolve over the last two decades. On top of it all, there’s a lot of the game that simply just feels unnecessarily rushed.

It’s not to say I hate the game, in fact very much the opposite. It almost seems like Nomura and team doubled down on making the story more convoluted just because that’s the meme behind the game at this point, quite similar to the way you know a FROMSOFTWARE game will have a punishing difficulty. I just, I dunno, I feel disappointed overall. Maybe I just really bought into the hype on this one, but for all intents and purposes, I expected it to be a game to contend for game of the year, not be a decently good game that lacks a sense of identity or direction.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

A copy of the game (Xbox One) was purchased by the reviewer.

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Longtime games journalist and Florida resident. I'm a Guinness World Record holder, wordsmith extraordinaire, MOBA fan, devoted dad and husband. I'm here to spread the gospel of video games.

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