Kingdom Hearts 3 Review

Kingdom Hearts 3 review: After 13 years of waiting, Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally here, but can it bring The Dark Seeker Saga to a satisfactory end?
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Verdict

I loved my time with Kingdom Hearts 3, embracing its melodramatic storytelling, whimsical selection of worlds and spectacular combat right until the very end.

Pros

  • A fantastic end to The Dark Seeker Saga
  • Fun, satisfying gameplay with plenty of spectacle
  • Disney worlds are absurdly detailed and fun to explore
  • Story is emotionally resonant throughout

Cons

  • The Gummi Ship remains a bit of an afterthought

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £44.99
  • Developer: Square Enix
  • Release Date: January 29, 2019
  • Genre: Action RPG
  • Platforms: PS4, Xbox One

I’ve never been driven to tears by a title screen before. That all changed with Kingdom Hearts 3. Square Enix seems to have done the impossible with this long-awaited sequel, bringing the saga to a close in an immensely satisfying way, casting aside doubts on a series that often takes pleasure in its own convolution.

Sora’s new adventure is a triumphant JRPG that charts an emotional, action-packed journey that takes you through multiple worlds littered with irresistible charm. After 13 years, I’m happy to say that Kingdom Hearts 3 was worth the wait.  

It isn’t without its flaws, but The Dark Seeker Saga is brought to an exhilarating close despite the huge number of obstacles standing before it. Whether newcomers will find the same pleasure in it as I did is another matter, but the entire package does a commendable job of getting players up to speed.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 Review

All of your favourite characters return, including Kairi in an absurdly fabulous new dress

Before I dive into the thick of things, players who are coming to Kingdom Hearts 3 without prior experience of the series should definitely check out the Memory Archive. Accessed from the main menu, this gives you a whistle-stop tour of events leading up to the current game’s narrative. It’s far from comprehensive, but provides enough context to cement the stakes you’ll be fighting for.

It’s perfectly clear from the opening minutes that Square Enix is aiming to tell a very specific story with Kingdom Hearts 3, acting as a summation of lore that has taken years to accumulate. For the uninitiated, it can be incredibly confusing as you’re left Googling the names of characters and their motivations, but for hardcore fans like me, it’s everything we’ve been waiting for.

Taking place after the events of Dream Drop Distance, Sora and friends must gather the Seven Masters of Light before thwarting the plans of Master Xehanort and Organisation XIII. That’s the short and sweet version of things, and if I tried to explain it in any more detail we’d be here for hours.

The important part is that Kingdom Hearts 3 weaves a melodramatic yarn that’s emotionally resonant throughout, tugging at strings that have been tied for almost a decade now. Key plot advancements are effectively paced between chapters before blasting you into one of the best final acts I’ve seen in a JRPG for quite some time, leaning into its absurd world and characters with such dedication I couldn’t help but adore it.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 Review

Special attacks allow you to summon a number of exhilarating Disney attractions

Plot and characters aside, Kingdom Hearts 3 is a splendid action experience in its own right, building upon the ideas of past games to create a combat system that strikes a great balance between skill and spectacle. The core ideas remain the same as they did in 2002, with you having a list of commands to choose from such as attack, magic and items. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, but you’d best assign a few shortcuts to make things easier.

Success in the majority of encounters comes from mashing the attack button before executing an assortment of marvelous special abilities. These are visually wonderful, whether you’re calling upon Goofy to launch you into the air atop his shield or asking Donald to rain meteors down from above. It’s unfortunate you’re forced to sit back and watch as these play out, but they’re short and sweet enough that you’re immediately back into the action.

Outside of powers linked to characters you can also summon Disney attractions such as water rapids, carousels and rollercoasters to obliterate enemies with a surge of neon-lit chaos. In addition, the likes of The Lion King’s Simba and Stitch from, er, Lilo & Stitch return as recruitable allies alongside newcomers Wreck-It Ralph and The Little Mermaid’s Ariel. These are a blast to use, many of which incorporating minigames of sort into each attack.

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Keyblades, Sora’s form of fantastical weaponry, have been expanded massively to accommodate bespoke abilities unique to the worlds you obtain them from. The variety on display here is a delight, emphasised further as you switch between three on the fly, filling the screen with absurd explosions of colour and evaporating enemies.

Sadly, this can lead to a distinct lack of challenge on standard difficulties, so I’d recommend you avoid grinding until finishing the main story. You can always allocate abilities to make things more difficult, with some restricting the use of certain skills or completely eliminating the earning of experience. I adore options like this, and feel triumphing over tough story battles really helps the narrative shine.

As silly as it sounds, I’m invested in these characters and the feeling that I’m pushing through insurmountable odds only strengthens that bond, and thus the impact of this closing chapter means all the more as a result.

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Kingdom Hearts 3 Review

Garwsh, it sure looks like Goofy is about to start a fight with somebody

It wouldn’t be Kingdom Hearts with a smattering of Disney worlds alongside the expected melodrama of JRPGs. The third instalment doesn’t disappoint, featuring the likes of Frozen, Tangled and Pixar’s Toy Story. All of them are beautifully presented, representing a level of care and accuracy unmatched by other licensed properties.

The events that take place in all of these worlds are relatively inconsequential to the wider story of Organisation XIII and Master Xehanort, but provide our main characters with endless personalities to bounce off and develop themselves. It’s a brilliant dynamic, allowing us to relive these films in childish glee before the inevitable melancholy kicks in.

One of my personal favourite worlds is Pirates of the Caribbean, which provides you with a vast ocean to explore alongside a handful of densely populated islands. It feels a lot like Assassin’s Creed as enemy ships flank you from behind before you fire a flurry of unsuspecting cannons in response. It’s really fun, and a prime example of the whimsical atmosphere Kingdom Hearts 3 doles out in spades.

Some locales are weaker than others, with properties like Big Hero 6 and Monsters, Inc funnelling you through a linear set of battles and interactions before reaching a conclusion. Kingdom Hearts 3 is at its strongest when you’re free to explore your surroundings, taking in the beautiful animated worlds at your own pace before tackling the emergent story.

Fortunately, you’re free to return to past locations once you’re done to collect treasures, find hidden emblems and grind for experience. I also loved to see how my actions had impacted each world going forward. The chaos across Olympus leads to Thebes being rebuilt while Tangled’s Kingdom of Corona prospered after the mysterious princess finally came out of hiding. Cute touches like this just make an RPG feel alive.

The main campaign weighs in at roughly 30 hours, depending on how occupied you are with side content. It’s an ideal length, complimented with a bunch of endgame content that involves you partaking in coliseum-esque battles across all worlds and photographing special emblems scattered across the universe. Oh, did we mention you can take selfies with everyone, too?

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Kingdom Hearts 3 Review

The Gummi Ship sections are far more ambitious, but could still be better

As expected the Gummi Ship, a blocky interstellar cruiser you pilot between the various worlds, makes a return, but the on-rails, Panzer Dragoon-esque sections of the past have been replaced with a more open affair where you can discover treasure and photograph constellations to earn bonuses.

These sections are simple space shooters which, while not anything special on their own, serve to break up the action. You can choose from a number of pre-set Gummi Ship designs or customise your own. There’s plenty of choice here, but most of the time, what you’ll come up with will look like a bunch of glued-together boiled sweets. 

Despite the effort to change up the formula, I never really found myself minded to dive into the Gummi Ship that much, partly because it doesn’t control especially well and the treasures you obtain from going the extra mile often aren’t worth it. This isn’t helped by a finicky Galaxy Map and slow-paced puzzles spread across the universe.

Verdict

I loved my time with Kingdom Hearts 3, embracing its melodramatic storytelling, whimsical selection of worlds and enjoyable combat right until the very end.

The closing act left me in tears as revelations I’ve been waiting over 13 years for finally came to fruition. I’ve grown up with these characters and the myriad worlds they inhabit, and knowing this could be their final adventure is a bittersweet pill to swallow.

Whether you’re a hardcore fan or a hesitant newcomer, there is an undeniable charm to Kingdom Hearts 3 that’s easy to fall in love with. And remember, may your heart be your guiding key. 

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