I’ve decided today to write a more centric piece today, focusing on my thoughts about Kingdom Hearts 3.
So I’ve just surfaced from a 2-week gaming binge, specifically focused on all and every Kingdom Hearts game in preparation for Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts is such an interesting series for me. It’s so strongly based on nostalgia that all my first memories of it are dredged in the back of my mind when I played KH1 on the PlayStation 2 at my friend’s house. At the time I had been begging my dad to get me a ps2 but alas to no avail, and so in playing then I had my first fond memories of the Kingdom Hearts series. And while I was only able to play a smidge of the game at the time, I had become utterly captivated by it.
It’s funny how so many of the lines from KH 1 are very very cringy, to say the least, but at the time I was at an age where that kind of stuff wasn’t noticeable to me, and because of that I lapped it up completely.
There was this one scene I remember vividly. It involved Tarzan still learning English. At the time in the story, he could mostly only speak ape and was unable to communicate a certain phrase to the main protagonist Sora about where his friends were. Eventually, he learned that the word he was looking for was ‘heart’ and that no matter where you are your friends will always be in your heart.
Like I said Kingdom Hearts can be cringy, but in the same vein, it has a gift of taking an enormous assortment of characters and ideas from beloved Final Fantasy and Disney games and movies and making those elements into a game with a cohesive heart-warming story.
Before I start with KH3 I should note why this nostalgia factor is important. During the timeframe between KH2 and KH3, there were many in-between games. The problem with this is that all these games were released on multiple platforms and that none of them were able to be played on one platform simultaneously. So even after the slog of replaying many… many… Kingdom Hearts games in preparation, which was worth it, I might add. Playing the previous games in the series made me appreciate the ins and outs of the game’s systems and how they have evolved over the years. Luckily the gap between the two games was so big that they were able to re-release all of the games together on the original platform it started on–PlayStation.
However, the problem with this is that Kingdom Hearts 3 then becomes a very difficult game to just pick up. It’s kind of like watching the Star Wars movie Solo without ever watching any Star Wars movies before it. While it is entirely doable to just watch Solo by itself, this inevitably makes the movie lose so much of its depth.
Recently I’ve read a lot of reviews on movies about how all the great villains are dead. The problem with movies these days, people say, is that villains have become placeholders for superheroes to beat. They are forgettable and only serve as plot devices. True Villains, villains we remember are characters that you can emphasize with, people you might not agree with, but from seeing their side of the story you are able to see why they would do what they do. True villains are those we silently nod to ourselves and say, ‘Ahhhh there really was nothing else they could have done, I get it.’
This idea is the Kingdom Hearts franchise in a nutshell. If you pick up Kingdom Hearts 3 having never played any of the previous installments it will probably end up being an enjoyable, albeit forgettable experience. You see, Kingdom Hearts is a game that relies on its back story. People appreciate a story and its characters so much more if they have been given more time with them. There are good and bad things about KH3 like any game but if there is one thing I will say, it is that regardless of its flaws, KH3 delivered so many nostalgia moments the buy itself was worth it on those alone.
So this brings me to Kingdom Hearts 3. Let it be said, I screamed a little out loud when it arrived in the mail and I think many people understand me in that this game has been a long time coming. We’ve basically been waiting for this game for well over 13 years.
My first impression of KH3 is that it’s a fantastic game. It delivers on everything a KH fan could want from it. The graphics are honestly amazing with a special shout-out to the Caribbean level, it was breathtaking. Speaking of levels. The level scale comparison in size between previous Kingdom Hearts games and Kingdom Hearts 3 is like chalk and cheese. For the first time, thanks to the introduction of the flowmotion system, which I think was nerfed slightly compared to Dream Drop Distance, disappointing, allowed for a verticality that hadn’t really been present in previous games. The size of the levels now allows the player to feel like there are things to find, which is unlike previous games, as they felt more like going from point A to B with a nook and cranny here and there to deviate off to and get a treasure chest. KH3 isn’t like this, it gives more depth. Which is really appreciated.
Next is the combat system. 0.8 a fragmentary past was a short introduction to the new combat mechanics in KH3 and it helped somewhat. I honestly think my biggest pet peeve with the controls of this game is that they changed the open treasure chest from triangle to X at some point in the series timeline and it threw me off completely after that in later games haha.
KH3 has a lot of things going on at once when you’re in combat. There are a lot of pop-ups and you need to be aware of the different things available to you, and which thing is worth using when. This is good and bad, let me explain. KH3 having so many new things present is great. As a gamer, I always enjoy having been given more options to try different things and the great thing about this is that in KH3 it doesn’t make you choose what to do. If you don’t like a particular part, like summons as an example, you don’t have to use them. If you don’t like ride attractions, they’re an option, so you just don’t push the button to activate them. The bad parts, however, are that sometimes you can end up mixing up your options because switching between them can be a bit of a pain. That and because the treasure chest command is the same command as the reaction command, you sometimes end up using a reaction you don’t want to instead of opening a chest, which can be annoying.
Now the downside of KH3. Unfortunately, unlike previous Kingdom Hearts games, because of the inclusion of all of these new abilities the game has become appallingly easy. The amount of abilities and reactions that render your character invulnerable is borderline heresy. As a person who personally loves the feeling of leveling up your character solidly at the beginning of a game, so that by the end you are so OP beyond belief, that you feel like a metaphorical God amongst mere mortals, even keeping that in mind, even I noticed the lack of challenge. The difficulty level in KH3 is not there, but even more so there are certain abilities and commands that were so dangerously broken and OP even I raised an eyebrow here and there. It’s a shame too because giving so many options to use is rendered moot by the lack of challenge. I also want to add I have credibility in this regard having played KH3 on proud mode.
If I had, had to think about what I needed to use going into a fight, or at any point of the game needed to change my strategy, I would have enjoyed it far more. A game’s combat loses its credibility as soon as a player only needs to button mash the same button over and over no matter what they do and it never changes the outcome of the battle. However, just like how they changed KH2 Final Mix difficulty, I think a rebalancing of the game is very possible, and probably probable at this point. (Edit at this point after numerous patches and DLCs the difficulty has been adjusted and become far more balanced.)
Another thing I want to mention is that getting your hands on challenging equipment and weapons becomes pointless because it makes what was already easy almost a joke. The Ultima weapon in this game is amazing, while I’m not a huge fan of its look, using it honestly made me feel stronger than the bosses themselves. I would hit the end game bosses I faced a few times, transform to my ultima keyblades next level, and basically, the fight was over after that. That’s how OP the Ultima Keyblade is, and this is not even mentioning its shotlock ability which KO’s end game bosses almost instantly. I mention these things because KH2 had a certain ‘anxiety’ to it. You never knew when you might be in trouble, but you did know it was possible and it could happen. KH3 never made me feel that. I was always relaxed, never doubting that I would beat any opposition on the first try.
Yet, regardless of its lack of difficulty, KH3’s battle system is still really entertaining, there are so many options to choose from, honestly, it’s really enjoyable to try new things out in every battle. So while I never had to worry about dying, I was never bored with all the different ways I could battle. Which made it a thoroughly enjoyable experience in that respect.
Finally, I want to talk about Kingdom Hearts 3’s story. The story, like Nomura stated in one of his interviews, is in essences Sora’s story.
What a story…
The story’s ending really ends on a satisfying note. It wraps up a lot of loose ends and does such a solid job in bringing things together. I don’t really know how Nomura does it, but he really is able to take such a broad range of story threads and bring them together reliably and with purpose.
But what I really want to talk about to end this review is how nostalgia and character development intermingle together. This story has a lot more depth than previous installments. You honestly feel for these characters, and the main trio itself is actually what FFXV tried to achieve with its “Band of Bro’s” idea. It’s a story about Sora, Donald, and Goofy. And for me, that was the perfect foundation on which to base the game and was cleverly executed to boot.
Kingdom Hearts 3 shows how the characters I had come to love at a young age grew up over the course of this game. The quips and comments from the main trio stopped being cringy and mostly irrelevant and started to take on purpose. Each character had a distinct personality this time around: Sora was charismatic but reckless, Goofy was laid back but thoughtful and the surprise stand out for me in this game was Donald. I actually found Donald mostly annoying in previous games but in this game, even though his comments could be obnoxious, they always kept Sora in line. Most of what Donald’s character said are checks to remind Sora what’s important, which as a writer myself I really appreciated.
The strongest point for me in the game was the inclusion in the final battle of an ability that the three of them use to help defeat the final boss. It just shows the inclusivity of the game mechanics being embedded in the story and vice versa. There were so many moments where I would sit back and say to myself I can’t believe this is who I’m going to fight, or is this really happening right now? It was spectacular in both scale and poignancy. It honestly left me teary at points and awed at others. To say how much I enjoyed this game is an understatement.
Kingdom Hearts 3 may have some issues in a lack of challenge and inclusivity for newcomers but to be honest this game wasn’t made for everyone. This game was made for the fans who grew up with it. Kingdom Hearts 3 is a game we’ve been waiting for, for over 15 years, and in its deliverance, I find myself satisfied and content.
Will I be playing future installments in the Kingdom Hearts series? I guess in all its cringyness, ‘I’ll let my heart be my guiding key.’