Release Date: January 25, 2019
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action RPG
It’s been a bit of over 13 years since we final noticed a mainline entry within the Kingdom Hearts collection, and in that point, video video games have developed significantly, breaking new floor each by way of gameplay and storytelling. In some methods, the long-awaited Kingdom Hearts III falls simply shy of recent gaming requirements, affected by a number of the similar pitfalls because the predecessors it stays so trustworthy to. But the sport boasts some profitable enhancements as nicely and finally is a fascinating, jaw-droppingly fairly, pitch-perfect follow-up whose strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.
Story has all the time been a major focus for Kingdom Hearts, and should you beloved the storytelling within the first two video games, you’re in luck, as a result of stylistically, issues stay largely the identical. The overarching story is epic; Sora, Donald, and Goofy are as charming as ever; and their journey is sustained seamlessly from prior installments (very spectacular contemplating the principle franchise’s prolonged layoff).
I keep in mind fairly having fun with the story from the primary two video games, however after 13 years, I really feel like storytelling in video games has turn out to be extra refined and humanistic than what Kingdom Hearts III provides, particularly within the AAA tier. The story revolves across the grand battle between warriors of sunshine (Sora and co., Riku, Aqua, Axel, King Mickey, and so on.), darkish (Organization XIII, Xehonort, Maleficent, Ansem, and the like), and a handful of characters who teeter on the road between good and evil. It’s stuffed with grand themes of affection, loss, hope, failure, and friendship, and there’s no questioning the sincerity with which the story is informed—the writers appear to actually care concerning the characters and themes they’re juggling.
But a juggling act of this magnitude is close to inconceivable to tug off—there are simply far too many characters (lots of whom look VERY comparable and have multiple title), concepts, symbolism, metaphors, plot developments, references, and tonal shifts to inform a sublime, targeted story that’s simple to grasp. Cutscenes are insanely exposition-heavy, which make the plot really feel more and more convoluted and head-spinningly tough for me to wrap my head round, not to mention join with emotionally. There are factors all through the story the place sure characters overlook why they’re forgetting one other character’s title, and I discovered myself forgetting why they had been forgetting why they had been so forgetful. This harm my mind.
There are moments all through the principle story which might be efficient and emotional, notably those revolving across the tragically misplaced Roxas and the irresistibly lovely Kairi, and the voice performing is sort of good throughout the board (Haley Joel Osment reprises his position as Sora, which tremendously provides to the cohesion of the principle video games). But the dialogue too typically sounds utterly compelled and unnatural to the purpose the place characters actually spell out the themes of the story as if speaking on to the participant (“Hurting is part of caring!”). There’s no nuance to talk of within the storytelling, which is a disgrace contemplating how far video video games have come on that entrance.
The sport’s story does have its highlights. What alleviates the clunky writing in the principle story are the self-contained aspect tales you expertise within the sport’s various assortment of Disney-based worlds, every brimming with traditional characters we all know and love. Since these world-specific missions are based mostly on the films, they really feel as easy, natural, simple to grasp, and emotional because the supply materials. Yes, a number of the ham-fisted writing sounds odd popping out of those well-known characters’ mouths, however largely, Buzz Lightyear appears like Buzz Lightyear, Baymax appears like Baymax, and it’s genuinely heartwarming to spend time with these of us as soon as once more. This is among the nice joys of Kingdom Hearts.
The different nice pleasure of the collection, after all, is visiting the totally different worlds. Aside from Monsters Inc.’s Monstropolis, which feels decidedly much less impressed than the remaining, every world is dazzling in its personal approach and provides eye-popping set items and heartfelt character moments. San Fransokyo (Big Hero 6) and The Caribbean (Pirates of the Caribbean) are notably eye-popping, with the latter providing an expansive, open sea to overcome and pillage, and the previous a chance to discover one of the ingenious, jaw-droppingly cool fictional worlds Disney has ever created. The measurement of those two worlds was overwhelming for me at first, however then I used to be struck with a shock of childhood glee as I noticed I might traipse round these gigantic environments at my leisure. The sense of freedom and pleasure kinda looks like entering into Disneyland for the primary time, which is a sensation that’s actually distinctive and wonderful and one which solely Kingdom Hearts provides.
Twilight city returns and provides a pleasant hit of nostalgia for longtime followers. Two of Disney’s greatest hits prior to now ten years, Tangled and Frozen, are represented as nicely. Wandering across the forest as Rapunzel experiences the surface world for the primary time is surprisingly poignant, and the builders discovered a completely hilarious approach to incorporate Sora and gang into Elsa’s well-known “Let It Go” solo efficiency (Donald has a line right here that had me cracking up for a very good couple of minutes).
Toy Story’s Toy Box world is maybe probably the most indulgently enjoyable and nostalgic of all. I had approach an excessive amount of enjoyable piloting toy mech fits, battling heartless in ball pits, and rolling round Andy’s room on the well-known Pixar ball for my very own good. I spent hours operating amok beside Woody, Buzz, and the gang, and I’ll always remember it.
Sora, Donald, and Goofy additionally return to Olympus to assist out their outdated buddy Hercules, and the following race up the aspect of Mount Olympus because the two-headed Mountain King titan hurls boulders down at you is among the most epic, memorable gaming moments I’ve skilled shortly. Stunning.
The scale and element of the totally different worlds are staggering and speaks to the sport’s visuals, that are breathtakingly fairly. Each of the worlds mimics the artwork fashion of its respective film to close perfection, and the animation is actually a factor to behold. I used to be oddly wowed by the animation of the lovable liar Flynn Rider from Tangled, whose facial expressions seize exactly the character’s signature appeal and shiftiness. The graphics are top-notch and are most spectacular whenever you discover the small print, just like the rendering of pure gentle within the Caribbean, the way in which Rapunzel bunches up her hair, or the particle results that fill the display screen as you swing and slash your magic-infused keyblade.
The core gameplay feels basically the identical because it’s all the time felt within the collection. Chaotic motion RPG battles see you utilizing quite a lot of keyblades, assaults, particular assaults, magic spells, gadgets, and summons to obliterate hordes of heartless alongside Donald and Goofy, who focus on magic and protection, respectively. You can study a plethora of further talents, from combo extenders to aerial dashes to magic boosters. The RPG components are sturdy and rewarding, and on the whole battles are quite a lot of enjoyable, particularly whenever you pull out one of many tremendous cool summons (Wreck-It Ralph was my favourite) or one of many dazzling, Disneyland ride-inspired workforce assaults (from the Matterhorn to the swinging pirate ship to the Mad Tea Cups, they only don’t get outdated and can absolutely put a smile in your face).
The one massive situation with fight is the digital camera, which is shocking since so many followers have complained about it prior to now. At instances, it’s tough to orient the digital camera precisely the place you want it throughout fight and focusing on enemies might be annoying. On many events, an enemy could be proper in entrance of me, I’d go to assault them, however as an alternative, Sora would lunge at another offscreen grunt because the enemy I needed to assault bashed me from behind. These points undoubtedly weren’t bothersome sufficient to wreck the expertise, however the truth that I felt like I used to be consistently attempting to wrangle the digital camera all the time form of needled at me.
Traversal has seen an enormous growth this time round, with Sora now capable of run up sure vertical surfaces and warp from particular anchor factors to cowl floor and attain new heights within the blink of a watch, together with a number of different talents, of which there are too many to listing right here. The sport can be completely full of quite a lot of mini-games, every with their very own management setup. The Gummi Ship inter-planetary shooter sections return, there’s a puzzle sport in Hundred Acre Wood, you’ll be able to cook dinner meals with Remy from Ratatouille, snowboard down a mountain, and discover underwater caves within the Caribbean.
There’s a crapload of content material right here, however the issue is that, whereas all of those totally different actions management adequately, transferring Sora round by no means feels pleasurable as a result of there’s no sense of weight or inertia concerned. Even fight and traversal really feel weightless and sensitive, to not the purpose the place you ever really feel uncontrolled, however there isn’t that sense of tactility and impression that makes motion RPGs like Monster Hunter and Zelda really feel so satisfying to play. This is a minor gripe a couple of sport that usually controls fairly adequately, however for a sequel to be this late and are available out of such an extended manufacturing cycle, I did anticipate further layers of polish, particularly in features of the sport which were problematic prior to now.
Kingdom Hearts III is a splendidly wealthy expertise that may little doubt thrill followers who’ve been ready for over a decade to play it, which is a large victory for Square Enix. There’s a lot to try this, even after the sport’s 30-ish hour principal story, you’ll have in all probability a dozen or so extra hours of content material to play. There are retro-style mini-games to gather on your “gummi phone,” an Ultima Weapon to quest after, a pirate ship to captain a la Assassin’s Creed, and many extra. Some features of Kingdom Hearts III really feel dated or unrefined, and the storytelling might be nauseatingly expository at instances, nevertheless it’s exhausting to not suggest a sport that’s so partaking, distinctive, dense with content material, and delightfully nostalgic.
Bernard Boo is a contract contributor. Read extra of his work right here.