The appeal of Kingdom Hearts 3 is in bringing together 2 worlds; Disney and JRPGs. So I decided to see how strong that appeal is by bringing in my wife, who is an absolute amateur at games, but an absolute fan of Tangled, Frozen, Toy Story and so on. So this not a review of Kingdom Hearts 3 by me, this is a review of Kingdom Hearts 3 by me and my wife.
Kingdom Hearts 3
Story & Narrative
Kingdom Hearts 3 tries its best to help you give enough background, so you can understand what is going on. There is an index which you can access before beginning the game which gives you a summary of all that has happened before. Even the first few cutscenes have the characters referring to past events describing them so as to give you a better point of reference. But the story has just been fragmented so often, that its still difficult to follow the bigger picture. So don’t feel bad if you find yourself checking out videos such as “KH3 in 3 minutes or less”. In fact, it may even be recommended to do so.
Thankfully, the main ongoing narrative in the game is easier to understand and follow. For the most part, you play as Sorah accompanied by Donald Duck and Goofy as they move from one Disney world to another trying to thwart the plans of the Thirteen, a group hell-bent on accessing the Kingdom Hearts realm for which they need to destroy the world as we know it.
Almost every character that has made an appearance in any Kingdom Hearts game, makes a return (apart from the Disney ones), so any returning fans won’t be disappointed that their favorite characters miss out. Though I don’t get the fetish with the zippers. I really don’t.
On the Disney side, I think the mandate was don’t mess with the cannon so much. Both Tangled and Frozen have you inserted somewhere between the actual films and stitched together, while others have you in between movies or just after them. The common theme, however, is not to change anything major. So while the story of Sorah progresses, it always happens on the fringe of the Disney worlds, unable to make any long-lasting changes to the Disney universe cannon or otherwise. Case in point in the Monster Inc. World, where the main antagonist of the movie Randall returns for your sojourn, but by the end he is banished again, effectively reinstating the status quo that existed before Sorah entered the world. In fact, even the way he is banished remains the same, almost protecting future conflicts from happening.
Gameplay & Mechanics
Kid gloving the story doesn’t mean that the game is any less fun to play, however.
The core combat mechanic at the heart of Kingdom Hearts is combos.
You start a battle with simple keyblade or magic attacks, both executed through a single button press, and build up a combo which gives you access to stronger attacks. This simple combo building then leads into a variety of branching attacks, sometimes allowing you to summon Disney characters like Wreck-It-Ralph and Simba from the Lion King, or allowing you to board insane eye-popping versions of Disneyland Joyrides, which cause more chaos than damage. These combos can also lead to unlocking a higher tier for the keyblade that you are using (you unlock one for each Disney world that you clear), which gives you access to even stronger and larger than life combos. Then there are team moves which you can perform with either Goofy or Donald or the world specific NPC. Finally, there are focus attacks which use up your cleverly named focus bar and can be used in tandem with the combo building to spice up the combat.
As you level up, you unlock more elaborate and stronger melee and magic attacks. Its up to you to find the ones that work for you and deactivate the ones that don’t from you move list, as some moves will cancel out others. Leveling up also unlocks abilities for Donald and Goofy, which for once have decent AI this time and heal both you and themselves at the right time 7 out of 10 times. Considering that you can be taking on over 50 enemies at any given time, those are pretty good odds.
You can also make the game more difficult or easier on yourself, by toggling a bunch of options that either give you advantages like increasing the amount of time that your combo meter lasts or by challenging you by disabling health potion effects etc.
All of this intricate combo building can be executed using just 3 buttons, especially at lower level difficulties, which is what I played it at considering my wife joined in. In fact, the combat is so easy to pick up, that my wife could pretty much romp through with simple button mashing, needing me only during boss battles. Also on a side note, she is actually better at QTE sections than I am, so maybe there is some potential there. I did try the first few levels of the game at higher difficulties, and it becomes more important to choose which combo to execute and in what sequence. It also became more important to manage and keep certain combos inactive so that they don’t mess with your play-style.
Underlined by a deep combat system which you don’t fully unravel until you are long into the game, there are also world specific mechanics. So while the world of Tangled has you dangling from tree to tree with Rapunzel, the world of Toy Story will allow you to jump into Toy Robots and use them as your own personal mechs, and Pirates Of The Caribbean have its own Assassin’s Creed Black Flagship combat thing going on. The ever-changing mechanics, plus looking at the Toy Story world from the perspective of a Toy, and Monster Inc. as a monster keeps the experience fresh and rewarding.
Exploring such worlds is also easy and equipped with Sorah’s free run ability to make traversal fun and seamless. None of the world maps is too big to get lost in, but without a proper compass implementation, I got turned around in the map multiple times as I got out of combat, moving in the wrong direction more than once.
While the in-world exploring easy enough, its when you need to explore the space between these worlds which is cumbersome. Equipped with a Gummiship, you need to travel from world to world. Theoretically, there are gems to be collected, enemies to be defeated, puzzles to be solved, and collectibles to be collected in this Gummi space. But the space ship controls are pathetic, the combat feels tacked on, and it’s just downright difficult to navigate from one world to another. Maybe 10 years ago when they didn’t have enough content to pad out the game, this gimmick would have made sense, right now its just bloat standing between me and San Fransokyo.
Graphics, Sound & Performance
Another reason you don’t want to stay in Gummi space is that it’s unimaginative. Its pixelated blown up 3D version of Galaxy X, and inspires dread. It stands in even starker contrast when you consider that each of the Disney worlds is beautifully realized.
What impresses me the most, is the various animation style on display in a single game. The photo-realism animations, when Sora is in Pirates of The Caribbean universe competes with the smooth shiny 3D object animations in the Toy Story universe. Everything from the animation, the background music, and even Sora’s own sprites are morphed according to the world he is in. And here in lies the benefit of staying on the straight and narrow. My wife enjoyed reliving ‘Let It Go’, or the iconic dance in Tangled and appreciated both the attention to detail and the subtle changes that they had made, to accommodate Sora. Even when the gameplay was becoming repetitive and cumbersome for her, she wanted to move on motivated by the need to explore the next Disney world.
The voice acting falls in line too, and while it doesn’t boast of the stellar cast the actual Disney movies had, they have decent replacements, which don’t jar too much with how those characters sounded in the first place.
The game does falter a bit when it comes to number crunching though, and the frame rate drops consistently even on the PS4 pro. There are also situations when there is a visible lag between input and effect, but I was willing to overlook this problem considering the amount of enemies on screen. Plus it wasn’t a big deal, if I missed some of my combos at lower difficulties, though I can imagine that being a problem at tougher ones.
Kingdom Hearts 3, is not a game to grind and git gud at, and spend 100 hours in. Its gimmick appeal of mixing Disney with JRPGs works for the most part, and keeps you hooked at least as long as you haven’t explored all the worlds. Don’t take the game too seriously, and you could have a lot of fun,