Well guys, we made it. After fourteen years and many spinoffs, Kingdom Hearts III has finally dropped and it’s as bold and bright as expected. I will do my best, for the sake of myself and others, to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. It’s hard to believe I’m even writing a review for the game; the original game was one that I picked up and loved at the age of thirteen in 2002 during a particularly rough time in my life. Sora and I have essentially grown up together and the third installment is just a beautiful improvement on everything that came before.
There have admittedly been a lot of spinoffs so to avoid spoiling any surprises, I will simply describe the plot like this: Sora, Donald Duck and Goofy are fighting the forces of darkness (again) across eight beautiful Disney worlds. I had to admittedly get caught up before I started this review and it’s very easy to get lost in the backstory and lore for the series. It can be difficult and hard to follow at times, but it makes up for that with its genuine earnestness, much like Sora himself. Voice acting is extremely strong across the board, something that keeps you engaged in spite of the rather convoluted plot.
I was admittedly disappointed that some worlds just retell the film they’re based on instead of doing something new and fresh; you’d think after fourteen years, Square Enix would have found a way to make the various Disney worlds and their stories engaging. It can easily burn a player out when the worlds don’t capture your imagination the way they should, but most of the time the game succeeds at capturing the nostalgia that brings us back to the series over and over again.
The first thing that struck me about this game was how genuinely gorgeous it looks. Wind breezing through an open window, the blue sky during an opening boss fight and even the details in Andy’s room from Toy Story are amazing. A lot of love and care clearly went into everything and boy, does it show. There’s even a photo mode where you can take selfies with Donald, Goofy and other various Disney characters you meet along the way. (The idea of Sora having a phone in the first place took some getting used to for me, but your mileage may vary on that one.) Without spoiling much, it’s hard not to get emotional during the opening if you’ve been playing the series as long as I have.
Colors are bold and bright and really pop off the screen, especially if you’re playing on a 4K HD TV. Every world is pulsing with atmosphere, from dust in the air at Mount Olympus in Hercules to snowy mountains in Frozen’s Arendelle. Part of the reason the game was in development hell for so long was because Square Enix had to switch graphics engines and I think it was worth it. This game is beautiful to look at as well as explore.
Audio is also extremely strong and immersive in this game, as I mentioned briefly above with regard to the voice acting. The music is appropriately melodramatic, emotional and tense as the situation requires and for that we can thank composer Yoko Shimomura. Bashing enemies with the Keyblade sounds amazing, the atmosphere of each world’s soundscape draws you in right away and the main menu version of Dearly Beloved–the series instrumental theme–is a particular standout. The voice acting, as I mentioned, is strong and immersive throughout the game.
Gameplay is fluid, fast and satisfying. You can use up to three Keyblades at once as well as special Attraction attacks based on various Disney rides. I wasn’t very fond of the Attraction attacks, but it’s really satisfying to see a bunch of enemies get decimated with neon teacups. Carried over from Kingdom Hearts II are the special attacks you can complete with various party members, like Rapunzel wrapping you in her hair or summoning Simba in the middle of a fight. Combat is beautiful, smooth and rarely boring. Little details make the game special; now Sora pushes past Donald and Goofy during battles or hops over rocks. It feels great to transform your various Keyblades and complete magic combos, summon various Disney characters to your aid or just to bash an enemy in the head with the aforesaid Keyblade as well. With all these tools at your disposal, it’s easy to tailor Sora–and by extension Goofy and Donald– to the kind of play style you prefer, melee, magic and otherwise.
Outside of battles and the usual Disney world formula are minigames and the gummi ship, which are core mechanics from previous titles. Like Sora, the gummi ship can be tailored to your preference using building tools throughout the game. It’s a good creative outlet in a game that relies so much on customization. The gummi ship missions also look great and run smoothly. One notable addition with regard to minigames is a cooking game with Remy from Ratatouille that can give you bonuses depending on what recipes you create. It’s a nice change from the previous games, where all the minigames were concentrated together in the Hundred Acre Wood from Winnie-the-Pooh. (Don’t worry, Pooh and his friends are still here if that’s your sort of thing.)
All in all, I look forward to spending more time with the game and highly recommend it to the longtime Kingdom Hearts fans out there, as well as recommending the Kingdom Hearts 1.5 and 2.5 remixes on the PS4 to newcomers. It’s overall a great third installment in spite of some issues, a long time coming and definitely worth the wait.
Kingdom Hearts III is now available on PS4 and Xbox One.