Fans of Kingdom Hearts – the Disney and Square Enix crossover series of action role-playing games – have been waiting nearly 13 years for the release of the series’ third main entry, which is now out on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
I am one of these fans and I’ll admit it did feel surreal to start the game and see the Kingdom Hearts 3 (KH3) title screen, hear the familiar sounds and know that a story which began in 2002 would finally be wrapping up.
Fans can feel assured knowing that they will find the answers they have been waiting for, though the same cannot be said for newcomers.
This is because of the sheer amount of backstories that preceded this latest instalment.
It would be impossible to accurately recap the entire plot of Kingdom Hearts, given that in addition to the two other main titles, there are more than five other spin-offs across multiple gaming platforms. The game tries to do so in a series of cut-scenes to summarise the story so far.
However, a lot of the emotional nuances are lost and thus, several events of the game, especially the climax, could feel less impactful for those new to the series.
KH3 stars spiky-haired protagonist Sora and Disney icons Donald Duck and Goofy, as they visit different Disney worlds to defeat a range of enemies commanded by an evil mastermind named Xehanort.
Employing a common video game trope, Sora starts off losing all the powers he had, and has to go on a quest to regain them. This allows the game to immediately launch into action.
Previous games were criticised for taking too long to get going, but KH3 quickly throws players into the thick of action in Hercules’s world of Olympus.
What follows is a tour of some of modern Disney’s iconic worlds, like Tangled’s world of Corona and Frozen’s world of Arendelle.
One of the best parts of Kingdom Hearts has always been the opportunity to explore these lands, and this time, players can even enter the world of some Pixar animation studio movies, like Toy Story and Monsters Inc.
But it is a pity that some of the worlds feel lifeless and undeveloped. Corona for instance, boasts beautifully rendered forests that are beautiful but empty, save for the enemies to fight.
It is a good thing then that the combat system is fun and dynamic. Players control Sora who attacks with his Keyblade weapon, and the game allows you to equip him with up to three different Keyblades.
Each Keyblade is able to transform into different weapons, sometimes more than once, and it is here that Kingdom Heart really flexes its creative muscles. Other than the typical weapons like guns or a spear, Sora is also able to wield a pair of yo-yos, ice skates and even a pirate flag to dish out damage to his enemies.
Complementing this is a wide range of other abilities, including magic spells and team attacks that Sora can do with Donald, Goofy or other Disney characters.
PRICE: From $74.90(PS4, version tested; Xbox One)
GENRE: Action role-playing game
These sequences are a joy to execute and watch- I never got tired of seeing Sora attack enemies with Toy Story’s Buzz and Woody onboard a rocket, or seeing Wreck-it-Ralph’s titular character causing mayhem in the battlefield.
New to the series is the ability to summon large-scale attacks based on Disneyland attractions. This gave an added dimension to the battles, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Sora and his party attack with spinning tea cups or a roller coaster.
The fast pace of the action does not however translate into a cogent plot.
KH3 is hampered by an inconsistent pace, starting fast and leaving players having to plough through a draggy middle section before ramping it up again towards the end.
Thankfully, the game’s ending does give a sense of closure to not just the game’s roughly 30-hour campaign, but to the story that started back in 2002.
Perhaps I am feeling this way because I am a long-time fan. But the ending is a fitting one that does justice to its characters, while leaving Kingdom Hearts open to the telling of new stories in future.
Let’s hope that it will not take Disney and Square Enix another 13 years to do so.
Verdict: A creative and exciting battle system holds Kingdom Hearts 3 together, delivering a satisfying closure to a story more than 15-years in the making.