13 years have passed since we were teenagers playing games about Final Fantasy characters hugging Disney characters with the spiky-haired protagonist going on and on about hearts. After such a long wait, filled with spin-off after spin-off, crawling their way into our handheld devices and web browsers, Kingdom Hearts has finally released its 3rd mainline numbered title. From the first game in 2002, the 2nd in 2006 and 3rd in 2019… that was quite the jump. Whether you’re a diehard fan, who has all 9 separate games and accompanied remixes, or someone who has just played 1 and 2, we’ve all been waiting far too long to this conclusion of the trilogy.
Kingdom Hearts 3 continues on straight from Dream Drop Distance and Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, where Sora and Riku have finished their Mark of Mastery exam under the tutelage of Yen Sid. With Riku passing with flying colours, and Sora failing alongside losing his power for the 4th time, the two Keyblade wielders most go their separate ways. Riku accompanies Mickey into the realm of darkness to save Master Aqua, whereas Sora goes on another journey to strengthen himself once more.
Relying heavily on almost all media to do with the series, KH3 requires a thorough knowledge of the franchise. Thankfully it does come packaged with some short videos that condense the games, but you’ll understand it more solidly if you had played 1.5, 2.5 and 2.8 before this entry. Storylines are completed, questions are answered and plenty of fan service awaits within the ultimate end to the Xehanort saga of KH.
Travelling to a few new worlds, KH3 only really recycles Twilight Town and Olympus, with the latter seeing a huge expansion and the former seeing a major downsize. With 10 worlds in total, KH3 ditches the notion of revisits that were prevalent in KH2, instead, it has you finish a world the first time you land on it. While it has been stated a few times to have worlds the size of a KH2 game, or lengthy story, KH3 is actually somewhat shorter than the previous game.
My first standard run only took me around 27 hours, which can easily be rounded down to 25 as I did some side content as well as collectable hunting. Besides the main story, KH3 is filled with minigames, though some are required via the story, with high scores and rewards on offer for replays. As is usual for KH, there is a secret ending to unlock, tons of side-content to 100% along with proud mode for a harder run of the game.
Gameplay in KH3 is a weird blend of KH2, BBS and 0.2, mixing and matching mechanics that fans enjoyed, or otherwise didn’t, into an amalgamation of systems. At the core, the game is an action game as you initiate combos with a single attack button, with some launching attacks with O. Blocking makes a return, alongside reprisals to return the pain to any who would attack you, with Square for blocking and X for a reprisal, though some require a dodge with O after a block is successful to then attack from behind.
Thankfully the game was not designed by the same team behind BBS, as that game failed majorly when it came to boss fights as well as proper use of back and forth within singular fights. KH3 generally allows the player to block through a combo to then attack back at the aggressor, or block and reprisal your way into staggering the opponent.
While you make your way through the game you will fight both small groups of enemies, to large scale encounters that easily have you face off against up to 30 opponents at once. This increase to scale blends lovely with the wider-reaching magic and group attacks. Boss fights also include more enemies to fight alongside, though towards the end some of these fights do lose some of the uniqueness they had in previous entries.
Instead of having a drive gauge that was introduced in KH2, KH3 has a command gauge that fills as you land hits on enemies. Successfully landing physical hits will allow you to formchange with your equipped Keyblade, allowing for new forms of the blade like dual guns or a large magical staff, these formchanges replace Drive forms in their entirety, giving you new attacks as well as access to movement tech. If you hit with successive magical attacks you will also have a chance to use a command gauge spell, often being 1 tier above what you had used, or the highest if you had an accessory that allowed you to do so.
Magic stays very close to that of KH2, though Aero has moved from a defensive spell to that of an area of attack spell that allows you to flowmotion jump from it. There is no gravity, magnet, reflect or stop magic, instead introducing water as a new element. The shorter list does feel constraining somewhat, even more so when you cannot cast any defensive magic aside from cure. While the list is short, you can still play a magic caster to make your way through the game, with magic boosting equipment being readily available.
At the mention of flowmotion, that also makes a return from DDD, allowing players to dash off of walls, spin around poles and pull off acrobatic attacks against enemies. While they do not do insane amounts of damage like before, they do hit a good area and can get around enemy defences. Flowmotion as a whole has seen a downgrade, or rather balancing, as you can no longer spam dash and jump to just fly upwards in areas, instead you can only jump 1 time during flowmotion, once you unlock the ability to do so. It is also used for rail shooter segments, where you go along a set route and shoot magic at flying foes.
Gummi ship mechanics also change once again, shifting away from moving the cursor or ship on a world map we instead now fully traverse a galaxy map when moving between worlds. In 3D movement, we will navigate around gates, asteroids, treasure and more to find the correct way to get to one of the worlds, and just like previous games, we can warp to previously visited areas. Missions make a return, combining both KH1 and KH2 styles, as we move our ship across our screen with enemies coming from all directions. The ships themselves also level up, increasing the points we can spend on new parts and equipping abilities that enhance damage, defence and other parameters.
Music within KH has generally been amazing throughout, though with several songs seeing repeated use or remixes down the road. KH3 follows suit with all the other releases, having updated versions of battle, boss and theme songs dotted around the worlds and encounters therein. It is disappointing at times to hear the same song for the 4th game in a row, but the rest of the soundtrack more than makes up for repeated tracks. Featuring some of the most awe-inspiring tracks to date for boss battles, with epic choirs, piano notes and orchestral backing.
Seemingly lacking a bit of side-content, KH3 only really has 1 secret boss to go after, and while it has an amazing track to listen to while fighting it is generally underwhelming. There is no Sephiroth fight, no Lingering Will, no Unknown or even hidden boss fights like those found in KH1 FM. The secret boss fight that is on offer is pretty easy to fight and leaves you wanting a lot more from the game.
Following on from secret bosses, KH3 feels like it is one of the easiest games in the franchise to date, with having only hit the game over screen 3 times in my playtime, and those were to gummi missions or timers. Proud mode doesn’t do enough to make the game harder and with the inclusion of new mechanics like command gauge and attractions, the game feels as if it holds your hand when the game would get tough. The boss fights towards the end also drop a lot of their mechanics from earlier games, that made them more tactical and challenging, which is a shame as the combination of mechanics could have been amazing.
Kingdom Hearts has generally been known for its interconnected storylines, rather hard to follow story and deep lore. With so many fan requests and hopes for conclusions with this release, KH3 seemingly wanted to answer everything all at once. Characters come back with no real build-up, some have no explanation and others are just Deus Ex Machinas that we are just meant to accept. The last 2 hours of the game seemingly contains 70% of the story which in turn makes it feel overly rushed. This is just emboldened when the game has had at least 6 years of development outside of the 13-year wait, to only release 25 hours of a story when KH2 was the same, if not more.
The rushed nature of the ending and utter lack of story throughout the worlds aside from characters hunting for the box makes it feel like KH3 was released just to satiate fans need for a conclusion. While some information is gained throughout your travels, the fact that a lot of it leads to nothing or is sped up within the ending makes it all feel slightly pointless. Several rules set in motion in previous games are also removed with no explanation for fans to either squeal over or just accept as reality. I felt like this entry was sorely lacking in story coherence and flow, which was incredibly disappointing.
Along with the disjointed story, the gameplay and mechanics on hand are so varied it becomes a haze of actions and control. You’ll have the real gameplay have rhythm games thrown in, cooking games, collectables, match the fruit, ship combat, find the face, speedrun parkour, on-rails shooter, find the crab, upgrade the ship, flying simulator, fix the snowman, Mech shooter, skiing and 23 other old-school handheld games. Swapping between so many types of gameplay styles can be fun, detracting from combat that could be repetitive to some, but when boss fights are also included within minigames it can feel like a huge detraction from challenging gameplay akin to the signing minigames of Atlantica. If you’ve been a fan of all the minigames in the franchise you may not be put off by all these options, but for those who wanted a more concise and challenging adventure, you may be disappointed.
If you were hoping for a new 1000 heartless battle, team up with FF characters or team-up with Riku that were within KH2, you will be sad to see none of that in KH3. There is a part where you fight a lot of enemies, but the scale strangely is smaller than the 1000 battle. There are no FF characters in sight at all aside from Moogles. The little interaction you do have with Riku is a few cutscenes and 1 fight. There is also no tournament or arena at all within KH3, unless you count the short battlegates that unlock in post-game.
Overall, Kingdom hearts 3 gets an 8/10, it is an amazing continuation to the series that continues to innovate with its gameplay and mechanics. It does falter majorly when it comes to fixing the convoluted story, making it either more convoluted or simply saying it’s all solved with a meteor from the skies. The gameplay takes several mechanics from other games, and really they will be hit and miss for gamers, I sorely missed the Drive Forms of KH2 and hated the attractions that were added in. If you’re a fan of the series you should still love this release, but it has not been worth the 13-year gap wait of KH2 if you’ve not followed the series with all the other releases.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.