In what is probably the biggest case of “better late than never” in recent memory, Kingdom Hearts III was released on the PS4 and Xbox One last month, a whopping 12 years after the last major entry in the franchise.
For a series with this much history, looking at it objectively can be a little tricky — those who grew up with this Square Enix-Disney collaboration might play it with rose-tinted glasses, while those who didn’t might not understand its significance and wonder what the fuss is all about.
So instead of having just one opinion, why not look at it from both sides? In addition to reviewing it from an outsider’s perspective, I got Andrew — my colleague from Millennials of Singapore and longtime Kingdom Hearts fan — to share his thoughts on it as well.
Newbie: A Love Letter To The Fans (But Not To Me)
While I’ve always been aware of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, I’ve never actually played any of the games — in fact, my only personal experience with it was watching my friend fight The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Oogie Boogie while I ate cocktail sausages for lunch at his house (ah, good times).
That was way back in 2005, and to say that the series has grown since then would be quite the understatement, Contrary to the “3” in its name there have actually been more than ten Kingdom Hearts titles (released across multiple platforms, no less), and you’re going to have to play most of them to understand who’s who and what the heck’s going on.
I watched this 30+ minute summary on YouTube, and was still confused.
And therein lies my main issue with Kingdom Hearts III — the game makes no effort whatsoever to orientate newcomers to the franchise, and things only get more confusing after the opening cutscene. It’s clear that this game was created as a love letter to longtime fans, and more casual gamers will derive a lot less satisfaction jumping in at the tail end of Sora’s adventure.
The lack of an accessible narrative isn’t the only problem, either. It won’t take long to notice that gameplay has remained relatively unchanged from previous games, which is downright rudimentary by today’s standards. I haven’t finished the game yet, but the majority of my experience so far can be boiled down to running into an area, mashing the X button till everything is dead, and running to another area to repeat the process until you reach a boss.
At the very least, Kingdom Hearts III delivers in the aesthetics department — as the first game to be developed specifically for current-gen consoles the graphics are the best they’ve ever been, and thanks to the different “worlds” there’s a fair amount of visual variety as well (the Pirates of the Caribbean level is a particular banger). Hardcore Disney fans might get some mileage out of fighting alongside their favourite characters, but it ultimately isn’t enough to win me over.
Kingdom Hearts III seems to be made for two specific groups: people who grew up playing Kingdom Hearts, and children (dialogue isn’t the most mature). As someone who is neither of those, I can’t recommend it to people who aren’t familiar with the franchise unless they’re willing to go through the franchise’s entire catalogue first. – Jared Alex Tan
Fanboy: 100% Worth The Wait
Considering that I own most of the games in the Kingdom Hearts franchise and an actual Keyblade, I think it’s safe to say that I’m an avid a fan of the series. Before its release, there was so much doubt as to whether Kingdom Hearts III would even see the light of day, with nothing but prequels, sequels, pre-prequels and prequels to sequels coming out year after year (not that I was complaining).
Of course the game was finally released last month, and what did this 12 year wait amount to? An extremely nostalgic trip that made me feel like I was living the childhood I never had.
One of the biggest highlights for me are the game’s many worlds — fan favourites from previous games like Olympus and Port Royal make a comeback (the latter of which is humongous), and new additions like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. and Frozen levels are just icing on the cake. The game took me back the movies I saw as a kid, except this time I was kicking butt with Woody and Buzz instead of just watching them.
On top of that, there are multiple gameplay elements that reward players who have played previous games as well. Shotlock attacks from Kingdom Hearts Birth By Sleep are one notable example, and even the Meow Wow from Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance makes an appearance as a link attack. These mechanics are pretty simple to pick up, so those who haven’t played the “side games” shouldn’t worry too much.
I could go on about how special Kingdom Hearts III is to longtime fans like me, but in short it feels like a satisfying culmination of almost two decades of game development, incorporating many of the things that were loved in the series into a single game (including good ol’ Jiminy Cricket).
Don’t get me wrong, the game definitely has its flaws — gameplay isn’t particularly challenging and the camera could be better at tracking during more hectic battles, but the sheer amount of fan service that’s been put into this love letter of a game is overwhelming in the best of ways. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the series, and a game that I’ll be keeping on my shelf for a long time. – Andrew Lee
With familiar-yet-refined gameplay mechanics, an unprecedented number of worlds, and more fan service than you can shake a keyblade at, It looks like Kingdom Hearts III is the game every fan was hoping it would be.
Newcomers, however, are going to get significantly less mileage from this game. The Kingdom Hearts franchise is notorious for having one of the most convoluted stories in gaming (it is a Square Enix game, after all), and you should definitely play the earlier titles first if you want to stand a chance of being able to follow the story.
Kingdom Hearts III isn’t going to hit the mark for everyone, but it doesn’t really have to. It was made for a very specific group of people in mind, and it’s for them the game is a triumphant success that was worth the 12 year wait.
VP Verdict is a series where we personally try and test out products, services, fads, and apps. Want to suggest something else for us to try? Leave a comment here or send the suggestion into our Facebook page. A game code for the Playstation 4 was provided for this review.