I’ve made my opinion known about the Kingdom Hearts franchise – I don’t much care for it. I completely understand why it has such a cult following, but for a multitude of reasons, the series failed to hook me time after time. I was totally prepared to skip Kingdom Hearts 3 – burned by the series enough times and scared away by the daunting plot threads over the years – but as more of the game was shown off and the hype was building, I found myself genuinely anticipating the release. Even through the opening hour, I resisted the temptation to get my hopes up for a truly satisfying entry – I figured, I’ll just get through the story, have a few laughs, maybe grind for a few trophies and call it a day, but I did not foresee falling in love with this game.
Don’t get me wrong, Kingdom Hearts 3 is far from flawless, but for the first time I experienced the child-like wonder and excitement of exploring Disney worlds like the games always advertised. Stepping out into Andy’s bedroom with Woody and Buzz by my side and an instrumental rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” playing was an out-of-body experience for me – and likely one of my favorite gaming moments of all-time. I spent hours combing through every detail, finding countless Easter eggs in the toy store and feeling the enormous sense of scale zipping around as 6 inch tall action figure. And that was my big take away from Kingdom Hearts 3 – for better and worse, this game has incredible scale.
In the literal sense, each of the main Disney worlds are tenfold from other entries which can be really helpful with the pacing of each story – since previous games have felt a bit rushed or under-cooked. And the plot this time around has the grandest scope of the franchise; pulling characters and events from every single title together for a climactic finale. Everything from combat, to mini-games, to exploration has been expanded and takes the best elements from every game before it. There’s so many more options, more customization, more voiced dialogue, more cutscenes, and it all looks phenomenal, but still has a manageable length for an RPG. In my opinion, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the biggest and best of the whole series.
As for the negatives, I do think the best worlds are a little front-loaded. Hercules, Toy Story, and Tangled are the real heavy hitters with the best narrative pacing, with Tangled being one of the most faithfully recreated Disney films in Kingdom Hearts to date, but it all drops off pretty quickly from there. I kind of wished every playable world hadn’t been teased in trailers, because I would’ve traded the more open-ended Pirates and Big Hero 6 sections for another linear Disney film or two. While a lot of elements were greatly expanded, some series staples like Twilight Town and The Hundred Acre Wood were significantly cut back and felt like glorified cameos.
As far as the plot is concerned, the Disney stories are just as irrelevant as they’ve always been, but there are at least more instances of Disney characters chiming in, being just as baffled about what these characters are talking about as we are, which was charming. The story does an adequate job of reintroducing all the various story threads and trying to tie up all its loose ends, but some elements feel a little repetitive or unnecessary while others feel rushed. The state of everything by the end wasn’t a huge surprise, but I think the game delivered a pretty enjoyable conclusion to this roller-coaster of a narrative that long-time fans will find satisfying.
For you completionists like me out there, you may be happy to hear that KH3 is one of the easier entries to fully complete. From forgoing missable achievements and forced higher difficulties to detailed records of all collectibles and milestones. Taking pictures of the environment was really well integrated and gave me a reason to slow down and admire my surroundings and while there are less optional secrets than in previous games, KH3 offers plenty of supplementary content and incentives to fully explore each world. The gummi ship, which was always my least favorite aspect of the series, has seen an overhaul and is for the majority optional which is a huge improvement. I do miss the spectacle of flying through levels for combat as opposed to circling around in a small area for this game, but the full freedom of movement and exploration makes up for that.
All-in-all I was completely transfixed by this game. I felt sufficiently challenged even on the Beginner difficulty and could tackle the story at my own pace. While some worlds like Frozen or Big Hero 6 had some pacing issues, I nonetheless truly had a blast playing through this game. As someone with a less than favorable history with Kingdom Hearts, I’m immensely glad I gave the series another shot and am sorry I doubted the game for a second.