Developer: Square Enix Business Division 3
Release Date: January 29th 2019
ESRB/PEGI: E 10+
Written by Zachary Sevcik
I see Tetsuya Nomura’s series, “Kingdom Hearts,” as a Gordian Knot. It may have started out as a beautiful story about a child learning about the responsibility he was given seemingly by chance, but, through a deluge of convoluted storytelling over 13 years, it has become a twisted knot of storytelling fans believe to be unsolvable. This confusing story embedded in the cheerful plot driven by satisfying gameplay has been the muse and joy of many dedicated fans over the years. For this reason, some have concluded that this game is truly unreviewable and should not be attempted. I, for one, have no issue trying anyways. What follows is a boy that grew up with the Kingdom Hearts series trying to explain why he enjoyed the eleventh game in the series...or is it the tenth?
Kingdom Hearts suffers from a story that is over-explained. The more a writer tries to explain the inner machinations of their plot, the more there is a chance for contradictions. Spread this storytelling technique over a period of 15 years, and you will have just as many retcons as major plot points. Of course, this doesn’t inherently make for a bad story, but it creates two groups of fans. One group being on the surface enjoying the plot for what it is by focusing on character development rather than the narrative that connects them, and the other group diving deep into the lore picking apart the mystery and creating predictions for future plot points. With this in mind, one can easily see how Kingdom Hearts 3 has been impacted by this. The story feels very fractured causing half of the audience to ignore it completely and driving the other half mad while trying to piece it together. I am definitely in the latter group; I am definitely insane.
Similar to the KH (Kingdom Hearts) Community, KH3 seems to be split into two as well. One half concerns itself with telling the very best adventure story with Sora, Donald, and Goofy (In that order...never not in that order!) gallivanting through all the Disney worlds that comprise the game. Here, the three friends connect with the people of each world and strive to give aid in any way possible. The second half is a deep dyadic descent into how good and evil (Light and Darkness) seem destined to clash due to moral quandaries but are also codependent with one another. What we are left with is this scenario typical for each world they visit. Sora, Donald, and Goofy (In that order!!) show up in another world, and immediately find that the main characters of that world are being invaded by Heartless, Unversed, or Nobodies. They join these new friends to exterminate this darkness that has plagued the world. After they succeed, a man in a black cloak shows up to unleash a cryptic diatribe that acts as foreshadowing for the second half of the game. Rinse and repeat. For me, I love this because now I get to mull over all the possible outcomes the game is hinting to. For others, this is just bad storytelling where characters and plot points are being shoehorned in to fuel a later narrative the writer is neglecting. I’d say two things can be right at once in this case. Sadly, Kingdom Hearts 3 falls into the trap Kingdom Hearts 2 did. The Disney worlds are very detached from the main story of the series. It’s not really bad, but it’s definitely disappointing.
This iteration of the Kingdom Hearts franchise puts the rest to shame when it comes to the worlds. Each world is so beautifully crafted that Sora, Donald, and Goofy (In...that...order) may as well have been in the movies. It’s obvious that Square Enix put an enormous amount of time and passion into truly recreating Andy’s room in Toy Story or the scream (now laughing) factory in Monster’s Inc. This level of detail is commendable, and I couldn’t have asked for more. But this effort to make a direct copy of each movie’s world sadly leaked into the story of each world. Repeating the mistakes from KH2, Kingdom Hearts 3 takes you through a heavily abridged version of the Disney movies. Frozen was the worst offender by making the player repeat themselves three times while a musical number separates the monotony. It reeks of padding just so they can play everyone’s two favorite songs.
I’m not saying the songs are bad, I’m just saying I can also listen to them on my own time. A good way to incorporate one of the songs could have been Sora and Larxene battling in the raging blizzard. While the player is fighting (possibly a timed survival fight), Elsa sings Let it Go in the distance creating a duality of sorts. While Elsa is wrestling with her inner emotions, the player acts as the visual representation of these clashing thoughts. Now wouldn’t that have made an impact that only video games can deliver? Although these worlds substantially succeed in putting the player into the Disney movies, they fail to connect to the overarching narrative of the game. They destroy the other games with respect to detail and graphical fidelity, but they don’t set themselves apart with respect to their stories.
If you ask an avid fan to explain the characters in Kingdom Hearts and how they’re related to one another, you will begin to worry for this person’s health while they try to explain. I believe this is the true etymology for why Kingdom Hearts’ story is so convoluted. In hopes to convince you of this truth, I give you the entire Family Tree of Hearts for this series…
You can click on the link above if you can’t read it. You may think, “Wow! That’s incredibly confusing,” to which I would agree with you. You may also think, “Hmmm. I doubt they put every single one of these characters in KH3,” to which I would disagree with you. They put them all in there. This leads a lot of people to be confused and detached from the story. Conversely, it makes a lot of people elated to see characters such as Terra, Aqua, and Ventus (In ThAt OrDeR) in the forefront.
Most of the characters in Kingdom Hearts 3 have their own closure, but some are ignored completely just to show up in the end to fail. The game could have avoided this if it gave some time to develop the individual plots of each character in the events leading up to the final act, but Nomura really wanted to save everything for the end. It easily paid off, but sadly at the expense of some much-needed character development.
If you love Kingdom Hearts 2’s combat system, then you will be happy to know you will be satisfied with KH3’s gameplay. The developers took main systems from all the games in the series and melding it into a beautifully flowing precise combat system. They cut out the floaty animations from Birth by Sleep but kept the shotlock technique. They kept everything that made the KH2 system so great and added more attacks. They also kept FlowMotion from Dream Drop Distance which creates even more ways for fast movement and powerful abilities. I was very worried about the combat being unfair and tedious, but I am glad to say that it was all for not; gameplay is king.
Of course, that is not to say that it can’t be criticized. I feel like the game gives you far too many strong abilities too soon. The sense of slow methodical progression like KH2 had seems to be missing from this game. This causes each encounter to be easy, and the sense of tension is lost. If you’re looking for a little bit of a test, play on proud mode. In the final act of the game, the difficulty finally catches up to you, but it would have been nice to feel the need to strategize in the battles leading up to it. Kingdom Hearts 3’s gameplay is easily the second best in the franchise, and it is obvious the developers made it a priority this time around.
The music from Kingdom Hearts is truly magical. Yoko Shimomura is a juggernaut in her field for the beautiful pieces she’s written for the series. She continually cuts deep into your heart with her masterful compositions in the past games, and Kingdom Hearts 3 is no different. Her music in the final act of this game is easily her best work. I really can’t put into words how much I loved this OST. It efficiently catalyzes the emotion in every scene and guides the player through each major battle. Yoko has done everything a musical composer is expected to do in a video game.
For the latest addition to the franchise, Kingdom Hearts 3 has done a great job in catering to the fans. Tetsuya Nomura doubled down on the story while creating beautifully rendered Disney worlds, but this focus left players wanting while rehashing the movie plots in worlds that didn’t connect with the narrative. Square ventured out to make the third major game on consoles, and they have succeeded. Other than repeating some mistakes from the previous games, Kingdom Hearts 3 succeeds in giving closure to the major characters and plot points while giving the player a pure sense of joy revisiting a franchise loved for 15 years. And just like the Gordian Knot, Tetsuya Nomura cuts a major narrative from the series so that future games can march on with a new adventure and a new narrative.
FINAL SCORE: 9