Any series with a dozen games in its mainline story, and over 15 years of time investment will naturally have an endless pile of expectations directed at it when it comes to wrapping things up. Kingdom Hearts III is no different in this regard.
After 13 years of spin-offs and side stories, the true sequel to one of the best action-RPGs of all time has finally arrived. So does Kingdom Hearts III live up to the hefty expectations leveled in its general direction? Well, that depends on what you’re expecting from it.
Kingdom Hearts III has plenty of strengths to offer to its central fan base. The strongest of these is, without question, the level of loving attention paid to its many Disney locales this time around. While the first two games did the best they could with the PlayStation 2 hardware, the majority of spin-offs were on handheld consoles, making the true potential of this material hard to parse out for today’s gamers.
While Kingdom Hearts II.8 gave us a small glimpse of what the PS4 and Xbox One version of a game like this might be capable of, it is still up to Kingdom Hearts III to double down on that potential and offer a fitting conclusion for this hallowed series. Luckily, on this front, in particular, the latest iteration of Kingdom Hearts delivers spectacularly.
Never in your wildest dreams will you have imagined exploring such convincing recreations of the stories, characters, and worlds of modern Disney classics like Tangled, Frozen, and Big Hero 6. Truly, the way that Kingdom Hearts III blends the look of the franchise with the different animation styles of worlds like these is breath-taking and awe-inspiring. There is no shortage of screenshot-worthy moments (I snapped over 101 MB in my playthrough) and this visual splendor is one of the games strongest suits by a long shot.
It isn’t just the look of the game, though, the combined cash and cache of Disney and Square-Enix is enough to bring in voice talent from the likes of Kristen Bell, James Woods, Zachary Levi, and Tate Donavan, just to name a few. And while certain characters are imitated to varying degrees of success, or uncharacteristically silent, Kingdom Hearts III succeeds for the most part at creating the illusion of fully inhabiting the worlds it depicts.
However, it isn’t all Disneyland and daisies with this game. As mentioned above, there is a metric ton of expectations awaiting a game this long in development, and not every box will be checked for every fan. For starters, Kingdom Hearts III is much shorter than some of its predecessors, with the entire campaign easily finished in 20-30 hours, depending on the player. This might leave some players expecting a more bulky adventure feeling short-changed, particularly in comparison to the super-sized Kingdom Hearts II.
Kingdom Hearts III might not be a grand slam, a home run will more than suffice to please the dedicated fan base
Another sore spot is the total lack of Final Fantasy characters on offer in this iteration. Don’t expect an updated version of Cloud and Squall, or new appearances from Lighting and Noctis (though the latter briefly appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo). For fans wanting more of the Square-Enix meets Disney promise that the original game made, this will no doubt be a disappointment.
Further still, progress on the main plot line of the series is decidedly meager for the majority of the game. While Organization XIII characters appear throughout and the player gets glimpses of what the other keyblade wielders are up to throughout the adventure, it isn’t until the final 5 hours or so that fans will start to see pay-offs for the stories they’ve been following for the last decade and a half.
With that said, though, when it rains, it pours, in Kingdom Hearts. KH3 finishes stronger than most games, with a greatest hits-style conclusion that leaves few blanks in the overall story, and only a couple of hanging threads in need of even a meager clean-up. The ending battles are suitably epic, and the set-pieces and cut-scenes in between will leave the majority of players wildly satisfied.
Still, another point of contention for some players might be the updated battle system. While Kingdom Hearts III never lacks for spectacle, the challenge (and strategy required to meet it) are much lower than in previous entries. Special attacks stack like crazy throughout battles, and can be used at will, making the game easy to spam and win, and less of a hectic hack-and-slash affair.
Even with these caveats, Kingdom Hearts III remains a strong finish for the series, and a welcome conclusion for the many spinning plates it has put into play over the years. There is a pay-off to spare for every member of Kingdom Hearts‘ extended cast, and after all of these years, and games, it’s clear that a lot of time and effort was put in to make sure that fans would be satisfied at the conclusion.
And even if there isn’t quite as much in terms of side quests and secrets as fans might expect from the series finale, there is more than enough material here to give players 40-60 hours of all-around playtime, particularly for trophy and achievement hunters, who will be satisfied by a very reasonable (and doable) list of tasks to complete for their coveted digital addiction.
All around, while Kingdom Hearts III might not be a grand slam, a home run will more than suffice to please the dedicated fan base of the series.