Successful Saga Surcease
HIGH Tom Hanks’ brother voices Woody.
LOW Maybe 20% of people who play will get the satisfaction that I did.
WTF Kingdom Hearts.
A couple of months back, readers of this site may have noticed part one of a planned nine-part Kingdom Hearts retrospective pop up. That series was written, but rightfully will probably never see the light of day.
In about a five-week span, I completed all six games (and watched the movie version of three others) in the Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far PS4 compilation, crossing off one of the biggest marks on my personal gaming backlog. In that time-frame, I averaged about five hours a day playing the games and then spent countless more hours jumbling together a 20,000 word mess of a retrospective that was scattershot and unfocused partially due to the subject matter and partially due to my brain being mush trying to cram such a daunting task before a month long vacation in Nepal started.
After some back-and-forth, the editor of this site and I (correctly) decided to shelve it because the stream of consciousness it turned out to be needed a complete rewrite, and I simply didn’t want to do it. In short: I am not a good enough writer to accurately encapsulate this franchise. Tolstoy may not have been either.
This notion put forth by the internet of the story of Kingdom Hearts being ‘incoherent’ or ‘too complicated’ isn’t really true. Is it lunacy? Yes. Full of plotholes? Sure. Anime-as-all-get-out? Absolutely. But it’s hardly complicated. It’s just incredibly dense. It’s like calling War & Peace too complicated because of the size of the book (and for the record this is meant as purely a comparison, and I am in NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM comparing Kingdom Hearts with War & Peace). No, the big problem with the story is that it’s poorly delivered and way too segmented.
For example, Kingdom Hearts III‘s biggest failing is that it’s a direct continuation of a 3DS game with a stupid title that few people realize is actually, from a narrative standpoint, the most important game in the series. The majority of people who will play Kingdom Hearts III probably only played KH I & II on the PS2 — if that — and even with that knowledge, those players haven’t even been introduced to the main supervillan of the entire franchise, whom the series expects the players to know and care about.
I care about it because I’m a crazy person and I played all of these games, but expecting the general population to do so for a multi-million-dollar triple-A bonanza is patently absurd and, frankly, bad business. As Steven said in his previous review, there is a five-part, 20 minute summary new players can watch, but due to the huge amount of backstory and lore, it’s rather inadequate. There are a ton of strange points in cutscenes where something will happen or someone shows up and Goofy will say, “Gawrsh Sora, that’s the *so-and-so* from *such-and-such* where *exposition* happened!”. It’s redundant for fans and woefully incomplete for newcomers.
A moment that encapsulates this perfectly comes near the end. Without spoiling anything, there’s a moment where Sora throws a lot of keyblades at an enemy. Like, thousands. It’s really cool, but the coolest thing is that all of these keyblade attacks are named after real-life players from the Kingdom Hearts X (pronounced ‘chi’) mobile/browser-based MMO which was only available in Japan until recently, and without most of the content.
I cannot imagine how amazing it would’ve been to be a Kingdom Hearts superfan who played X and then saw my name scroll through that list. That could have been the coolest thing, and I will never get that chance because I’m not interested in their incredibly pay-to-win centric phone game. That aside, the Square-Enix braintrust decided this mobile/browser-based MMO would play an immeasurably important part of their worldwide AAA release. Sheer insanity.
While said narrative does tie up well and answers most of the questions longtime fans wanted answers to, I have issues, again, with how it’s delivered.
In the beginning of KHIII, Sora has essentially been Samus’d and lost all of his previously-gained powers and strength, so he’s sent (along with Donald and Goofy) to various Disney-themed worlds to help people with their problems and level up. Essentially, this is the first twenty hours of the game and it features nearly zero plot advancement aside from a few hints of things to come.
The final eight or so hours is pure Kingdom Hearts geekery and fanservice, and while it’s awesome, it feels too crammed together. All connection to Disney except for Mickey rolling with the player is completely dropped, and I can’t help but feel the overall flow of the title would’ve benefited from having a couple of the events of the third act sprinkled throughout the game. With that said, the final stretch will be supremely enjoyable, emotional, and satisfying for long-time fans.
The one positive I really wanna touch on is how in awe I was at the staggering production this game is. “It looks like a Pixar movie!” is a common trope used by numerous game reviews over the years, and every time it’s been used has been patently wrong. It’s actually never been true until this moment in time, because Square-Enix (thanks in no small part to many of the worlds in Kingdom Hearts being Pixar-themed) has actually accomplished this feat. On a 4KTV and an enhanced console, it really does look that good. Kingdom Hearts III has the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen in a game, and the detail put into each world makes them occasionally indistinguishable from their movie counterparts. It’s a true sight to behold.
That translates to the audio side of things too. Games over the past few years have moved away from Hollywood-level talent for vocal performances because of cost, the increase in quality of game-centric actors, and, frankly, because Hollywood talent rarely gave it their all when doing voice work for games. Not so here.
Many of the cast members from the original films like Josh Gad, Zachary Levi, James Woods, and TJ Miller (Square may regret those last two choices) all reprise their roles here while being accompanied by the likes of Haley Joel Osment, Kristen Bell, and Mark Hamill. While Master Xehanort had to unfortunately be recast due to the passing of Leonard Nimoy, Rutger Hauer makes a hell of a replacement. All of the actors here do a bang-up job, even when the script itself is incredibly hit-and-miss. However, while the dialogue (particularly the banter between Sora, Donald, and Goofy) is well done and quite charming on occasion, when the characters have to drag on about light and darkness being actual, tangible things, the results aren’t as well received.
Yoko Shimomura continues to be one of the best videogame composers alive, and while her original melodies don’t quite reach the heights of Kingdom Hearts II, she once again shows her incredible range in making excellent music based on a wide variety of different properties and genres. Also they gave her a full orchestra this time around, which helps dramatically. The production quality of Kingdom Hearts III is nearly unparalleled in modern gaming, and makes it feel like a special, premium product.
Now, Steven has already written an excellent review on Kingdom Hearts III which I encourage people to read if they want more detail on the core mechanics and a general overview, and I find myself in agreement with much of it. Kingdom Hearts III is a mostly-successful ending to a ludicrous saga with fantastic diversity in its gameplay, a core combat system that isn’t quite as satisfying as previous entries but makes up for it in sheer pizzazz, and is able to somehow able to wrap up all of the loose ends of its sprawling narrative surprisingly well. It doesn’t quite reach the level of quality found in Kingdom Hearts II (which I don’t particularly think is fair because I don’t like to compare a sequel to its predecessor when said predecessor was one of the best games ever made), but I find it hard to believe that any fan of this series would walk away from Kingdom Hearts III unsatisfied.
If one has come this far, Square-Enix has delivered a bombastic, hugely entertaining end to the Dark Seeker Saga.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Square Enix. It is currently available on PS4 and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Xbox One X on a 4KTV. Approximately 28 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Adorable Flan, Alcohol Reference, Confusion, and Fantasy Violence. This is essentially a Disney movie turned into a videogame. Most of the same themes you will see in those, such a the value of friendship, fighting against evil, etc. will be present here. It’s a series aimed at kids and the content reflects that.
Colorblind Modes: There no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Enemies spawn with a distinct noise alerting someone to their presence before the battle theme starts. Usually it will happen in front of Sora so it will be seen, but sometimes a few will pop up behind and they can catch the player unaware. Party members will sometimes quip where items can be found. For example “I bet there’s something here!” or “This will be a great place to find some ingredients!” and while most of the time these show up subtitled, it’s not always guaranteed to happen.
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Movement is controlled with the left stick, the camera with the right. X is attack/action while O is jump. The directional buttons control battle menus and the left shoulder buttons trigger special attacks. The right shoulder buttons control Shotlocks.
In search of a dramatic change of pace, he sold everything he had (including 950 videogames) and shipped off to Asia where he's taught English and lived in Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand, and now China.
He still loves his games, priding himself in his varied taste and playing everything from Disgaea to Madden. After getting a taste of the glitz of Beijing last year working at a Chinese mobile game developer, Jarrod went back to teaching and currently works in Qitaihe, Heilongjiang provide where the weather is cold and the noodles are poppin'.
Jarrod used to write for sites like GamesRadar where he had the esteemed pleasure of reviewing Wii ports and PS Move launch games for peanuts. After a multi-year hiatus, he is happy to get back into reviews with GameCritics.
...He read the site as a kid, which should make Brad, Mike, and Daniel feel old as hell, considering he's almost 30.