Kingdom Hearts III review: Anything but simple and clean

Square Enix
Square Enix /

Kingdom Hearts III isn’t without the expected plot and legacy issues of such a bonkers and drawn out series, but it’s also the best entry yet.

Title: Kingdom Hearts 3
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 4 (version reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: January 29, 2019

It’s real! Kingdom Hearts III is a real game that actually exists that you can go out and buy right now! After over a decade of weird portable spin-offs and various HD collections, there’s finally a new proper chapter in the Kingdom Hearts series featuring Sora, Donald, Goofy and most of the rest of the gang you spent all those dozens of hours with through the first two Kingdom Hearts games.

Kingdom Hearts III continues the series from where essentially 3DS entry Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance left off. A new, but old (?) Organization XIII led by several versions of series’ true villain Xehanort is finally close to recreating the disastrous Keyblade Wars, unlocking Kingdom Hearts and taking its power for their own. Sora and the gang need to stop them which as per usual involves traveling to a number of Disney-themed worlds, making friends and fighting Heartless, Nobodies and Unversed.

Square Enix
Square Enix /

If some of the paragraph above made little sense to you despite beating the first two entries in the Kingdom Hearts series, well that’s probably the biggest issue with Kingdom Hearts III. It’s not just some extremely deep lore; it’s extremely deep lore spread across several games on numerous platforms.

Granted, you can easily purchase those games in one easy collection nowadays for the PlayStation 4 (why not on Xbox One?), but in a long-running series, portable entries are often not considered super important to the cannon. In Kingdom Hearts III it is very dependent on you knowing what happened in the portable entries to make sense of what’s going on right away.

That’s not to say you can’t make sense of what’s happening without first playing those games or watching hours-long explainer videos on YouTube, just that certain characters and references won’t make a whole lot of sense if you haven’t beaten those games.

Square Enix
Square Enix /

For those hoping for what Kingdom Hearts was originally promised as, a cross-over of Final Fantasy and Disney properties, that’s just no longer the case. With the exception of a Moogle shop, there are no elements of Final Fantasy in Kingdom Hearts III. You don’t even go to Hollow Bastion, a major part of the first two games.

… the worlds you do get to visit are incredibly fun and imaginative.

Additionally, don’t look forward to seeing what most of your previous Disney friends are up to. Olympus, The Carribean (previously Port Royale in Kingdom Hearts II now it’s just way bigger) and the 100-Acre Wood are the only returning Disney worlds in Kingdom Hearts III and while it’s cool to see a lot of new areas, it would’ve been great to catch up with a least a few old Disney friends.

The new worlds are all from more modern Disney fare such as Toy Story and Frozen. Those looking for classic Disney stuff like Steamboat Willie or unexpected deep cuts like Tron will be left a little wanting. That being said, the worlds you do get to visit are incredibly fun and imaginative. The only one I was a little personally disappointed in was the Toy Story world which while fun was missing a ton of the cast from the various movies and seemed to go a little long.

Square Enix
Square Enix /

The look of Kingdom Hearts III is simply astounding, especially if you’ve recently played earlier entries and are at best used to Sora and company looking like HD-versions of PS2 games. There’s just an amazing amount of detail in every world, and it’s still pretty magical to run around in these recreations of recent Disney and Pixar favorites that finally look pretty close to the high-level quality CG animation of the movies they are based on.

… Some of the sound-alikes are just off enough that it is super jarring.

The music is equally superb with fun instrumental tracks that sometimes are versions of a well-known tune from the movie the world is based on (though listening to a short loop of You’ve Got a Friend in Me for a few hours got very grating after a while) but always fit incredibly well. It wouldn’t be a Kingdom Hearts game without an Utada Hikaru song, and we get two new excellent ones in Don’t Think Twice and Face My Fears as well.

The voice acting is more of a mixed bag. Nothing is terrible, and it’s understandable that you can’t get say Tom Hanks or Tim Allen to reprise their roles for a video game. But some of the sound-alikes are just off enough that it is super jarring. It would almost be better if they just got someone who sounded nothing like the original voice actors.

Square Enix
Square Enix /

While you are exploring all these Disney-themed worlds in Kingdom Hearts III, you’ll also be doing a lot of fighting. An incredibly nice change is party expansion. In Kingdom Hearts I  II, if you wanted Aladdin in your party, you had to swap out Donald or Goofy for him (Donald, ALWAYS DONALD). In Kingdom Hearts III, the character is just added so now you have a party of four or even five in a couple of cases.

While simple hacking and slashing is pretty much the trademark combat of the series and remains so in this latest entry, there’s a lot of flourishes this time. Through abilities you can add as you level up, you can counter, vastly extend combos, air recoveries, etc. While jamming the attack button works early on, late game is much more complicated, making you really wait for openings or you’ll get severely punished for it.

Summons are neat but remain mostly unnecessary; I rarely used them. Instead what is much better are the team attacks and especially “attractions,” which are attacks loosely based on them park rides (though oddly enough the only distinctively Disney-themed one is the Tea Cups, the others are much more generic).

Square Enix
Square Enix /

Outside of main combat, there are an astounding amount of activities you can take part in. These range from making meals with Remy from Ratatouille to sledding on Goofy’s shield to playing weird little Game and Watch-style minigames on your Gummi Phone. Your mileage on these activities may vary, but odds are you’ll find at least a few fun optional things to do if you need a break from combat or the main story.

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The optional aspect I had the most fun with was sailing around on the Carribean with my ship, battling other ships and finding white crabs all over various islands to upgrade. In fact, the Pirates of the Carribean world might be my favorite in the game despite having little fondness for the movies.

The one aspect of gameplay that remains a misfire is the Gummi Ship. It was terrible in the first game, tolerable in the second and gets a little better here, but not good and feels like a waste of time, especially since there are a few bosses you must beat to at a few points to get to some of the worlds. The shooting just never feels good, and that makes you not want to invest in getting parts. I stuck with one ship the whole game and never bothered to change it.

Square Enix
Square Enix /

Kingdom Hearts III is the best entry in the series to date. Clocking in at around 30 hours (probably less than 25 if you just stick to the story) it doesn’t have the epic length you might expect for a game over thirteen years in the making. It still manages to feel pretty epic with the story it tells while leaving quite a few threads making us hope that we aren’t waiting another decade or more for the next proper entry.

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If you are for some reason starting your experience with the Kingdom Hearts III, odds are you’ll be incredibly lost and maybe think everything is ridiculous and silly. This is not a series that takes the time to fill you in if you haven’t done your homework. For fans, however, it’s a warm hug of a game, hanging out with some close friends you haven’t seen in a long time, a satisfying blast with that rare core of fun and positivity that if you’ve lapsed will make you a fan all over again.

Kingdom Hearts III. 8.5. Though the plot is a little too reliant on side entries and remembering almost everything in the series, <em>Kingdom Hearts III</em> is a welcome return of the Disney action-RPG epic and the best game in the series to date, making you really want to see the next chapter in the series as soon as possible.. Square Enix.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.