“Darkness will never take over our hearts“
That was the tag line from Kingdom Hearts 2 back in 2005, and since then there has been a fourteen year build up of anxiety, excitement and frustration. But finally, in January of 2019, Square Enix gave the people what they are asked for, Kingdom Hearts 3.
The Kingdom Hearts story follows a young boy named Sora in his battle to tackle the dark forces known as The Heartless in an attempt to save various worlds and protect Kingdom Hearts; the heart of all worlds and a source of great power and wisdom. Using the powerful Keyblade, he travels from world to world aided by sidekicks Donald & Goofy of Disney lore, fighting off the Heartless. Simple enough right? Well you’d think so, but with THIRTEEN games in the series total, of which 10 are regarded as filler, the Kingdom Hearts story is one that leaves even veteran fans confused at times. However, the various twists and turns are easy enough to follow given enough time and patience, with Kingdom Hearts 3 wrapping it all together in a very neat bow.
With it being the last game in the series (we hope!), the third instalment in the main storyline is one that follows Sora as he attempts to gather the Seven Lights that must fight the Thirteen Darknesses in order to prevent a second Keyblade War and from Kingdom Hearts falling into the possession of Master Xehanort and his group Organisation XIII. He must do so all while trying to gain ‘The Power of Waking’: the power to awaken sleeping hearts, a power he has already failed in acquiring in the past. If you were to akin the game to anything, Kingdom Hearts III is like Avengers: End Game - it’s the build up to the fight that ends it all.
Throughout the series, gameplay has varied a lot. This is mostly due to games spanning across multiple gaming platforms, notably Playstation, Nintendo DS and even mobile. But developers of Kingdom Hearts 3 have taken all the great individual elements from past games and brought them together in such a wonderful way. A staple part of Kingdom Hearts is the Keyblade - the weapon of choice for many characters in the series; in each game you are always able to obtain various forms of the Keyblade to aid you in battle. Each one different in design and offering different abilities and it’s no different here. Keyblades in Kingdom Hearts 3 change form, from claws and yoyos to hammers and guns, with each form drastically changing combat from the standard attacks and combos you could achieve with the Keyblade in its original form. And with the option to switch out between 3 at any given time, taking on hordes of enemies is a truly unique experience to each player.
As Kingdom Hearts does come into the category of a JRPG (Japanese Role Playing Game), there’s no way we can continue without mentioning the use of conjuring magic to aid you in combat . Fire, Thunder, Blizzard, Water, Aero & Cure are the spells that you will add to your arsenal as you level up, growing significantly in power even allowing for the use of what is called Grand Magic Spells; elemental spells with devastating power that are activated via the Command Deck system (this also where you will find your Keyblade transformations and Attractions). Fans will notice the absence of Reflect and Magnet, two spells that many would regard as go-to spells when combating enemies - the removal of such spells definitely encourage players to utilise dodge and block more when in tight spots.
A new addition to the combat mechanic is the introduction of Attractions - these are easily described as famous Disney rides implemented into the game to assist in combat. Now, while they can be useful when dealing with large crowds of enemies, they appear far too often in battle. Their whimsical feel almost takes away from the seriousness of the game at times, especially in the final world where things feel a-lot more dark. While the Attractions can feel a tad bit misplaced in game, even with all the “Disney magic“, they definitely pack a punch when it counts.
Each Keyblade you acquire can also be upgraded to improve your strength and magic stats, necessary for improving your chances in battle especially against tougher enemies. This is achieved via the synthesis menu in game; as you fight enemies, they will drop items for you to use, some more common than others. These items will become vital to not only upgrading your Keyblade, but creating new items to further improve stats for not only Sora, but your party as well! Synthesising items is as much a part of Kingdom Hearts as is swinging away at heartless, so it’s definitely worth noting which enemies certain items are available from.
Now when it comes to your party members, many players of the previous games will know how almost irrelevant Donald and Goofy could be at times, acting at times as nothing more as walking cure factories either using items or magic to heal you during battle. But this time round, they truly make their presence known on the battle field. Both characters are definitely more dynamic during battle especially with the way unison moves with Sora are implemented and deal significant damage when facing enemies.
Donald & Goofy aren’t the only ones you fight alongside either - as you visit every world, you are joined by characters of Disney Pixar including Buzz Lightyear & Woody from Toy Story, Baymax from Big Hero 6, Rapunzel from Tangled and Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates Of the Caribbean. Each world has a pretty open feel compared to previous Kingdom Hearts games where you moved from room to room, constantly met by black loading screens. Kingdom Hearts 3 truly does offer a feeling of freedom of movement as you fight your way through each world.
The Kingdom Hearts franchise is certainly one that has faced a lot of criticism, be it due to expansive storyline, the use of Disney worlds & characters, or even the fact you fight with a giant key. However it is definitely one that has captured the hearts of millions and built an amazing online following. Kingdom Hearts 3 the result of years of work, development and certainly fan service, giving long time fans exactly what they asked for. Incredible graphics, developed story and gameplay, with characters you can connect to and replay value.
Having said all this, what about people just joining the Kingdom Hearts hype: can first timers enjoy the game? The answer to that is not really. Not without doing some homework, at least. There are thirteen games total in the series, and to be frank as much as some may regard them as filler and side games, each one is incredibly important to fully understanding the story of Kingdom Hearts. Many of the games reveal the origins of many characters, who’s journeys all play significant value to the saga. For players who value story and value being able to understand exactly what’s going on, the game does a good job in rounding up the story so far in archive videos on the main menu. But for those who story isn’t important, the game can still provide an enjoyable experience that’s both entertaining and challenging.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is a game well worth the wait for fans who have been waiting. It proves that the series has beaten the test of time and reignites all the feelings of excitement, awe and joy that many had over a decade ago. It’s a game that has the power to introduce many more people into the fold and join their hearts to those who have been there from the beginning. A true testament to Square Enix’s hard work and dedication.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is out now, available on Playstation 4 and X-Box One.