Kingdom Hearts 3 Impressions

Well dang, Kingdom Hearts 3 actually exists! Yeah yeah, I’ll get to my overdue reviews soon, but considering it’s been 13 years since Kingdom Hearts 2, I felt compelled to do a quick write-up of my playtime so far with this long gestating sequel.

Admittedly, I only started playing KH3 yesterday, so I’m not very far. I’ve completed the game’s first proper world (Olympus, based on Disney’s Hercules) and the first Gummiship segment, and am currently in the second world proper (Twilight Town, a Kingdom Hearts original). But even from my playtime so far, there are some things I have to say.

As we all know, Kingdom Hearts is the bizarre (yet somehow working) crossover between Square Enix and Disney properties, helmed by Tetsuya Nomura, who grew to prominence with his work on the PSOne-era Final Fantasy titles. Strangely, the Final Fantasy representation continues to be lost in the shuffle, which is understandable on the Disney side of things (with the possible exception of Nintendo, it’s hard to imagine another franchise machine that could have a spotlight in the face of Disney). But it always struck me as kind of odd how there are so many original characters in Kingdom Hearts, when many of them feel like they could easily be swapped out for Final Fantasy characters.

Now, let’s get something out of the way: the story. I honestly don’t have a clue what’s going on with half of the plot. But I can’t really blame myself, since Nomura and company saw fit to make every last “spinoff” entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise an integral part of the main story. And I’ve only played the properly numbered Kingdom Hearts games up to this point, so it kind of sucks that people like me are left out in the cold because I couldn’t keep up with all the handheld and mobile games, re-releases (which contained new story content) and so on. Nomura’s storytelling tends to be convoluted by its own merit, so to spread out his story across so many platforms makes it nearly incomprehensible. I’m only a few hours in, and already Kingdom Hearts 3 has casually name-dropped a small army of characters as if I’m supposed to know who they are or their place in the story. Unless you’re a really hardcore fan who could fork over a small fortune to follow the series through the years, it’s more than a little alienating.

Thankfully, the Disney half of the equation is as charming as ever. And frankly, I wish the central plot were more focused on the Disney bits, and less on the dozens of Nomura characters who, frankly, seem largely interchangeable from one other in both character design and personality. But hey, I’ll suffer through some narrative gobbledygook if it means I get to visit worlds from classic Disney movies and meet classic Disney heroes and villains.

As for the gameplay, well, it’s mostly fun, but there are some dated elements. Namely, Sora’s jumping still feels awkward and floaty after all these years, feeling as though he comes to a dead stop when the jump is initiated, and can only decide which direction he’s jumping in once he’s in the air. Given how long the Super Mario series has been around, I don’t know why any game with platforming elements doesn’t try to replicate the fluid and intuitive jumping standards of Super Mario.

Aside from that, there are certain combat elements that feel a little too chaotic. As usual, Kingdom Hearts 3 is like a hack-N-slash RPG. You swing your ‘Keyblade’ amidst hordes of monsters, cast magic spells, and perform special moves. For the most part, it’s easy enough to figure out, but after you’ve combo’ed enough hits or spells (or Donald and Goofy have done the same) you can unleash special attacks of different varieties, go into special modes, unleash more powerful spells, and use team attacks with your party members.

The problem is that all of these specials are mapped to a single button (the triangle button, if you’re playing on PS4 like me). Oftentimes you have more than one of these specials built up at the same time. And I still don’t understand if there’s a way to swap which one you use next, or if you simply have to use them in order or wait for their window of availability to run out. I mean, when I have the special moves based on Disneyland rides/parades, of course those are the ones I want to use. I don’t care about Sora changing forms, just let me unleash the Disneyland rides!

As for the Gummiship segment, well, from what I remember these were the low points of Kingdon Hearts 1 and 2. But here, I enjoyed it a bit more, as you now have much more freedom to explore and collect items (of which I spent a surprising amount of time). Though the controls could have benefitted from learning a thing or two from Star Fox 64 (seriously, when it comes to controls, just do what Nintendo does…although I guess Star Fox Zero couldn’t even emulate Star Fox 64’s controls…).

Now, I hope I don’t sound too negative, because for the most part I’m having a lot of fun with Kingdom Hearts 3. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a huge wave of melancholic nostalgia when that title scene music kicked in. The game is proving to be a fun time so far, and as a fan of Disney’s modern day output, I’m excited that most of the worlds I have yet to visit reflect contemporary Disney films (if anything, the thirteen-year delay benefited the game’s Disney representation. The past games were released when Disney was in something of a low point, and thus relied on Disney’s past. Now that Kingdom Hearts 3 is released in a time when Disney has long-since got its groove back, the Disney aspect of the game feels less like a yearning for former glory).

Kingdom Hearts 3 is thus far shaping up to be a pleasing experience, but it is a shame some of its controls still feel stuck in the PS2 era, and I wish Nomura would have learned a little from the storytelling capabilities of the Disney movies his games feature, which could only have benefitted Kingdom Hearts’s narrative. Still, I admit that the Disney/Square crossover and the tone that comes with it still feels unique even today, and the gameplay (warts and all) feels more standout than ever in a time when everything else on the market feels the need to shoehorn open-world gameplay and gritty realism. I’ll take Disney characters and anime kids beating monsters with keys any day.

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Author: themancalledscott

Born of cold and winter air and mountain rain combining, the man called Scott is an ancient sorcerer from a long-forgotten realm. He’s more machine now than man, twisted and evil. Or, you know, he could just be some guy who loves video games, animations and cinema who just wanted to write about such things.

2 thoughts on “Kingdom Hearts 3 Impressions”

  1. Not having a PS4 I can only speak on what I’ve seen on the game so far, and there’s 2 things that look like a big improvement over past games: the actual worlds and gummi ship sections. No more huge lands full of dead space from KH2 and DDD, no more super condensed places like in BBS or the weird structures KH1 could have, most of the setpieces look really cool, even if it’s hard to judge more differing gameplay elements as an spectactor (like the ship segments in Pirates of the Caribbean). The gummi ship dropping the on rail aspect for a more explorative based navigation akin to Ratchet & Clank a Crack in Time while also being fairly easy to find your next objective is what makes me believe they improved that, but hey, maybe there’s some negative aspect I’m missing from not playing.
    It’s sort of bizarre how the game seemed to have dropped most of the FF aspect of the game from what I read, relegated to a simple cameo of Cloud and I think Auron on Olympus and the usual moogle shops, I understand they were hardly integral to the plot, but it’s partly what made the odd crossover charming, I certainly care more for that than the original characters, I’ll tell you that much.
    The combat looked like it mixed a lot of the more liked aspects from all the games that were released up to 3, and hey, it seems to be well liked despite the UI sometimes looking clumsy with special attacks and transformations. The drives from KH2 being gone is sort of a shame but eh, I suppose they’d feel very much like keyblade transformations in concept.
    Oh yeah the story, it’s hard to care at this point tbh, the only time it was even remotely tolerable was back in KH1, and even then, I’d say that hasn’t hold up well after all these years. Everything afterwards has been nothing but a messy attempt to try to sound deep and philosophical by spamming the players with all of these acronyms and made up terms that lose all meaning after a cutscene of the character saying nothing but sentences with these things (hi light and darkness) besides whatever retcons they decide to throw on each new entry regarding who the hell is even Xenahort and his plans, and boy, do I simply not care for Nomuras babies to be invested in whatever happens to them at the end. I already mentioned how the FF part seemed to be quietly dropped, but the Disney worlds are as relevant to the plot as ever, which is to say, completely unimportant. I often see fans try to see fans defend the story not being hard to understand and having a convenient collection on PS4 to catch up, and while I agree the convoluted-ness is exaggerated to an extent…it doesn’t change how bad the storytelling is, and the amount of cringey lines present, even by japanese writers standards.
    I think the fact most summaries for the story up to KH3 go well over the half an hour mark and even seemingly unimportant stuff like the mobile game matter to the overarching plot speaks volumes, and I don’t think it helps most of the games that aren’t numbered aren’t that good to begin with.

    Liked by 1 person

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