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Fails to deliver. Hard.

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    Kingdom Hearts III

    Rating: 2.5 – Playable

    Fails to deliver. Hard.

    Kingdom Hearts 3 is a mediocre game, but it’s a bad game by Kingdom Hearts’ standards. It’s all style and little substance which permeates every aspect of the game. It feels rushed and tawdry. It feels like it’s there to merely hit checkboxes. Ultimately, the game is deeply unsatisfying, filled with nonsensical choices, and recycled assets and ideas.

    The story is weak. Characters are less than one dimensional and Sora has been flanderized into an idiot. Try to describe some members of the organization, their personalities and goals. Nobody is relatable. Nobody is a threat. Nobody has any goals that they stick by except for the final villain but he’s so passionless in this game and the stakes are so unclear that all tension is reduced to nothing. Most things technically get explained like ticking off a box, but it’s disappointing and boring with entirely too many words. With the amount of plot the game has to resolve, it does so in the most dry, expository way. It’s framed flatly, spoken robotically and there is hardly any emotion from anybody.

    The story can be divided into two distinct parts: the Disney worlds and the original tale. The Disney portion takes place in the first 2/3s of the game and there is no interaction between the two unlike previous titles. The Disney portion is disappointing because of the amount of them, how they are presented, and their content. Compared with the first game’s 13 worlds and the second game’s 14, the third game’s paltry 9 are disappointing. Now, the counter argument is that the worlds in KH3 are more developed and bigger/longer. Well, that’s not the case for a couple of reasons. While the world’s themselves are moderate to large in size, most of that time is spent traveling around rather than engaging with the game. So there is a lot of useless space. Some world’s lack consistency transitioning from area to area, while others have pretty dull environments that run too long. However, the worlds themselves look nice and a few are fun to explore because of the varied locations.

    The Disney worlds are presented poorly with extremely thin excuses for Sora to actually visit, of which, he constantly forgets. Sora is supposed to find his lost friends and for him to attain the ¡°power of waking¡±. Sora never gets the power and apparently never needs it so the entire set up for the plot of the game since Dream Drop Distance in 2012 is null and void. Riku allegedly has the power but we never see it or what makes it special. It’s supposed to wake up the friends that are sleeping or corrupted, but they are rescued through disappointing and clich¨¦ means. Speaking of Riku, he’s turned into a jobber who can’t do anything on his own. He used to have passion; he used to get things done. Kairi has been training to be a keyblade master and constantly promises that it’s her turn to protect Sora. Ha-ha nope! She does nothing and even gets captured again. But that’s hardly special as every ally is useless and needs to be rescued by Sora, admittedly except one.

    The bad guys have the same directionless and clumsy problems as Sora. They also have no sense of urgency and very thin excuses for visiting the Disney Worlds. Some even rehash old reasons from previous games. They are recycled without cause and seem scattered, witless and boring. They’ll show up, make fun of Sora (which is funny because he’s already beaten all of them which makes them feel like paper tigers), probably summon some heartless, and then run away. They basically accomplish nothing throughout the whole game. Some of the rare good writing occurs when some of the Disney characters poke fun at the Organization or the plot itself. Woody telling an anime character to get stuffed is awesome.

    Ultimately, it’s a problem of tension and agency. Nobody has any. It’s all contrived or weak, and presented like checking a box. While the previous games’ plots’ mileage may vary for you, mostly, the characters were more integrated and had clearer goals. The repetition is also disappointing. Yet another organization with yet another seven hearts of light with poor or rehashed motivations.

    As for the plots of the Disney worlds themselves, some are good and some are not. The ones that take place after their movies are good because the characters have a sense of agency. There is greater reason for Sora and friends to be there. The rest that merely follow the original movies don’t integrate Sora, Donald and Goofy. They are only on the sidelines as the movie happens with or without them which leads to confusion if you haven’t seen the movies. This results in too much narrative exposition. But with the stilted and forced way the characters talk, it comes off as boring and unnatural. Even still, the Disney worlds are so disconnected from the rest of the story that they appear to be filler.

    The original tale is what fans of the series have been waiting for at least 9 years and it fails on all fronts. Pacing, dialogue, completeness, fanservice, relationships, world-building and the hero’s journey. Previous games had a sense of escalation to them both in narrative and gameplay, but in Kingdom Hearts 3 it’s the same stagnant progress throughout. The final boss fight is long with many stages similar to previous games but long does not equal epic. Characters show up and disappear with reckless abandon and with very poor explanations or a few not at all. The old hackneyed plot contrivance time travel and clones are involved so you know it gets bad. Plot contrivances happen whenever they are needed with no set up beforehand. The story breaks its own established rules often and seemingly important events happen off screen only to bore you with exposition or frustrate you with unanswered questions later. Some things that need explaining are not and things that we didn’t need to know are explained.

    The climax is decidedly dull with a few things happening out of nowhere and the rest rehashed from older games. Unfortunately, it feels like every line could be questioned. Characters start using catch phrases and act like they were doing so all along. As if it’s supposed to mean something to us. As if they need to prove to the audience that a friendship exists. The attempts at humor are draining and clich¨¦, like, laughing at nonjokes. It’s forced camaraderie rather than organic. People do things because the tropes say so and the piano music plays, not because it makes sense. If it wasn’t gross enough, they actually had a character say, ¡°Sorry we took so long, had a couple of plot points that needed ironing out.¡± I’m not sure if that’s contempt from the developers or not.

    The game ends on an unsatisfactory whimper with too many cues to set up the next in the franchise where it feels disingenuous to the current experience. The bad guy basically gets off scot free and most other villains receive some weird disjointed private cutscene to¡­redeem themselves I guess? But there is no sense of finality to anything and that harms the games pacing, tension and stakes. Something severe actually happens to one character and another says they be just fine because they can feel it. Investment destroyed. If they aren’t worried, why would I? It makes future character decisions as a result of that moment all the more baffling. There is a vague cliffhanger and a stinger for a sequel, but I will not be participating.

    Fan service is used in the wrong instances. Characters that should have interactions do not and each set of characters is kept compartmentalized within the group they began. Relationships do not carry the weight they should until you hear the piano cue but it feels artificial and it’s fleeting. Ironically, it feels like they are all Nobodies trying to trick us.

    There is no world-building outside Disney worlds but even that is flimsy at best.

    Sora doesn’t go through any ordeals, he doesn’t struggle, he makes no mistakes, he doesn’t learn anything and he has no flaws other than his stupidity. But he’s not stupid because he does stupid things, instead it’s because people tell him he’s stupid. More telling and no showing. Well, he does stand there and let things happen an awful lot. There are no revelations that enable him to come back and save the day, so he just sort of does. Because he’s the main character and that’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s like fanfiction.

    Even the villains are literary failures. Master Xehanort’s goal is to see what happens after the Keyblade War and Kingdom Heart’s appearance. But he doesn’t seem to really care when it does happen and apparently already knows what would happen anyway. That was his entire purpose and he already knows?! Weird story choices like this happen all over and it is unacceptable. He seems to still express no drive to do much but that may be just his bad voice actor’s poor conveyance. Maleficent and Pete literally do nothing, so if you were hoping for some Disney mystery, it’s not here.

    The gameplay is stylish, shallow, and can be divided into two pieces: exploration and combat. Exploration is passable, and includes a significant vertical dimension now, but there is comparatively little interactivity and things to find compared to previous games. Each world has at least one minigame you can participate in after you beat the main story of that world. However, mainly you find treasure chests and take pictures of Mickey Mouse heads, that’s it. Some are creative and fun, but most are tedious because some of the levels are too wide and cluttered. Sora, Donald and Goofy can sometimes indicate when you’re near one, but only a few and I’ll be damned if I’m scouring an entire city looking for small things.

    The game attempts a lot of genre hopping and each world usually has one extra type of gameplay involved. There is cooking, shooting, rhythm, collection, sailing, bust-a-move puzzles, platforming, and rail shooting sections. It does none of these things well and most of it isn’t engaging because it’s too simple or controls badly, but the combat-oriented ones are passably fleshed out.

    The combat takes minimal effort to do impressive looking moves but the limited amount means they get old and dull quick. The canned animations are a substitute for actual skill and depth. There is very little customization to be had as you can equip almost all the skills without adding boosts so the RPG elements are mainly a fa?ade.

    The game is far too easy. Even on its hardest difficulty it offers no challenge until a weird difficulty spike at the very very end but this is more due to the controls not being as tight as they used to be. The combat is too chaotic and inconsistent with many allies and lots of unthreatening mobs. Particle effects either obscure the whole screen or are a laughable puff in the wind. Contributing to it and new to the game are attractions which are hyper moves that take the form of Disney classic amusement park rides. There are only five and they are entirely too strong and too common. Eventually I started skipping enemies because it was so boring and I had no incentive to fight other than seeing the story end. That’s a death knell for your game when you have no incentive to fight.

    What follows are a series of personal nitpicks so feel free to skip to the end for a recommendation.

    Modern culture has bled into Kingdom Hearts in a bad way. Right off the bat Kingdom Hearts 3 dates itself by including a smart phone. In previous games, your progress was tracked with Jiminy Cricket’s Journal. It gave a use to a Disney character and lent a storybook quality to the background information. Now you are literally given a smart phone and load screens are replaced with boring pictures, captions and actual hashtags that hardly change for the player’s benefit nor make sense in the Kingdom Hearts’ universe. This in-universe social media (with no previous establishment) trivializes the conflicts the characters go through. It lacks creativity and removes the timelessness it could have had like the stories in the previous two mainline games. In all the world of Disney and magic, they couldn’t have come up with an imaginative, fun way of accomplishing the same thing?

    The smart phone also contains little minigames to play in the form of retro Tiger-style LCD handhelds. You find a few with literal scan codes in one world and the rest inside chests. The games are boring in and of themselves given how simple and slow they are, but also no music plays during their use so it creates a sense of loneliness and wasted time. However, they are required to unlock one keyblade. Mercifully, they don’t require a certain score and you merely have to play them in order to unlock it. It’s like the game knew people wouldn’t like playing them so it begs the question of why they were included at all. Kingdom Hearts is known for having lots of extra activities to do outside the main story and the minigames being included in this fashion feels arbitrary, like quantity over quality.

    Another baffling arbitrary modern addition to gameplay is the inclusion of a cooking series of minigames. Maybe because Final Fantasy 15 had some cooking they felt they should include it here? For one, the games are far too easy. Literally as easy as cracking an egg and over in as much time. You can cook things based on the ingredients you find in the world similar to synthesis with an extra step which grant stat bonuses to your party. It’s like a Super Weenie Hut Jr’s version of Cooking Mama. Why would they include a method of making an easy game even easier? You can’t even control what ability bonuses you get. So not only is it easy and superfluous, but it removes an easy level of customization that could have given it purpose.

    Graphics are somewhat subjective to individual taste, I get that, but what Kingdom Hearts 3 uses neglects to include sufficient detail in its models and environments while on a dual quest for realism and to capture the feeling of Disney art brush strokes. Those are fundamentally different aesthetics and so the game fails at both. Everybody and everything looks matte. It lacks specularity. Realism doesn’t lend itself to cartoons in which the series already had a satisfactory visual style. If they really wanted to achieve a brush-stroke look, they could have used a style similar to Okami or Valkryia Chronicles. I wonder if the shift from Square Enix’s own engine to Unreal 4 is to blame. Sometimes I was reminded of old PlayStation 1 era FMVs just with better polygon count. This doesn’t help when the lip syncing is bad as well. All the main titles have had good lip syncing in the past so this is another strange change to the consistency of the series. It makes the game feel rushed.

    A quick aside, I hate Sora’s new design. His hair looks stupid and the only change to his outfit is a bit of red and plaid. It’s kind of representative of the whole game in a way in that only significant changes were weak surface level ones and for the worse.

    The User Interface also feels oversimplified and boring. It’s designed with the same matte-style philosophy especially in the smart phone menu. However, the most exemplary feature of poor UI is the world map. Navigating it through the menu is a clunky, frustrating mess. The world maps in the previous games made narrative and gameplay sense. You had complete control. Here, it feels traditional and arbitrary.

    The Dark Realm. We don’t get to explore it and the only area that is used is the beach that we’ve seen tons of times before. This is a critical area to the universe of Kingdom Hearts and it is there for one boss fight. Also, there are no Disney bosses, just random big Heartless.

    End nitpicks.

    Kingdom Hearts 3 did streamline the gummiship feature in a favorable way. Some people hated the gummiship events in previous games and some really enjoyed them. Here it fits for both types. It offers full customization of the gummiship and the purchase of premade models. There is plenty to explore and collect in the space between worlds. Enemies are encountered and then you are transported to the area in which to fight them, so they can be avoided entirely if you wish. This was a great choice by the developers. As a tiny gripe, it can be finicky to take a picture of the constellations for those quests.

    The music is a complete disappointment. Some of the Disney tracks are okay if you even notice them, but the rest are merely remixes of previous game’s themes. Kingdom Hearts 3 brings nothing significant of its own to the table. Compared to the works of genius the previous games were, this is a travesty. Voice acting and sound are mediocre at best (except for Xehanort, he’s awful), but they do the anime thing of making breathy noises every time they open their mouth and talk slowly.

    Kingdom Hearts is known for its crossover elements between Disney and Final Fantasy. Some final fantasy characters were significant to the plot and offered bonus gameplay opportunities. Part of the fun was the mystery of who you would encounter, when, where, and how. What combinations would we find? All final fantasy characters are conspicuously absent with no explanation.


    This game turned out to be such a shame. It’s possible to nitpick and question everything if one wanted to but I never wanted to. Truly I didn’t go looking for problems because I love Kingdom Hearts. I was connected. There’s more, so much more that is weird about this game, but I’m tired. Maybe this is my fault, because I did expect strides to be made in the same vain that Kingdom Hearts 2 did for Kingdom Hearts 1. But is that really so much to ask for in this series? After how long they had to make this game, is what we got really what everybody wanted? Could they have done no better than this with all the power and weight Square Enix and Disney can throw around?

    What we got in Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like a glorified tech demo. A ¡°Look at what we can do,¡± rather than what is fun or makes sense. Unlike, say, Metal Gear Solid 4 which was a love letter send off to a long series for the fans. This game was advertised as the same but failed to deliver and reveals itself as a modernized cash-in product made to sequel-bait the next installment. I’ll tell you that I will not be buying.

    Kingdom Hearts 3 has all the check boxes of a standard triple AAA experience; it looks fine, plays like a spectacle, tries to be epic, but it’s grossly unsatisfying and at times, boring. For being the resolution to a story 17 years in the making, it’s a failure. As an action/adventure/rpg game it’s slightly below average as it tries to do everything rather than focus on a few things to do well. It’s unfortunate how little this game carries its own identity. I’d avoid this game and watch what you want on YouTube or wait to see if a Final Mix version comes out at a cheaper price.

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