After more than a decade of anticipation, Square Enix, developer of popular Japanese role-playing games such as the “Final Fantasy” and “Dragon Quest” series, released “Kingdom Hearts III” Jan. 29.
Releasing around 13 years after “Kingdom Hearts II,” “Kingdom Hearts III” released Jan. 29, sells for $59.99, wrapping up the “Dark Seeker Saga,” or the story of Master Xehanort and his quest to unlock “Kingdom Hearts.
Having spawned two mainline titles, “Kingdom Hearts” and “Kingdom Hearts II,” as well as multiple spin-off titles such as “Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories,” “Kingdom Hearts III” is the third numbered entry in the popular gaming franchise.
The story of “Kingdom Hearts III” follows Sora, Donald and Goofy as they explore various Disney and Pixar worlds on a quest to defeat Master Xehanort. In the game, they must journey through the various worlds to gather seven hearts of pure light before Master Xehanort can gather 13 hearts of darkness’, so he can accomplish his goal of opening Kingdom Hearts.
“Kingdom Hearts III” shines with its new graphics, being the first “Kingdom Hearts” title to appear on a high-definition gaming console, playable on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Compared to previous games, “Kingdom Hearts III” is a significant step up because two generations of gaming consoles have passed since its predecessor “Kingdom Hearts II.” Back then, the Disney-based worlds that appeared in the series were based off mostly older Disney movies that could accommodate older gaming systems.
Compared to the first trailer, which released five years ago, “Kingdom Hearts III’s” graphics now have better shading, lighting effects and crisp visuals in the final game.
“Kingdom Hearts III’s” art style changes based on the world the characters are in. In a world based off of an animated movie, the art style is typical for a cartoon based game, but in a live action based world, the graphics are typical for a modern gaming title.
While the graphics and visuals are crisp and stunning, the main story can be confusing and hard to understand. “Kingdom Hearts III” has a lot of characters, featuring the main characters of previous “Kingdom Hearts” entries, though most of these characters do not appear until the final stages of the game. Because of this it is difficult to follow everything that is happening by the end of the main story.
Despite the complexity of the main story, the secondary stories of the Disney-Pixar-themed areas are easier to understand, especially for the game’s younger audience. When visiting new Disney-themed worlds, certain moments become repetitive. But, every time the main characters visit a new world, it is annoying when they introduce themselves to every new character. Depending on the world and storyline, the main characters think like they are irrelevant to the world’s events, especially when “Kingdom Heart III”’s other main characters are involved. Other than that, the worlds are an in-depth recreation of their movies.
“Kingdom Hearts III” features moments seemingly mature for a Disney-themed story. The game is, at its core, a story about teamwork. Furthermore, it delivers a positive message that friendship and connections conquer all.
Having appeared in numerous cartoons and films, the voice cast for “Kingdom Hearts III” includes a number of Disney legends adding to the immersion, including longtime voice actors Bill Farmer (Goofy) and Bret Iwan (Mickey Mouse). Having these and other longtime “Disney” voice actors, such as James Woods (Hades), reprise their characters adds depth to game where other story aspects fail. The talented and sincere voice acting from different characters allows for a more emotional investment in the game.
Despite “Kingdom Hearts III”’s complex plot, it tells a compelling story throughout the later game, even though there are plot holes from previous spin-off titles.
Adding to a new combat style, “Kingdom Hearts III” also introduces a fresh set of gameplay elements to complement the series’ traditional hack-slash system. Particularly intriguing are the new set of Keyblades, a key-like weapon that Sora uses in combat, capable of opening any lock. Unlike in previous titles, Keyblades transform into different phases that allow for unique combat.
In previous “Kingdom Hearts” titles, Sora fought alongside Donald, Goofy or a third party member unique to a particular Disney world. For the first time in a “Kingdom Hearts” title, it is possible to have more than three characters in a party, adding resources to the overall gameplay. Each character also has a special ability that Sora is able to use at random.
At the center of “Kingdom Hearts III”'s gameplay is the aforementioned classic hack-and-slash system, which feels more intuitive than ever to use, because it is faster and more responsive. Joined by the ability system of previous games, which enriched the core gameplay with new mechanics and the ability to cast stronger spells than in previous titles, “Kingdom Hearts III” has evolved.
Unique to Square-Enix video games are known for their music, and “Kingdom Hearts III” is no exception. Composed by the talented Yoko Shimomura, who composed for previous “Square-Enix” games like “Final Fantasy XV,” the music quality adds depth to the game world and validates a sense of awareness and caution. “Kingdom Hearts III” is also composed by Takeharu Ishimoto and Tsuyoshi Sekito.
Although at times the game feels like it has less content than its predecessors, “Kingdom Hearts III” is a rewarding experience that delivers intuitive gameplay, a well voice-acted story with believable characters and a satisfying conclusion that left significant questions to be answered in the future of the franchise.
IGN Score: 8.7/10
Metacritic Score: 85/100
The Arkansas Traveler Score: 4/5