PlayStation 48.30
Overall 8.30
It took me a while to finally get around to finishing Kingdom Hearts 3 because I quit it after getting half way when it originally came out. Even though I set it to hard mode I found the game lacking in any challenge, especially coming off of replaying KH2 with the added critical mode making that game a worthy action title. Years later critical mode was added as a free update to KH3 and I so I decided to start from scratch to see if it can provide some semblance of a challenge with its more action orientated approach. What I found is that too much of Kingdom Hearts 3’s combat is bloated with excess gameplay systems to ever feel like a proper action game like the second game did. Luckily for me KH3 is filled with so much gameplay variety that I never once felt bored; confused absolutely, but never bored.

Let me get the combat stuff out of the way first; like all KH games you play as Sora and you have Donald and Goofy with you as support, many times another Disney character from that world will aide you as well. For the most part you can completely ignore your teammates as they essentially  serve as meat shields that occasionally heal you or randomly trigger some special attack.  The focus is Sora and his multitude of attacks and skills as starting on critical mode dumps every advance combat skill onto the player from the start so combat is exciting from the first battle. The core of the combat system is actually a lot of fun, you have your attack combos that when charged up morph your keyblade into a special form depending on the weapon. You can switch keyblades on the fly to start a combo with one and use a finisher of another. Sora can block, dodge and counter on the ground and in the air, all extremely necessary against stronger enemies and bosses. Magic can be used on the fly through a quick menu, this can be done mid combo resulting in a combat system that’s fast and responsive.

This was all present and center stage in KH2 critical mode, it turned a casual Disney kids game into a bonafide action game where quick reflexes and mastering a combos with precise timing was necessary for defeating the bosses. In KH3 though it feels like the base sword and magic is pushed to the background under a mountain of superfluous gameplay mechanics added from the countless other KH games that came before. Sora can summon Disney charcters who all have unique screen filling attacks for about 30 seconds, all you need is a full magic bar and honestly I have no clue why you would use regular magic instead of just annihilating everything with a fire breathing invincible Simba. Those summons alone make the combat system feel unbalanced. Then there are focus attacks where you can slow down time and aim your keyblade like gun, you lock onto various enemies and release an attack that is best described as the panzer dragoon homing laser attack. This attack changes depending on the keyblade and one of them heals you every time you use it so I spammed the hell out of that one. There is free flow combat taken from Dream, Drop, Distance which allows Sora to push off any wall or swing on polls to cover distances quickly and adds a modifier to the attacks. The most disruptive of all are the brand new theme park ride summon attacks which occur randomly; in the middle of a fight for no reason at all a random enemy will get a green ring around them, hit that ring before it leaves and you get the chance to summon a random Disney ride. These ride summons range from a carousel where you have to time button presses like a rhythm game to controlling one of the buzz light year laser gun cars replicating the shooting gallery rides. These attacks take over the combat, also providing immunity to death while annihilating loads of enemies.

What could have been a focused skill based combat system revolving around smart blocking and countering feels so bloated, bursting at the seams with mechanics that don’t gel well together. I guess one could say “well don’t use all the summons”, yes that’s an option but I don’t feel this game was designed to be playable without them. Most battles involve massive hoards of enemies, they attack from all directions and many times from off screen. Sora had a tendency to get stun locked and air juggled while I watch my health bar quickly reach critical levels because some thing shot an arrow at my back without me having any way of knowing it was coming. So screw all those damn heartless, I’m going to shove some mad tea cups up your ass and clean up the enemy fodder.

Now I didn’t hate the combat, yes it’s messy but this is a game where you can go from air juggling an enemy, fire lasers at a group, summon Ariel as she sprays water at everyone and then end it with a big thunder mountain railroad of death. It’s stupid! And awesome! During some of the many great boss battles the actual combat system that requires skill finally gets to shine and in those moments I appreciated the change to critical mode as I got the white knuckle, sometimes rage inducing boss battles that make an action game memorable.

I’m probably the only review you will read that focus on the combat of a Kingdom Hearts game, the real reason why people play this game is either you are crazy person that can actually follow this incoherent storyline or you love Disney. Disney was a major part of my childhood so the Disney movie tie ins are the main reason I play this and  this game has a great collection of them, though they skew to newer titles so the wave of nostalgia isn’t as present. I appreciate the variety in gameplay scenarios present in the different Disney worlds. Some are the standard exploring an area and fight baddies but every other one has some unique hook to it.

Entering the fray are Pixar movies, of course Toy Story is represented and I feel it had one of the best levels of the game. In this level Sora has to rescue Buzz from a closed mall where the toys get possessed by heartless. Each store has a different theme of toys, the most popular being a Japanese RPG game with mechs, you can ride these mechs if you find them turning the level into a semi FPS mech combat game. There is even a mini game that takes you inside that video game world to battle loads of other mechs for a high score.  Monsters Inc is the other Pixar movie and that one disappointed as it was a standard level without any real unique gameplay features.

These best levels are often times creative, visually stunning and all have some stand out setpieces. They usually follow the story beats of the movie it represents giving you a condensed Disney movie every few hours. I loved exploring the forests of Tangled, delving into ice caverns of Frozen, and soaring through a metropolis in Big Hero 6. Easily my favorite level is this game’s Pirates of the Caribbean, which covers the third movie and gives you a Wind Waker like world to explore on your very own pirate ship. As you sail the seas you get into ship battles which are simplistic but effective, with a ship that can be upgraded by exploring the different islands around the seas. With some cool optional boss battles and thrilling story moments it was the highlight of the game.

The finale pulls an MGS4 in that the usual gameplay loop of exploring a Disney themed world is replaced with a stretch of seemingly never ending cutscenes and boss battles. This is where the extremely convoluted plot takes center stage with literally EVERY character and EVERY storyline from EVERY KH game no matter how big or small all gets resolved. I have to give Square credit for taking this absurd storyline so seriously and making sure all their threads have closure, I bet series fanatics were engrossed and emotional during all these moments, but for me I kind of marveled at the melodrama and how anime it all feels, made stranger by having Mickey, Donald and Goofy in the middle of all of it. I wouldn’t say I didn’t feel anything, I did play the main games of the series so a few storylines made me smile, also got to hand it to all the voice actors giving it their all with a script so full of cheese that there should be a warning for those who are lactose intolerant.

From a gameplay perspective the final boss battles tested my mettle in critical mode. I had to learn patterns and timing to block and counter all kind of attacks. These bosses have all the over the top grandiose moments you would expect from Square RPGs, even if I’m not engaged with the story if you give me some up tempo music and have a boss throw meteors from the sky at me, I am all in. The final boss pissed me off a bit because of some poor checkpoint placement but ultimately I really enjoyed the final 5 hours of cutscenes and bosses. A better game would have balanced the core game flow with the boss battles by spreading them out evenly rather than overloading them at the end.

Like all pats Kingdom Hearts game you inexplicably travel to the different worlds in a Lego like spaceship which plays like a basic Star fox shooter. The Gummi ship segments are at theirbest in this game as there is a sort of open space to explore with various battles to get into and secrets to find. The battles are almost like classic arcade shoot ‘em ups but they don’t offer much of a challenge outside of attempting to go for a high score. I did love the boss battles, especially the hidden ones, which surprised me in their scale. The gameplay of these segments aren’t deep enough to be a quality shooter but I love variety in my games so I appreciate the gummi ship.

KH3 has stunning production values, it shows that squares A team was involved. The models look like CG cartoons brought to life and the stages are vibrant and bring each Disney world to life. The score is phenomenal with so many memorable tunes, I was humming the various themes at work as they stuck with me. There is a new title song that’s a banger, I don’t know who sings it but it works great during the game. The classic main theme swells up with emotion at all the biggest story moments, even if I didn’t know what was happening with the story the music was on point to make me feel the appropriate emotion.

Kingdom Hearts 3 is too disjointed and bloated, because of that I didn’t enjoy it as much as the fantastic second entry. I do think the level design is the best in the series but the unfocused combat with too many systems happening at once holds the game back. Still there isn’t much like a KH game, it swings for the fences with ideas, constantly surprises me with clever gameplay moments. It may not have much depth but it kept me entertained the whole 40 hours. Where else can I explore Disney worlds with the production values of a Final Fantasy game and totally wacky gameplay. It probably shouldn’t work but somehow this concoction of ideas still produces a great game.
Posted by Dvader Sun, 30 Oct 2022 03:16:09
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