Before we begin it’s important to understand that I am not extremely familiar with the Kingdom Hearts franchise. While I did complete the first entry, that was way back in early 2000.
.This review will be from the perspective of a relative newcomer to the series and from someone who has very little knowledge of the overarching plot. If you are looking for a review that answers all your burning lore questions about Sora I suggest checking out Jordan King or Jonathan Dornbush’s Kingdom Heart 3 reviews.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is a fever dream. Here’s a game where I can fight alongside Jack Sparrow while summoning Wreck-It-Ralph and using a weapon that creates a chariot pulled by Pegasus. It’s absolute nonsense that has no business being as good as it is.
For those diving into Kingdom Hearts 3 completely blind, it’s critical to understand that a lot of dialogue might sound like absolute gibberish. This is the third entry in a very long and shockingly complex franchise that is full of different characters, multiple realities (I think?), various historical events, and a stable of iconic Disney properties. There’s a lot to take in and Kingdom Hearts 3 does very little to directly catch players up outside of a montage cutscene in the beginning.
Thankfully, after you unlock the selfie-machine known as the Gummiphone you can access character profiles and read a concise version of the current story. It’s a nice addition and having all that information archived can alleviate some of the confusion. Yet, when you look past the references and allusions, Kingdom Hearts 3’s story is fairly easy to follow.
You assume the role of Sora, a young man capable of wielding a powerful weapon known as a Keyblade. The game starts with the typical RPG staple of the hero losing all their powers, which forces him to go on a grand journey to require them. Flanked by his companions Donald Duck and Goofy – yes, that Donald Duck and Goofy – Sora needs to hop from world to world until he obtains the “Power of Waking.”
This is accomplished by visiting different worlds, which gradually increases Sora’s power by, well, it’s never entirely clear. In fact, Sora’s general arc of going from powerless to obtaining this mystical ability feels brushed aside. There are some intriguing moments early on that shows Sora’s arrogance and refusal to accept this happened, but it’s quickly forgotten once the game leaves the prologue.
It’s once you get to these Disney themed worlds that Kingdom Hearts 3’s main story takes a backseat. Each world is dedicated to a specific Disney franchise such as Monsters Inc., Hercules, Big Hero 6, or Pirates of the Caribbean. Sora and the gang will either arrive during the plot of when their respective films take place or sometime after it. This is when Kingdom Hearts 3 is at its best, as these side stories rarely dwell on the bigger picture and act as bite-sized experiences.
Seeing what hijinks Sora and his friends would get into with different Disney characters kept me invested during my 40+ hour journey. A lot of this is thanks to the terrific English cast, many of which are reprising their roles from the different films. This gives Kingdom Hearts 3 a youthful energy that keeps the game engaging from start to finish.
Yet, for all the nostalgia trips I went on during my time, it’s the flashy combat system that really stuck with me. Battles play out in real time, meaning you are free to dodge, attack, and move freely within the environment. Sora can utilize a variety of different magic spells and consumables, all of which can be placed on a shortcut list for easy access.
The majority of your damage will come from the different Keyblades you can bring into battle. Unlocked as you progress through the game, each blade can transform into a specialized weapon after dealing enough damage with it in combat. This can range from a giant hammer to a shield to a pair of robotic claws. These alternate variants each have their own strengths and weakness, along with a special finisher that can deal a ton of damage.
My personal favorite was the Mirage Staff, which allowed Sora to make clones of himself after he dodged. This let you flood the battlefield with copies which fired magic bolts at whatever target you attacked. Since you can hold up to three Keyblades at any time, it was quite easy to tailor Sora to my personal playstyle. Especially since Kingdom Hearts 3 allows users to mix and match different abilities whenever you’re out of combat.
Battles get even crazier with the inclusion of environmental movement abilities, big team-up attacks with your companions, and powerful “Attraction Flow” finishers that summon literal Disney World rides into combat. It’s all extremely chaotic and the camera sometimes has a hard time following Sora during Kingdom Hearts 3’s more hectic moments. This can craft some frustrating moments, where you’re constantly getting hit without seeing who’s attacking.
Enemies come in a wide variety of types, ranging from tiny footsoldiers to giant, building-sized bosses. There was a remarkable amount of different foes, many of them force the player to quickly assess and adapt their strategies. It always felt as if Kingdom Hearts 3 was throwing something new at me, which kept the combat from becoming stale or repetitive. Bosses provide some of the best moments in the game, as they are typically huge spectacles that you can easily get lost in.
There’s also space ship segments that break up the different Disney levels. Players assume the control of a “Gummi Ship,” which has a plethora of customization options including weapons, thrusters, and shields. While there are static ships you can craft, Kingdom Hearts 3 also allows users to build their own Gummi Ship from scratch.
Flying around space is simple enough and the boss battles clearly drew inspiration from classic on-rails shooters like Starfox 64. It’s a cute distraction, but I never found myself too invested in really hunting down and making all of the different ships. Much like the odd mini-games scattered throughout, this simply felt like an add on to break up the long stretches of combat.
Kingdom Hearts 3 Takeaways
If you’re looking to pick up Kingdom Hearts 3 with little to no knowledge of the franchise, rest assured that it’s still a highly enjoyable experience. There’s no doubt that all of the nonsense words, odd characters, and events will fly right over your head, but it’s something you’ll have to accept. Thankfully, the moment to moment gameplay and storytelling is entertaining enough that you’ll quickly look passed the complex story.
A lot of the fun comes from the extremely creative weapons and enemies that are thrown at you. Even with its overreliance on mini-games to pad certain segments and a frustrating camera, Kingdom Hearts 3 is certainly a title worth checking out. Just be prepared to constantly ask yourself “What the Hell is going on?”