Friday, May 31, 2019

Kingdom Hearts III (PS4, XB1) Review

Welcome to SuperPhillip Central's concluding review for the month of May. It's Kingdom Hearts III, and while SPC's a little late to the party, taking the sweet time to finish this game 100% was most definitely worth it. See why with this review!

Kingdom Come

It's been a long time coming, but Kingdom Hearts III finally released earlier this year. Capping off one of the longest recurring sagas in gaming today, does Kingdom Hearts III end the story with a bang or a whimper?

Kingdom Hearts III directly follows the events of Dream Drop Distance, and has Master Yen Sid tasking Sora to relearn the power of waking to assist several of his friends whose hearts are lost to the darkness. Oh, and to also do that little thing about defeating the big bad of the Kingdom Hearts franchise, Master Xehanort, who wishes to rule Kingdom Hearts for his own ill wishes. By venturing across several worlds with his pals Donald and Goofy, Sora might just be able to achieve this goal, save his friends, and defeat Master Xehanort and all of his Organization XIII cronies.

The story of the Kingdom Hearts series is known to be a convoluted one, and a bit of a mess at that. Kingdom Hearts III tries to remedy this with featured sections within its Gummiphone menu that are dedicated to mentioning key events through past games as well as characters as a means to get both new and returning players up to speed on the story. While it won't make anyone actually understand the complicated and sometimes utterly nonsensical "we're making this up as we go along" plot and story threads of the series, it is an appreciated addition.

Sora, Donald and Goofy return, and like any Kingdom Hearts adventure,
new Disney friends join up along the way.
Kingdom Hearts III brings with it a slew of options available to players through combat. You get a plethora of battle and movement skills that can be equipped to Sora for the price of a handful of his total allotment of ability points (AP) which increase as he gains experience levels. These range from allowing Sora to counter attacks with well timed guards, perform double jumps, and even glide across areas in the game. Many of these are story-related gets, so your fighting capabilities and strategies grow with Sora.

Take that, you damned, dirty Heartless!
Apart from using Sora's Keyblade in battle to unleash a flurry of attacks on foes, as well as utilize magic spells, which can be mapped to a shortcut menu for easy access, Kingdom Hearts III introduces unique abilities and helpful moves that can be unleashed in combat in collaboration with your own party members. A bar above the action commands menu slowly grows, and upon reaching its maximum, Sora gains the ability to change his currently equipped Keyblade into new forms. Finishing each world and completing other requirements within the game unlocks new Keyblades for Sora to equip, up to three you can cycle between with the left and right D-Pad directions. When in a new form, these Keyblades can take out enemies with effortless ease--or at least deal tons of damage that would make otherwise lengthy encounters less demanding, turning Sora's Keyblade into a series of arrow-shooting guns or becoming a powerful set of twisting yo-yo gears.

"Snow" time like the present to give these frozen foes
a n-"ice" sl-"ice" with Sora's Keyblade! (Sorry, not sorry.)
Other new additions to jazz up the tried and true and ever-exciting combat of the Kingdom Hearts series in this third numbered installment is that of attractions and team up attacks. Attractions allow Sora, Donald, and Goofy to ride in amusement park contraptions like revolving carousels and tea cups and a giant swing pirate ship to attack enemies in fully interactive sequences. The windup sequences for these can thankfully be skipped--or removed altogether in one of the option menus within the game--and the attractions themselves can be cancelled out of at any time in case you grow weary of seeing the entire sequence unfold.

Meanwhile team up attacks allow Sora to--as one would assume by the name--team up with one of his party members to let loose a devastating attack on nearby foes. Such attacks include launching a series of fireworks with Donald, or boarding a rocket with Toy Story's Woody and Buzz to soar around the screen, ramming into foes. This is in addition to things like Shotlocks and Dream Drop Distance's Flowmotion combat, though the latter isn't necessary to utilize much at all to succeed in battle.

Hercules spins Sora around like a record for this particular team up attack.
While the additions to combat are delightful and freshen up the formula well, they can also make battles a bit too easy, or at the very least easier than past games. As stated, these attacks deal plenty of damage to foes, which with their absence would make encounters be much more lengthier if they weren't utilized at all. This means you're almost forced to use these or else have the combat bring the pacing of the game to a slow crawl with every encounter. Still, a completely positive addition is the inclusion of the new Proud mode, making it so even with using attractions, team up attacks, links, Keyblade transformations, and so forth, battles still require a great deal of competent play and superb reflexes.

Past Kingdom Hearts games were released on less powerful hardware, and really, the games couldn't fully realize their various Disney and original worlds to a special degree. Instead, worlds were claustrophobic and comprised of small, decidedly basic and empty rooms linked together by endless loading screens. While loading screens are a part of Kingdom Hearts III, with this latest chapter in the series, worlds are extravagant, large, and dense. The simplicity of past games in their design is a thing of the past in Kingdom Hearts III, as the worlds of Hercules, Toy Story, and Monsters Inc. feature sophisticated designs, plenty of verticality, well hidden secrets, plenty to see, do, and explore without running into the traditionally bare and basic designs of past games in the series. Exploration wields great rewards through treasure chests and a new addition to the series, Lucky Emblems, which are in the shape of King Mickey's head and unlock rare materials and offer goodies through taking pictures of them.

Worlds in Kingdom Hearts III are vast, expansive, and dense with points of interest.
That's not even talking about how varied each world is in Kingdom Hearts III. In one world you're tackling the threat of the Titans in Olympus while another you're venturing through the snowy countryside of Frozen's Arendelle with complete faithful rendition of "Let It Go" featured along the way. Toy Story's world has you visiting Andy's House at the start before going to the multi-floored Al's Toy Barn where you can enter into and pilot a giant toy mech to take on enemies, whereas the Pirates of the Caribbean's titular sea allows you to sail around it and explore islands in your own ship, doing full scale battles at sea with other ships. No matter what world you're in, you're doing something unique in Kingdom Hearts III, and it keeps this 50+ hour game feeling fresh and fun throughout its entire duration.

Traveling to and from worlds is performed with the return of the Gummi Ship. Rather than limit players to an on-rails shooter experience, Kingdom Hearts III's Gummi Ship opens things up considerably with fully open areas to venture through, coming across various destinations while participating in battles either with waves of enemies or special bosses--unlike the open area exploration, battles return to on-rails action. This is all the while being able to discover treasure and customize your Gummi Ship to your liking with either custom designs or premade pieces. The controls can be a little bit confusing and the actual camera when moving around in the Gummi Ship can be a touch disorienting as well. Thankfully, once you've arrived at a world from reaching it with the Gummi Ship, you can simply fast travel there instead of taking the ship through the expansive space zones to once again reach them. I should also mention that fast travel between save points in a given world is also available and much appreciated, too.

Hey! I'm not the enemy, Sora! Don't come running after me!
Kingdom Hearts III doesn't have as much post-game content to it in the form of super bosses, unfortunately--there's actually just one super boss after beating the game--but that doesn't mean there isn't a great deal of content throughout the game to complete if your heart (pun intended) so desires. From collectible classic mini-games that have you playing old school LCD games to full fledged mini-games like a fun snow sledding game in Arendelle, a rhythm-based dancing game in Tangled's Kingdom of Corona world, or participating in one of the many Flan-tastic games that hand out some killer rewards for completing them, to fulfilling Mog the Moogle's photo missions, and completing the various sections of Sora's Gummiphone, there is A LOT to do in Kingdom Hearts III. While the Platinum trophy isn't too taxing to earn overall difficulty-wise, it will take a great deal of time and effort to acquire. Regardless, it surely is an enjoyable one to obtain all the same.

Thankfully, Sora has no fear of heights in him.
It's no secret that Kingdom Hearts III is an deliciously gorgeous game with terrific colors, vibrant visuals, and sensational sights and sounds. Even though I didn't really understand everything that each character referenced from past Kingdom Hearts games, I didn't really care, as everything was so beautiful to look at. The cutscenes are stylistically done and given extreme effort to look as quality as anything I've seen in a game in a long time, and I especially love how scenes appear to seamlessly transition into actual gameplay. I haven't this blown away with a game's presentation in a while, and I'm just lucky the gameplay is as up to snuff as it is.

I, too, like you, Sora and company, am amazed by Kingdom Hearts III.
I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't mention the insanely incredible soundtrack, with the majority of its music created by main series composer Yoko Shimomura. Between the all-new themes included to hearing familiar themes from previous installments but this time in full, orchestrated glory, the Kingdom Hearts III soundtrack is without question my favorite of the year thus far. The work put into the soundtrack by the talented roster of composers including Yoko Shimomura is an absolute delight, and I will no doubt be purchasing the soundtrack whenever it finally becomes available.

I didn't quite grow up with the Kingdom Hearts franchise. I played a game here and there, but the series as a whole didn't have a demonstrable impact on my gaming life growing up. However, seeing how much I was enthralled by the epic adventure through enjoyable Disney worlds that were actually a blast to explore and get lost in--with seldom a loading screen in sight--tremendous and exciting combat, and a difficulty that I was able to enjoy without being overly frustrated, I can only imagine how overjoyed and moved longtime fans of Kingdom Hearts are with the release of Kingdom Hearts III. It's a magnificent game, even without my lack of experience with the franchise (or understanding of the overall story), making it one of my favorites of the year and in a while. Some elements bring the experience down ultimately, such as the Gummi Ship and endless stream of cutscenes (albeit skip-able), but Kingdom Hearts III succeeds in being a brilliant ending to Sora's first saga.

[SPC Says: A]

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