Kingdom Hearts III (PS4): First Impressions

There are so many things to say about Kingdom Hearts III now that it’s finally upon us. In fact, we’ll probably be devoting something like an hour and a half of podcast material to it, because reaching the end of the Xehanort saga requires that level of detail. But for now, let’s touch on some brief (and spoiler-free) impressions of the long-awaited game. Note: When I say spoiler-free, I’m talking about major story details — if you don’t want to know basic stuff like how combat works or the number of Disney worlds, you best click away now.

  • Combat is a ton of fun. We get a toned-down version of Flowmotion in III along with some fluid, beautiful attacks. Keyblade diversity is important now — each gets its own additional form (or forms) that allow for flashier, more damaging attacks. Some emphasize magic and others rely more on physical strength. One of the major complaints I’ve seen is that the Disney attractions are too powerful and too frequent; I think there’s some merit to that, but no one is forcing you to hit the triangle button and you can switch to your other activations by hitting L2 (though the game does not make that clear up front). They’ve even solved an issue from KH II by giving you skills that add a bonus to longer strings of attacks, whereas in that game it was all about getting to the end of your combo as quick as possible to unleash finishers.
  • The Disney worlds still don’t have a huge connection to the story, but it’s hard to imagine how that would even be possible. Still, they feel much more fleshed out and important — almost all of them have unique mechanics or cool boss fights to take in, and each feels distinct from the others. The voice acting here is a bit hit or miss, but again, I’m not sure what could have been done differently. Did anyone honestly expect to have Billy Crystal or Tom Hanks here? Some replacements (Sully, Rapunzel, Kairi) are better than others (Woody, Xehanort). The Pirates world is a revelation, especially after it was one of the worst in KH II — let’s just say borrowing from Assassin’s Creed was a smart decision.
  • The game looks great. Granted, you can’t help but get a substantial improvement when you jump ahead two console generations and 13 years. You could tell even from the recent re-releases that 60 frames per second was going to be a huge help in making combat feel more smooth, and that’s certainly the case here. The Disney worlds are bright and vibrant, the character models look way less static, and every scene is either CGI or fully voiced with strong in-game models — no more text boxes to skip through without sound.
  • Exploration is back. One of my biggest complaints with this game’s main predecessor is that it stripped away features from the first game like trinity marks and dalmatians. Now, you get to find Lucky Emblems all over the place and take selfies with them, and each world has at least one mini-game that you can master if you enjoy it. It helps that every world has an expansive area to explore, except Twilight Town, which is a bit of a disappointment.
  • The soundtrack is phenomenal. Yoko Shimomura has outdone herself here, combining stellar orchestral remixes of music from earlier games with some really enjoyable themes for the new Disney worlds and some bangin’ new boss music to close things out. There’s no word yet on an official release and rippers are having a hard time assembling all the pieces for less legal means, but the scope is impressive.

Some of the main issues I have with this game are plot-related, especially as it relates to the end of a 10-game, two-decade saga. We’ll get into those on the podcast with full spoilers for those who are curious, but I won’t ruin anything here. Even my quibbles with certain decisions don’t detract from my enjoyment too much. Still, having already finished the game last weekend, I really enjoyed it overall. It’s a blast to play and it’s genuinely nice to get a main Kingdom Hearts title again after all this time.

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