The wait is over - Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally upon us after being first announced at E3 2013. The latest installment in the zipper-clad Disney-Square Enix opus aims to tie up all of the loose ends that many fans have been wondering since we first saw Sora, Riku and Kairi run on the beach in Destiny Islands all those years ago. Though I’m only about 8 hours into Kingdom Hearts 3 so far thanks to external circumstances, here’s what I’ve thought thus far.
Kingdom Hearts 3, first and foremost, is a beautiful looking game. The move from Luminous to Unreal Engine 4 doesn’t seem to have hurt the studio, as each environment looks vibrant and detailed. The worlds themselves are a step up from previous entries - Olympus is fully realized as opposed to being relegated to the Colosseum and the Underworld in previous entries. Toy Box, the world housing everyone’s favorite Cowboy/Space Ranger duo, looks right out of a Pixar film. Running around Andy’s room was a childhood dream realized, and taking selfies with Buzz and Woody on your new Gummiphone is pure joy.
Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like it has one foot in the modern and one foot in its past PlayStation 2 roots. The Gummiphone is a way to add a photo mode, as is the case with most games nowadays, but the feel of everything from the combat to traversing the worlds legitimately feels like a throwback to PS2-era RPGs. And that’s a fantastic thing, especially in a day and age where everything seems to pull from Arkham Knight/The Witcher 3 style RPG combat. Kingdom Hearts 3 has retained its heart - the fast, frenetic combat that made the series a joy to play.
While you will spend much of your time pressing the X/A button (depending on your platform), performing a killer air combo with your keyblade is still as satisfying as ever. Sora this time has access to multiple keyblades at a moment’s notice, letting you swap between them at a moment’s notice while in the throes of fighting the Heartless. Gone are Sora’s Drive Forms from Kingdom Hearts 2, and instead are Formchanges. These vary depending on the Keyblade you are using, from one that turns into two arrow blasters letting you take on enemies from afar, to another that changes into a shield capable to blocking damage and dishing it out Goofy-style.
Attractions are another component of combat, letting you summon famous rides from Disney theme parks and vanquish the Heartless. My favorite so far has got to be the spinning Tea Cups, but Buzz’s Blaster game is also fun to take out enemies. Reaction commands also return, letting you team up with Donald, Goofy or the hero of the world you’re in and perform devastating attacks, such as a flare up of fireworks from Donald, or turning Goofy into bombarding missile.
All of this wouldn’t matter if combat didn’t feel fluid and responsive. The Xbox One X version (which is what I’m reviewing this on) has two gameplay modes: Default and Stable. Default runs at a targeted 60 frames per second, while Stable is locked at 30. While I’m not sure on the resolution numbers of each mode just yet, the default mode really feels the best. Yes, there are minor frame rate issues during some sequences, such as in the middle of hectic combat or in a cut scene, but nothing that has really frustrated me thus far. It’s a shame it’s not fully locked at 60, but it’s been pretty close in my gameplay so far.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is self-aware that its story might not be the easiest to follow or jump into blindly. While it’s the third numbered game in the series, it actually picks up right after the events of Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance. Sora has failed his Keyblade mastery exam and lost his powers thanks to the influence of the evil Master Xehanort, while Riku passes becoming a Keyblade Master. Sora sets out to recover his lost power and learn the “Power of Waking” while Riku and King Mickey venture to find another missing Keyblade master: Aqua. Along the opening hours there is plenty of exposition, characters will discuss past events with each other, or recount the events of previous games to characters who weren’t there. I’d still recommend watching one of the fabulous recap videos on YouTube to get up to speed, especially if you’re new to the series, but it does help to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing in the moment.
I’ll have more on Kingdom Hearts 3 in the coming days as I finish my first playthrough throughout this coming week. So far, however, it’s shaping up to be one of the more epic adventures for Sora and crew and I cannot wait to see how it all finally ties up in the end. Stay tuned for our full Kingdom Hearts 3 review very soon.