Certain bits of thinking take root in the gaming community and become what amounts to common knowledge. “Call of Duty is a repetitive series for dudebros,” for instance, though it’s rare that anyone explains what a ‘dudebro’ is or why re-iterating on a formula that works is a bad thing. “Mass Effect: Andromeda was a bad game.” “It’s a good idea to buy into crowdfunding campaigns.” The list goes on and on.
A personal favorite might be the idea that the plot of the Kingdom Hearts series is complicated and confusing. It’s not. This is a game series about Mickey Mouse made for Japanese schoolchildren. Failing the basic reading comprehension required to grasp the plot, the Internet is practically overflowing with click-hungry YouTubers eager to explain things to you. It’s not that big a deal! Check out one of those videos before playing Kingdom Hearts III and you’re in business. I’d never imply that I did exactly that. No sir. Not me.
Without getting too deep into things, we follow series protagonist Sora and his friends Donald Duck and Goofy as they explore a new set of colorful and engaging Disney worlds. Along the way, they’ll battle the villainous machinations of Organization XIII and a number of Disney baddies. Sora seeks the Power of Waking to deal with his foes once and for all, but it’s going to take more than a bunch of long-winded monologues about friendship to find it…or is it? Spoiler: it’s not.
In true Kingdom Hearts fashion, this is an action-RPG with a focus on the RPG side of things. Sora wields the Keyblade, a magic form-changing weapon that he uses to defeat various flavors of emotion-consuming monsters. While originally things were all about smacking the Heartless and co. around with this weapon, as the series has progressed it’s become more about insane super attacks designed to lay waste to massive areas.
Kingdom Hearts III represents the height of this sort of combat design, so there’s at least five different varieties of ridiculous world-ending apocalyptic mega-move to unleash pretty much at will. You can summon Disney rides and run the baddies over! Cast super-powerful magic spells! Summon beloved franchise characters like Wreck-It Ralph! Go nuts! It doesn’t have to make sense, really, and unless you’re playing on the highest difficulty you don’t really need to think about what’s going on. That’s a love it or hate it thing, and while I appreciated the spectacle-focused nature of the combat at first, I eventually found myself wishing it was possible to skip more of the over-the-top animations.
If you’re not here for the combat – and you probably aren’t – you’re here for the Disney and Final Fantasy fanservice that oozes from every crevice of Kingdom Hearts III. While the previous games were big on classic animated Disney films, KHIII is absolutely in love with Pixar, so you’ll explore worlds from Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and more. Lots and lots more. Heck, even Frozen gets repped here. Newer players who grew up with those films are bound to love this shift, though I personally haven’t seen some of these films and found myself having to check out the plots after the fact to keep up. Along with this, there’s tons of minigames, crafting, exploration with your customizable Gummi Ship and so on to check out, so you won’t be too bored unless you’re watching Keyblade-morphing animations for the thousandth time.
This is certainly a nice-looking game, at least, and we’ve come to expect that from this series so it’s no surprise. As mentioned, there’s a big focus on Pixar’s CGI films in this set of worlds, but modern consoles are more than capable of producing a solid resemblance to what’s on the silver screen. One slight quibble is the framerate, which is either extremely shaky or universally questionable depending on which graphical option you choose. At least the option is there. For reference, I played on a PS4 Pro and hear from colleagues the Xbox One X version is practically identical, so others versions should vary accordingly.
From an audio perspective, apart from the triumphant score, the voice acting is… as passable as it’s ever been. Though I did have an issue with Sora sounding significantly older than he should by this point. But hey, Haley Joel Osment still gotta eat. The rest of the cast is culled mostly from their respective Disney franchises, meaning you’ll get original voice-actors Josh Gad (Frozen), Donna Murphy (Tangled), Ryan Potter (Big Hero 6) and others you’ll definitely recognize once they start talking. Remember when I said KHIII loves Pixar? You can bet that John Ratzenberger is here.
Look, who’s reading reviews for Kingdom Hearts III expecting to be swayed one way or the other? It’s Kingdom Hearts. It’s a headlining game for Square Enix. It’s a love-letter to all-things-Disney in an age when the Mouse House rules our lives unconditionally. It’s got production values up the wazoo and the combined budget of two massive companies behind it. The combat may be a little repetitive and dull at times, but that’s not enough to stymie the raw fun and sheer imagination offered here. Magic Kingdom, indeed!