‘Kingdom Hearts III’
Publisher: Square Enix
Rated: E 10+
Who it’s for: Fans of the “Kingdom Hearts” series, but newbies should start with the first game
Console: PS4, Xbox One
Thirteen years is a long time to wait for a game. If you were in grade school, you’re now in college; if you’re an old dude like me, you’re just happy it came out while you can still eat solid food.
All kidding aside, the road to “Kingdom Hearts III” felt endless. Littered with portable and mobile games and countless re-releases, at times I wondered if the writers had painted themselves into a corner with no way to escape.
Fortunately, the wait has ended, though to mixed results.
I imagine most of the series’ hardcore fans have already purchased the game and spent countless hours bashing Heartless and Nobodies in magical Disney-themed worlds. And if that last sentence means nothing to you, then you may not want to start with this game.
The “Kingdom Hearts” franchise features one of the most confusing storylines in gaming. Seriously, there are times it makes “Metal Gear Solid” look cohesive.
“Kingdom Hearts III” advances the story established in nine previous games. This includes dozens of characters, some which have more than one name and some that have multiple characters with the same name.
Confused? It only gets worse from there. Let’s just say “Kingdom Hearts III” features a rich story that requires lots of context to appreciate.
Fortunately, if you are new or just need a refresher, Square Enix recently released “Kingdom Hearts: The Story So Far” that covers every previous release (though a few are recapped as movies rather than games). For $40, you will get several hundred hours of great games and finally be fully caught up for part III.
Once you are ready to play “Kingdom Hearts III,” you’ll find an impossibly beautiful game that features solid — if not inspired — gameplay, fantastic voice acting and hours of cut scenes that will make you go back and try to figure out which story thread is being addressed when.
Players start in the world of “Hercules,” and after a gameplay refresher course, you’ll travel to other worlds based on “Toy Story,” “Frozen,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Monsters Inc.,” “Tangled” and more.
Though technically an RPG, battles feature relentless action. So relentless, in fact, keeping track presents some difficulties. While it’s possible to button mash your way through the throngs of enemies, the game presents plenty of deep options to make battles flow more smoothly and make them more enjoyable.
In addition to the melee combat and magic that provide consistency throughout the game, each world has its own unique features to keep the fighting fresh. Jump into a toy battle robot to fight alongside Woody and Buzz, or sink enemy ships with Captain Jack Sparrow, all while unraveling the answers leading to the final battle.
When you’re not fighting, you’ll explore the expansive worlds looking for treasure chests and “Lucky Emblems” (hidden Mickeys). Though the mini-map is barely serviceable, the worlds are easy to navigate and contain plenty of secrets to uncover.
Disney fans will appreciate how many characters — many of them new additions — appear in the game. Those looking for “Final Fantasy” characters will be disappointed though, as Square seemingly left them behind now that “Kingdom Hearts” has its own established cast of angsty anime characters.
Of course, you still have to get from planet to planet, so the ever-amusing Gummi Ship returns for all your space travel/combat needs.
While never a series’ highlight, the Gummi Ship experience has been greatly improved with some extremely entertaining shoot-’em-up and puzzle minigames, and a variety of cool ships to build. Even if you usually ignore this aspect of the game, you should give it a try.
Ultimately, it’s hard to put a score on “Kingdom Hearts III.” For those who have been invested in the series, the game’s positives overshadow its few shortcomings. However, those who haven’t yet ventured into the “Kingdom” will likely find themselves more confused than anything else.
This series rewards those who put their time into it, but players who aren’t ready for that kind of commitment may want to give this one a pass.