Kingdom Hearts III review - worth the 18-year wait?

Genre: RPG
Format: PS4 (tested), XBO
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Price: £49.99
Release: Out now

After 18 years of narrative threads being tangled together like cables at the bottom of a junk drawer, Kingdom Hearts III races towards the final confrontation.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy must travel to more Disney-flavoured worlds in a last-ditch attempt to gain enough strength before Master Xehanort gathers his forces and darkness prevails. It’s all very high stakes, but does this final chapter deliver what we’ve been waiting for all these years? Mostly not.

Kingdom Hearts III’s big problem is, with just seven Disney worlds and no Final Fantasy characters, it’s forgotten the main thing that pulled players into the series way back in 2001.

It doesn’t help that the worlds used never hit the highs of previous games’ Space Paranoids, Timeless River or Neverland. The inclusion of Pixar is long overdue, but was anybody really asking for a world based on Pirates of the Caribbean 3 or Big Hero Six?

When it doesn’t feel sparse, Kingdom Hearts III feels incredibly busy. The core of the game is still light JRPG mechanics and frenetic hack-and-slash encounters, but the series has been picking up new systems almost constantly over the years, and KHIII hasn’t done much spring cleaning to make it legible for the player.

Oooh, sparkly...

Alongside keyblades and magic, you’ve got Dream Drop Distance’s shotlock (guns) and freeflow (parkour) systems, reprisals (counters), weapon form changes, new theme park-inspired special attacks, a new open-world Gummi Ship system, the Gummiphone… the systems never end.

As gorgeous as the game is (and boy, does it look fantastic with its change to Unreal Engine 4), fights are a meaningless – and patronisingly easy – blur of lights and sounds as Sora spams out every special move possible. It’s a stark contrast to the highly choreographed and iconic fights of the previous games.

Avoiding spoilers, wrapping up the years-running story is one of Kingdom Hearts III’s strengths. Kingdom Hearts has always been about emotion and aesthetics over logical consistency, so it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but that doesn’t really matter.

It manages to pull all these disparate plot points together in a cohesive and affecting way, tug on heartstrings, fall in love with characters all over again, and leave you singing Simple and Clean. Which is all it really needed to do.

Kingdom Hearts III is like pizza; there is no bad pizza, and there is no bad Kingdom Hearts. Chilling with Sulley and hearing Elsa belt out Let it Go make your heart feel warm and fuzzy, but in its focus on wrapping up the story, it’s lost the magic of its predecessors.

Mechanically messy and painfully small, at the very least it finally gives us some closure on friends we made almost 20 years ago.

Highlight

Thanks to a shift to Unreal Engine 4 part way through development, KHIII looks absolutely sublime, and at times the worlds can be indistinguishable from their source materials. The magic abilities are visual feasts, and the engine’s ability to support more enemies than previous entries is put to good use. If nothing else, KHIII is really good at being a spectacle.

Verdict: 64%

Kingdom Hearts III is a functional bookend to a long-running series, but in its plot-driven heavy lifting it loses the magic and whimsy of its predecessors.

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