When I first inserted the Kingdom Hearts 3 disc into my PlayStation 4 Pro on launch day, I felt a great relief; this moment was finally here. As familiar characters appeared on the screen during the opening sequence to recap the series as the nostalgic soundtrack interjected me back into a world I desperately wanted to re-enter, I thought to myself: “I can’t believe it’s finally here!” I anticipated feeling this way, but never did I anticipate what I feel now: a little disappointed and confused.
For anyone who adores and is familiar with the franchise like myself, you will completely understand when I say that there has been no anticipation greater than that of the release of Kingdom Hearts 3. Fans have waited fourteen years for this game! After every trailer release, last year’s E3 conference, with each little tease, the game seemed perfect. It had the best worlds to date, the graphics were incomparable and the combat mechanics seemed exceptionally enhanced.
While all of these things remain true, even after playing the game twice, there were still big problems with Kingdom Hearts 3 that have caused me and many fans to feel incredibly conflicted. As the ultimate Kingdom Hearts cheerleader, continuously rooting for this game, counting down the final months before the release date, it is not entirely easy for me to have to point out what went wrong with this game.
To be clear, I think Kingdom Hearts 3 is an exceptional game and a great addition to the series, but I think any title attached to a 14 year-long wait would never live up to anyone’s expectations. I feel this game was set up to fail from the beginning because fans had such high expectations for it. The game shined in certain aspects like graphics, combat and overall enjoyment but nevertheless, there were undeniable shortcomings that can’t be ignored. Here is what went wrong with Kingdoms Hearts 3.
It’s a small world after all and Kingdom Hearts 3 is no exception
The graphics are undeniably gorgeous, the animation is smooth and every world contains ravishing views (especially Kingdom of Corona and Pirates of the Caribbean). However, the worlds were just that: beautiful. They are small and do not offer many locations for players to visit.
A year before the release date, Kingdom Hearts series Director Tetsuya Nomura was quoted in Game Rant stating “this Kingdom Hearts is a bit different. One world is equivalent to one [previous] game, and the things to do for each world are vastly different.” Sadly, this is not the case. Each world had at most two or three general locations you can visit. Arendelle from Disney’s Frozen (which was the world I was most looking forward to) has only two locations: the mountain and the random Labyrinth of Ice. What about actual castle and town of Arendelle? What about Elsa’s ice castle?
The worlds chosen for Kingdom Hearts 3 were very significant for the fandom as they were plucked from iconic Disney/Pixar movies. Needless to say, I’m confused why they didn’t take advantage of these stories; they had so much to work with. Sadly, this didn’t just happen with Frozen’s world, it happened with almost every single one.
Toy Box from Toy Story was another huge disappointment for me because, once again, the movie offered many possible locations yet we were given two or three. Galaxy Toys was a great location in Toy Boy, but what about the rest of Andy’s house? What about the house of Andy’s mean neighbour Syd? Even Big Hero 6’s San Fransokyo was disappointingly empty; it was basically just tall buildings. The studio absolutely made great choices when picking worlds for Kingdom Hearts 3 but it was incredibly irritating that these universes weren’t used to their full potential.
Have you even *seen* the movies?
Aside from worlds feeling empty, the plots were also lacking and were not in-sync with the original Disney movies. It sometimes felt like if you hadn’t seen the Disney movies before playing Kingdom Hearts 3, you would have no idea what was the original story plot.
For example, in Disney’s Frozen, Hans is a crucial antagonist that helps drive the plot. He and Ana ask Elsa for her blessing of their marriage which she refuses. The following argument in turn leads Elsa to leave the coronation, revealing that she has ice powers. This is the point in the story where Sora, Donald and Goofy appear in the world: when Elsa is fleeing to the mountain and Ana and Christof are chasing after her. At no point does Ana explain to the trio why Elsa even ran away in the first place so we never follow the thread back to Hans which shuts down the possibility of him even being in this game. Therefore, he is also not incorporated as a mini boss, which would have been super cool and would have made sense as he is the antagonist. Instead, the final boss for the world is a very generic heartless. Also, you would assume Elsa or even Ana would join the battle with Sora, Donald and Goofy but instead, we are given the random ice monster Elsa creates as an ally. Even though Elsa would have been a perfect character to fight alongside the trio because she has ice powers. Axing Hans from the plot nor including Elsa or Ana in the party ignores too many important aspects of the original story. It seems like poor choices to me.
Unfortunately, this isn’t limited to Arendelle. In Toy Box, I thought it would have been smart to include Syd, another antagonist that would have made for a great mini-boss encounter. I thought it also would have made sense to incorporate a mechanic where we have to hide from Andy’s mom or his sister Molly. At least we get Woody and Buzz to fight with us. Even Montropolis from Monster’s Inc., why wasn’t Randall used as a mini boss? He plays a huge part in the story of Monster’s Inc. so wouldn’t it make sense that at some point that we would need to fight him?
Kingdom Hearts 3 missed the marked when choosing bosses and plot devices. I feel this game didn’t successfully weave the Disney and game stories together. Unlike other titles in this series, Kingdom Hearts 3 used these worlds as places to go to rather than genuinely immersing Sora, Donald and Goofy in their narrative.
This feels too easy… Where’s the challenge? Oh, it’s a DLC!
I first played in Standard mode (normal) because I expected this game to be harder than it was. Coming from Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, I remembered spending many hours grinding to level up and feeling extremely frustrated with some boss battles. Here I was, ready to do same. To my surprise, I beat Standard mode at level 44 with no problem at all and I put in little to no effort into leveling up. I also somehow managed to beat the game by dying less than 10 times. I then played Proud mode, which is hard mode, and I was even more shocked to see that it was still pretty easy.
I’m not quite sure why this game is substantially easier than previous Kingdom Hearts titles. I know that for me, it feels very off-brand of them to do so because this series is known for the challenge it offers: a design choice made so playthroughs are more of a journey than a sprint to the end. Players take the time to level up and become stronger, which in turn makes them spend more time in worlds. The worlds in Kingdom Hearts 3 already feel empty, the lack of grinding means we’re really just passing through.
I beat Kingdom Hearts 3 in less than two weeks which I’ve never done with any other games in this series. I was so shocked with how easy the game was, I started to wonder if I had just gotten better at playing over the years. It wasn’t long before I discovered I wasn’t the only one feeling this way; other players took to fan groups stating how they felt that Kingdom Hearts 3 was easier than expected. The only part in the game that felt somewhat challenging was fighting all the Organization 13 members and Master Xehanort at the end, but even then, it wasn’t as challenging as previous Kingdom Hearts final battles.
With all that said, Kingdom Hearts 3 is not perfect but it was definitely a joy to revisit a franchise I first started playing when I was about 12 years old. I always and still continue to recommend the series, including Kingdom Hearts 3, to anyone. The game’s new combat mechanics (attractions flows and keyblade transformations), the stunning graphics and the iconic Disney worlds are definitely the game’s strongest aspects. Though I cannot deny the lack of depth in the worlds, the off-track Disney plots and seemingly lack of challenge, it wasn’t enough to ruin my experience with this game or nor affect my love for this series. In the meantime, it has been revealed that Kingdom Hearts 3 will be getting a DLC: the first part will be free and the second will be paid, one of which will add a critical mode. Surely this will make the game more challenging, but I’m not expecting the DLC to address the other issues I have with this game.