Weeeeeeeell! Here I am, at long last. I became invested in the Kingdom Hearts canon the very year it came out, and I’ve been anticipating Kingdom Hearts 3 for most of this millennium. As a result, this is probably going to be an annoyingly in-depth review, especially for anyone uninterested in the canon. Consider yourselves warned!
Spoilers follow for the entire KH series, as well as the Disney films Hercules, Ratatouille, Tangled, Toy Story Toy Story 3, Frozen, Monsters Inc., the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, and Big Hero 6. Oh, and I guess some elements from the various Disney Winnie the Pooh adaptations, but nothing plot-heavy from that canon is featured in the game.
I’m . . . not entirely sure how I want to start, honestly. Maybe with the theme songs? Unlike KH 1 and 2, 3 has two separate theme songs, ”Don’t Think Twice” and ”Face My Fears”. They’re both pretty, but the weird thing is, no matter how many times I listen to “Don’t Think Twice,” I can never remember how it goes off the top of my head. That’s unusual for me; my brain usually doubles as a tape recorder for music. I don’t know if that means “Face My Fears” is so much better that it’s wiping out the other inside my mind? I don’t know.
Uuuuuuuh yeah I’m just going to jump into the levels now.
I reeeeaaaaally wasn’t wanting the series to return here again. Hercules is the most-repeated Disney world in the KH series, and . . . yeah. We’ve been here. That said, the execution this time was far better than in any of the past games. Rather than setting the entire level in a generic coliseum in the clouds, we actually get to explore both a lot more of Thebes than we have before, as well as getting to scale Mount Olympus, an action that I’m sure completely jives with Ancient Greek faith. When the level opened with a monologue about Hades’s plans, I was legitimately rooting for the Muses to interrupt and bust out their musical number just like they did in the opening of the film. I was disappointed . . . I really would love for more Disney music to be present in these games, both the actual in-plot singing and as background music. I did get confused here, though, because I was always under the impression that the plot of the movie had happened sometime between KH1 and its prequel. On the other hand, this meant we finally got to fight the other two elemental Titans that never appeared in the earlier games. (No need to question why beings made of lava and wind can be harmed by a sword . . . ) Still no love for the Cyclops, though! Poor Cyclops.
This world is original to the KH canon, and . . . wow, they really trimmed this place down! Even though it’s not a Disney world, I find myself a bit disappointed that we don’t get to enter the old mansion again, considering how important it was to Roxas’s storyline in KH2. Aaaaand the cooking mini-game they based around Remy the rat . . . no. Just no. These are exactly the kind of overly precise controls that make video games feel like a chore. I’m definitely going to 100% complete them eventually, but it’s going to frustrate me. Oh, speaking of frustration:
The Ocean Between
Aurgh, the Gummi ships. I hate that these sequences are part of the series, but KH3’s rendition is the worst of all. The free-exploring nature of the sequence makes it so much harder to get from one place to another, because you can barely turn, even after crashing and having to reorient yourself before igniting the engines to start again. It’s not worth the energy or time investment . . . except that you’re obligated to level up the ship to be able to deal with tougher enemies later, and to just generally advance through the game. I really hope, once the next big storyline of this series gets going, that the Gummi ship concept gets left behind.
Pixar is finally part of the party! I’ve always had a weird attitude towards the Pixar movies; they never look particularly intriguing to me from a distance, but then once I see them, I usually enjoy them quite a bit. It shows how much technology has improved over time to realize that the graphics in KH3 are smoother and more realistic-looking than the original Toy Story does. Anyway, I can see why they chose to have this level take place in an artificial copy of the real Toy Box; Andy’s voice actor is too old now to do the ten-year-old version of Andy’s voice, as we heard in Toy Story 3, and I don’t think Donald’s magic would have disguised them as toys if they went to a world populated by humans. It also gives them more leeway with where in the TS timeline this game occurred. It obviously takes place after the first movie, since Woody and Buzz are friends, but otherwise it could be any point from then until near the start of TS3, since Jessie and Bullseye could just be part of the absent toys. I am a little annoyed nearly the entire world is set inside a single giant toy store, but I guess the plots of TS movies tend to move around a lot, and it would have been difficult to design a level that way. It is cool that Pixar has officially declared the store canon, but it still feels weird that so little focus is given to Andy’s house; we don’t even get to go next door to Sid’s house, a place we definitely know exists. It’s also weird that Young Xehanort is just inexplicably shrunken down to interact with the toy characters, even though he’s not disguised as a toy. My brother and I played through this level separately, and we both felt disappointed that we didn’t get to fight Buzz as a boss battle when he got controlled by the Heartless. Actually, the whole theme of toys being controlled and coming to life as mindless husks is rather cool, and they do use quite a variety of toys, including funny-looking happy plush attackers, but also that horribly creepy doll. What else . . . the fights involving the mech toys are cool, but they make for potential early game difficulty spikes if you can’t get into one easily. I was entirely convinced Woody and Buzz had their original voice actors, and was shocked to later learn they were extremely good sound-alikes. Kind of weird that Sora and company leave the TS protagonists in the copy world, but of course, the map needs to remain the same to return to the world and explore it. Oh, and Yoko Shimomura managed to create a version of ”You’ve Got a Friend in Me” that I don’t find infuriating to listen to, so that’s impressive.
Kingdom of Corona
Yeah, I’m really far behind on Disney movies; don’t have much patience for staring at screens any more. So I haven’t seen Tangled yet, but my brother said this level followed the movie’s plot pretty closely. Flynn and Rapunzel have such strong personalities, it’s kind of funny how they sweep up Sora and his friends and take over the plot. It’s interesting that, whereas most past Disney villains have allied themselves with the KH villains, Mother Gothel actually gets mind-controlled by Marluxia here. I found the map to be kind of bland, as a lot of areas are pretty similar-looking forest scenes, and there’s also a swamp “room” that’s so murky and large that I found it incredibly easy to get lost inside. Granted, I play with the on-screen map turned off, but I usually don’t need it, so this area really stuck out. This level was the first one where it really felt like the script-writers found reasons to shunt the KH protagonists away from the main action, so that major plot points happen off-screen and get told to the player later. Granted, I’m sure the assumption is that everyone who plays already saw the Disney movies, but it still feels weird to move the player away from the action of the film, considering one of the series’ main selling points was getting to immerse ourselves in the films. The main scene that got cut seems to be an attempted execution of Flynn, so maybe this was just to dodge a higher rating, but some later levels get even worse about this problem.
Both Pixar properties take place after their respective films, and therefore don’t follow the plots too closely. Like I said in the previous section, it kind of sucks that we don’t get to immerse in them as much, though at least in this level, they saw fit to bring Randall back—except we don’t get to fight him. I feel like this is another symptom of a problem the series has been experiencing more and more over the years, where the KH original villains have co-opted the role that the Disney villains served in the original game. I’ll probably talk about it more later, but for now I just want to note that a color changing-chameleon monster who can turn invisible and climb walls would have made for at least an interesting mid-level boss, but instead he only appears in cutscenes serving as a lackey for Vanitas, and an Unversed created by Vanitas is the only real boss of the level. Disappointing. Not much else to say here; I didn’t really like Monsters Inc. when it came out, though perhaps I should re-watch it sometime. I do like that the level design plays around with the magic doors a lot. I really hated the designs for the KH protagonists monster designs, too. The disguises they wore for Halloweentown in past games were cool, but in this world, they just look kind of gross and ugly.
I actually only watched my brother play through this world, but even watching from the couch, it felt really repetitive to me. Other than the weird dark ice palace Larxene makes at the start (which is really stretching the limits of her electric magic, if you ask me), almost the entire level is hiking up and down the same mountain. We never get to enter Elsa’s ice palace or the actual town of Arendelle the level is named after. And of course, it takes place during Elsa’s artificial winter, so every “room” is snow, snow, snow, very interchangeable-looking. We also barely get to participate in the plot. Hans doesn’t even get any spoken lines, and only gets battled as a giant wolf Heartless at the end of the level. I know a fight against a swordsman wouldn’t have been super-exciting, but I still would have liked the chance to wail on the jerk a bit, maybe as a minor opening fight before he becomes a Heartless. Heck, I think a fight against a desperate Elsa would have been appropriate, and probably pretty cool. The series has had fights against Disney protagonists before: Peter Pan, Experiment 221, Hercules, and the Beast have all been battled for plot reasons. But I guess Disney draws the line at beating up a princess, and I suppose I can understand, but Elsa is such a powerful character, it feels kind of belittling to her. I did like the acknowledgement at the start of the level that Sora, having grown up on a tropical island, wasn’t used to being so cold, as video games don’t often involve sensations beyond visual and auditory. Getting the snow golem (who I guess is officially named Marshmallow now?) as a party member was also a surprising but very awesome choice. It does feel like it detracts a bit from the human characters, since we don’t get to spend much time with them. I also liked Larxene’s speech about the source of Elsa’s powers, that even if they were a mysterious dark curse, Elsa could still use them for good without becoming corrupted. It’s territory KH has covered in depth already, but Elsa’s parents would have done well to listen to this villain back when Elsa was little. Also, it’s kind of funny that, after the plot of the first game involved villains kidnapping Princesses of Heart, this final game in the plotline has villains wanting to protect and preserve Princesses of Heart.
Oh, but the very best thing about Arendelle was the scene of Elsa building her ice palace. It started playing the opening notes of “Let It Go” at the movie-appropriate place, and I thought, “Oh, that’s clever! They didn’t use ‘Let It Go’ as the overworld background music, so they inserted an instrumental rendition at the correct place.” But then THEY WENT THERE Elsa actually starts singing and THEY DO THE WHOLE SONG IN THE MIDDLE OF THIS VIDEO GAME and my brother was being a total boy about it and whining and complaining and I was cackling my head off because I’m such a sympathetic and supportive big brother. Total tangent to Arendelle, but I’ve always wished this series had employed more Disney music, as background noise definitely, but I would also have loved if the actual songs were inserted when appropriate, like they did here. Maybe this is a sign of moving in that direction for future KH series? (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” also appears, but it’s talked over by Anna’s exposition.)
100 Acre Wood
I was never super fond of the Winnie the Pooh levels in this series, not because of the more little-kid oriented tone of them, but because they’re a dull vehicle for minigames that I never want to spend time on, but have to get 100% completion. Whereas past KH games split the 100 Acre Wood sequences up between other worlds, KH3 just has a single visit that goes by so quickly that it almost seems pointless . . . Or at least, it felt pointless as I played. In light of the game’s ending, I suspect it’s some very intentional foreshadowing. A bit of a yikes decision, using the Pooh bear to foreshadow Sora’s death, but . . . at least the mingames were easy this time around?
Yeeeeeaaaaah boooooy this is what my brother and I were most looking forward to. Speaking of having singing in the game, this level opened with rewritten, more expository lyrics from “A Pirate’s Life For Me,” chanted by pirates. When this world first got announced, I assumed it was going to cover all the way from the start of Dead Man’s Chest through to the end of At World’s End, since they’re, you know. Basically a single movie that’s split in two to round out a trilogy. But it only picks up at the start of AWE, even shunting the KH protagonists into Davy Jones’s locker so the level can pick up with Captain Sparrow where he begins the movie. You know, in the literal afterlife. Immediately upon returning to the actual living world, the Pearl gets attacked by a Heartless that basically just there to shunt the KH characters away from the PotC characters so Sora can get his own ship. I’m torn on this. The ship-to-ship combat is definitely fun and cool, but my word, we barely get to spend any time with the other characters. Even the Jack who seems to be with us turns out to be a copy made of Tia Dalma’s crabs, and by the time we reunite with the real one, it’s already the end of the movie. Lame. And with the four-party-members-system we have now, there’s no reason either Elizabeth or Will couldn’t be a second party member. They’re both quite handy with swords by this point. (I would prefer Elizabeth, we all know she’s the coolest, but this is beside the point.) Still, there’s a lot to love about this world. Even though we get shunted straight to the end of the movie, what an ending it is! A ship-to-ship battle against the Kraken and the Flying Dutchman that’s so good, you don’t even notice it’s technically also a protect-a-third-party-that-can’t-be-healed mission! Followed by a classical boss fight against Jones himself. I didn’t even notice until long after I finished the level that the Kraken was actually supposed to be dead before this storyline began; it was a very excellent choice on the developers’ parts to ignore canon on this detail. That battle theme is really something else, sounding just like it came out of Hans Zimmer’s score, and a definite improvement over the awful MIDI-sounding rendition of “He’s a Pirate” that served as this world’s battle theme back in KH2. I was laughing out loud at Vexen’s realization that the black box in the Caribbean wasn’t the magical one he was looking for—he thought “Davy Jones’s heart is in a box” meant “Davy Jones’s magical soul thingy that Heartless feed on is in the box,” rather than the real meaning of “the actual meat organ from Davy Jones’s torso is in the box.” There’s just something really hilarious about one of KH’s heart-obsessed antagonists getting flustered about an aspect of PotC’s darker setting, something he never would have encountered in one of Disney’s more traditional worlds. Speaking of darker tone, I’m pretty sure this is the first time one of Sora’s Disney friends has been lethally injured on-screen, so I appreciate that they had him freak out at Davy Jones and actually start throwing fists for the first time in the series. I felt it was an appropriate reaction, even for a happy-go-lucky character like Sora. The voice acting in this world was incredible. Only Mr. Gibbs had his original actor reprise his role in-game, with everyone else being sound-alikes. Sparrow and Jones in particular are a pair of great performances, considering how unusual their mannerisms and accents are. But somehow, the one character they failed to do this for was Elizabeth, the one whose voice is literally just British woman. She sounds so jarringly off every time she speaks, it really ruins the immersion. And that double sucks, because this is the pair of movies that made Elizabeth hardcore. Oh, and it was great seeing the iconic “I can has bucket” scene recreated in 3D render.
Big Hero 6 is another one I never bothered to see. My brother had, though, and he saw the twist at the level’s end coming, whereas I didn’t. I think this was my least favorite of the worlds in this game. Despite the actual level design being a massive, sprawling cityscape, almost certainly the most wide-open map the series has ever seen, the actual plot play-through only allows you in it during specific mission-based events, and then immediately warps you back to a small garage for a movie scene that sets up the next mission. It felt obnoxiously railroady compared to the other worlds in this title. Also a weird choice that, now that we have space for two extra characters in the party, we only got Baymax as an ally. I kind of get why; Hiro would be the obvious second choice, but he doesn’t seem to fill much of a combat role. All the other members of the team seem to be of roughly equal standing, so it might have been a somewhat arbitrary choice of which character to elevate to party member status. But it still feels like kind of a waste to be in a Marvel setting with superheroes and only get one. Fighting Dark Baymax at the end was pretty cool, especially with the dearth of Disney bosses in KH3. One small detail that stood out to me was the television news report discussing the Heartless attacks. This is the first time the series has featured a world anywhere near our modern level of technology, so I kind of like how they addressed the role modern media would play in informing people of the invasion.
Radiant Garden, Land of Departure, Destiny Islands, Dark World (which we should be calling Realm of Darkness by now) and Mysterious Tower (which we should be calling Symphony of Sorcery by now)
Yeah, I’m annoyed that all these worlds aren’t areas that can be returned to after temporary visits in cutscenes or for specific boss battles. None of these are new to the series; they’ve all had physical presence in past games that should have made it easy to model similar maps out of them. These temporary-visit-in-between-Disney-worlds worlds are also only here to advance the plot forward, which gets to feel kind of clunky when the cycle of “do a Disney world, then watch ten plus minutes of cutscene to advance the plot” becomes repetitive. It’s a symptom of the problem that’s been growing worse and worse over the series. Back in the first game, the Disney properties were so immersed with the various original settings and characters, with random Disney cameos in KH-original worlds, and the Disney villains being a major driving factor in the plot conflict. As time went on, though, the Disney properties became more and more insular, relegated to their native settings, and with the Disney and KH villains barely interacting with each other. It makes everything feel more unconnected from everything else, and it’s really detracted from the immersive nature the series began with. It also means that the overall plot crawls forward for most of the game’s runtime, with a sudden explosion of “everything is happening right now all at once” after finishing the final Disney world. And I don’t mean to imply that I’m not invested in any of the KH-original characters; I am, but I started this series for the Disney stuff, and I don’t like that that aspect has become relegated to background noise so the story of the original characters can take center stage. I hope things go back to an interwoven story for future parts of the series.
The Final World
Okay, I was not expecting to see Kingdom Hearts’s version of the afterlife in this game. Then again, I also was not expecting literally all the protagonists to get killed off on-screen. The heavenly inspiration is clear, and I love the idea that critical duties or strong emotional bonds can let someone return from death sometimes. It’s interesting to note that the Darkside fought during the tutorial of this game had the same silvery appearance as Sora does while Sora is recollecting the parts of his personality he lost in death. I wonder if the Darkside is meant to be the Heartless of a main character that we’ll learn about in a future game, although as far as I know, Pureblood Heartless don’t contain stolen hearts; they’re just standard dark-element monsters. So maybe my theory is already proven wrong. The sequence where Sora uses the power of waking to track down all his friends by traveling to all KH3’s different worlds in a gauntlet is exciting, and reminiscent of the “world terminus” area from the very first game. My brother did point out that, since these are single “rooms” reused, it would have been a good opportunity to design simple versions of worlds that appeared in past games too, to really make it a send-off to Sora’s whole series. Oh well. I’m still hoping we’ll get the Mirage Arena added as DLC so we can fight bosses and other enemies from past games.
The Keyblade Graveyard
Boy, there’s a lot going on in this final sequence. Lots of lost protagonists being “resurrected,” and lots of recurring villains being wiped out, hopefully for good this time. I don’t think I have the mental energy to comment on every interaction here. Obviously, I’m happy to see many characters who saw tragic ends return, especially Xion, who’s been my favorite character in the series for quite a while now. All the reunions felt appropriately emotional and sweet, and it kind of serves as a series-wide reunion for all the voice actors who performed the hero characters throughout the series. I’m also shocked, but in a pleased way, that so many of the villains got poignant and bittersweet endings that made me feel some sympathy for them, even for the arch-villain pair of Xehanort’s Heartless and Nobody. I do like that the pair of them were forced to confront the fact that their darkness/lack of heart undermined their own efforts by failing their teammates. I especially liked that as Xemnas’s heart returned, he was overwhelmed by how much power was contained in the thing that he had spent his existence calling weak. Even the actual primary villain in all this gets basically talked down in the end, and gets to enter the afterlife with his boyhood friend . . . that he had brutally murdered earlier in the series . . . maybe not all the villains deserved this level of sympathy? The remixes of so many past character themes are absolutely amazing and powerful and nostalgic as well.
But as great as all that was, the single lowest low point of the game is in this section: Kairi got done a raw, raw deal. Kairi was the damsel in distress in KH and KH2, and barely appeared in the other games. However, right at the end of KH2, she had a Keyblade shoved into her hand and immediately joined in the combat through the end of that game. So even though she faded back into a background character for a few titles after that, I was quite excited when the end of Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance teased that Kairi would soon become trained as a Keyblade wielder herself. Even though that shunted her off into cutscenes throughout KH3, I was happy she was finally being given a more active role in the story. And there she was, standing beside all the other heroes for the finale, sword in hand! Excellent! But then. But then. Kairi gets kidnapped again and removed from the combat scenario. And then. And then. She gets freaking killed off on-screen as motivation for Sora. I know she comes back to life during the credits, but I’m just so disappointed in Kairi being treated this poorly as a character. She was on a clear path of rising above her damsel in distress roots and becoming a more active agent, and it’s just all been squandered now. I really, really hope Kairi is set to become the main character of the next series to balance this out, but unfortunately, I don’t think that’s very likely.
credits and after-credits
Ugh. I basically don’t have any actual reaction to Sora’s “death.” Like, they’re so clearly intending to undo it sometime in the future. I mean, another character literally handed him a “wild card” earlier and said it “might come in handy.” Said card proceeded to not get mentioned again for the rest of the game. Gee, I wonder what loophole they’re going to use to get Sora out of the Final World? What a pointless attempt at drama. (I guess in the interest of full disclosure: I really don’t like Sora that much? His personality is pretty generic “happiness” and he’s insufferably naïve. So as far as I’m concerned, Sora can remain dead and Kairi can become the new main character.)
Much more exciting was the revelation that Braig/Xigbar was the missing Luxu all along. There was always a subtle note behind Xigbar of him having experienced a lot more of this universe than we the viewer were aware of, but I definitely wasn’t expecting this twist. (Doesn’t help that they made it look like Xigbar had died not long before the credits started rolling.) Far more than with the “question” of Sora’s “death,” I’m looking forward very hard to seeing the storyline of the Foretellers and Maleficent interacting with the black box, since Maleficent got terribly sidelined this entire game. I don’t think we’ve been given enough information to even hazard a guess as to what’s actually inside the box . . .
And finally, the secret teaser movie. This is the only part of this review I’m writing separately from the rest of the review, because I had to fulfill an in-game requirement in order to view this secret movie. Aaaaaand what a surprise, Sora is back to life again, shock. Weird that Riku seems to be in the same situation, even though he was alive last we saw him. I wonder if this is related to the mechanic in Dream Drop Distance, where the perspective kept flipping between Sora and Riku? Maybe the Realm of Sleep is a clue to how they bring Sora back. I can’t tell if they’re in the same city or not, either. They seem to have different color schemes. That isn’t San Fransokyo, is it? It seems unlikely they would use a Disney location for the secret movie. Uh. Um. That man . . . that’s the man from the fictional video game in the Toy Box? How? How. How is he a real person? That’s some weird something, even for this series.
—doctorlit has no real conclusion, and has probably typed enough