Kingdom Hearts 3 takes players on a spectacular romp through a series of iconic Disney and Pixar worlds, all the while racing towards the long-awaited conclusion of an incredibly complicated franchise narrative. The title doesn't do much to ease new players into the magical and giant shoe-filled world of Kingdom Hearts at the beginning of the game, but luckily the addictively simple combat system and charming core cast of characters are going to be enough to win over new fans just as easily as veterans who have grow up alongside the series over the past 15 years.
It should be clear up front that the lore of the Kingdom Hearts franchise is hard to follow even for players who have completed every game and spin-off already. Some gamers may find the enormous cast of characters, many of whom appear seemingly out of nowhere just to drop a few cryptic lines before disappearing again, annoying or distracting, but the relatively simple and familiar narratives from world to world help break the game down into understandable chunks. All that really matters is that Sora and his best pals (Donald and Goofy) are traveling around and trying to restore Sora's powers in time for a coming battle of light versus dark. Along the way the crew has the chance to help Rapunzel explore the world outside of her tower, revisit the Pirates of the Caribbean, and help out a lot of other new and old friends along the way. And most important of all, Sora's heart will always take the team where they need to go.
That sort of all over the place narrative may not be a great fit for every type of gamer, but players who are onboard for a bit of madness are in for a game full of heart and spectacle. Although the Kingdom Hearts 3 combat system may look complicated from watching gameplay of a battle, button mashing against the swarms of heartless enemies is the rewarding experience that kept bringing us back hour after hour. There is definitely some nuance to balancing the melee attacks, Sora's magic abilities, and the Final Fantasy 15-esque team-up attacks, but the fast-paced combat flows smoothly as Sora zips through the air from one enemy to the next chaining together powerful melee and magic attacks.
Min-maxers can spend tons of time in the game's menu customizing shortcuts, unlocking new abilities, and preparing for the next big fight with meals that provide combat buffs; but the casual player who just wants the story can mostly just go with the flow and make it to the end of the game on standard difficulty with relatively few deaths. Tailoring each combat encounter to our strengths by choosing from the variety of Keyblades, we unlocked added another layer of exciting variety to the game's systems. Each weapon (which can be individually powered up) provides different bonuses, as well as contains the power to unlock different forms frequently throughout combat. This makes selecting the right Keyblade for each encounter an added layer of strategy and excitement.
It is important to note that throughout each world there are numerous lengthy cut scenes. It often felt like we were getting about fifteen or twenty minutes of actual combat and exploration between each narrative scene. Again, this is a bit of a staple for the franchise, but could be a dealbreaker for some less patient gamers. All of the cutscenes are skippable, but obviously that will lead to an even more complicated plot than we're already dealing with. For the most part, the cutscenes were incredibly entertaining and offered the opportunity to see some of our favorite Disney and Pixar characters in new and unique situations. Some worlds follow the original stories just a touch too closely though, which can feel a bit repetitive for players who have seen the film recently. For those keeping count, KH3 includes eight Disney worlds, five of which are new. Most of the worlds focus on fairly contemporary films and franchise like Frozen, Tangled, Big Hero 6, and Toy Story.
Along the way to the game's cinematic conclusion, we had the opportunity to have a ton of fun outside of combat as well thanks to plenty of mini-games and the return of the Gummi Ship. The minigames vary in entertainment level, but there were definitely a few that we sunk some serious time into. Others were a little too simple or boring to hold our attention. The Gummi Ship, on the other hand, was a ton of fun every time we jumped into the pilot seat and set off to find a new world. The shuttle has simple controls that make the travel time between zones feel like a fun arcade space shooter.
Towards the end of the game, players will start to find themselves being swept off to fewer and fewer lighthearted Disney worlds and more lore-specific locations that bring the overarching narrative to a conclusion. This is when many of the most exciting boss battles take place and the game begins to trade-in its established feel-good moments for more of the franchise's iconic melodrama. Without going into any spoiler territory, we will say that this final series of worlds offers a ton of exciting combat opportunities and does an admirable job providing closure to this bizarre and fantastic adventure.
The lore may make the game seem too intimidating to jump into, but Kingdom Hearts 3 offers an exciting and over-the-top adventure that any light-hearted gamer could enjoy. You may find yourself googling character names and plot details from 15 years ago, but all of that confusion fades away when you get lost in the moment summoning tea cups or a giant rollercoaster to help attack a big boss with your best friends.
Kingdom Hearts 3 releases on January 29 for PS4 and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 copy for this review.