Disclaimer: The following post contains spoilers for Kingdom Hearts III, so if you haven’t finished the game, or are planning to play it in the future, and don’t wish to be spoiled, you should probably avoid this post for the time being. You have been warned.
No matter who we are, we all have a specific piece of media that had a huge impact on our lives at one point. We all have a franchise that we look back on fondly and remember completely falling in love with many years ago, either due to nostalgia, or due to how well it still holds up today, sometimes even both. We all have that one piece of fiction that means everything to us.
And for me, that’s Kingdom Hearts.
It honestly feels so surreal to be writing about Kingdom Hearts III and in a weird way I still can’t believe that the game is actually out and that I’ve both played and beaten it. I’ve been waiting since 2006 for Kingdom Hearts III to come out and it’s been one of the most agonising waits I’ve ever had to endure. With a lengthy stream of prequels and interquels released in between this game and the second game, and a 5 year development cycle after Dream Drop Distance on the 3DS, this game has been a long time coming, and it’s finally here.
And truth be told, while I was very excited for the game to come out and get my hands on it, I was also incredibly anxious. Because there was a lot riding on this game. It’s the final chapter in a story that’s been ongoing and developing for almost two decades, and I was so worried that the finale wasn’t going to deliver on everything that was being built up in the previous games. I was worried that the long development time was going to affect the quality of the final product, as is usually the case with games that have lengthy development cycles. I was worried that the gameplay wasn’t going to live up to the very high standards of Kingdom Hearts II and that the wild experimentation that’s been rampant throughout the various side stories and interquels that have been released over the years would impact how the game was going to play in a negative way.
I was worried about all of this, because Kingdom Hearts means just about everything to me. It’s special, and it’s had an impact on me in a way that no other game series ever has. In fact, I’m pretty confident in saying that it’s probably my favourite gaming franchise of all time. And as someone who loves this series as much as I do, it’d be an understatement to say that I had high expectations for this finale.
And I’m happy to say that, as both a game and story, Kingdom Hearts III fully delivered on every single front.
It’s been a week since my wife and I finished the game and I’m still not quite sure where to even start or exactly what to say. I’m still speechless. I’m still floored by how amazing the experience of playing this game was, and I still find myself thinking about the finale and how emotionally satisfying it was to see everything finally come together in one of the most incredible end-game battles I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been listening to the ending theme, Don’t Think Twice by Utada Hikaru on a daily basis and often sing it in my head because it’s just so unforgettable.
I haven’t been this impacted by the ending to a video game since Kingdom Hearts II back in 2006, which had a similar emotional impact on my teenage self and had me instantly begging for more. And despite Kingdom Hearts III being the final game in the current story, the fact that we know there’s another game to come next with a whole new story arc, thanks to the Secret Ending, only has me wanting more yet again.
Story wise, the game seems to be pretty divisive among the fanbase, and it’s looking like quite a lot of longtime fans were pretty disappointed with the way certain things were handled and how it all concluded. And that’s understandable. Kingdom Hearts has always been a weird series narratively, and it often ditches logical and sensible storytelling in favour of doing insane stuff that is anything but logical that instead aims to make you emotional and hit you hard in the feels. And honestly, that’s what I wanted from Kingdom Hearts III.
Are there problems with the plot? Sure there are. Kairi still didn’t get enough big moments despite the fact that the game spent a significant amount of time building her character up. I’m a little hazy on the details of Roxas coming back as a full person. I don’t quite understand how Sora’s Power of Waking works. But you know what? I don’t really care. Because in spite of these issues, Tetsuya Nomura managed to tell a story that tied up everything and gave us the emotional character resolutions that I’ve been waiting to see happen for years. I don’t mind that Kairi didn’t get to do a lot in the final conflict because other aspects of her character still got a chance to grow, like her feelings for Sora which have been largely unexplored until now. I don’t care how Roxas came back, because the point of the scene to me wasn’t how he came back, but simply that he came back and got to reunite with Xion and Axel. I don’t really care how Sora’s Power of Waking works, because it allowed him to save everyone else at the cost of him not being able to save himself, which only further reinforces his selfless personality and how important the connection he has with other people’s hearts is to him.
So what’s my point here? My point here is that, while I have a few gripes with the story, they don’t really matter all that much to me, because the game still managed to satisfy me on an emotional level by giving me character resolutions and finally answering the most important questions that have been stuck in my head for all these years. I’ve never been so emotional at the end of a video game before, and my wife and I were just stunned when the credits started to roll. It was beautiful, it was incredible and it was absolutely worth the insanely long wait and satisfied every single moment of build up. There were moments where my wife and I literally screamed at the TV screen. There were scenes where we were on the verge of tears. We even cried a few times. We were completely blown away emotionally by the whole damn thing.
And that’s just the story. The gameplay is also fantastic, and I’d argue that the series has never felt better to play than in Kingdom Hearts III. I’ve said this a few times before, but I genuinely believed that Kingdom Hearts II had my favourite combat system in all of video games. It’s snappy and responsive, while also being super flashy and open to customisation due to how many options you have at your disposal. It feels good to play, no matter how long you’re playing it for, and Kingdom Hearts III is the first game I’ve played since that has managed to top this system. It feels just as good as Kingdom Hearts II, only with even more options and new mechanics for you to play around with.
I love the Keyblade switching mechanic and the transformations. They’re so fun to play around with and incentivise you to experiment with different weapons as opposed to just equipping whatever one happens to have the best stats. I find Attraction Flow fun, even if it is a little bit overpowered and pops up way too often. I love that they’ve brought Flowmotion from Dream Drop Distance back, only now it’s not broken and has limitations to how much you can use it to move around. I like that basic magic is back and I find the new summons and limits to be the best and most useful in the series.
The level design has also never been this good because… It’s actually there again! As much as I love Kingdom Hearts II, it’s level design was always just a case of travelling from room to room, or area to area, in a very linear fashion, with some hidden goodies tucked away in a few corners or on some ledges. And every game after this also took this approach. Dream Drop Distance improved this some what, but making each area much larger with more secrets to find, but in most cases, the path was still rather linear. But in Kingdom Hearts III, the worlds are all very large and encourage exploration with multiple paths and a ton of secrets. Even when the game presents you with a linear pathway, it’s always something exciting visually, like climbing a mountain or swimming in a vast ocean, and there are still multiple paths that you can take to get to the same destination, each with their own challenges and hidden treasures and collectables to find. And there are even NPC’s in the worlds that walk around and do their own thing and even have their own little snippets of dialogue as you walk by them. It makes the worlds feel more like worlds and less like levels, and they’re so much better off for it.
And I also really love how the gameplay ties into the narrative too, particularly in the last few hours where the climatic battles between various characters take place. These fights are not only amazing on a mechanical level, but also on an emotional one, due to a combination of the things you do when fighting them, the lines of dialogue that are spoken during them and the incredible music arrangements that accompany the chaos that’s happening on screen.
While we’re on the subject of the music, the soundtrack of Kingdom Hearts III might just be my new favourite video game soundtrack. It’s amazing. There are a ton of new arrangements in here that are top tier, but my absolute favourites would have to be the ones that are callbacks to fan favourites from the previous games. If anything, Yoko Shimomura knows how to get an emotional reaction out of the fanbase by placing these new versions of classic songs that we all have nostalgia for throughout the game. She even went as far as combining various character themes together during boss fights where each of these characters were present.
I’m not a music guy, so I can’t really elaborate much on this beyond “it’s really fucking good” and “they really knew what they were doing here because they put this specific piece of music here that they knew would have fans crying their eyes out”. So here’s an example of a new track that plays during a moment of hope, where the characters are saved from the most dire situation imaginable. A song that just so happens to have the games main theme, Dearly Beloved, thrown in somewhere in the middle because they know how longtime fans would react.
Or, y’know, just the new version of Dearly Beloved itself that once again, as it always has in every game in the series to date, plays at the title screen. Only this time, it’s presented in a way that just screams “This is the final chapter in this story. We know the wait has been long, but it’s finally here. Thanks for waiting.”
I literally cried when I heard this arrangement for the first time. This soundtrack is so damn powerful. It’s unreal.
And really, what more else can I say? I could write a big lengthy review going into the finer details of the game and what it does right, not-so-right, and everything in between. I could go through every miniscule plot detail and examine them all at length for paragraphs upon paragraphs. I could talk about the graphics, the presentation and all that other stuff that’s supposed to matter when you’re talking about why you love something and slap a big fat score out of 10 at the end to wrap it all up.
I could, but I won’t. Because I already know how I feel about Kingdom Hearts III. I love it. I love it so much, and it’s the most satisfying conclusion to this incredible and wacky story that I’ve been following for most of my life. I’m sad that it’s over, but I’m also satisfied. So very, very satisfied. And so fucking happy that this game, and this series, exist and have impacted my life in such a meaningful way.
Kingdom Hearts has always been special to me, and Kingdom Hearts III reminded me why. This is what I look for in a video game. This is why I play video games and why I love them so damn much, and this is probably the best game I’ve played in the last 10 years.
There are still so many fantastic games to come out this year, but I already know that none of them are going to be as good as Kingdom Hearts III, at least for me anyway. Because this isn’t just a game, this a life event and something I’d been waiting for and building up in my head since I was a teenager. This is a culmination of everything that the series has done over the last 17 years. I don’t think anything can match that. I already know this is going to be my Game of the Year, and I’m bold enough to say that it’s probably going to be the Game of the Decade as well.
So thank you Kingdom Hearts. Thank you for still being special. It took a long time, but we finally made it to the end. And it was the best gaming experience I’ve ever had.
I look forward to whatever comes next.