Kingdom Hearts 3 review – Disney-themed romp’s charm is skin-deep | Games

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Kingdom Hearts started out in 2002 as a happy accidental collision between Disney and Square Enix, a cheerful adventure that brought the American animation giant’s instantly recognisable characters into the drama-fuelled world of Japanese role-playing games. Since then things have got … rather more complicated, as subsequent games have taken the series further away from its roots and towards its own identity, layering on lore and extra characters and plot twists. After all this time, Kingdom Hearts III now tries to reconcile Disney’s ever-expanding dream world with Square’s brand of drama – with mixed results.

The game is mostly content to ignore all the backstory baggage and instead keeps the tone cheerful. Sora, the boy who wanted nothing than to save his friends and return home, has lived through some harrowing events, but here he essentially starts at zero, once again journeying through various theme-worlds inhabited by Disney characters in preparation for a final showdown with the shadowy Organisation XIII. Kingdom Hearts III makes it very easy to forget about all the impending doom, mostly because it doesn’t bring any of it up until very late in the tale. Attempts to bring the audience up to speed end in bits of plot exposition that sound like conversations between amnesiacs: “Do you remember us doing that thing?” “It’s on the tip of my tongue … You mean that time when we went and did that other thing?” “Yeah! This is an important bit of information I probably should have mentioned sooner.”

The connection between Disney and the other elements of the plot, always shaky at best, now hangs by a single thread. This is disappointing, because Kingdom Hearts is best in those moments where you and Sora truly get to interact with Disney’s worlds, in mini-games with Mickey or whenever Organisation XIII meddles with the plot of a Disney film.

The design of Sora’s kooky adversaries, the Heartless and Nobodies, is astounding, from floaty, flower-like beings to lady Heartless that shoot lasers from their umbrellas. Fighting them is fun and freeing, letting you string together combos of every move that’s ever existed in Kingdom Hearts. Sora zooms around the battlefield, taking on large groups of enemies at once, with the unfortunate effect that they all blend together in the general melee. There is next to no wall you can’t run up, pillar you can’t swing around or spell you can’t use. New special attacks involving Disney theme park rides are screen-filling explosions of colour and glittering lights. Fighting is inelegant chaos, with plenty of new skills that give you a break from mashing one button over and over, but this utter bedlam is very emblematic of the series as a whole – it shouldn’t work, but it does.

Kingdom Hearts III is phenomenal at evoking the dizzying sugar rush that comes with visiting a theme park as a child. Collectibles are directly inspired by real-life Disneyland. Every different Disney world boasts at least one area that has you pointing at the screen, eyes round at how pretty everything is, whether that be a large toy store display of plastic dinosaurs, a pirate cove near the glittering sea or a flower-filled meadow buzzing with insects. Every moment of tranquillity is swiftly followed by some big set piece, the game constantly crying out for action: hey, look at this, let’s go faster.

Screen-filling explosions of colour.

Screen-filling explosions of colour. Photograph: Square Enix

Like every theme park visit, however, there comes a point when you’re tired, your feet hurt and you’re starting to feel sick from all the cheap fast food. For Kingdom Hearts III, that moment comes when you step off the rollercoaster and try to examine why so much of what you’re doing feels inconsequential. Sora is supposed to be a teenager who’s been through a lot, but instead of reflecting on his experiences, he is an obnoxiously cheerful bystander, taking snaps on his smartphone for the Instagram-styled loading screens. It’s held together by characters with barely any personality, greeting me like old school friends with whom I suddenly have nothing to talk about.

Perhaps it was inevitable that after such a long time, the conclusion to this story would ring slightly hollow, even rather facile, after all the prior build-up. I’ve been through 13 years of life, but it turns out that Sora got to skip all of that. Kingdom Hearts III plays it extremely safe, ultimately banking on nostalgia and delivering more of the same. Its charm is only skin-deep.

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Kingdom Hearts 3 review – Disney-themed romp’s charm is skin-deep | Games

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