Rating: E10+ for Alcohol Reference and Fantasy Violence
Available for: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
This review will contain MAJOR spoilers for Kingdom Hearts 3 and may require some familiarity with the Kingdom Hearts story.
For many of you, Square Enix’s Kingdom Hearts 3 (2019) will be the result of many years of waiting for a conclusion, and as many of you know, I hopped onto this Kingdom Hearts adventure officially last year. I will be writing a different kind of review for Kingdom Hearts 3, probably more similar to my Character Profile posts, since I know many well-versed in the lore will be eager to write their own opinions for the story as a whole. Something that has struck me about the series is the different ways it continues to emphasize the power and strength of bonds between people and its perseverance in the fight between light and darkness. It continues in Kingdom Hearts 3, but with a decade having gone by since the first adventure, we see the fight starting to take a toll on our ever optimistic protagonist.
There’s no way I’m going to summarize about 12 games in one paragraph, so let’s start off with the premise of Kingdom Hearts 3. The story begins where Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance left off: Riku newly dubbed as a Keyblade Master and Sora searching for the power of waking. Together, they must find seven Keyblade wielders of light to fill out their ranks and prepare for the fight against the thirteen wielders of darkness. Riku and King Mickey have set off to find the Keyblade Master Aqua in the World of Darkness, who will hopefully also point them in the direction of two more sources of light. Sora, having lost all his strength in his previous fight against Organization XIII, looks to Hercules in order to learn how to find his strength again. Almost right off of the bat, Organization XIII returns to taunts Sora, telling him that he will only find ruin if he continues down his current path. However, they point out that it is not losing to the organization that will cause this ruin but in continuing to fight with the same hope and light that he has been using since the beginning. As the player progresses through each Disney world, the stakes and tension only increase, with Kingdom Hearts 3 demonstrating the significances of the chosen Disney worlds and why they were chosen to interweave with the core plot. The specific journey that Sora experienced in this installment was the character development that gave the final battles with Xehanort the gravitas it needed in the final conclusion.
There’s a certain level of apprehension that comes when the villains warn the protagonist that bad things will happen if the protagonist wins. It’s one thing for the villains to taunt the hero by saying how “inferior” they are or how “they’ll never win,” but if the villains say that the hero will suffer for winning, then you know the final conclusion will not be a happy ending without a price to be paid. By the beginning of Kingdom Hearts 3, things have started to take a toll on Sora. Up until now, he had been the perpetual optimist, always willing to fight for any of his quickly won friends, but after the events of Dream Drop Distance, Sora, who had very nearly lost everything, is suffering from the fatigue of the ongoing war. How could he not? He’s been in this fight for a decade. The Organization has also started to get under his skin, so much so that the gentle taunts that Donald and Goofy would throw at him have turned into hurtful words.
Kingdom Hearts 3 extrapolates on these feelings in two different ways: the focus on negative emotions in the Disney worlds the game explores and the more subtle comparison to the Wayfinder trio from Birth by Sleep. Beginning with Hercules, Sora asks his hero how he managed to regain his strength during their last meeting and Hercules responds that he fought with “his whole heart,” a message that Sora will carry with his throughout the course of the story. While just about all the Disney worlds show Sora the impact of negative emotions, the worlds of Frozen, Toy Story, Monster’s Inc., Winnie the Pooh, and Big Hero 6 in particular really utilized messages within their own plot to emphasize the presence of the ever-lurking darkness. Frozen’s world recounts the movie’s plot but this time it really puts a spotlight on Elsa finding her own light and strength, with Sora and friends making repeatedly arduous attempts to reach her. Toy Story takes place after the first movie but serves to remind Sora that he is strengthened by the bonds of his friends even when it might seem he is alone. Monster’s, Inc. also takes place after the first movie’s story, with Randall returning as the villain and threatening to use perpetually negative emotions, such as depression, to power Monstropolis. The sinister nature of this plan directly parallels Sora’s own fight against Organization XIII. With Winnie the Pooh, a world we have visited in both Kingdom Hearts and Kingdom Hearts 2, Sora points out that something is…off about his connection with Pooh, that it has grown weaker but he can’t quite pinpoint why. Despite the feeling, he insists to Pooh that he will never go away and that he will always be in Pooh’s heart. However, by this point, the player and Sora have already heard repeatedly that something bad is going to happen to Sora, which adds a level of foreboding to his statement. Finally, for Big Hero 6, a replica version of Riku has brought back a weaponized version of Baymax and threatened to install a heart with darkness in order to test the Organization’s future replica plans. Sora and his Big Hero 6 allies are forced to fight against a weaponized Baymax, which places Hiro in a situation where he has to battle against his close friend. Hiro argues that this Baymax is not truly Baymax with his newly installed chip, which prompts Sora and his team to return Baymax to his previous self. Repeatedly throughout the story, Sora is faced with his perpetual fight against the darkness but this time while also being taught to trust himself and trust his friends in order to find strength within himself.
The Disney worlds are not the only way Sora’s journey is paralleled within the narrative. While Sora may have been keeping Ventus’ heart safe, it is Aqua’s and Terra’s journeys that he begins to emulate. The Kingdom Hearts series has never made it subtle that the various trios are supposed to mimic the main Destiny trio and the same is true for the Wayfinder trio: Terra’s touch with darkness like Riku, Aqua’s pure heart that seeks to reunite and help her friends like Kairi, and Ventus, a good hearted boy that holds his friends together and whose existence is significant to the main villains. Before the game takes place, Aqua went into the World of Darkness to find Terra and bring him home, but once a pure heart that could fight her way through darkness without a blink, in Birth by Sleep 0.8 A Fragmentary Passage, we find an Aqua who is starting to lose faith. In a sequence of events revealed in KH3, Aqua’s darkness-defying fight against Ansem is met with defeat and he strikes a blow to her that envelopes her heart in darkness. In a dialogue where Riku and Mickey parallel the strength in Aqua’s and Sora’s hearts, it is hard to miss the dramatic irony which points out that even the strongest of hearts can falter. The connection to Terra is more subtle, but still present. At the end of Dream Drop Distance, Sora is told that he has failed his Mark of Mastery exam to become a Keyblade Master, due to his loss of power and proximity to the darkness. It is not unlike the reason Terra was given when he failed his Mark of Mastery exam, and both characters begin to struggle internally with themselves. Both Sora and Terra continue onto the next worlds, fighting Heartless and Unversed and trying to prove themselves to combat the feelings of insecurity that they have started to feel.
The entire narrative set-up of Sora’s insecurities unsurprisingly comes to a head at the most critical point: when Sora and his friends are up against the first Organization XIII member stepping up to fight the seven. For this story, Sora did not need a fatal character flaw to overcome in order to grow as a character, he only had to fully realize and understand the depth of his own strength in order to stand unified with his allies. Sora’s point of weakness comes when he has lost his friends and he thinks he cannot fight without them. Sora is momentarily thrown into a solitary limbo, where he must literally unite versions of himself in order to regain his strength and go back into battle. Sora comes back stronger and more determined, right before heading in to help his friends fight against their own pasts. Sora as a long-standing source of perpetual light and his fight against darkness throughout the entire Kingdom Hearts series makes its final statement with Kingdom Hearts 3: perseverance and love can carry you forward, even when your heart falters and it seems all is lost.
Final thoughts on Kingdom Hearts 3, so that this can be a proper game review. The game is fun. If you’re familiar with the Kingdom Hearts series, then you know that the series loves to incorporate fast and flashy fighting with satisfying abilities that just make combat a really good time. I wish the final battle with Xehanort had been similar to the first Kingdom Hearts game with a 6-part no-save boss fight, but the emotional impact of your allies fighting against their own past enemies and loved ones will allow me to give that particular let-down a pass. The story as whole can still be unnecessarily overly complicated, but as I described in this review, I really enjoyed watching Sora’s final journey unfold. There will definitely be more of the Kingdom Hearts series to come, as has been constantly teased by the creator and as was suggested by the final secret ending, and as convoluted as this ride has been, I’m so glad to have joined it.
Kingdom Hearts 3 – Final Battle Trailer (there’s nothing in here that I haven’t already spoiled in my review)