Who writes these lines is a person who up to five years ago had never had anything to do with the Kingdom Hearts saga. When you are young it is difficult to have control over the purchases of videogames of your console, a task that in my family is almost always due to my grandfather and in rare cases to my parents. Kingdom Hearts is a title that strangely has never passed under the radar of these educational figures. Strangely enough, because the idea behind the product is among the most attractive for gamers at a young age: an action with Disney characters set in Disney worlds.
After years and the ability to personally select my purchases, thanks to the two collections for PS3 decided to remedy this lack, intrigued by the positive reviews that I had always felt addressed to the saga. I had no idea that I would live one of the most exciting videogames experiences of my life. If Kingdom Hearts for most people represented their childhood, it represented the end of adolescence for me.
This premise serves to make known to you that you read the fact that I played every chapter of the saga after having accumulated different experiences in the world of video games. My judgment on it is therefore not conditioned by the blinding light of nostalgia, which makes everything beautiful and untouchable. The Kingdom Hearts saga is undoubtedly a unique experience, for some touching, that every videogamer, no one excluded, should try at least once in his life. The real pivot of the story is not the Disney characters (with the necessary exceptions), which act only as attractive catalysts. They are the characters created specifically for this IP by the then Square Soft, today Square Enix. The friendship of the trio living in the Islands of Destiny was only the prelude of the intertwining of many stories. Stories linked to each other by the boy who with his heart has influenced the fate of each character: Sora. A naive boy with a pure heart, "Willing to see good in others before evil".
Kingdom Hearts is not just the story of the struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. It is a story of growth, of awareness, where everyone understands who he wants to be and what he wants to become. Where Sora plays a crucial role in making everyone arrive at their own response, their own destiny.
But not everything is roses and flowers. The defects are there and can not be hidden. First of all, the fragmentation of the franchise on different platforms, which made it really difficult to be able to follow every development of the plot. Problem solved in recent times with the collections first for PS3 and then for PS4, but the stain remains indelible.
The second flaw affects the plot: the saga initially did not have to be a saga, and the a posteriori thing is clear. Nobody thought that Kingdom Hearts would breach the hearts of people so disruptive: Nomura certainly had programs up to Kingdom Hearts 2 (the secret end of the first game is proof), but all that came later is the result of a creation in progress. This has generated inconsistencies and inaccuracies, and to save the salvable Nomura has had to resort to different narratives that have managed to support more than the sandy foundations rather than dignified. It is important to consider this, because Kingdom Hearts relies heavily on the narrative component, and not taking it into consideration as one of the focal points means not to judge one of the fundamental artistic elements that the videogame wants to transmit.
The third and final flaw is at the same time a virtue. The saga has constantly revamped its gameplay mechanics, which is good because in every chapter you never feel like you are playing a copy of a previous game. However, renewal does not always correspond to an improvement. The spirit and the action style, with some splash of RPG, always remains intact, but almost every title brings with it some small flaw that does not make it a masterpiece, but "only" an excellent or good game. The only exception is Kingdom Hearts 2, which even today after years of distance would have a lot to teach certain black sheep of the genre.
Kingdom Hearts 3 therefore had mainly two tasks: to give a worthy and coherent conclusion to the saga of Xehanort, a long saga more than 15 years full of small and large inaccuracies, and to propose a solid, fun, satisfying gameplay. A month after his release, with a cold mind, it's time to sum up and answer the crucial question: Was Kingdom Hearts 3 able to satisfy and repay a long-lasting wait? Did you manage to satisfy these two fundamental points?
"My friends are my strength". Literally.
We start with order from the gameplay and what revolves around it. I played Kingdom Hearts 3 on expert difficulty, and I hit the title in about eighty hours of play. This means that I dissected it, doing all that there was to do and having the opportunity to thoroughly analyze all its mechanics. Well, I can say peacefully that together with Kingdom Hearts 2, Kingdom Hearts 3 offers the funniest gameplay of the saga.
The fights are rewarding and each enemy has a specific behavior that requires to adopt the most appropriate strategy to face it, exploiting weaknesses and openings. This encourages one Variegated gameplay, although too often we find ourselves abusing as soon as possible the two strongest team situational attacks: the Disney attractions and the attacks combined with Donald Duck and Goofy or the Disney world allies on duty. The former can be activated practically against any wave of enemies, provided that the right enemy is hit in the horde, and start a different attack minigame for each attraction. The seconds appear at random intervals and require only the press of a button to trigger off a disarming offensive power. This leads to the only problem of gameplay: the game, even at maximum difficulty, has a rather low level of challenge, and if you are a player in the action with a minimum of experience in building an RPG build, you will find yourself loosing enemies mercilessly. The lack of critical difficulty is felt, however it is present in the game files, which leaves hope for a future release, perhaps as DLC.
However, when it is not possible to use these two mechanics, one inevitably has to exploit all the tools at their disposal, whether it is the combat with the white weapon, the magic, the fluimoto or the shooting command. This is not just a detail, because in previous titles, especially those made by the Osaka Team, there was always a predominant mechanic that crushed the others, directing the strategies towards a single road: in Birth By Sleep some spells and shooting controls, in Dream Drop Distance other spells and fluimoto. In Kingdom Hearts 3 instead each means of attack is balanced and calibrated so as not to be predominant (Fire magic perhaps the only exception in this regard). Of course, you can ignore all these strategies and repeatedly and only repeatedly press the attack button, but without parrying and dodging you will be punished severely and you will always be forced to treat yourself, especially against the bosses of the final stages.
The great news that elevates the gameplay is the ability to equip up to three keyblades simultaneously, changing them in the middle of a combo for strategic purposes. Each keyblade has its own transformation, which you can activate by filling an indicator with the attacking combos. The transformations change the attack moves, providing different offensive and defensive advantages for each keyblade. Impossible not to find one that reflects their fighting style, and the possibility of enhancing them (finally) means that none of them is obsolete.
"When the Darkness comes, will we be worthy of the Light of legend?"
The gameplay has therefore hit the target, to the point that even the fights dedicated to the farming of objects for processing are not tedious. The point linked to the story remains, which will inevitably lead to rich spoilers. Continue reading at your discretion, you have been warned.
Kingdom Hearts 3 had to give concrete answers to questions left unresolved for years and provide a definitive conclusion to the story of Xehanort, the engine of the suffering of each character from the first game. This third chapter fulfills its task: almost everything related to Xehanort finds an answer, and the exceptions turn out to be actually questions related to what in all likelihood will be the new antagonist of future games, namely Xigbar. Or rather, Luxu. We'll talk more about him, let's focus on Xehanort and what works in the story. The game is full of moving and exciting moments, which I will not discuss to avoid having to write an essay. But it is good to make it present, because they contribute to the achievement of what happens at the end. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the finals where everyone hugs and there are no real villains. However, the final redemption of Xehanort is more than consistent with his character, because in the course of the various chapters (especially in Birth By Sleep) there were several clues that suggested that his was a noble purpose pursued in the wrong way. He may like it or not, but he has nothing in the air.
As for Sora, her final sacrifice finally represents a step forward in the evolution of her character, paradoxically one of the most flat so far in the saga. In order to give a happy ending to the people who had suffered over the years, Sora gave up his happy ending, to himself, allowing everyone to realize their destiny. We will see what the consequences of this gesture will be in the next chapters, which will open the new Luxu saga. Yeah, Luxu. Let's face it clearly, the twist of the epilogue is one of the highest points reached by the entire saga, demonstration that Nomura with thoughtful ideas and without improvisation is able to build stories and characters of a unique level. Since Birth By Sleep, Xigbar appears as an opportunist character with his own plan well in mind, because already at the time Nomura knew what his true role would be. Everything that is related to the events of Union X and to the Master of the Masters it appears more solid, more devised than the skein of the history of Xehanort, because they are events written in a conscious way, in a context already thought out, started and structured. If there are questions that have not been answered in Kingdom Hearts 3, it is because they will be the cornerstone of everything that will come from now on, because they were not really related to Xehanort, but to something that moved in the shadows behind him .
Speaking instead of what's wrong, the game is too excited after the Disney worlds, making what happens during them uninteresting. A distribution of some important plot passes even in the middle of the game (like the rescue of Aqua) would not have spoiled the rhythm. And even in those final stages, some things happen too quickly, leaving little room to appreciate the resolution of stories that awaited a conclusion for years. The return of Roxas and the liberation of Earth are moments of great impact that one does not have the time to metabolize and live calmly, because the frenzy of the final battle presses in a domineering way. Some characters seem to have been the victim of an involution rather than an evolution, above all Kairi and Axel. For the former it would be more correct to speak of lack of development, but the second is relegated to the role of comic caricature that occasionally breaks (very well) the fourth wall, diminishing what were his skills in combat. Finally, some events remain victims of the "Nomura treatment", especially what happens immediately after The Final World and the use of the power of Awakening, with a rewinding of events little (or not at all) clear.
Not just light, not just darkness
On balance, I feel ready to give an answer to the question asked many lines ago: Kingdom Hearts 3 has focused on the two crucial objectives that it needed to accomplish, but it did not manage to make everyone agree. The gameplay is more than valid, but for some players it was lacking in complexity that would have been generated by greater difficulty. The ending is coherent and allows the story to finally leave behind almost all the affairs related to Xehanort, putting already now excellent bases for the future saga. But we feel the hurriedness with which we wanted to move on to another: hasty that led to some ingenuity typical of Nomura that we know for years. However, it remains a miracle that the Japanese creator has used, which has managed not only to give coherence to a saga that seemed destined not to have more, but even to build the pillars of what awaits us in the future. A future that still seems full of surprises, ready to be enriched with new stories that will get stuck in the great puzzle of emotions that bears the name of Kingdom Hearts. Of this we can only give him credit.
Kingdom Hearts 3 marks a turning point in both narrative and gameplay, splitting the community of fans in half thanks to its strengths and weaknesses. What all brought together was the thrill of having the title in his hands, after a wait that seemed not to have to finish anymore. We may have had different opinions about its quality, but I imagine that the chills in listening to Dearly Beloved once before the initial game menu were the same for everyone. Because Kingdom Hearts once tested remains inside you, for better or for worse. We have conflicting opinions, but "We all share the same sky.
One sky, one destiny. "