Tim Rogers and I have had Kingdom Hearts 3 for only one full day, and we played as much as we could. Here’s what we think so far. We try not to spoil anything major, but of course, we can’t spoil anything that happened beyond the first ten hours or so. Enjoy!
Maddy Myers: Are you ready to talk about Sora’s smartphone for a full hour? I don’t even know where to start with Kingdom Hearts 3, because there’s so much video game in this video game. Every time I’m like, “okay, so this is what this game is,” there’s suddenly also Space Invaders-style ship battles or some other thing.
Tim Rogers: I took some notes. For example, Wow Those Graphics, That First World Sure Was Action-Packed—Unexpectedly Action Packed, and The Dialogues Sure Do Feel Exactly Like Kingdom Hearts.
Maddy: I am coming into this game from a longtime fangirl perspective, so I actually can’t tell if it’s good or if I’m just experiencing a lot of emotions, as accompanied by the music of Utada Hikaru. But I know from your anti-review video that you were once a non-fan of this franchise. And now you like it, maybe? I guess I’ll let you explain that.
Tim: Well, I wasn’t ever a NON-fan... I just thought it would be easy to get hits by making fun of it, and it was. Maybe we can start by talking about the opening cutscene. I mean, the music video, which somehow crams in every character in the series in a way that, if you are in any way a fan of these games, might actually kill you.
Maddy: Yeah! So, like every other Kingdom Hearts game, this one starts with a music video that recaps all the previous games. Except, as usual, there’s no dialogue, so the recap won’t actually help you at all beyond setting the scene.
Tim: Also, the rules of the chess-like game the two wizards in the cutscene are playing are impossible to grasp.
Maddy: Yeah, it ends with their two kings facing each other, which is... good? Bad? Both?? Or, uh, queens? Impossible to say. Also, that’s young Xehanort and Eraqus. I’m sorry that I know this.
Tim: Oh, I know who they are, too.
Maddy: And that’s not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer. The real spoilers probably aren’t gonna show up until, like, thirty hours into the game. I guess this is the part where we should explain that we didn’t get our codes until 11 PM last night, so we are not yet 30 hours into the game.
Tim: I think I won’t be thirty hours into this game until about 48 hours from now.
Tim: I have put the Utada Hikaru theme song single on as background music for talking about this game. I had to search for “Hikaru Utada” in order to find this single in Apple Music, which feels weird. As someone who had a LiveJournal and Napster in 1999, she will never not be “Utada Hikaru.” And isn’t that who this game is made for?
Maddy: Yeah, she’s Utada Hikaru to me, clearly. And my LiveJournal archives would show the same.
So, I would recap the opening cutscene, but it is followed by six other cutscenes and scene-setting sequences, so I am not even sure what to recap because it’s all running together by this point. I can start by saying that the premise of this game is that Sora and Donald and Goofy are all underpowered again for the sake of the Necessary Plot Machination of having to level up your character, and after enduring some lecturing from Yen Sid about it, they all get into their ship and start flying around to the Disney and Pixar worlds that you would expect of a Kingdom Hearts.
I’ve been trying to imagine how it would feel to play this if I didn’t understand any of the lore, and I think the first several hours or so aren’t too bad. The opening cutscene is visually overwhelming and may have characters you don’t recognize. But then after the dust settles, you can calm yourself with the knowledge that the villains are, like, Maleficent.
Tim: While waiting for Kingdom Hearts 3, I saw fit to replay Kingdom Hearts 1 for the first time since the one play-through I gave it in 2002, and I gotta say: that sure prepared me to be blown away by Kingdom Hearts 3. You *do* start out underpowered, though you learn guard and dodge-roll like forty-five *minutes* into the game, not literally fourteen hours!
Maddy: Yeah, they teach you a lot of techniques almost immediately in this game. They bombard you with techniques!
Tim: The (multiple, luxurious) opening CG cutscenes were a sort of high-speed brain-download of all the characters and situations and lore, in a way that it might be reaching a little bit to compare to the way the characters in the game feel when they have their souls and realities manipulated by sinister forces, though yeah, as soon as I saw Donald I was straight back to hollerin’ at my buddies.
That first world is great! They throw you right into some stuff! And the way they do it is great! The game is totally self-aware about how weird the series’s structure is and it has a lot of fun with it. I’m talking about one particular title card, which made me laugh sort of too loudly. Do you, uh, know what title card I am talking about?
Maddy: The one that says Kingdom Hearts 2.9?
Tim: Yeah, that one! I loved it. Maybe we should redact that for people, though...
Maddy: I’ll toss a spoiler tag above this section so we don’t have to worry about that stuff.
Tim: Do we wanna say what the first world is? Again, I’m so scared of being branded a spoilerer: It’s Hercules. They give you a full-scale action set piece in Hercules land and it’s packed with graphics and battles and techniques and cutscenes!
Maddy: Hercules is great. I got lost multiple times and I kept finding more tiny chests. Running up and down walls and climbing up Mount Olympus is fast and fun. The combat feels really great to me even though it is so overstuffed with different kinds of moves you can do that it’s kind of ridiculous, especially since every move is still fundamentally just triggered by variations on “press X a lot.”
Kingdom Hearts is always, and will now definitely remain, my go-to example of a game that looks incredibly complicated and impressive to play, but when you are actually the one holding the controller, you know the secret, which is that you are merely pressing X.
Tim: Oh god. I got lost for forty minutes like halfway up through the level.
Maddy: That makes me feel better. They kept giving me maps in each area and I was like... do the maps help??? There are still so many corridors! But eventually I’d always end up in the right one and there would be more Heartless or whatever and I’d be back on track. Also, even when I did get lost, I somehow always had missed twelve chests or smashable boxes anyway, so, it’s fine. I’m ready to grind. I’ve got levels to level!
Tim: As I said a moment ago, I replayed through Kingdom Hearts 1 this week and wow, having not played it since playing Kingdom Hearts 2 in 2005 I forgot how simplistic the combat was in the first one. Kingdom Hearts 2 had erased the memory of that combat. And now it’s like my brain has reset and I’m right back to being surprised by Kingdom Hearts 3’s combat. It’s like 2’s, except with more buttons to press to make wild huge things happen. And it’s faster! Wow! It’s so fast! Everything is so fast! Sora runs so fast! And you run up walls! So even if you get lost, you can just sprint right back to another familiar location in like two seconds.
What do you think of the Disneyland “Attraction” attacks?
Maddy: I enjoy them, although I am at the point where I’m skipping a lot of those intro cutscenes (of Sora and the gang getting into a roller coaster or train or whatever the set-up is for the attack). But the attack animations look great. It’s very satisfying to throw a barrel of fireworks into a massive tornado of Heartless.
Tim: I loved them the first couple of times, though then I got that Splash Mountain one like right at the END of a tiny battle like four times in a row and I gotta say it is a heck of an anticlimax to be wheeling some glittery HDR raft around for a full 40 seconds while one little baby monster cowers in the corner. I keep pressing the triangle button hoping it’s going to be the Goofy team-up attack which is *also* queued up, though oops! I hoped wrong!
Maddy: Haaa, oh man, yeah. There have been times when I’m almost at the end of a fight and I’ve seen the option to do a big splashy attack and I’ve just swung my keyblade on through it because I know I don’t need it.
Tim: The battle system in this game is sometimes a slot machine that dispenses gumballs and I gotta say I love it.
Maddy: I’m still also getting the hang of the Link attacks and all the other kinds of attacks you can do, and when it’s good to do the various magic attacks, when it’s not worth bothering, what my shortcuts should be, and so on. Often these battles are accompanied by almost joyful or even bouncy music, too, so the entire experience of the super-sparkly attacks is all the more slot machine-like.
Also, I really respect that the outfits in this game have remained incredibly 2002. Now everyone has plaid accents on their clown outfits. Plaid. Incredible.
Tim: The plaid is amazing. I plan to write two whole paragraphs about the plaid in my upcoming Full Review.
Maddy: Riku has Nirvana on his Gummi Phone playlist, I guess.
Tim: Man, the Gummi Phone!
Maddy: Honestly, I’m not over the smartphones, at all.
Tim: You know what my first immediate thought was when I saw that? Was “Oh god Kingdom Hearts 2 came out before the iPhone.”
Maddy: I could tell where we were going as soon as I saw those interstitial screens with the Facebook-like social media posts, even the fake hashtags, and so on. The hashtags are little heart symbols, instead of a hash mark, because of course?
Tim: Those loading screens are part of The Kingdom Hearts Full Package Experience, which is “We thought of everything, and then we spent twelve years thinking of MORE than everything.”
Maddy: Yeah, imagine THAT meeting. “Sora should have the internet!”
Tim: In the Famitsu review for Kingdom Hearts 2 in 2005, every one of the four reviews used the Japanese word “Kodawari.” Which means, roughly, “attention to detail.”
This game is THAT game, plus twelve years more of that kind of obsessive thinking. Like, yeah, of course Sora has the internet! He’s got a spaceship!
Maddy: He does have a spaceship, and he uses the spaceship to fight Heartless, in space.
Tim: Did you take any pictures? The first thing I did with my Gummi Phone was take a picture of Donald. He threw up his arms and said “What! You want to take a picture of ME?!” And I yelled “DONALD!!!!!” He was so flattered!!!!!
Maddy: That is perfect. I haven’t taken any selfies with it yet, because I have fucked up, and I need to boot the game back up and do this.
Tim: I got one with Sora smiling and Donald doing a muscle pose.
Maddy: All of the characters do the muscle pose in this game.
Tim: Especially Hercules! He can’t stop doing the muscle pose! Uh yeah, the Gummi Ship? Do you like the new Gummi Ship? I don’t know how much I like it, yet...
Maddy: I don’t yet understand why the ship segments are in the game or where they’re going, I guess? Or how big of a role they’re going to play. As I fly around between worlds fighting random baddies in space, I’m mostly just thinking of all the times I would dig for minerals in Mass Effect. I don’t hate it as a mini-game, I just can’t tell if it’s going to get old or what. It’s really hard to pass judgment on anything when we’ve both only had the game for a day.
Tim: I loved the idea of the Gummi Ship in the first one. “An RPG where the overworld traversal mechanic is an old-school, kinda dumpy, kinda dumb, somewhat boring shooting game” sure was better than a lot of turn-based RPGs. And then in KH2 I genuinely loved that Gummi Ship!
In this one, it’s some sorta open world thing where battles take place on a separate screen and I uhhhhhhh I really can’t tell where my ship is.
I am highly myopic in my left eye and I always have been, so my depth perception is pretty bad in real life. So 3D video games are my opportunity to feel like I have perfect depth perception. Anyway, the Gummi Ship sure does not let me feel that. Like, I don’t know where the enemies are! It looks like they’re like a millimeter in front of me!
Maddy: That isn’t just you, actually. Those fights are really, really weird. You have to just line up the ship to be right in front of the enemy to shoot it, and it feels somehow wrong.
Tim: Yeah! I’m glad to know it’s not just me! Anyway I have Too Many Opinions about shooting games in general so maybe I shouldn’t get started on this. One final thing I’ll say about the Gummi Ship: it’s not 60fps at ALL. It’s very 4K, and it is bursting with little explosive HDR particles, though it ain’t no 60fps. It is barely touching 30. I only point this out because: oh my god. I did not expect this game to be native 4K, 60fps. Apparently for me, avoiding spoilers also means not knowing the native resolution of the game until I play it. (I’m playing on Xbox One X, by the way.)
Maddy: Yeah, I’m just playing on the regular old PlayStation 4, so the visual look of those battles isn’t very jarring to me. I do think it’s weird that you get a grade on each Gummi Ship battle and that I’m expected to care what the grade is.
Tim: Something tells me we might want to... upgrade our Gummi Ships so that we can understand what the grading system is.
The Xbox One Elite Controller feels real good for this game: you put ability shortcuts into “decks,” and I love putting the ability shortcut activator button on a rear paddle instead of a shoulder button. Now it feels like esports!
Maddy: There are so many other fiddly bits to upgrade, too. But that’s good. I like upgrading fiddly bits. I’m enjoying moving my keyblade slots around and synthesizing ethers or whatever.
Tim: I can’t wait to have three full decks of fiddly techniques to switch between by holding a real paddle and clicking my Xbox One Elite Controller’s loud mechanical D-pad.
Maddy: It’s going to be an incredible weekend of that.
Tim: Yeah, I’m gonna try to get through this entire game in a weekend. I wonder if I will die!
Maddy: Do we have anything else we want to say? I love Donald, Goofy, and Mickey Mouse with all of my heart. I don’t think I said that yet, or enough. I don’t even care about the classic Disney characters at all except in these god damn games, wherein Mickey is a bad-ass who tells me there will always be a door to the light, and I believe him.
Also, Mickey is wearing plaid too, bless him. They repeatedly refer to the fairies having made the new outfits, and at one point, Sora throws a tantrum because he wants one too.
Tim: I just wanna say: wow, this is a monstrously polished video game. I cannot imagine anyone who liked any Kingdom Hearts game being disappointed by this game, based on what I’ve played so far.
Maddy: It is both incredibly polished and also a trip directly into my brain a decade ago, which is what you want out of Kingdom Hearts 3. I hope the rest of the game continues to feel this great.
Tim: I once made fun of Kingdom Hearts cutscenes—not for how convoluted the plot was, or anything. Mostly I loved to make fun of the weird way the voice actors emphasize the wrong words sometimes, or there’s too much of a pause between dialogue lines. Though as soon as I was talking to a couple familiar characters, all voiced by their original actors, now thirteen years older than the characters they’re portraying, I was like, “Wow, I am home, inside this video game.”
Maddy: God, yeah. Every time Sora pauses for a weird amount of time as Donald and Goofy look on at him, the love and patience in their eyes, I am transported back to being 20 years old again.
Tim: Like, despite the incredibly, psychedelically new graphics technology, once a cutscene starts up, it’s an immediate time-travel back to Kingdom Hearts. It’s like, it’s been thirteen years since Kingdom Hearts 2, though the developers have somehow stayed in the exact same zone all that time. It must be tremendously difficult to work on a game this meticulous for that long!
Maddy: Well, they did keep making DS games and so on. With important plot details that many people didn’t follow, which is also kind of fine?
Tim: Yeah they made those DS games! Though you know what I mean. Oh, there was one tiny thing I somehow wanted to mention: in Hercules world, you’re talking to Hercules and you’re like “Heck yeah, that’s the original voice actor of Hercules.” And then Pegasus and Meg and Phil show up and you’re like “Heck yeah that’s the original voice actor of Meg.” And then someone acknowledges Phil and he just kinda nods and walks off-camera and you’re like, “Oh. Where’s Danny DeVito?” I was like, dumbstruck that they cut a single corner. I didn’t know they knew HOW to cut a corner.
Maddy: Ha! Good point.
Tim: Then I was like, “Oh, I guess there are like 400 other actors in this game.”
Maddy: Okay so wait, apparently they didn’t even have Danny DeVito in the other Kingdom Hearts games? It was this other voice actor named Robert Costanzo??? Mind blown…
In summary, they didn’t even get FAKE Danny DeVito this time. Talk about a buncha corner-cutters! Just kidding: wow, they filled this game with stuff. And now, we’re going to get back to playing the entire rest of this video game. Goodbye!