Every month you can watch reviews and read our thoughts on the games we've been playing, old and new. This month we only have one review, but it’s a big one!
Kingdom Hearts 3
In the past few years, I've reviewed a couple of Kingdom Hearts HD collections and I've always gone along with the "These games are fun but those stories are bullshit eh?" schtick. To an extent, that's how I feel about them.
To an even greater extent though, I love the plot of these games, bullshit and all.
So I've got a lot invested in Kingdom Hearts 3, and so does Square Enix *cough cough*; I've been waiting a long time to see the resolution of this story, and to see the next generation of Kingdom Hearts' magical mash-up of Disney and JRPG anime pish. Set phasers to weeb, it's time to dive in!
Kingdom Hearts 3 has a weird opening. It doesn't really feel like the massive event it should do. It starts off more like an episode of a soap opera intead of the concluding chapter to an epic story; less Return of the King and more Rovers Return of the King. Does that joke work? What I mean is that, yeah, within the first hour you're running up cliffsides and slaying a titan, but before that it's all casual conversations with everybody stood around tables and sitting down in chairs. It's like Kingdom Hearts 2 happened yesterday instead of fifteen bloody years ago.
Sure enough though, before too long the game settles into that familar Kingdom Hearts rhythm of dazzling, pyrotechnic fights against the heartless and running through lush Disney-inspired levels. It's comforting and thrilling all at once; Sora effortlessly dances round baddies whacking them with his big key as you mash away on the X button, just like always. Ocassionally you'll unleash a spell or a team attack and watch the screen fill with even more dazzling lights and colours. For pure retina-bleeding effect there's also the new attraction attacks, where Sora and his pals jump on rides from Disney World. There's something genuiely hilarious about beating up a boss with the help of a merry-go-round.
At the start of the game, Master Yen Sid tells Sora he's lost all his powers and abilities but that's a pack of lies; before the end of the first world Sora's defeated about four giant bosses and run up the side of Mount Olympus.
Kingdom Hearts is a game of excess, you see. It's big fights, big colours, big set-pieces and, of course, big emotional moments. We'll get to that later because I've got a lot to say.
One thing that's definitely bigger this time are the worlds you visit. It's a fair criticism of the Kingdom Hearts series up till now that the levels all felt a bit like little film-sets; dead and empty the moment the fighting stops. They've also always had a problem with a convincing sense of geography. That's changed for the better now. These levels are giant, mostly seamless worlds, packed with detail and with fewer loading screens to traverse. It means there are much fewer moments in Kingdom Hearts 3 where you're left in a maze of interconnected boxes hunting the right pixel to activate the next cutscene, at least compared to the old games. There are even NPCs cutting about some of the towns Sora visits, which all adds to the feeling of being in a real Disney world instead of visiting a disney theme park after the gates have shut. The biggest surprise for me was how much enjoyed the Pirates of the Caribbean world. Well, apart from... oh no... oh NO.... oh no Donald!
There's still the age old Kingdom Hearts issue of the map being too wee though. You might as well never get a map because you can't open it and look at the layout of a whole area; you'll only ever see the wee bit at the top of the screen.
Movement in Kingdom Hearts 3 is the best the series has ever seen. Mario isn't going to be sweating anytime soon, but Sora has never felt as solid and as present as he runs up walls, grinds on rails and swings on lamposts. Even just pressing the jump button for a simple, no-frills hop is better than the legs-akimbo float from Kingdom Hearts of old. Almost every world has dizzying verticality and smartly designed nooks and crannies begging to be explored for secret chests and other treasures, and if it wasn't so much fun just running around as Sora I wouldn't have bothered finding half of them. This is the most solid, well-put-together Kingdom Hearts game yet.
It also looks incredible. I'm running on PS4 Pro so I'm not sure how other consoles handle the game, but there's a real depth to the colours and subtle warmth to the lighting that helps make the worlds from Tangled, Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and the rest look authentic; it really feels like these are proper little sequels to the films we've watched a million times. They're not crudely drawn, cheap homages - this is the real deal.
There's a wee bit at the start of the Toy Story world, when Sora first meets Woody and the gang in Andy's room and they decide to team up and go on an adventure. The gang hop out of Andy's room and onto the street, and I turned the camera around to see Woody and Buzz running along side me, and the animation of Woody's loose, puppet-like run was so perfectly captured, so authentic and accurate to the film that I felt a real connection to what was happening. It was as if a burst of welcome nostalgia overtook me for a moment, and I was transported to the feeling of being 8 or 9, going to the pictures in Ayr with my mum and dad to see Toy Story for the first time.
For me, that's the magic of Kingdom Hearts. A few reviews of Kingdom Hearts 3 have mentioned that all the Disney worlds feel a bit superfluous to the main thread running through the game; as if they're there to tick the boxes of what's expected in a Kingdom Hearts game before getting them out the way for the real plot. On the surface, that's true.
There's always been a strange juxtaposition of portentous anime pish and wholesome Disney fun. For me though, playing Kingdom Hearts 3 has reminded be how vital the Disney worlds are to the whole experience. Kingdom Hearts is a game of childlike, wistful nostalgia, and the themes of each world Sora visits marry up quite well with his quest to save his friends.
So that's Kingdom Hearts 3 then. A comforting continuation of the series that improves on pretty much every aspect of it. In my opinion, its the best of the bunch, and an essential game if you're into action RPGs. If you're a Kingdom Hearts fan you've already played it by now, but if you're not deep into the series rest assured that I think the game is still enjoyable for newcomers. You might be confused at some, well most of the details but the worst-kept-secret in Kingdom Hearts fandom is that nobody really knows what's going on. You can stop watching this review now, safe in the knowledge that, after such a long development time, Kingdom Hearts 3 was well worth the wait.
DAEMON X MACHINA
Another Nintendo Direct surprise. I’ll admit, I’m a bit disappointed. There’s a great game in here, and I’m been looking forward to it for a long time, but it’s very ropey just now. Loose, laggy controls, poor frame-rate and a lack of motion aiming make for a bad experience. It’s early days though so I’m still optimistic.
FINAL FANTASY IX
One of the best Final Fantasies on the best console you can play. It’s the mobile/steam version again, with all the plus points (high-res characters!) and minus points (music glitches!) It’s lovely revisiting this classic though.