Kingdom Hearts 3 is a controversial release for fans, but there are some features added to its gameplay that more than hit the mark.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is a divisive title for many fans. The game skewed heavily towards newer players in terms of its gameplay mechanics and left some veteran fans underwhelmed with how it wrapped up the core story of Sora and Xehanort. Despite some controversy among fans, the title still added some solid new features that helped make the game a success overall. Kingdom Hearts 3 didn’t leave every fan satisfied, but it absolutely nailed a few features.
After more than a decade, the hype surrounding Kingdom Hearts 3 was immense by the time it released on January 25th, 2019. This naturally led to many longtime fans of the franchise having somewhat overblown expectations for the next iteration. While it’s still one of the better Kingdom Hearts games, that sits with a caveat that many of the Kingdom Hearts games are portable titles or mobile games that didn’t have the benefit of full console fidelity and capability. While many fans were underwhelmed by Kingdom Hearts 3, it made changes to the magic and gummi ship systems that were executed excellently and had some variations on the standard gameplay that were rewarding.
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Kingdom Hearts 3 Magic
One of the places where Kingdom Hearts‘ roots in Final Fantasy is most apparent is in its magic system. The iconic progression from Fire to Fira and then Firaga format that Final Fantasy has used is present in the Kingdom Hearts games and KH3 expanded on that system in a big way. Throughout the game, Sora is granted access to higher level magic after building up combat combos with the Grand Magic system.
At higher level, this allows Sora to exceed what’s normally the highest level of magic spells in the game, i.e. casting Thundaza instead of Thundaga through Grand Magic system. Kingdom Hearts veterans were treated to shatteringly-powerful spells that hadn’t been seen in the franchise before. And the effects of these spells were gorgeous, Thundaza specifically creates a screen-clearing level of devastation.
The strength of the Grand Magic system also helped to assuage one of the most common fan complaints about Kingdom Hearts 3. Many were upset that throughout the story, Sora never truly feels more powerful than he did in Kingdom Hearts 2. A common issue in sequels, Sora was stripped of most of his power by the end of Dream Drop Distance and some fans believed he never truly recovers it. But the Grand Magic system does a good job of doing the opposite, the power of the high-level spells is immediately apparent and one of the more satisfying combat options in the game. Magic is very important in Kingdom Hearts and the Grand Magic feature did a great job of accentuating that and giving the player a sense of Sora’s real powers.
Kingdom Hearts 3 Gummi Ship
Another area that has been a part of the Kingdom Hearts franchise from its inception is the gummi ship, which allow for Sora, Donald, and Goofy to travel the places between the worlds safely and provide players with a fun diversion from the core gameplay loop. Players can customize their ships with new weapons and parts they accumulate over the course of the game, or build from blueprints that often reference classic Final Fantasy characters like the Cactuar gummi ship in Kingdom Hearts 2. Kingdom Hearts 2 improved on the gummi mission formula in a big way but KH3 took those improvements and layered them over an expansive and almost open-world format.
The gummi ship in Kingdom Hearts 3 offered large areas that players could explore from their ships, and those areas were filled with valuable resources that could be “mined” by destroying asteroids. It also featured enemies to avoid or destroy in the sandbox phase of play and also allowed for players to engage in the gummi missions that more closely mirrored the system in Kingdom Hearts 2. The expansive gummi ship system is also one of the apparent avenues to multiplayer for mainline Kingdom Hearts, it isn’t difficult to imagine a gummi ship expansion that has raid-style missions that pit multiple players against some of the massive Heartless ships that dot the gummi ship missions across Kingdom Hearts.
Kingdom Hearts 3 also provided a few fun diversion from the standard gameplay loop. While some of the minigames like the sled race in the Frozen world become tedious as players are forced to complete them multiple times to obtain certain materials for completing the games’ ultimate weapons, others like the pirate ship and Toy Story “mech” suits are a blast to engage with every time. Kingdom Hearts 3 dropped the ball in a few places, but this is certainly not one of those places. The giant robotic enemies that Sora can commandeer in the Toy Story world add a fun mix to the game’s core gameplay throughout that stage. The level is packed with three different types of mechs to pilot, each one with its own unique abilities and attacks to master.
The mechs in the Toy Story level of Kingdom Hearts 3 are a fun switch on regular gameplay and give players a moment to enjoy feeling more powerful than most of the enemies around them. The quick dash abilities and super-charged beam attacks they offer let players devastate enemies and quickly moving from one mech as it is destroyed to another one nearby can be exhilarating. Another place where the standard formula gets mixed up is while piloting the pirate ships in the Pirates of the Caribbean stage of Kingdom Hearts 3. Departures from the standard Kingdom Hearts game formula can be fun, as evidenced by the newest release Melody of Memory. The pirate ship mechanics from Kingdom Hearts 3 are solid evidence of that.
Players are able to level up their abilities with the pirate ship and battling other vessels quickly becomes a tense experience, especially for players that are trying to gather every treasure available in the game. The powerful abilities players can obtain with the pirate ship show off some of Kingdom Hearts‘ best flair, with ships crashing down and causing massive tidal waves and firing off Matra Magic (a Final Fantasy 7 staple) style missile barrages.
The pirate ship sections are among some of the most fun that Kingdom Hearts 3 has to offer and sets a high bar for what players might expect from Kingdom Hearts‘ minigames going forward with the franchise. With Kingdom Hearts 3 finally coming to PC it will be interesting to see what the inevitable mod community does with some of these minigames and departures from stand formula. Kingdom Hearts 3 can be controversial among fans, but undoubtedly nailed some of its gameplay features.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is available on PS4 and Xbox One, with the PC release set for March 30, 2021 as an Epic Store exclusive.
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