August 5, 2021

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Kingdom Hearts 3 review – a grand finale that’s both torturous and sublime

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By my reckoning, there are 238 cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts 3. If that sounds like a lot for a game of around 30-40 hours, that’s because it is. But then Kingdom Hearts 3 is, in the modern vernacular, a lot: from the dazzling pyrotechnics that accompany many of its special moves to its extravagant, indulgent final act, restraint is not in its vocabulary. To a point, its aggressive investment in its story is understandable. After all, it has two mainline entries and roughly half a dozen spin-offs’ worth of narrative threads to pull together and tie up. But heavens, it shows. This is a game that should really have a spring in its step – this is Disney, for goodness’ sake – but it’s constantly burdened by its own knotty history.

For all its intricacies, the underlying story is a fairly simple one. Our big-shoed hero, Sora, needs “the power of waking” to sort out regular villains Organization 13 – who with their ostentatious zips and hooded black leather trenchcoats look ever more like Dementors in a fetish club. The tone is set in the very first scene, which adopts the time-honoured tradition of representing the battle between good and evil as a game of chess between a man dressed in black and another in white. As one takes his turn, he asks the other the immortal question, “Have you heard of the ancient Keyblade War?”

It’s an opening line that will cause as many to roll their eyes as to rub their hands. It soon becomes apparent that this is a game for anyone who’s embedded themselves in Kingdom Hearts’ tangled lore for the better part of two decades, or else those who’ve been playing catch-up in the long lead-up to the launch of this chapter-closer. That several specialist sites and YouTubers have felt the need to produce their own ‘story so far’ says a lot. That a five-chapter recap – briskly told, for a change – is essentially required reading says even more. Besides, those summaries only go so far. I’ve played and finished both previous numbered entries, as well as PSP spin-off Birth By Sleep and Dream Drop Distance on 3DS, and still I was left flummoxed at times. On more than one occasion I paused a cutscene to look up a wiki because someone had referred to a name or a plot development I couldn’t recall.

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