Many games over the years have suffered long development times, making players question if the title would ever be released. Kingdom Hearts III, the first main entry in the series since 2005’s Kingdom Hearts II, has finally been released, but does it justify that 13-year wait?
In terms of plot, Kingdom Hearts III continues directly from where both Dream Drop Distance and A Fragmentary Passage left off. King Mickey and Riku are attempting to search the Realm of Darkness for the lost Keyblade Master, Aqua, while Sora, Donald, and Goofy attempt to recover the power that Sora lost during the events of Dream Drop Distance.
Several plot threads are twined together through Kingdom Hearts III, as the story tries to follow the progression of at least three different groups. While the main focus is clearly Sora’s journey, the game features regular side-trips to examine what Mickey and Riku are up to, as well as Kairi and Lea/Axel’s attempts to learn how to wield keyblades. These additional segments of plot are doled out slowly, giving the player just enough to spark intrigue as to what is going to happen next as they wait for the subsequent appearance of these secondary characters.
In common with regular criticisms of Kingdom Hearts, the plot does remain fairly convoluted. However, the game has made attempts to get players up to speed with the Memory Archive available on the main title screen. In contrast to previous games, the antagonists also seem to be forthcoming about motives and are refreshingly straightforward about their plans.
The game has narrative problems, however. Frozen and Tangled both get stripped-down adaptations of their source movies instead of receiving their own original plotline, which is disappointing as the characters could have much more to offer the Kingdom Hearts series, particularly Elsa and Anna.
Unlike previous titles in the series, all the cutscenes are voiced, instead of being a mixture of voiced and text-only. This change gives a better sense of flow, though some of the voice actors sound significantly older and rougher than in previous titles, which is particularly noticeable in the Olympus world. Haley Joel Osment as Sora has managed to find a good medium where he sounds older and more confident, but still convincingly young-sounding without coming off as whiny: an improvement over his performance in Dream Drop Distance.
As in Kingdom Hearts II, the cutscenes are all rendered using the in-game engine. The engine switch to Unreal Engine 4 undoubtedly contributed to the long development time, but the results are worth it. Graphically, everything looks amazing. One may find themselves getting distracted admiring the spectacular scenery, amazing texture work and gorgeous, fluid animation.
The engine switch and other technology improvements have also served to eliminate some of the more baffling elements from previous titles, like the empty seats in Olympus Colosseum despite the chorus of rousing cheering. Players will also find NPCs wandering around the towns, making the locations look like real places that people live in, instead of eerie, empty ghost towns. In general, the worlds themselves have much more depth than in previous games, with much more landmass to explore and collectibles to discover.
In terms of gameplay, Kingdom Hearts III acts like a ‘greatest hits’ of the series. The Shotlocks and keyblade transformations from Birth By Sleep make a return, with the latter playing a significant role in how combat evolves throughout the game. The Flowmotion system from Dream Drop Distance also makes a return, though in the less powerful form of Athletic Flow, which allows a dynamic exploration of the worlds as well as being useful in combat.
Combat in Dream Drop Distance and Birth By Sleep had been criticised for its reliance on puzzle-like bosses who needed to be hit at very specific times or with specific attacks to be taken out of action, while also locking players into combos and making the attacks impossible to block in mid-air. Those problems have been addressed in Kingdom Hearts III. Players can have up to three keyblades equipped at once, and can switch them out on the fly, even in mid-combo. This makes for a far more dynamic and strategic form of combat, where choosing the right blade, transformation, and combo for the right situation can prove critical.
The Situational Reaction Commands are also back, but unlike in Kingdom Hearts II, they can not just be spammed endlessly until victory is obtained. Instead, during combat players can get access to multiple combo finishers, reaction commands, party combination attacks, and the Attraction Flow theme-park ride attacks, all of which can be activated with the same button. Timing an attack right can make all the difference in a tricky boss battle.
In terms of combat and graphics, Kingdom Hearts III is a big improvement over previous games. In terms of storyline, however, the game tends to be something of a mixed bag. Only those truly invested in the sprawling meta-plot will be likely to get closure and satisfaction from the story, despite efforts to make it easier for new players.
Kingdom Hearts III is a long way from perfect, but the improvements on the formula make it a compelling experience to play, and those who have sunk time into discovering the nuances of the plot line will get a lot out of it.
Was Kingdom Hearts III worth the wait? For those truly invested in Sora and his friends, yes. For everyone else… probably not.
The PlayStation 5 Specs Are Beefy, But Not Entirely Necessary
Six years have passed since the launch of the PlayStation 4, and, consequently, the launch of the eighth generation of consoles. Throughout this time the industry has seen a shift in how the medium is consumed. Nowadays, gamers are no longer forced to experience titles through conventional controller inputs thanks to the implementation of VR, while visual performance and optimization are at record heights given the current technology available to developers.
For well over a year now, rumors and speculations have sprung up surrounding the next generation of hardware from both Sony and Microsoft, with the latter being more open about its technological aspirations. Despite withholding true hardware specifications, Microsoft does not shy away from igniting conversations around its next systems (yes plural). Sony, on the other hand, has been extremely tight lipped on the topic, only hinting at the PlayStation 5 during a discussion on the success of the PS4.
Until now, consumers were left to speculate on the possibilities of what the PlayStation 5 will contain. To the surprise of many, however, Sony has unexpectedly opened up about the final specifications that will be found within the upcoming hardware. Lead architect on Sony’s next console Mark Cerny detailed how important this generational leap is for the company and what consumers can expect from its beefy machine. While confirming some rumors, and debunking others, Cerny expressed Sony’s desire for the new generation to allow “for fundamental changes in what a game could be.” As a bold statement by Cerny, this ideology will help Sony fall in line with the trajectory that other studios, such as Xbox, have had during the eighth generation of consoles.
For those who are unaware, the PS4 launched in 2013 to wide success, re-establishing Sony’s brand at the forefront of console gaming. Although the console became a household and media juggernaut, many tech-savvy individuals were quick to point out the flaws within its hardware. For example, much of the specifications that the PS4 touted were, in fact, already outdated at release when compared to high-end PC rigs. Despite the obvious limitations of console gaming, the choice of hardware found within the PS4 proved puzzling, as it was being marketed as a giant leap forward for the industry. Sony would later attempt to mitigate the ongoing damage caused by underperforming hardware with the mid-generation iteration of the PS4 Pro, though this attempt only served to extend the console lifecycle by another few years.
From the outset, Sony knew its largest issue was underperforming hardware, and, thanks to the information detailed by Mark Cerny, the community finally has some insight on how that will be addressed. For starters, the CPU found within the PS5’s hardware will use the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen line which is a massive leap over the PS4’s Jaguar chip. Although I am not much for technical jargon within the PC economy, I do understand how much the Jaguar chip held back performance within the eighth generation, and I welcome the Ryzen with open arms. My only hope is that this upgrade will be enough to sustain the PlayStation 5 throughout the years and maintain its presence as a PC competitor.
Additionally, the custom AMD Navi GPU that will be present in the PS5 will support ray-tracing, a feature that only a few games fully utilize on PC, but nonetheless will provide a more realistic experience. Although this specific feature is a welcome addition to the console ecosystem, I honestly never expected it to be a priority. While having real-time accurate reflections within the environment will definitely increase immersion, I would personally desire a more optimized experience that will never falter during play. We will have to wait until more is revealed on the PS5’s ray-tracing technology, but I can only hope that it will not take priority over performance.
Building upon the implementation of ray-tracing with the PS5, Cerny noted that, for him, the audio technology present within the PS4 did not achieve the standards of a generational leap from the PS3. According to Cerny, the PS5 will implement 3D Audio, dramatically changing how gamers perceive sound within a video game. The inclusion of 3D Audio sounds like a well-deserved feature for PlayStation veterans. However, I feel as though this addition will only benefit those who have an entertainment setup that supports it. Unfortunately, individuals who resort to stereo speakers could potentially see no difference in how the audio is delivered from PS5 titles compared to those on PS4.
The interview also provided information surrounding the type of storage available in the PS5. As a much-needed addition, the PlayStation 5 will contain a solid state drive (SSD), which will allow for faster load times and experiences. As many PlayStation users know, the PS4 can provide some appalling load times, leading this issue to be a constant topic of discussion throughout the entire generation. The possibility of a game having long load times was so great that it often made headlines in video game’s media, pleading for action to be taken (Bloodborne anyone?).
Thankfully, information on the PS5’s hard drive capabilities does not require too much speculation, as Cerny provided an example of how fast it will be. According to him, Marvel’s Spider-Man, which has an average of a 15 second load time on a PS4 Pro, will have just 0.8 second load times on a PS5. No indication is yet forthcoming as to how consistent this technological feat will be across different titles, and I urge consumers to temper their expectations on the speed of the PS5 because only time will tell how efficient it can be. Regardless of my concerns surrounding inconsistencies, the PS5 will feature the fastest load times of any console before it, eliminating one of the greatest issues of the PS4’s hardware.
In addition to the announcement that PlayStation 5 will have an SSD, Cerny confirmed a much-desired feature in backwards compatibility. Although this feature will not reach as far back as the competition, the PS5 will be compatible with PS4 titles, both digital and physical. This was to be expected—seeing as both consoles will run off the same architecture—but the silence from Sony proved worrisome for some fans, myself included. While I am disappointed that PS3 titles will not be compatible with the PS5, I understand that the cell processor of that earlier device would take more effort than it is worth to make games from the platform compatible. Regardless, PlayStation fans can rejoice in this news, as it further validates any investment into the PS4’s ecosystem.
Where I draw most of my criticism from Mark Cerny’s report on the specifications of the PS5 is within the idea that Sony’s next hardware will support 8K resolution. To be clear, I am not stating that such an achievement is impossible; rather I question the necessity of it. Given everything that we know about the PS5, one can assume that the system will cost around USD $500. With 4K televisions slowly becoming a household norm, is it worthwhile for a company to be devoting resources into a feature that will likely not be consumer friendly for years to come? I understand that Sony is at a disadvantage right now with the Xbox One X outputting at native 4K, but seeking to outdo the competition to this extent seems financially unobtainable for most consumers.
My concerns develop from individuals who hear the news of PS5 and 8K resolution and assume it to be the Second Coming. It is unfeasible to have a $500 to $600 console run at a native 8K resolution. Anyone who believes this will happen need look no further than PlayStation’s competition with the Xbox One X. At its launch, Microsoft was selling the Xbox One X at a loss, solely to prevent the console from exceeding the $500 mark and turning away consumers. Microsoft’s current machine is capable of outputting at a native 4K resolution, whereas the PS4 Pro can only achieve the same through upscaled checkerboarding. The PS5 will surely be able to output at a native 4K resolution, but to expect anything more with the current state of consumer technology is wishful thinking. I urge consumers to understand that if the PS5 has an 8K setting, it will likely be only achieved in the future and through a checkerboarded solution.
Given the rumors that the next generation of hardware will be the last, Sony may be trying to future proof the PS5 so that it can remain on the market for as long as possible. Given the information provided by Mark Cerny, Sony may be intending to utilize every feature of the PS5 to its entirety before considering what could come after. By future proofing the PlayStation 5, Sony can anticipate where the industry is heading, ultimately eliminating the need for a mid-generation upgrade with a PS5 Pro.
I have been a PlayStation fan for as long as I can remember, but have recently branched out with the Xbox One X and PC gaming to experience what those ecosystems have to offer. By broadening my horizons, I maintain an outside perspective on how Sony is upholding its promise to gamers and how the competition tackles similar issues created by an ever-growing industry. With the eighth generation nearing its completion, I look forward to discussions such as this one as it generates hope and excitement for the future of the brand.
While the PlayStation 4’s colossal success this generation will provide a jump-start in sales for the company’s new hardware, the beginning of a new generation only reinvigorates the console wars. As a firm believer in what both Sony and Microsoft will do to shape the future of the industry, I am reminded that competition breeds excellence. Furthermore, when competition is present between both parties to win over public appeal, in the end, consumers emerge victorious.
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