Hooray for borrowing a game from a friend! Kingdom Hearts 3 is a sequel to Kingdom Hearts Unchained, the mobile game. I really hope you're up to date in the game's story and did not just rely on Back Cover otherwise you're going to be confused as hell at many major parts of the story.
Early on, Sora loses his powers and Maleficent is revealed to be looking for some kind of black box. This sets off the story as Organization 13 scrambles to find the New Seven Princesses of Heart in case the Keyblade wielders fail while looking for spare containers to house bodies. Meanwhile, Axel (who prefers that name over Lea) and Kairi are training with Merlin to become Keyblade wielders. Skip forward several worlds and Young Xehanort retrieves Ansem the Wise from the Dark Margin while shoving Aqua into the ocean. The "traitors" from the old Organization 13 are back and revealed to be Keyblade wielders in the past (see Kingdom Hearts Unchained, which isn't even complete), but never use their Keyblades anyways. Extra bodies are built for various Organization members so that they could leap forward or backwards in time to participate in the new Keyblade War. Sora frees Aqua from the World of Darkness and retrieves Ventus with the help of Aqua. Wierd things happen at the Keyblade Graveyard, allowing Sora to free Terra and leading to one final battle between Sora and the Organization. Sora uses his magical Power of Waking to save people from death by "traversing worlds to reach hearts" and this is bad because he was not "traversing hearts to reach worlds." Kairi is struck down by Master Xehanort and Sora confronts Master Xehanort in Scala Ad Caelum. Master Xehanort reveals his plan was to use the X-Blade to create another reboot of the universe like in Kingdom Hearts Unchained, but is convinced to finally let go and give up by Young Eraqus after he loses. Master Xehanort ascends to the afterlife shortly after where he plays chess with Young Eraqus in ghostly Scala Ad Caelum. Sora uses his power to save Kairi, but leaving him stranded somewhere else some time between the credits and the final scene. Yeah, it does not make a lot of sense.
In the epilogue, it is revealed that Xigbar is Luxu, the sixth apprentice of the Master of Masters from Unchained. He is still carrying the black box and both Maleficient and Pete have followed him. At the Keyblade Graveyard, Xigbar reveals that his job for the Master of Masters is complete as he holds No Name. Ava is the only one of the previous Foretellers that did not arrive at the meeting. Meanwhile, Eraqus and Xehanort are playing some game of chess where seven black pieces are assembled on one side, each with the logo of the factions from Unchained along with three others. On the other side, Eraqus uses a piece representing Sora to begin setting up. Elsewhere, Sora wake up in a place that resembles Shibuya from The World Ends with You (I guess he's dead again) and Riku is in Verum Rex, the game mentioned in Toy Box by T-Rex and all the ads.
The problem with the game's story is that much of it is filler and it is incomplete. The members of the Organization do very little to intervene compared to the other worlds. Most of the time, they are in the background and just let things happen. In Kingdom Hearts 2, the members of the Organization at least took a more active role in manipulating the Disney villains, but they are pretty much completely hands off here. Maleficent and Pete spend the whole game chasing after a black box that they never find. Others in the Organization search for it as well and even Goofy brings it up, but it is never resolved and neither are all the new Disney Princesses. The result is that the game does not feel like it is finished, especially when Kingdom Hearts Unchained is necessary to understand much of the story.
The graphics are by far the best part of the game. Everything is bright and colorful. They make good use of lighting and shadows though the game. Some scenes in the game make use of the angles to show the details on the Organization robes. The transformation sequences for the Keyblades are beautiful and so are all of the amusement park rides that are used as attacks. The boss related "not reaction commands" are also gorgeous, each taking advantage of the circumstances that each boss is fought under for some pre-scripted spectacles. Each world also has its own design and feel with the exception of Arendelle, which is just like a giant railroad where you trek the same mountain three times. The only ridiculous part is the Lucky Emblem hunt which arbitrarily makes parts of the world into Mickey Mouse shaped things. You will see clouds arranged in the shape for no particular reason sometimes.
The gameplay is a combination of Kingdom Hearts 2, Birth by Sleep, and Dream Drop Distance. The game primarily builds upon the main line of Kingdom Hearts system while taking in aspects from the other games. The style commands from Birth By Sleep are integrated into special attacks like abilities tied to Keyblades and higher tier magic you normally would not have accessible to. This combination gives Sora a nice variety, but only after his Keyblade has transformed at least once. If it has not transformed, you continue to use his basic chain of attacks and leaves much to be desired. There are some good quality of life changes such as having shortcuts you can switch between with the D-pad and the ability to retry battles immediately or re-equip yourself before retrying battles.
There is a lot you can do with combat. The transforming Keyblade means that your attacks will also change with each transformation so there are a lot more moves that you can do compared to before. The fact that the Shotlocks change and magic feels a lot smoother compared to before makes it feel even better. As you level up, you also add new abilities to your arsenal and you can customize it to a very high degree based on what skills you equip when compared to previous entries. But thanks to the huge amount of AP you get over the course of the game, the choices are not too tough since you can almost have everything.
The problem with combat is that you are not able to switch between modes based on how you use attacks and they are pre-determined by the Keyblade that you are using. The result is that combat can get stale quickly as you watch the same transformation sequence over and over again. At least in Birth By Sleep, you had at least different transformations and changes to your abilities based on the previous chain of skills up to a certain point. But without that chain, you are forced to use just whatever Keyblade you have equipped and it gets stale quickly as the transformation sequences do interrupt the flow of combat. Magic can trigger higher tier magic as special commands in battle with the fourth tier -za type spells being restricted to certain Keyblades. While having three equipped Keyblades at once does help provide some variation, I found myself just sticking to one because of how unimpressive most of them are. In the end, I pretty much only used the ones from the Toy Box, Arendelle (mainly cause Toy Box one was too slow for certain enemies later), and Caribbean. The rest, I never touched and I did not have the patience to finish Ultima Weapon.
The flowmotion abilities are strong, but they are not exactly effective. Most environments do not allow you to take advantage of them. In places where they are available, the areas tend to be wide open, which makes it less effective since they deal a fairly small area of effect and require enemies to be fairly close proximity. Shotlocks are used a lot more since it is not restricted by terrain. The limitations of the flowmotion skills makes them rarely used. Late in the game, I had pretty much forgotten about them and just used it as a platforming tool in the required sequences. Sadly, even Shotlocks do not see much use due to the untargetable nature of boss enemies. You might find an opening for one, but do not expect to use it more than once or twice since its damage is mostly negligible.
An aspect of combat that frustrated me is that you are teased with the gameplay of both Riku (twice) and Aqua (once). Considering that there are essentially there are so many other Keyblade users as well, it would have been great if you could play as them as well. We know at least Aqua is fully playable considering what they did with 2.8. It is just a little disappointing that you never really get to play as the others more. It could have opened up a lot more potential to the game. Instead, you are left with a weakened Sora who has lost all of his abilities from the previous games, including the Drives.
The side quests in this game are pretty much just mini-games. Most of them are tied to the Gummiphone with a few in special geographical locations. These mini-games are the main way that you earn Orichalcum+, which is needed to craft the Ultima Weapon. The problem is that they are just extremely frustrating and you have to spend a lot of time on them in order to actually earn the Orichalcum+. For example, the Lucky Emblems are shaped like Mickey's head and there are ninety of them. They are absolutely frustrating to find because literally three barrels that are stacked together at one point registers as one of these symbols and so do three hanging spheres from a certain angle. Compared to the stickers or Dalmations, they are absolutely frustrating to find without a guide since you cannot really spot them most of the time. One is literally a pile of leaves on the ground. The others essentially force you to a 95% completion rate for the Flan mini-games or the snowboarding mini-game in Arendelle. While these might be entertaining once in a while, they quickly become tedious due to the high requirements set by them and it quickly became frustrating. Luckily, you can get some nice selfies with people too I guess.
The other end game content are just battle crystals located in various parts of the world. The game's current "secret boss" is hidden there and the others are just some mediocre enemies that serve as end game farming spots for certain materials and one hidden boss. Other than that, there's not much in terms of end game content available. There's a super Gummi Ship boss if you want an Oricalcum+ I guess.
While most stories play out like they do in the movies, they do put some interesting twists. Sadly, they are poorly done. Big Hero 6 is a mix of strangely a prequel and a sequel. The interactions with the team shows them as incompetent, but the story quickly turns to the lost Baymax from the movie being used by the bad guys and I felt this could have been played a lot better had it been given some time. Instead, the near final worlds of the Caribbean and San Fransokyo feel extremely rushed as you are pretty much railroaded from point A to point B. Right after that is essentially just a series of boss rushes that lead to the final boss. It just feels like they lacked the creativity for much of the game. They had a good set up in Toy Box and something interesting in San Fransokyo, but the rest just feels lackluster.
The most disappointing part of the game has to be its story. A lot of the game's story requires a fairly deep knowledge of the mobile game, Kingdom Hearts Unchained, and not just Back Cover. You actually needed to play the story mode missions from that game to understand parts of it and the game is not even done yet (also, Maleficent of this game seems to travel back in time to Unchained). Several of its characters appear in Kingdom Hearts 3 and play major roles as well as explain why certain characters are in Organization 13. It just does not feel like the finale that it was built up to be. The good guys are frustratingly incompetent while the bad guys could have easily stepped over them time and time again, but choose not to. The ending of the game is left open ended with the preview of the next game seeming to be just another Final Fantasy 15 copy when KH3 already feels way too much like FF15.
Final Score: 7/10
The positive of this game is its gameplay. Its graphics are impressive, but there are some silly background things and tricks they use during this game's version of the 1000 Heartless fight from Kingdom Hearts 2 that makes it look silly at times. The most disappointing part of the game has to be its story and that story made it difficult for me to slog through. On top of that, the game requires a comprehensive knowledge of Kingdom Hearts Unchained to really understand it (like how Elrena and Lauriam were Keyblade wielders in Kingdom Hearts Unchained which is why they are in the New Organization 13 but for some inexplicable reason cannot hold Keyblades even at the end during the fight between the supposed Keyblade members which should make it impossible to forge the X-Blade without even considering the drastic differences in the personalities of these two characters, but since this is Kingdom Hearts, we can just ignore the logic). This is before you consider the fact that much of the plot went nowhere and is pretty much there for a sequel hook. Many plot points feel lifted out of FF15 for me and I feel like it was almost a retelling of it at one point. The incompetent good guys against the equally dumb villains ended up for a rather disappointing finale. Alright, enough story rant.
The lack of playable characters other than Sora, especially since Riku and Aqua are both playable at certain story points just made it feel a little disappointing. The flow in combat is bad since you are frequently interrupted by the transformations and it is always the same. I almost liked Birth By Sleep's combat more just because of the more varied transformations. They do give you invincibility when switch between modes, but it is still an interruption in combat and feels awkward despite a lot of team up attacks doing the same. The difference is that those are more instant in terms of gratification compared to the last luster jabs of the Wheel of Fortune Keyblade (that's the Pirates one). In the end, the first fade in title screen was right. This feels more like Kingdom Hearts 2.9 rather than 3. Maybe their next game will actually finish a story for once.