As a Kingdom Hearts fan that has stuck by the series through every iteration over the past sixteen years, I feel that I have managed to keep track of the ongoing storyline, against all odds. Kingdom Hearts III provides a satisfying conclusion to the story of Sora and Xehanort that fans of the series could ever hope for.
It hasn’t been easy keeping track of the entire plot. I won’t delve into absolutely everything that has happened in the past, as there are plenty of really good YouTube videos that do a tremendous job of explaining everything you need to know before playing Kingdom Hearts III. If you haven’t played any of the games and are keen to check this out, I recommend watching a recap of the series, simply because the plot involves alternate worlds, time travel, replicas, alternate versions of the same person, and more.
But all those games in the past have led to the events in Kingdom Hearts III. Fresh from the ending of Dream Drop Distance, Sora needs to head to Olympus to try and awaken a power he had lost, similar to the way that the Disney version of Hercules regained his godly powers. In a very joking way, the player takes Sora through Olympus in what the game calls “Kingdom Hearts II.9”, a brilliant reference to the many games with ridiculous names in the past.
As convoluted as Kingdom Hearts as a series is, Kingdom Hearts III does a pretty good job of reigning in a lot of the more perplexing plot points and makes reasonable attempts to tie everything together. Organization XIII makes their newest plan well known early on. Maleficent and Pete search for an ancient tome that is not only capable of creating events for the future, but was used to start the first Keyblade War. The motivations of the antagonists feel toned down and simplified in comparison to previous games, which is great because it’s Sora himself that requires the extra brain power to follow on with.
Sora’s unique ability is his power to connect his heart with all that he crosses. It is this ability that allows characters such as Aladdin, Winnie the Pooh, Jack Skellington, and more to always feel a connection to Sora, even when he is not around. As was discovered in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, Sora was able to contain the heart of Ventus within him, despite never even meeting Ventus in person. Sora’s mission is to find a vessel for Ventus, as well as a few others that have found their way into his heart.
This, of course, isn’t Sora’s only mission. It is also up to Sora, Donald, and Goofy to assemble the seven Guardians of Light in order to gain the power to take on Xehanort and his thirteen hearts of darkness, to prevent them from summoning Kingdom Hearts itself and restructuring existence as we know it. Along the way, characters discover the fates of both Aqua and Terra, and while things get more complicated as a result, the resolution is a satisfying one.
It wouldn’t be a Kingdom Hearts game without a slew of Disney locales to visit. Most worlds are brand new and are based on movies that came out in the past six to seven years. Gone are the 2D Disney films of old — aside from Hercules — and we now welcome the arrival of the more recent Disney CGI films such as Toy Story, Tangled, Frozen, and Big Hero 6. These new worlds provide some fun new ways for Sora and friends to interact with their surrounds and meeting new characters.
Some of the best writing in the game comes with how Disney characters, such as Woody and Sully, interact with the likes of Organization XIII. Characters in previous games would watch helplessly as their worlds are turned upside down by Organization members. This is not the case in Kingdom Hearts III, where we see Woody showing no fear when faced with one of the biggest bad guys in Kingdom Hearts. And as Sora struggles against another foe, Sully dispenses them in a very Monsters, Inc. style. It’s fantastic to see these non-Square Enix characters getting more of the spotlight. The characters feel much more important to the whole plot as well, with explanations of how toys can have hearts in Toy Story, and the scream/laughter power from Monsters Inc. almost seamlessly weaving into the narrative of Organization XIII.
Each one of the worlds contained in Kingdom Hearts III feels much more fleshed out when compared to previous games. We used to have to play through worlds that only featured a small number of key locations. In the past, Olympus, for example, usually consisted of the Coliseum Gates, a lobby area and the Coliseum floor. Olympus is now a fully fleshed out world, all the way from the bottom of the mountain to the very top. The worlds are still linear for the most part, aside from San Fransokyo and the Caribbean, but they feel much more immersive — as if Disney had a hand in curating these virtual environments.
The boost in power of current gen hardware also adds to the immersion. Worlds based on Disney’s newer CGI titles look just as good as the movies themselves. Had I not been the Disney tragic that I am, watching Elsa singing Let it Go while Sora and co. are searching for her could have been mistaken for the real thing. Even seeing the characters from Hercules fleshed out in 3D while still retaining the charm of the original movie is something to behold.
In previous mainline Kingdom Hearts games, traveling from world to world was done by flying the Gummi Ship. These sections have made attempts to be a fun space shooting intermission between worlds, but have mostly fallen short of providing a pleasurable experience. Rather than trying to simply make another attempt at another shoot ‘em up experience, Kingdom Hearts III’s Gummi sections offer an open world to fly around. There are treasures to find, constellations to photograph, and enemies to face. Approaching enemies brings up a battle sequence similar in style to the ones in Kingdom Hearts II, except much shorter. The whole package feels much more thought out and enjoyable as a result.
The battle system is very much like the previous games, except bigger — and more convoluted — than ever. The “flowmotion” system from Dream Drop Distance is back, as well as the “shotlock” system from Birth By Sleep. There have also been multiple new additions as well. Each Keyblade offers Sora a second form once he has pulled of a requisite number of combos. The second form releases a more powerful Sora, who can dish out further combos and special moves.
Occasionally Sora is also able to summon various rides from Disney World, such as the famed Pirate Ship, a Merry-Go-Round, and the River Rapid ride. The rides offer various mechanics on their own, all designed to dish out punishment against your enemies. Donald, Goofy, and other Disney characters all have combination moves they can use with Sora as well. The monsters of Monsters, Inc. offer a screaming attack, while Hercules picks Sora up and swings him around into other enemies.
It is all very over the top, and every special move — whether it be a form change, Disney ride or team attack — is triggered by pressing the Triangle button. On many occasions, I was able to form change, dish out a Pirate Ship, and launch Goofy into my opponents, all in a minor battle featuring a small amount of Heartless. I haven’t even gotten into Sora’s magic and summons, which haven’t changed all that much from previous games. Despite being ridiculously over the top, every move deals out plenty of damage, so the constant barrage of special moves almost always ends in victory.
As a fan of all previous Kingdom Hearts entries, Kingdom Hearts III feels like a love letter to the series. People new to the franchise will likely find an enjoyable experience, but it is definitely recommended to catch up on the lore beforehand. Everything in Kingdom Hearts III is made bigger and better. The battling system, the worlds, the Gummi sections, the fanservice to Disney diehards — it’s all just larger than life versions of all the previous games. It’s hard to believe the game has finally seen the light of day, let alone the fact that it manages to tie everything together, from every previous mainline story to the myriad of side plots. Needless to say, I can’t recommend the game enough. If you haven’t checked out Kingdom Hearts yet, I absolutely hope you can take the time and give it a shot.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A review copy was provided to us by Square Enix.