Been waiting for this game for way too long! Kingdom Hearts 3, available now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, feels like a game that hasn’t really grown up. Yes, it definitely is the desperately awaited sequel to 2005’s Kingdom Hearts 2, a title garnering critical acclaim and more than one re-release. It’s also the same action-packed adventure game that lets you take a peek into the visually delightful worlds of various Disney characters while you dish out magic and mayhem of all sorts.
The twelfth entry in the franchise’s 17-year run, Kingdom Hearts 3 is the conclusion to what is planned to be the first of a series of stories set in the Kingdom Hearts universe. In it, you reprise your role as the sword-adjacent Keyblade wielder Sora, and are sent on a mission — along with allies like Riku, Goofy, and Donald Duck — to regain your lost powers in order to protect the titular Kingdom Hearts from radicalist Keyblade wielder and primary antagonist Master Xehanort.
The overarching story that runs through these mostly charming worlds, however, is covered with darkness. If Sora alongside the other spiky-haired heroes and beloved Disney characters don’t fend off the shadowy Organization XIII, all of the light will be extinguished from the universe.
For me, Organization XIII and Keyblade masters saga presented a more literal threat to my feelings about Kingdom Hearts III. The long gap between Kingdom Hearts 2 and its sequel certainly didn’t help, but Kingdom Hearts had an absolutely ridiculous story far before Square Enix thought of using “2.8” in a title for one of its many filler games.
The allure of the Kingdom Hearts series has always stemmed from the Disney worlds that Sora, Donald, and Goofy explore as part of the larger narrative. Inside these worlds, narratives featuring popular Disney characters intertwine with our core group. Though there are fewer Disney worlds in Kingdom Hearts III than in both of its mainline predecessors, they are much more bountiful and inspired than the ones seen in previous games. This is partly due to increased processing power that has significantly improved the visuals of the worlds and characters alike. Woody, Sully, Rapunzel, and Elsa look just as they are in the movies they originally appeared in, and these adapted versions of their worlds feel alive with finer details due to the drastic visual upgrades.
KH3’s new worlds prove that Square Enix could keep mining Kingdom Hearts for decades to come — provided Disney and Pixar keep pumping out their polished and heartwarming animated flicks. The storylines are largely new, but the character struggles are familiar enough to instantly connect with what they’re going through.
All in all, I enjoyed the journey of Kingdom Hearts’ gameplay and authenticity to Disney’s beloved animated movies. While the storytelling could use some punching up, Square has done a fantastic job of capturing the spirit of these worlds while giving us an abundant amount of resources for battles and exploration. Even as the series came to an end, I wanted to jump right back in and finish up the little side quests.
Having been given so much time to ruminate, its specific resolutions aren’t all that surprising, but only a marginal impact is lost as a result. I still loved seeing so many characters from this series interact in new ways and rekindle old bonds. It’s nice to see that, even so long after the very first game, Kingdom Hearts 3 is so full of heart.