I was seven years old when I started my journey with the Kingdom Hearts franchise. I still remember waiting in grade school, as Kingdom Hearts 2 got delayed over and over again, until I finally felt the joy of getting my hands on that second installment. And for the last 16 years, I’ve been part of a devoted fanbase that has followed the series through rereleases, side games, mobile games, and various collaborations all while speculating about what comes next. It’s a little surreal to say that over a decade of anticipation later, Kingdom Hearts 3 has finally arrived, and I’m here to assure you that the wait was worth it.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Kingdom Hearts is a game set in a crossover universe where Disney, Pixar, and Final Fantasy characters manage to co-exist. You play as Sora, the main character, and his journey takes you through a variety of different worlds ranging from Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood to Jack Sparrow’s Caribbean. If that sounds crazy, it is, but thanks to some brilliant storytelling and the direction of Square Enix’s Tetsuya Nomura, it works.
From the moment I booted up, I knew I was in for a treat. No spoilers, but the game wastes no time bringing you up to speed with where Kingdom Hearts is at in 2019. It’s exactly how you should manage a series that’s been spread across over a decade and a huge variety of consoles.
It should come as no surprise that the game is visually stunning; you can really see the amount of care that went into each world, and each cutscene is beautifully crafted. The detailed animations make it feel as if you’re actually playing inside of a Disney film. And the voice acting and writing, which has notoriously been a hit or miss throughout the series, is wonderful in this installment.
Combat is smoother and flashier than ever before, which really gives you the sense that Sora has grown in his abilities as time has progressed. Utilizing a mix of new and familiar techniques from past titles gives the player a chance to craft unique strategies for battle, adding a layer of depth we have not seen in the series yet. Each of three Keyblades has its own style now, and the ability to switch between them smoothly with the D-pad opens up an endless array of combos that you can add to your arsenal. The addition of a Keyblade leveling system allows you to keep your favorites until the end; by the game’s finale, you feel nearly unstoppable.
The developers have packed an enormous amount of gameplay into Kingdom Hearts 3. The aforementioned Pirates of the Caribbean world feels like it could have been its own game entirely, the Toy Story and Monsters Inc. worlds are some of the best we’ve seen in a Disney game so far, and the abundance of collectibles, mini-games, and surprise additional worlds scattered throughout ensure that you’ve got plenty of reasons to keep playing long after the main story is complete.
Alongside the best storytelling yet in the series, full voice acting really makes traveling these worlds come to life. Your party members all have deeper reasons for being there, and the team reaction commands allow you to feel a lot closer with your party as members of a team, instead of just robotic back up.
Bringing together characters and storylines from across the entire Kingdom Hearts universe, KH3 really feels like an Infinity War entry for the franchise—all these heroes you’ve grown so fond of are together at last, in a beautiful game that sucks you in from start to finish.
For fans since that very first Kingdom Hearts title, the game has no trouble pulling at those nostalgic heartstrings in both large and subtle ways. I’ll leave you to discover the details for yourself, but the game delivers a number of things that many who love and care for this series will appreciate. After all these years, it’s everything a young Keyblade wielder would have dreamed of.
Kingdom Hearts 3 is available now for Playstation 4 and Xbox One.