When I started Kingdom Hearts III on the 29th of January, I felt a massive rush of emotions. Kingdom Hearts has been a series that I’ve been following since I was 8 or 9 years old, and it’s definitely a series that I hold very close. Over the years, my relationship to Kingdom Hearts has had its big roller coaster ups and downs, and leading up to the release of 3, my feelings at the time were definitely in the negatives.
I’ve always cherished the intimate and emotional moments that the series had featured in the first few games, and as each title popped up over the years, it felt like the priority had shifted away from what really made Kingdom Hearts special to instead, a focus on spectacle and convolution. While little me would’ve loved a story about a massive clash between light and darkness, keyblade wars, and forging the ultimate weapon to summon the heart of all worlds — current me missed the simple story of a young, lonely boy who was desperately searching for his two lost best friends.
However, as the 29th crept up, something shifted in my dumb, monkey brain. Everything just clicked and every ounce of cynicism in my body faded. Holy moley, this is the game 8 or 9 year old me had been waiting for her whole life. A war between seven guardians of light and thirteen seekers of darkness? That sounds ridiculously cool as it does stupid. Sign me the hell up.
Playing through Kingdom Hearts III has been a wonderful experience. It feels like I’ve been transported back in time to an era when all I cared about was destroying truckloads of heartless with sick, flashy moves and meeting my favourite Disney characters along the way. Only better.
The gameplay has been nothing short of mostly incredible. It’s a gigantic culmination of the styles of gameplay featured in every single game since the first Kingdom Hearts. Command Styles from Birth by Sleep, Flowmotion from Dream Drop Distance, Form Changes from Kingdom Hearts II, and even levelling up your Keyblade from Unchained X (the freakin’ mobile game)!
The most surprising thing is that it all comes together so organically, crafting a unique feel that Kingdom Hearts III can truly call its own. None of it feels overwhelming, either. For the first time ever, I’ve been finding myself using pretty much all the tools the game has on offer… and it feels amazing. Bouncing back and forth between hacking down enemies close up, and then unleashing insane magic abilities which would then lead to being able to transform my Keyblade in all sorts of ways — it’s all so much! The crazy thing though, is that it never feels like it.
The combat isn’t the only great thing about Kingdom Hearts, either. Each world is filled to the brim with the Disney magic that inspired them. So much thought has been put into every single place you visit. Each Disney world will have you smiling from ear to ear in such different ways – whether it’s seeing Rapunzel discover a pond for the first time in her life, or exploring the fanciest toy store you’ll ever see in any video game with Woody and Buzz — the game never fails to impress and delight… sans the Pirates of the Caribbean world, which is probably the worst world featured in the entire series. Oh, well! Can’t all be winners.
One thing that caught me off guard was the story, of which Kingdom Hearts III is shockingly light on. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to unpack, and you probably won’t understand much of it if this is your entry point into the series — but in my 20 or so hours with the game so far, there hasn’t been a big emphasis on it at all. You’ll have cutscenes related to the larger plot sprinkled in here and there, but for the most part it’s mostly about Sora just helping out all the Disney friends he makes along the way. If you don’t know much about Kingdom Hearts’ lore, but really love Disney and just wanna be in these worlds, I actually wouldn’t be against recommending it!
So far, my impressions of Kingdom Hearts III have been extremely positive. It’s been incredibly hard to put it down and I can’t wait to jump back into it and see everything else it has on offer. 8 or 9 year old me couldn’t be happier.