Some things feel too good to be true. That's the case with Kingdom Hearts III, a game that's been nearly 14 years in the making. Fans have been waiting ceaselessly ever since the credits rolled in the last installment, so the fact that it's finally out feels oddly surreal. Now that it's actually in the hands of fans who have waited most of their adult lives to give it a try, does it live up to the hype and all the magic that it was purported to have all these years?
Fortunately, much to the delight of the Kingdom Hearts lovers everywhere, this much-coveted sequel is one of the greatest additions to the franchise so far. Kingdom Hearts III improves on nearly every aspect of the game that was ever lackluster and offers even more of the usual delights for fans to lap up like it's a bowl of warm milk for a hungry kitten.
We won't get into the story specifics here, because that's a fool's errand. Just know that it's just as confusing as it's ever been, especially if you haven't been quite paying attention all these years. In a nutshell, series protagonist Sora (joined by companions Donald and Goofy) is weakened at the start of the game, all the while looking to stop the nefarious Xehanort from kicking off another Keyblade War and wielding the power of darkness. It's all very convoluted, especially if you haven't been invested in the game thus far, but you don't have to be a Kingdom Hearts expert to enjoy yourself here. Half the fun is in not knowing what the hell is going on!
At its most simplistic, it's the marriage of two colorful worlds: Disney and Final Fantasy, though Kingdom Hearts has taken on more of its own unique personality and gameplay than Square Enix's most iconic property nowadays. Moogles and cactuars and reminders of the RPG series have faded mostly into the background now, unfortunately, but there's plenty of magic within the game to make up for it.
You'll travel to several familiar Disney worlds with Sora, Donald, and Goofy, like Hercules's Olympus, Frozen's Arendelle, The Hundred Acre Wood from Winnie the Pooh, and even San Fransokyo from Big Hero 6. Each has their own miniature missions and storylines to complete as you explore the world, meeting familiar characters and reliving fun moments from throughout the respective movie franchises.
That doesn't even include the magic of Sora's transforming Keyblades, summonable characters like Wreck-It Ralph, Ariel, and Simba, and all the magic you can learn after gaining enough experience. The real-time combat plays out more like an action hack-and-slash than a traditional RPG like the games before it, and it's even more bombastic this time around. What could easily feel like a slog is transformed in this way into an explosive encounter that makes you feel like you're accomplishing something awesome even if you're just fighting basic enemies. It's addictive, and the boss battles are quite the spectacle.
Beyond the amazing combat, however, there's plenty to do otherwise. You can make recipes with Ratatouille's Remy in the Little Chef in-games and go on photo missions that little moogles request you take for them. Beyond that, the Gummi Ships from the previous games, which you use to get from point A to point B and throughout the universe, have been expanded significantly. You can build and fly your own ship, customize them with ornaments like rabbits and puppies, and plenty of other cool stuff as well.
This epic adventure spans 30 to 40 hours, and that's being conservative. There's a massive amount of things to take on while adventuring, so even if you don't play the game for the narrative, you'll want to play it for these fun little side stories. Disney diehards will no doubt want to jump in with all the cool shoutouts as well.
So, does Kingdom Hearts III live up to the hype? Yes, and then some. It's a tribute to Disney fans and those who have waited years to see what's next for Sora and crew, and it's been treated with such love and care that it's hard to see how the franchise could improve even further. Whether there will be another core Kingdom Hearts game in the future is anyone's guess — but if not, we'll be able to confidently say it ended the best it could have with this entry.