Kingdom Hearts 3 is a narrative mess, and just one of the most incongruous things I’ve ever played. But it’s also one of the most fun RPGs I’ve put my hands on in recent years, filled with utter joy and a clear love for all things Disney and Pixar. While series fans will undoubtedly feel at home in the spaghetti-woven and corny story continuation, newcomers will wind up feeling lost and confused. Thankfully, the actual gameplay and sheer amount of Disney fan-service that’s on hand is more than enough to make up for the schlocky tale.
Kingdom Hearts as a series has always been about taking one of fantasy’s simplest premises (Light versus Darkness, Good versus Evil) and making it as needlessly complex and obtuse as possible. That tradition continues here, and though the game takes place after one of the series many spinoff titles, it does a pretty admirable job of catching players up to what’s going on even if you’re new to the series or haven’t played them in a while.
That said, when I was wrapping up my first foray into Twilight Town, and was confronted by two members of Organization XIII, who themselves were clones of each other and of the game’s main villain Xehanort, I found myself just shaking my head. You see, series hero Sora has the heart of his own computer simulated doppleganger Roxas inside of his own heart, and he wants to free Roxas… what? That doesn’t make sense? How about, “A heart can live anywhere. Even inside data!”
This is how pretty much all interactions between good and evil go in KH3: hearts, hearts, hearts, darkness, darkness, darkness, darkness, light light, heart heart, darkness darkness, hearts.
So if you’re sitting down to enjoy Kingdom Hearts 3, prepare for it the way you would pretty much any cheesy anime or overwrought fantasy. It’s not good. But, the sheer power of the game’s interconnected Disney/Pixar worlds and brilliant combination of systems and action help make the rest of the story insanity worth wading through.
If and when Kingdom Hearts gets a 4th installment, I’m really really hoping they shrug off the vestiges of 1-3 and all its confusing side stories and spinoffs, and just start fresh with a whole new narrative. When even the series creator Tesuya Nomura can no longer keep plot threads straight, you know there’s a problem.
But then there are the brilliant spots – hearing James Woods voice hades, having Kristen Bell return as Anna. Seeing Woody and Buzz and playing through the Toy Box world, becoming furry monsters and hanging with Sully and Mike, hell even meeting up with Baymax and jumping around San Fransokyo – these are the things I love about KH3, and the things that will make any person with a heart *cringe* happy to sit through the tougher overall narratives of the game. When you’re in each of the different movie-based worlds, the stories are easier to follow because they’re more contained to each location. It’s mainly just that overall Kingdom Hearts narrative with Organization XIII and all the hearts that really feels just impenetrable for anyone but the most diehard fans.
Most of the game’s content and systems are great fun, even when you do something new and world-themed like naval battles in Pirates of the Caribbean or mech battles in the Toy Story world. But if there’s one part of the game that feels needlessly placed to make travel feel more open and expansive, it’s the parts where you’re traveling in your spaceship and going from world to world. Starlink it’s not, and it’s about as exciting as traveling across the open sea in Windwaker, only take out all the fun of exploration and finding new islands. You can eventually fast travel to visited locations, but to get to new worlds, you have to first fly there, and it’s just… boring.
But the spectacle of it all, from the screen-filling magical effects and Disney World themed special attacks to the impeccably designed set pieces and faithfulness to Disney/Pixar classics, make Kingdom Hearts 3 something undeniably special. If you don’t go into this game expecting to be drawn in by its lore, and instead just want to visit the different favorite places of beloved movies, you’re in for an absolute treat.