The date was September 17th, 2002. Squaresoft and Disney released their collaboration game that kicked off a franchise; Kingdom Hearts.
2 and a half years later in March 2006, their true sequel Kingdom Hearts 2 was released, and now almost 13 years later we finally have what we have been promised since the end of the last game, Kingdom Hearts 3.
Kingdom Hearts has been subtly hinting at this game since the release of Kingdom Hearts 2, but danced around actually announcing it until E3 in 2013. Instead, they released a slew of subtitles for the game. There have been 11 games released by Square Enix/Disney under the Kingdom Hearts title between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3, of these 6 were remakes of previous titles. This includes the less than popular game Kingdom Hearts 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue, which was simply a rerelease of Birth By Sleep along with a few additional cutscenes related to X. Since being announced in 2013, the game had been pushed back each year since 2014, with an actual solid release date announced at the end of 2017. In summary, the lead up to Kingdom Hearts 3 was long, and obnoxious and many fans could not believe the day it finally arrived.
I was certainly one of those fans, I had previously several times swore that I would not believe that Kingdom Hearts 3 was actually getting released until I had the game in hand, and I saw the title screen appear on my TV with my own eyes. You can imagine my frustration then, when I installed the game, hit new game, and the prologue immediately started off with the following;
To keep it short, I raged for about a minute, and I didn’t fully calm down until I finished the prologue and the actual title card for Kingdom Hearts 3 faded onto the screen. In hindsight, I find the prologue title hilarious, almost as if Square and Disney were aware of the aggravation they were causing fans with their release of games such as Kingdom Hearts 1.5, Kingdom Hearts 2.5, Kingdom Hearts 1.5+2.5, and Kingdom Hearts 2.8 prior to the release of Kingdom Hearts 3, and had to take one final jab before giving the fans what they have been waiting for all these years.
Before I dive into game play and plot, I just want to take a moment to applaud the graphics in this game. While they aren’t necessarily ground breaking, the scenery and character design were all stunning, these characters that I’ve watched grow from my own childhood, looked as real as you could possibly make them for the genre, and it was truly a wonder watching each scene unfold.
The game play took a solid move forward from its predecessors. Kingdom Hearts was a basic hack and slash type of game, you had the ability to do magic, and summon support characters, but most of the time, you fought enemies simply by hitting them with your keyblade until their eventual pool of health dried up. Kingdom Hearts 2 added to this with the reaction command, and drive forms, adding extra movements and attacks to the standard hack and slash. Kingdom Hearts 3 took this one step farther and added form changes with your keyblade, combo moves with Donald and Goofy, and light based rides to attack enemies. The one place that the combat seemed to lack was the new addition; Flowmotion. Flowmotion allowed you to grab onto objects in the area and move around them, giving you a wider range of attack. Though you typically had to go out of your way to activate this, so for the most part, at least in my play through, it was all but forgotten. But I believe the best improvement to this game is that Donald actually heals you!
Now buckle in as I give a quick overview of the plot.
[Plot Spoilers Begin Here]
As expected, Kingdom Hearts boasts a complicated story that doesn’t always make sense, but I’ll focus on the main story points in order to make this as seamless as possible.
The game starts off with the trio at the mysterious tower, immediately after the events of Dream Drop Distance. Riku and Mickey are off looking for Aqua, Ven, and Terra who have been missing since the events of Birth By Sleep. Kairi and Lea (aka Axel) have left with Merlin to train with their newly acquired Keyblades. Sora, recently having failed his Mark of Mastery exam and having his powers stripped off him by Xehanort, is sent off by Yen Sid to reclaim the “power of waking” to awaken hearts who sleep. So Sora embarks to several different Disney worlds (per usual) to see what he can reclaim. Meanwhile in the realm of darkness, Riku and Mickey fight a hoard of shadows, and are overpowered. Mickey’s keyblade is damaged and Riku’s is broken clean in half, so they return to Master Yen Sid to get new ones.
Sora encounters several members of Organization XIII across each world. Some are studying the world and looking for the “new 7 lights” should Sora fail to recruit the 7 guardians of light to fight against the 13 incarnations of Xehanort. Other are searching for a black box, of which they do not know the contents, but have been told it contains “hope”. Maleficent and Pete (yup, they’re still around) are also searching each world for the box. We also see that several of the original nobodies from the organization have joined up with the true Organization, including Marluxia, Larxene, Demyx, Luxord, and Vexan, though we find out that Vexan and Demyx have been benched from being Xehanort’s vessels. Zexion, Xaldin, and Lexaeus (now Ienzo, Dilan, and Aeleus respectively) are working back at Radiant Gardens in Ansems old lab, providing support for the 7 Guardians. In the realm of darkness, Ansem the Wise and Aqua have a conversation when Xehanort’s heartless shows up and forces Ansem to come with him, knocking out Aqua into the darkness.
Xehanort brings Ansem to Twilight Town in order to get him to resurrect Roxas and Namine. Before they can get into the mansion, Ansem is rescued by Hayner, Pence, and Olette. When Xehanort tries to get him back, he is confronted by a group of Dusk nobodies. Upon arriving to safety, Hayner, Pence, Olette, and Ansem are confronted by Vexen, who sent the nobodies and is revealed to be working as a double agent against Organization XIII. Vexen also convinces Demyx to defect with him, and together they steal a replica from the organization and bring it to Ienzo and Ansem so that they can resurrect Roxas.
Riku and Mickey travel into the Realm of Darkness again, this time with new Keyblades and still find themselves facing difficulties. Eventually Mickey is captured by an orb of darkness sent by a newly darkness covered Aqua who is pissed at them for leaving her in the realm of darkness for over a decade. Riku faces Aqua, but is unable to gain much ground. Sora meanwhile hears that Riku and Mickey are unaccounted for and are unable to be contacted. So he travels to Realm of Darkness to save them. As he arrives, he finds himself on Destiny Island (the world on the edge of the realm of light and darkness) and finds Master Eraqus keyblade that Aqua lost. Traveling further into the realm of darkness, he shows up in time to help Riku defeat Aqua. As Aqua starts to fall back into the dark abyss again, Sora reaches out and is able to pull her back to the Realm of Light.
Aqua leads Sora, Donald, and Goofy to Castle Oblivion which was the disguise for the Land of Departure, where she stored Ventus’ heartless husk. Upon arriving at Ventus body, Vanitas appears and starts to fight Aqua. Though Aqua gains the upper hand, Vanitas attempts to attack Ventus body, causing Aqua to jump in the way to protect her friend. Ventus’ sleeping heart is awakened by Sora (Hooray, the Power of Waking!) and Ventus returns and beats back Vanitas.
With the new 7 Guardians awoken, they all return to the Mysterious tower to meet with Master Yen Sid.
After some quick dialogue catching everyone up, they all prepare for the final battle. Sora and Kairi have a heart to heart and promise to protect each other. The next day they depart for the Keyblade Graveyard to confront the Organization.
Upon arriving, the group faces a large number of enemies that puts the battle of 1000 heartless to shame. After regrouping, they come face to face with Terra-Xehanort. While trying to save him, Ventus and Lea both get knocked out, and Donald uses a powerful spell to send him flying away that makes him collapse from exhaustion. They then face a shadow vortex that consumes them all. Sora loses hope and is transported to the world between life and death where he pieces himself and everyone else back together before returning to face the Vortex again. Together with the help of the fallen keyblade wielders from the war, they defeat the vortex. With more heartless coming, Master Yen Sid appears and with the help of Donald and Goofy, take on the heartless while the seven guardians press forward.
The Seven and the Thirteen confront each other and Master Xehanort creates a maze separating everyone and initiating separate battles that (surprise) Sora helps with all of them.
First you help either Riku or Mickey. With Riku, you battle Riku Replica and Xigbar. Before Xigbar falls into an abyss, he mentions that Xehanort promised him a keyblade, in which Sora and Riku say he will never be worthy to wield. When Riku replica is defeated, his heart leave the replica body, which is sent to Ansem and Ienzo to revive Namine. With Mickey, you face Luxord, Marluxia, and Larxene.
After defeating them you move on and either choose to help Aqua and Ven, or Kairi and Lea. With Aqua and Ven, you fight Vanitas and Terra-Xehanort. Vanitas, being defeated slips into Darkness and is destroyed. After defeating Terra-Xehanort, Aqua and Ven try to save him again only for the Xehanort portion to overpower them and wrap them in chains. Just as he is about to finish them off, the Terra portion reveals himself as a heartless and saves them. Sora manages to free Terra from Xehanort’s control and Aqua and Ven rest as Terra promises to look after them.
Arriving to help Kairi and Lea, you face a hooded figure and Saix. About half way through the battle, Xemnas shows up and dismisses Lea’s keyblade and is about to finish him off, when the hooded figure asks him to not. Revealing that the hooded figure is Xion, Xemnas orders her to finish Lea off with “Ah yes, you used to be friends”. Sora intervenes and then Roxas appears having been completed by Ansem and Ienzo. In order to level the playing field, Xemnas orders Saix to finish them off and kidnaps Kairi. With Roxas and Xion’s help, you finish off Saix. Before disappearing, Lea asks his old friend why he joined them, and Saix states he was jealous that Lea had gotten new friends with Roxas and Xion. Lea said that he never stopped considering Saix a friend and states that if he comes back, he wants to see him again. Saix looks happy as he disappears.
Proceeding farther, you find Master Xehanort standing on a pillar above a battlefield as Xehanorts heartless, Xemnas, and Young Xehanort appear before you. With Mickey and Riku, you defeat all three. Master Xehanort states that 12 times now, the light has clashed with the darkness, and only one more time is needed in order to form the x-blade. The group says they won’t fight him and forge the last key, to which Master Xehanort responds that they just need motivation. He summons Kairi and strikes her down, causing Sora to attack in a rage, giving Xehanort the ability to forge the x-blade.
Xehanort summons Kingdom Hearts and heads towards it. The nine keyblade wielders (Sora, Riku, King Mickey, Terra, Aqua, Ventus, Lea, Roxas, and Xion) gather with Donald and Goofy. Sora, Donald, and Goofy volunteer to fight Xehanort while the rest seal Kingdom Hearts. Using time magic, the trio send themselves and Xehanort to Scala ad Caelum, the world of the original masters. You face Xehanort a few times, and after defeating him while he wields the x-blade, the other guardians appear. Xehanort claims he wanted to use Kingdom Hearts to wipe the world clean, so that Darkness could never overtake the light, with Sora saying it was not his decision to make. Master Eraqus appears from within Terra and convinces Xehanort to concede defeat. He hands over the x-blade to Sora who uses it to seal Kingdom Hearts, and return to their own time, as Eraqus and Xehanort pass on. Sora, now seeking Kairi’s heart, despite his friends protest, uses the power of waking to free her heart and return her at the cost of his own heart.
With this, everyone returns home, as Riku and Kairi silently mourn their friend.
In the epilogue, a hooded man drags a large black box through the keyblade graveyard as Xehanorts keyblade falls from the sky. He retrieves it before summoning the Foretellers, less Ava. He reveals himself as Luxu, though now in a new body; the body of Xigbar, who he has been for quite some time. He states that this whole time he has been performing his mission for the Master of Masters and that he needs them. As he begins to recount his story, we see Maleficent and Pete looking on from a distance.
And there it is, the end of Kingdom Hearts 3.
[End Plot Spoilers]
Like most fans, I expected this game to put a nice bow on the series as a wrap, with the potential for new games in the future. Instead, it left us with many open ended questions and a thirst for more.
There are points in this game the plot just seems to drag on, such as the very little they sometimes give you in regards to the overall plot between worlds. They did, in a sense, make up for this with having organization members in every world, influencing the plot. This made the final battles with these characters (that you haven’t been able to touch this whole time) much more worth it.
As expected with a Kingdom Hearts game, even with a serious plot, they can’t help but throw in some aspects that appeal to their younger audience. Donald and Goofy are much more vocal in the world; repeating what you have to be doing, or reminding you of abilities you have been using all game. The worlds themselves followed the plot of the original movies, save one or two. So it’s not too all surprising that they are geared towards children. Even throwing in the full version of a song that adults everywhere are tired of; Let it go
The final, and major, issue with Kingdom Hearts was it’s marketing. Most of the big reveals in the story, save the final world, were revealed in the promotions, such as Aqua turning dark, and Sora finding Eraqus keyblade.
In conclusion though, Kingdom Hearts 3 sacrificed a lot to accomplish more in other areas. The removal of drives, aesthetic keyblades, and Final Fantasy characters was disappointing, but thankfully the plot, while finishing up the Dark Seeker Xehanort saga left fans wanting more with a story that’s clearly not finished at all. The story writers did an amazing job in making sure each world tied into the overall plot and was not just a placeholder for more gameplay. There might have been fewer world, but the length of each world more than made up for it. And while it is true that we may not see another Kingdom Hearts game for a while (hopefully not another 13 years…), Square Enix and Disney have made sure that when a new game does arrive, fans will be chomping at the bit for it. It may have taken some time, but Kingdom Hearts 3 has more than made up for the wait.