Kingdom Hearts III

Kingdom Hearts III

Kingdom Hearts III is a 2019 action role-playing game developed and published by Square Enix for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and later Microsoft Windows. It is the twelfth installment in the Kingdom Hearts series, and serves as a conclusion of the “Dark Seeker Saga” story arc that began with the original game. Set after the events of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, returning protagonist Sora is joined by Donald Duck, Goofy, King Mickey and Riku in their search for seven guardians of light as they attempt to thwart Xehanort’s plan to bring about a second Keyblade War. Their journey has them cross paths with characters and visit worlds based on different Disney and Pixar intellectual properties.

Concepts for Kingdom Hearts III began as early as 2005 after the release of Kingdom Hearts II in Japan, with the game not being announced until 2013, following years of rumors and speculation. The game features recurring gameplay elements from the series, while expanding parties to five characters total, introducing new “Attraction Flow” attacks that incorporate various Disney Parks attractions, and including minigames inspired by classic Walt Disney Productions Mickey Mouse cartoons in the style of 1980s LCD games.

Kingdom Hearts III was released worldwide in January 2019, and was met with generally positive reviews from critics. It sold over five million copies within its first week of release, becoming both the fastest-selling and best-selling game in the series’ history. A downloadable content expansion of the game titled Kingdom Hearts III Re Mind was released on January 23, 2020 for PlayStation 4, and on February 25, 2020 for Xbox One. A Microsoft Windows port was released on March 30, 2021, along with all other games in the franchise.

Gameplay in Kingdom Hearts III is similar to its predecessors, with hack and slash combat, which director Tetsuya Nomura stated would be along the lines of the system seen in Kingdom Hearts II, with an evolution similar to what was seen from Kingdom Hearts to Kingdom Hearts II, and closely tied to the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. He also revealed that the handheld games of the series were where he could experiment with the combat mechanics, and that some of the well-received additions could appear in Kingdom Hearts III. Nomura noted that new gameplay elements are the “skeleton” of the game, saying, “When creating a Kingdom Hearts game, we start with a gameplay system that I think would be a fun element, and once we have an idea of what kind of gameplay or system we want in place, we flesh out the story around it, surrounding the basic concept of what kind of fun we’re going to have with this new installment.” Additionally, the development team “always want to try something new”, taking previously introduced mechanics and making small “tweaks” to them so they are customized for Kingdom Hearts III.

Sora returns as the main playable character, once again joined in the party by Donald Duck and Goofy, with the ability to have two additional characters join the party for a total of five-player parties. This is an increase from previous main entries in the series, where players were limited to two additional party members at any given time along with Sora. Certain parts of the game have Riku and Aqua as playable characters. Describing the gameplay, Nomura called the action “pretty frantic”, as well as “really flashy and exciting. The enemy AI is a lot more intricate, too, and I think the gameplay will reflect that new dynamic balance.” Sora can perform magic, with a new, powerful tier of each spell available to him, similar to what Aqua has available to her in Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage. Magic performs differently in underwater sections of the game, with Kingdom Hearts III introducing a new spell, Water. Team-up attacks are also featured, which combine Sora and various party members into one attack. Players can equip various abilities for Sora and his party members, with the system to do so “an evolution of sorts” from the system used in Kingdom Hearts II. Character summons make a return from previous entries, this time known as “Links”, where an additional character joins the battle to assist the player with specialized attacks.

Sora performing an “Attraction Flow” attack that utilizes Disney Parks attractions, a new feature for Kingdom Hearts III
Sora faces Heartless, Nobodies, and Unversed in the game, with new variants of these enemy types appearing. In addition to these traditional “smaller” enemies, the player faces giant bosses, which give “Sora greater freedom of movement and room to experiment with attacks—including the new theme-park-ride summon attacks,” known as “Attraction Flow”. These attacks are inspired by the Disney Parks attractions Mad Tea Party, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, and Grizzly River Run, and generic pirate ship and carousel attractions; these attacks draw visual inspiration from Disney Parks’ Main Street Electrical Parade. Sora also has the ability to jump on certain enemies, such as ones shaped like a vehicle. Regarding traversal, Nomura noted the new mechanic, called “Athletic Flow” in Japanese, was refined from the Flowmotion mechanic from Dream Drop Distance, which players felt was “a little too free… and it was kind of hard to control on their end.” “Athletic Flow” allows the player to utilize the environment to access previously unreachable areas. Co-director Tai Yasue stated this mechanic was created “to try something new” and “radically change the gameplay” for the Hercules world, which led to its use in the other worlds. As a result, each world was able to have “more height, scale and sense of discovery.”

Situation Commands also return from previous entries, which can trigger the Keyblade transformations. Nomura revealed that Keyblade transformations were conceived as early as the development of Kingdom Hearts II: Final Mix and would be similar to Aqua’s ability in Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep, saying, “Each Keyblade transformation is unlocked by clearing all missions in one of the game’s worlds, and each individual world offers its own unique Keyblade transformation.” He further elaborated stating there were two forms each Keyblade can take, with “multiple layers in terms of transforming” starting with one transformation and achieving the second after “successfully connecting your combos”. The Keyblade transformations active the various “Formchanges”–Power, Guard, Magic, and Speed– and change Sora’s outfit, similarly to the “Drive Form” mechanic in Kingdom Hearts II. Various Keyblades are linked to each form; for example, the Toy Story world Keyblade actives Power Form for Sora, with the Keyblade’s transformations changing into a hammer and then into a drill. There is also “Second Form”, which changes Sora’s battle skills rather than transform the Keyblade. Unlike previous games in the series, players are able to quickly switch between different Keyblades seamlessly during gameplay rather than from the game’s equipment menu, and each Keyblade can be leveled up to increase their abilities. Shotlocks also return, which use a focus meter that can target and lock on to individual enemies with the attack depending on which Keyblade is equipped.

Each world offers a specific gameplay element, such as first-person shooter “Gigas” mechs in the Toy Story world, downhill sledding in the Frozen world, and naval, underwater, and aerial combat in the Pirates of the Caribbean world, which also features numerous smaller islands at sea which can be explored. The Gummi Ship also returns as a means of travel between the different worlds of the game. The mechanic has been split into two phases: exploration, which has been likened to being more open-world without a fixed travel route as in previous games; and combat, which has increased its scale from previous games, with more enemies present. Gummi Ship customization also returns, with more options available than in previous Kingdom Hearts games.

Various mini-games playable throughout Kingdom Hearts III, including a cooking-themed game featuring Remy from Ratatouille, and a music game one in the Tangled world. Additionally, the “Classic Kingdom” features over 20 games presented in the style of 1980s LCD games such as Game & Watch, while the 100 Acre Wood world features puzzle games. Members of the development team suggested each type of mini-game featured, with Nomura working on the “Classic Kingdom”. Kingdom Hearts III also has a “Memory Archive” features, which has several short films explaining the basic story elements of the series from the previous games.