The long and arduous wait for Kingdom Hearts 3 is nearly over for fans of the complex and exuberant Disney RPG.
This apparently final chapter in the ‘Dark Seeker Saga’, which has seen young adventurer Sora teaming up with Donald Duck, Goofy and a clutch of Disney pals to defeat the evil Heartless, is shaping up to be one of the biggest and best upcoming games of 2019. But the wait for this chapter stretches back almost 15 years.
The last mainline entry for Kingdom Hearts was in 2005 and while fans have seen a number of prequels, spin-offs and updates in the meantime, the continuation of Sora’s story has been a long time coming. So long, in fact, that there is a whole new breed of Kingdom Hearts players waiting in the wings, enamoured with the punchy adventuring on show and the ebullient Disney crossovers, which now features Pixar and characters from properties such as Frozen.
A new entry in such a long-running series needs some unpacking however. And here we endeavour to prime fans both old and new.
What is the Kingdom Hearts 3 release date and what platforms is it on?
Kingdom Hearts 3 is released on 29 January for PS4 and Xbox One.
So what’s Kingdom Hearts 3 all about then?
Kingdom Hearts 3 is the latest and concluding chapter in the ‘Dark Seeker Saga’, which has seen the keyblade wielding Sora travelling a vast variety of Disney worlds; teaming up with Donald Duck and Goofy under the leadership of King Mickey to thwart the vile Xehanort and his ‘Heartless’.
As Sora once again, accompanied by Donald Duck, Goofy and pal Riku, you must track down the Seven Guardians of Light and the ‘Key to Return Hearts’. You will scrap your way through frantic, varied combat with up to five other party members; visiting Disney worlds as far flung and disparate as Toy Story, Frozen’s Arendelle and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Certain characters such as Woody and Buzz Lightyear will be able to join your exploring party, while other Disney characters –such as Wreck-It-Ralph or The Little Mermaid’s Ariel– can be deployed as devastating attacks. Ralph, for instance, builds up bricks around enemies before smashing them all to smithereens.
While it will play very similar to previous Kingdom Hearts games, it is far larger in scope, with much more varied combat with more combinations and special attacks. The various Disney-themed keyblades now have their own unique move, while Sora can conjure up moves based on theme park rides –such as Splash Mountain crashing through giant bosses– as his most powerful attack. It’s nothing if not thrillingly bonkers and, as Kingdom Hearts 3 is built in Square’s proprietary engine (one of the reasons it took so long), is looking fabulous.
What Disney worlds have been confirmed?
Their have already been a glut of Disney properties that have either been seen in action or confirmed to be in the game. Pixar worlds appear for the first time and the Pirates of the Caribbean world is the first time the game has attempted photo-realistic characters. Creative director Tetsuya Nomura told The Telegraph that this was because it is the first time the technology has caught up to allow them to do justice within the context of the game.
- Kingdom of Corona (Tangled)
- Olympus Coliseum (Hercules)
- San Fransokyo (Big Hero 6)
- Monstropolis (Monsters Inc.)
- Toy Box (Toy Story)
- Arendelle (Frozen)
- The Caribbean (Pirates of the Caribbean)
- Hundred Acre Wood (Winnie the Pooh)
- Twilight Town (Kingdom Hearts)
Can I play Kingdom Hearts 3 if I am new to the series?
Well, now you’re asking. Despite its welcoming visage, the Kingdom Hearts narrative is notoriously tangled and complex. Which certainly rings true for a series that counts a game titled ‘Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – Fragmentary Passage’ as a spin-off.
Even series director Tetsuya Nomura admits that ‘new fans may have a hard time understanding all of it’, telling The Telegraph that he was “never really conscious about catering to new and old fans.”
“It’s been over 15 years since this title started and I can’t really change that flow,” he said. “I had to continue the story. But as a package, there is a definite start and a definite end. The core story is a continuation of past titles, but there is one storyline for Kingdom Hearts 3.”
So if you are a potential newbie intrigued by this Disney mash-up; never fear, you should be able to pick up the gist and have a lovely old time with some light background reading. Having played the game at preview, it’s boisterous combat, zany air and gorgeous aesthetic make it easy to be swept along for the ride.
What is the Kingdom Hearts story so far?
If you really want to do your due diligence before Kingdom Hearts 3 is released, Square Enix has released the generous Kingdom Hearts: Story So Far package. This PS4 title bundles together many of the key Kingdom Hearts games to bring you up to speed.
However, for those that prefer a less intensive catch-up, we will do our best to detail the important bits of the tale so far. Spoilers abound, obviously.
Our hero Sora starts the series as a young wannabe adventurer kicking his heels on the idyllic Destiny Isles. Craving a more exciting life, Sora is shunted from his reverie by a dark storm that wracks his island, with shadow creatures known as the Heartless emerging from the sand and causing merry havoc.
Sora finds a weapon a powerful ‘keyblade’ to fight off the Heartless, but is separated from his pals Riku and Kairi and swept away to Traverse Town. This is Kingdom Hearts main hub town, where denizens of different worlds have come together in the wake of the Heartless attack. So you have Final Fantasy VIII’s Squall mixing it with Geppetto and Pinocchio. Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Duey and Louie run a local shop, while Moogles patrol the streets.
Sora is found by Donald and Goofy, who have been dispatched by King Mickey to find a ‘key’, and recognise him as just the guy they are looking for. Sora is apparently destined bring peace to all worlds. The Kingdom Hearts that the title refers to was one mythical land in which everyone lived in harmony, protected by the legendary X-Blade, but split into myriad worlds by the Keyblade War.
Now all these worlds are under threat from the darkness, so Sora sets forth with Donald and Goofy with his new keyblade and magical powers (taught to him by Sword in the Stone’s Merlin, naturally).
All a bit batty, but largely comprehensible, as Sora travels from Agrabah to Wonderland battling Heartless and meeting famous Disney faces as he tries to bring peace to the world. Meanwhile a group of Disney villains, lead by Snow White’s Maleficent, is on its own quest to find the Seven Princesses of Heart that will unlock the path to the mythical Kingdom Hearts.
That’s the setup for a story that becomes increasingly complex as time goes on and the sequels and spin-offs add further layers and backstory to the tale. To that end, it’s time to crack out the bullet points.
- Sora’s pal Riku was been snatched up by the villains and convinced that his friends abandoned him. On his search for Kairi, Riku decides that he is the one to wield the keyblade and takes it from Sora.
- Turns out Kairi is one of the Seven Princesses of Heart. Upon the assault on Destiny Islands, she hid her heart within Sora, leaving her unconscious but the Heartless unable to use her power.
- Riku is possessed by the malevolent being Ansem, who orchestrated the whole thing to bring darkness to the world. Sora defeats the possessed Riku before impaling himself on his own keyblade, returning Kairi’s heart while sacrificing his own, turning him into a Heartless.
- Kairi restores Sora’s heart, before Sora, Donald and Goofy battle Ansem at the ‘End of the World’. But upon finding the door to the Kingdom Hearts, the light beyond it destroys Ansem. Our heroes then endeavour to close the door, with Sora, Donald, Goofy and Kairi on one side; King Mickey and the restored Riku on the other.
- Kingdom Hearts II sees the introduction of the ‘Nobodies’, the Heartless shells of particularly strong-hearted victims. Including Sora’s own, Roxas. A group of powerful Nobodies known as Organisation XIII are the main antagonists of the sequel.
- Sora’s task, assigned by the found King Mickey, is to find the missing Riku and discover Organisation XIII’s nefarious plans. Which is to find the Kingdom Hearts (again) to restore their own lost hearts.
- The Organisation are lead by Xemnas, the Nobody of the evil Xehanort. Turns out Xehanort was the imposter posing as Ansem, who was his mentor, in the original game.
- If you are following so far, well done, but it isn’t going to get any easier.
- The real Ansem, meanwhile, is posing as the character Diz. After being revealed, Ansem tries to harness the power of the Kingdom Hearts, but it backfires, engulfing Ansem and restoring the now found, but corrupted, Riku to his original form.
- The heroes then battle Xemnas at the Organisation’s base in the Castle That Never Was, defeating him. But Lord Xehanort remains at large, forming the quest that faces Sora and company in Kingdom Hearts III.
- Some important addendums come from various spin-offs, particularly PSP game Birth By Sleep, which explored the origins of arch-villain Xehanort.
- Birth By Sleep follow three friends training to become Keyblade masters, Terra, Aqua and Ventus as they fight off mysterious creatures the Unversed. Master Xehanort, meanwhile, sabotages the trio’s exams before disappearing with his apprentice Vanitas to hunt down the Seven Princesses.
- Along the way Ventus, Aqua and Terra meet Sora, Kairi and Riku on Destiny Islands. With each respective character having a strong link to the other.
- Turns out that Ventus was originally Xehanort’s apprentice, but with the evil master deciding he was too weak, extracted the dark-hearted Vanitas from his soul
- In the final reckoning Ventus and Vanitas, light and dark, join to create the legendary X-Blade before it is shattered by Aqua. By the end, Aqua sacrifices herself to a dark realm to save Terra, whose body has been possessed by Xehanort. Ventus’s heart, meanwhile, left wandering after the X-Blade is destroyed, finds its way to Sora to merge with the young boy.
- To recap on that last bit, that means that by the time Sora leaves the Destiny Islands he has three hearts in tow: his own, Ven’s and Kairi’s. Doctor Who eat your… oh forget it.
- (This is also why Sora’s Nobody, Roxas, looks like Ventus.)
- No, me either.
So where does that leave us for Kingdom Hearts 3?
The new game will pick up after the events of the 3DS game, Dream Drop Distance. A youthful Xehanort has been revived, determined to bring together light and dark for a new Keyblade War. Sora and Riku have completed their ‘Mark of Mastery’, set by Mickey’s magician mentor Yen Sid, to prepare them for the battle ahead.
Sora, Donald and Goofy are tasked with finding seven guardians of light and the ‘Key to Return Hearts’, while Riku joins King Mickey in searching for skilled keyblade warriors. This is all, essentially, in preparation for the final encounter with Xehanort and his combined forces of Heartless, Nobodies and Unversed.
All roads pointing to a great big magical dust-up with Mickey Mouse leading the charge? For all the complexities involved therein, that sounds like a premise we can all get behind.