I waited nearly 13 years for 'Kingdom Hearts 3' and it's everything I expected - for better and for worse

Kingdom Hearts 3 Glass"Kingdom Hearts 3"/Square Enix&quotKingdom Hearts 3"/Square Enix

  • Released on January 29th, "Kingdom Hearts 3" is the culmination of a trilogy that began in 2002. The game arrives nearly 13 years after "Kingdom Hearts 2."
  • The "Kingdom Hearts" series blends the worlds of Disney's films with the "Final Fantasy" video game series.
  • Through the years the series has developed a cult following, with an expansive story spread across multiple games, spin-offs, and re-releases.
  • Despite its long legacy, "Kingdom Hearts 3" is fun and approachable for newcomers and still feels familiar after all these years. 

Fans have been waiting for "Kingdom Hearts 3" since 2006. That's longer than the entire lifespan of the PlayStation 3, and possibly longer than a lot of the people who will play this game have been alive. 

The nearly 13-year wait for a true sequel to "Kingdom Hearts 2" made the game one of the most anticipated titles of all-time, and it's finally arrived. 

After more than a decade of waiting, "Kingdom Hearts 3" has finally arrived, for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and it's everything I'd hoped for as a fan. The game is beautiful, full of massive new Disney worlds to explore, and will finally, finally end the story that began when I was 13.

From its inception "Kingdom Hearts" has defied convention. The franchise was born from an unlikely partnership between Disney and Square Enix, the Japanese developer responsible for the "Final Fantasy" series of roleplaying games. Using the mechanics of "Final Fantasy" as a foundation, Square Enix designed an impressive action-adventure game that treated Disney's iconic animated movies like a playground.

Despite wild popularity, Square Enix has released just a handful of "Kingdom Hearts" games since the series launched in 2002. Released in 2006, "Kingdom Hearts 2" was the last fully new "Kingdom Hearts" game to be released on a home console, though the series has gotten several prequels and spinoffs for portable consoles.

Amid all of this, Director Tetsuya Nomura was consistent in his promise that "Kingdom Hearts 3" would end "The Dark Seeker Saga," the main storyline that began with the first game.

But you don't need to be a "Kingdom Hearts" veteran to enjoy the newest game.

Here's what I thought of "Kingdom Hearts 3," one of the most anticipated games of the decade.

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"Kingdom Hearts" stars Sora, a young adventurer with a magical sword called a keyblade. He's accompanied on his travels by Donald Duck and Goofy.

"Kingdom Hearts" stars Sora, a young adventurer with a magical sword called a keyblade. He's accompanied on his travels by Donald Duck and Goofy.

Sora, Donald, and Goofy have been the team at the center of "Kingdom Hearts" since the first game. Sora's sword, the keyblade, has magical powers that lets the trio travel between different worlds. They battle dark forces while searching for Kingdom Hearts, a power source that can remake the universe.

Sora, Donald and Goofy visit different worlds based on Disney movies, like "Toy Story" and "Frozen."

Sora, Donald and Goofy visit different worlds based on Disney movies, like "Toy Story" and "Frozen."

Since the first game was released, "Kingdom Hearts" has incorporated characters from more than 30 Disney films. Whenever they arrive in a new Disney world, Sora is thrown into a short story related to the film — in the "Toy Story" world, players help Woody and Buzz Lightyear search for their friends, while a trip to "Tangled" sees you guard Rapunzel as she leaves her tower for the first time. Each adventure brings you a little closer to finding Kingdom Hearts.

Seeing the new Disney worlds and their memorable characters fully rendered in 3D is still my favorite part of "Kingdom Hearts."

Seeing the new Disney worlds and their memorable characters fully rendered in 3D is still my favorite part of "Kingdom Hearts."

Buzz Lightyear, Hercules, Captain Jack Sparrow, and more Disney characters team up with Sora to protect their respective worlds.

Buzz Lightyear, Hercules, Captain Jack Sparrow, and more Disney characters team up with Sora to protect their respective worlds.

While the player only controls Sora during the game, you can customize how your teammates fight to best suit your playstyle. Sora can partner with his party members for team attacks, and certain special moves are unique to specific Disney worlds.

Each Disney-themed world has its own distinct style and story, often overlapping with the original movie.

Each Disney-themed world has its own distinct style and story, often overlapping with the original movie.

Kingdom Hearts 3" features worlds based on eight different Disney movies including "Tangled," "Hercules," "Toy Story," "Frozen," Pirates of the Caribbean," "Big Hero 6," "Winnie the Pooh," and "Monsters Inc."

Every time they arrive in a new world, Sora, Donald, and Goofy get new outfits or entirely different looks to match their surroundings.

Every time they arrive in a new world, Sora, Donald, and Goofy get new outfits or entirely different looks to match their surroundings.

For story reasons, Sora and his friends don't want the Disney characters to know that they've come from a different world. Donald uses magic to disguise the team based on the world they're in. They get cool pirate outfits when fighting alongside Jack Sparrow, become action figures when they visit the world of "Toy Story," and so on.

Plenty of Disney characters who don't have their own world in the game make cameo appearances too, like Remy from "Ratatouille."

Plenty of Disney characters who don't have their own world in the game make cameo appearances too, like Remy from "Ratatouille."

Not every Disney character in "Kingdom Hearts 3" has their own world. Familiar faces like Scrouge McDuck and Remy from "Ratatouille" pop up in Twilight Town, an original world created for the game. Others, like Wreck-It Ralph and Simba from "The Lion King," can be summoned to help Sora in battle.

Beyond Disney, "Kingdom Hearts" has its own original characters, like Sora's friends.

Beyond Disney, "Kingdom Hearts" has its own original characters, like Sora's friends.

There's more to the story of "Kingdom Hearts" than Disney movies. Many of the original characters introduced in prior games return to play key roles in the story. Sora's strong relationships with his friends fuel most of his actions.

Sora isn't the only hero in "Kingdom Hearts," either. His best friend Riku and Mickey Mouse both have keyblades as well.

Sora isn't the only hero in "Kingdom Hearts," either. His best friend Riku and Mickey Mouse both have keyblades as well.

Behind the scenes, the members of the evil Organization XIII are trying to control the entire universe.

Behind the scenes, the members of the evil Organization XIII are trying to control the entire universe.

The main villains are Organization XIII, a group of cloaked villains in search of Kingdom Hearts. While some members have their own motivations, their leader Xehanort wants to use the power of Kingdom Hearts to remake the world in his image.

The group's experiments led to the discovery of the Heartless and Nobodies, the two main groups of monsters Sora spends most of the game fighting.

Organization XIII controls an army of monsters that threaten the various Disney worlds.

Organization XIII controls an army of monsters that threaten the various Disney worlds.

The bad guys try to blend in, too. Heartless enemies will take on new forms entirely depending on which Disney world you encounter them in.

The bad guys try to blend in, too. Heartless enemies will take on new forms entirely depending on which Disney world you encounter them in.

Luckily Sora, Donald and Goofy have dozens of abilities to help them dispatch their foes.

Luckily Sora, Donald and Goofy have dozens of abilities to help them dispatch their foes.

Playing "Kingdom Hearts 3" is all about making Sora stronger, and he's got a wide range of abilities that he'll learn as you progress through the game. Players can choose between dozens of abilities for Sora, Donald and Goofy, and upgrade their weapons as they find materials in different worlds.

With so many choices, no two playthroughs will neecssarily be the same, and there's plenty of ways to keep improving after you've completed the story.

"Kingdom Hearts 3" is a roleplaying game, so as Sora and his friends level up, you'll need to spend some time managing your stats, items and abilities.

"Kingdom Hearts 3" is a roleplaying game, so as Sora and his friends level up, you'll need to spend some time managing your stats, items and abilities.

"Final Fantasy" heavily inspired the gameplay of "Kingdom Hearts," and the game still contains countless references to the series.

"Final Fantasy" heavily inspired the gameplay of "Kingdom Hearts," and the game still contains countless references to the series.

The items and leveling system of "Kingdom Hearts" are heavily influenced by "Final Fantasy," a popular series of roleplaying games also made by Square Enix. Many of the the item names are lifted directly from Final Fantasy games, and there are few cameo appearances from memorable "Final Fantasy" critters like Cactaur and Moogles.

Characters from past "Final Fantasy" games were included in the story of "Kingdom Hearts" and "Kingdom Hearts 2," but they don't appear this time around.

You'll run into increasingly difficult boss enemies while playing, so it's important to keep track of your progression.

You'll run into increasingly difficult boss enemies while playing, so it's important to keep track of your progression.

As with most single player games, "Kingdom Hearts 3" is filled with bosses. They're not too tough, but if you don't spend enough time raising Sora's level, you might run into a bit of difficulty. You'll encounter at least one in each Disney world and the fights usually take on extra cinematic flair.

Many of the game's boss fights happen on a massive scale, forcing Sora to climb up walls or take the fight to the skies.

Many of the game's boss fights happen on a massive scale, forcing Sora to climb up walls or take the fight to the skies.

Some of the bosses are taken straight from Disney's movies too, like the titans from "Hercules."

Some of the bosses are taken straight from Disney's movies too, like the titans from "Hercules."

While most of the game's enemies are Heartless or Nobodies, there are some good ole' fashioned Disney villains too.

Thankfully "Kingdom Hearts 3" isn't all about fighting. You'll get to dance, cook and have all other types of fun along the way.

Thankfully "Kingdom Hearts 3" isn't all about fighting. You'll get to dance, cook and have all other types of fun along the way.

"Kingdom Hearts 3" does an excellent job of breaking up the action with mini-games and other short set pieces that change the way you play. You'll dance with the cast of "Tangled," and fly through the skies of "Big Hero 6's" San Fransokyo. You'll even cook meals with Remy the rat.

Some mini-games are required to move the story forward, while others just offer a fun reprieve from fighting. Sora can earn new powerups and items from mini-games and other side missions during the story too.

Some mini-games are required to move the story forward, while others just offer a fun reprieve from fighting. Sora can earn new powerups and items from mini-games and other side missions during the story too.

Sora flies his Gummi Ship starfighter between Disney worlds, giving the player an entirely different type of gameplay.

Sora flies his Gummi Ship starfighter between Disney worlds, giving the player an entirely different type of gameplay.

To travel between worlds Sora, Donald, and Goofy use the an odd-looking craft called the Gummi Ship. At first glance the Gummi Ship looks like something from another game entirely, but it's been a part of "Kindom Hearts" since the very beginning.

While most of the time on the Gummi Ship is spent navigating and shooting down enemies, you can also explore the empty space between worlds and customize your ship.

As the third game in a trilogy, "Kingdom Hearts 3" is meant to bring the story to a close.

As the third game in a trilogy, "Kingdom Hearts 3" is meant to bring the story to a close.

"Kingdom Hearts 3" is a fun game on its own, but it's also meant to wrap up a trilogy that started in 2001. While playing the previous games isn't necessary to enjoy "Kingdom Hearts 3," you'll probably want to catch up on the story a bit before hopping into the newest title.

Following along may be tough if you're new to the series, even though "Kingdom Hearts 3" spends a lot of time catching up on the story of the past games.

Following along may be tough if you're new to the series, even though "Kingdom Hearts 3" spends a lot of time catching up on the story of the past games.

Understandably, "Kingdom Hearts 3" spends a significant amount of time revisiting characters and moments from earlier games to help resolve the story. People who have played the series before will likely appreciate the character development in "Kingdom Hearts 3."

However, those approaching the series for the first time will probably spend a lot of time trying to figure out how all of these cutscenes add to the story.

Sadly, even as someone who has played "Kingdom Hearts" since 2001, the story isn't quite as satisfying as I'd want it to be.

Sadly, even as someone who has played "Kingdom Hearts" since 2001, the story isn't quite as satisfying as I'd want it to be.

It doesn't help that the basic themes of Kingdom Hearts are a bit simple for an adult audience. While the actual story of "Kingdom Hearts" has grown convoluted across all of these games, the idea at the center is a battle of good versus evil — and you can sort of guess who wins.

Considering that "Kingdom Hearts" is built on the foundation of kids movies, this isn't necessarily a problem, but with 30 hours worth of story to get through, the constant cutscenes talking about hearts, light, and darkness gets old eventually.

Veterans of the series are rewarded for following the story through the years.

Veterans of the series are rewarded for following the story through the years.

Considering that many of the people who grew up with the original "Kingdom Hearts" games have grown out of the core Disney demographic (myself included), it's interesting to see that "Kingdom Hearts 3" is still so invested in telling the same story.

For those who have been invested since 2001, "Kingdom Hearts 3" wont disappoint. But I do wonder where that leaves the next generation of players who are trying the franchise for the first time.

Story aside, "Kingdom Hearts 3" has a wicked sense of fun that's been missing from the more seriously-minded games I usually play.

Story aside, "Kingdom Hearts 3" has a wicked sense of fun that's been missing from the more seriously-minded games I usually play.

With such high expectations, "Kingdom Hearts 3" has to perform an odd balancing act between its faithful fans and a new generation of players. As a more experienced player, it's hard not to see that the focus on exploring Disney worlds doesn't really have a whole lot to do with the game's larger story.

But, spending a few hours in each Disney world provided fun fuel for the imagination, and that was enough to keep me playing through the game. The journey is exciting the whole way through, even if the stops along the way don't always feel like they're bringing you closer to the end.

While it may not be for everyone, "Kingdom Hearts 3" is a fun, vibrant game that feels well worth the wait.

While it may not be for everyone, "Kingdom Hearts 3" is a fun, vibrant game that feels well worth the wait.

Ultimately, my return to "Kingdom Hearts" was undoubtly fun. I enjoyed seeing the new Disney worlds, I laughed as Buzz Lightyear finally got some use out of his laser, and I have to admit that I still care about Sora, his friends and all their cheesy dialogue more than 10 years later.

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