There’s a moment in every Kingdom Hearts fan’s life when they realise that, despite their best efforts, they no longer have any idea what’s going on the in long-running series’ famously convoluted story. Whether you only ever played the two main, numbered entries on the PlayStation 2 or you’ve also played the many spin-offs and the F2P mobile game, there’s a point where there’s no choice but to throw both hands up in defeat and admit that you’re completely lost. For me it was somewhere around the Coded/Dream Drop Distance era, where folks started bouncing around virtual worlds and jumping into each other’s dreams Inception-style. Even before then I’ll admit I occasionally found it hard to remember which one of the many identical-looking characters was which at any given moment. So, despite going back and replaying most of the titles in the recent HD collections and watching countless YouTube recaps in preparation, I went into Kingdom Hearts III concerned that I’d wind up totally perplexed within hours of starting the game. Thankfully though, that wasn’t the case.
Against all odds, Kingdom Hearts III features a story that is fairly welcoming to casual fans and even newcomers. Without ever shying away from its past and the tangled web of heroes, anti-heroes, döppelgangers, time travel, black cloaks and anime hair that precedes it, the vast majority of the game’s story is a return to the themes and messages of the very first title. There’s a concerted effort here to put the spotlight back on Sora and his friends and revisit matters of the heart, of companionship and emotional strength that were at the core of the allegorical and symbolic imagery that the series was founded on. Without delving too far into the series’ lore, Kingdom Hearts III picks up after Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance and sees Sora, Donald and Goofy continue on their quest to assemble the seven Guardians of Light and prevent a new iteration of the nefarious Organisation XIII from unlocking Kingdom Hearts, the heart of all worlds, and reshaping all existence as they see fit. At the game’s opening, Sora is still dealing with having failed the Mark of Mastery exam needed to become a true Keyblade Master, knowing that he needs to find it within himself to pass so that he can join his friends in defeating the Organisation. To that end, the crux of the game’s plot is about Sora’s personal journey, hopping from world to world with Donald and Goofy in tow to learn as much as he can about matters of the heart and his own inner strength from a menagerie of Disney film characters.