Warning: This review will contain spoilers for previous games
So, it’s been 14 years since Kingdom Hearts II came out. A lot has happened in that time. Australia has had more Prime Ministers than I care to count. Final Fantasy Versus XIII was announced, split into a bunch of games, completely retooled and then eventually Final Fantasy XV came out. I graduated both high school and university. Seven other Kingdom Hearts games and three compilation releases of those games came out.
There’s a lot to catch up on and, every single one of those games is important to this one. Yes, even the mobile one. You don’t get to skip that one or at least the compilation of cutscenes in the 2.8 compilation release. Basically, the setup goes a little something like this.
Sora, having failed to become a Keyblade Master and nearly falling to the darkness, is now super weak (a good excuse to be level 1 again). This, of course, means he has to go out on a new journey to regain his strength for the coming battle between light and darkness. He also needs to find the other six ‘guardians of light’ who, with himself, will make seven lights to fight the thirteen darknesses, which is Xehanort’s team of… Other Xehanort’s from various times through history, except for the ones that are from now, and just kind of have a piece of him in them corrupting their hearts and slowly turning them into more Xehanort’s so he has his army of 13 darknesses in order to create the χ-Blade (the χ is pronounced chi, like the Greek letter, get it?).
Also, Kairi and Axel wield keyblades now, Axel isn’t Axel, he’s Lea, because all of the previous Organization XIII were restored to their Somebody’s instead of their Nobody’s after Kingdom Hearts II with Sora releasing their hearts and bodies. Except for the ones that went back to Xehanort and are Nobody’s again. Riku and Mickey are also teamed up and everyone is trying to find all the Birth By Sleep heroes who are either in darkness or asleep or… Both, kind of?
Listen. I can’t explain all of this. There’s so much, I’m so tired, I don’t have enough of a word limit so what you need to know is: Sora’s weak, Xehanort means business for real this time (honest), everyone has a new outfit with a lot of plaid in it.
And so, Sora sets off on a new journey in his new duds to a bunch of new and old Disney worlds.
The story elements of the Disney worlds themselves really shine through when the game is allowed to tell an original story. For example, the Toy Story world presents a story that even Pixar had a hand in and is now being called by all involved the official Toy Story 2.5. Otherwise, you’d better have hoped you saw the movie the world was based on, because Sora will generally be very unimportant to the plot of the movie and you’ll spend most of your time trying to follow along with events that have been shown entirely off screen. Even if they’re super important.
Though while Sora can’t follow a lot of the main Disney movie stories, it’s okay because he’s given plenty to do within the worlds.
The battle is the obvious thing. Heartless, Nobody’s and Unversed are all back. Thankfully, so are most of Sora’s skills from previous games, the most noticeable of which is Flowmotion from the 3DS title, Dream Drop Distance. This allows the player to easily traverse the environment in a parkour style while also allowing them to deliver all kinds of creative combo attacks to their enemies. Running up walls, spinning around poles, doing sweet flips off every surface, it’s a lot of fun and, along with longer combos, it really makes battle feel sleek and lively.
Form changes also make a return, with each Keyblade offering a different sort of ‘ultimate ability’. For example, the Monster’s Inc. Keyblade changes into a set of claws and from there, with a high enough combo, the Keyblade transforms again into dual yo-yo’s. With teeth!
At any time, one of your party members, whether that’s Goofy or Donald or the guest party member for the world, will offer a combo attack of some kind.
And on top of those, there’s also Attraction attacks which… Aren’t explained, like the other attacks, Sora just somehow has the ability to summon rides from Disney World as flashy attacks now, somehow?
Keep in mind all of these are available out the gate, and all of them are assigned to one button. It’s possible to cycle through them to choose which ability you’d like, if any, but this, along with learning the basics and also having the ability to use magic and summons, can be overwhelming to a new player. Though for people who like having every option available to them, it can make for some stunning combos and attacks.
The worlds are also littered with other fun things, various minigames, Hidden Mickey’s (like in the theme park) but called ‘Lucky Emblems’ in this game which can be photographed, also, there’s a phone/camera! You can take selfies! It’s very cute! There’s also classic ‘Game and Watch‘ style minigames to play and collect, as well as ingredients which can be used to cook meals for buffs, think Final Fantasy XV style.
This game has as much content as it does confusing story beats, and I got a good 35 hours out of it though I easily could have gotten more if I explored every last avenue open to me, like Gummy Ship quests. Unfortunately I still do not understand how the Gummy Ship works, all these years later.
I can say in all honesty both my younger self and current self is more than happy with this conclusion to the Xehanort saga. My younger self for finally getting some closure, and my older self for that closure being gorgeous to look at and beautiful to play through, even if there are a few little hiccups here and there.