It's been so long since we've gotten a mainline game in the long-running Kingdom Hearts series that it's become difficult to keep track of the various stories and characters. Kingdom Hearts III attempts to wrap most, if not all, of those story threads in a neat package and for the most part, it succeeds.
Unlike the slow start to Kingdom Hearts II, this game almost immediately launches Sora, Donald and Goofy in the thick of things with the Hercules-themed world, Thebes. From here, the characters weave in and out of familiar storylines as they traverse between worlds in the now-familiar Gummi Ship, some based on their respective worlds' narrative and some entirely new while running into members of Organization XIII, the series' main antagonist collective. Each world is massive and filled with tons of secrets, from treasures, Lucky Emblems (basically an in-game version of Disneyland's/Disneyworld's Hidden Mickey) and mini-games. Each world also has a unique feature for changing the pace of the game, from the ability to ride a mecha in Toy Box to captaining a ship in the Caribbean.
Combat in KHIII is one of the game's strong suits. Although the game is decidedly easy, the sheer number of options for combat make battle a joy. For instance, each of the game's dozen-or-so keyblades offer varying fighting styles to suit your needs, from a honey-spouting keyblade to a blade that transforms into a giant mallet. Magic has become drastically more useful, and there is a new and visually pleasing “Attraction” mechanic that allows Sora et al to board Disney-themed rides for pummeling enemies with trains, carousels, etc. As with the other games, the targetting system is still not quite there, and the ability to spin around posts seems a bit wonky. Every other part of combat is fantastic.
Outside of following the narrative and battling foes, KHIII contains a ridiculous number of mini-games. In fact, it's one of my principle complaints about the game – there are tons of systems to have to learn how to play. Most are simple enough, but some of the mini-games are hit or miss. Some feel like prototypes that somehow were approved! I will say that the Gummi Ship segments are now more fun than they have ever been before, and I actually looked forward to hunting and defeating certain enemies in space.
The cutscenes, of which there are quite a bit, are well done. The voice acting is as suberb as any Disney production, although the instances where a character's original voice actor does not voice that character, it's obvious. While the way Sora and co interweave into the story in most of the worlds is fairly organic, some worlds (specifically Arendelle) just seem to be there for the sake of having incorporating that world. It's not necessarily jarring but it's unfortunate when some worlds “work” better than others, narrative-wise. The complex story also has to incorporate so many characters from so many games and doubtless will confuse some players.
Kingdom Hearts III is impressive, bombastic, responsive and most importantly, fun. The emotional beats are there, and you really do feel like you've grown with these characters. The production values are up there, and the gameplay, while not mind-blowing, is engaging. Overall, when the end credits finished and I put the controller down, I felt quite satisfied that this chapter was done.