There are plenty of things the Kingdom Hearts III series is known for. We always see that there will always be lights shining in the darkness, ready to be guiding beacons to help people who may be desperate or feel lost and restore balance and peace to the world. Friendships matter, even if someone is seemingly lost forever or maybe didn’t even “exist” in the first place. There’s also a sense of hope. No matter how bad things get, there is a chance that things could come out okay in the end. Naturally, for Kingdom Hearts III every one of these properties is jacked up to 11, following through on recoveries and salvations teased in earlier installments.
Editor’s note: There will be Kingdom Hearts III spoilers ahead, but the actual ending, secret movie, and epilogue will not be spoiled.
Kingdom Hearts III does not waste time on assuring people that all of the threads in the unfinished tapestry from major games like Kingdom Hearts 2 and Birth By Sleep will somehow combine with strings from Re:Coded and 358/2 Days to finally weave together. Within the first two hours, we see Sora recover from the events of 3D: Dream Drop Distance, where he failed his Mark of Mastery exam and needs to regain both his confidence and power. He’s introduced to members of Organization XIII who were restored to their normal selves and finds out he has other people’s hearts inside of him. We learn that Aqua is not where she was last seen in the Dark World and that Riku and Mickey are searching for her. Even Kairi and Lea (Axel) check in, letting us know that they’re on their way to becoming accomplished keyblade wielders and Lea still knows there’s someone he’s forgetting about.
This means at the very outset, we have all three tenets represented. Sora is starting off by showing the light will triumph, even if the going gets tough. Riku is there to provide hope, as we finally see a way out and salvation is possible for Aqua. Kairi and Lea are there to show how strong relationships can still be. Kairi is connected to Sora, even after all these absences. Lea may not completely remember his lost memories yet, but he’s aware of the hole in his heart Xion’s disappearance has left and is beginning to realize and acknowledge her existence again.
But then, this is only a starting point. Sora’s interactions with characters in every Disney world shows the power of hearts, with how they can hold on to hope, maintain bonds that help us connect to and understand one another, and have the strength to carry on and bring light to the world. Riku and Mickey’s searches continue and prove fruitful. Lea reconnects with Saix, his oldest friend, while he also eventually gets the chance to meet with the others dear to him. Kairi uses her light and connection to reach Sora when it is absolutely critical. The main characters’ storylines, even ones who don’t receive as much development, help contribute to keeping true to the ideals Kingdom Hearts is known for and advancing agendas further. Questions start getting answers, even if sometimes things still seem a little convoluted or have a “just go with it” nature. (We also get some great moments where Lea, acting as an outsider, helps bring up the obvious to help us find more answers.)
The concept of replicas that appears within Kingdom Hearts III also works to call back to the importance of friendship, hope, and light within the series’ universe. The series has had a number of characters who aren’t exactly what we’d call “real.” Roxas and Namine are Sora and Kairi’s Nobodies, which means they shouldn’t exist once hearts reunite with bodies and souls. Xion was a replica based on memories. But, as the Toy Story characters and the lingering remnants and effects of these people prove, that doesn’t matter. Even though these people weren’t whole, they became fully realized over the course of the series. They are as capable of bearing light, forming relationships, and bearing hope as anyone else. It might even suggest how powerful these elements are, that even beings that aren’t “real” can become so after being touched by them.
Kingdom Hearts has always had a wholesome element to it, even when confronting the darkness and dealing with characters determined to steal power and destroy people’s lives. We have always been able to trust that characters will rely on the power of friendship, hope, and light to weather any storms and save the day. Kingdom Hearts III shows us how that all pays off. We see the heroes we have stuck with for a while, Sora, Riku, Kairi, and Lea, use everything they learned to resolve conflicts that have taken place over games. We see how these elements affect people who aren’t even real and relate to replicas. It all comes together to offer resolution for people as they play.
Kingdom Hearts III is available for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.