Kingdom Hearts III begins with a scene that most people have probably seen in a recurring nightmare. You are suddenly in front of an authority figure, perhaps your middle school principal or your boss at your first job. You don’t exactly know how you messed up, but you know you did something wrong. You get the sense the person in front of you might not exactly be mad, but rather disappointed, and somehow that makes the whole situation even worse. With Kingdom Hearts III, that person in power is Yen Sid the wizard and people who played Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance will know that Sora bombed an important test and, as a result, is not practically back at square one.
It’s a fitting way to kick off the first hour or so of a game. Especially since the initial introduction reflects that Sora, and perhaps even the player in the event they have not picked up a Kingdom Hearts game in a while, is not ready yet. Rather than going right into Kingdom Hearts III, it pulls the sheet out from underneath you. Nope! Sorry! Welcome to Kingdom Hearts II.9. Think of this as your gap year where you work out your goals and what you’re going to do with your life! Well, not really, but it is an opportunity to regroup and gather thoughts in a way that isn’t retreading new ground, but is giving both Sora and players a chance to learn and grow in a familiar environment.
With Sora temporarily reset and in desperate need of finding himself, he heads with Donald and Goofy to Olympus. Disney’s Hercules is a safe place for the crew, even though it is an area that has certainly been home to many hazards. But we’ve seen it in every game except Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance. Sora has seen Hercules beaten down and getting back up again, and watched the demigod’s training regimen. Who better to remind him of what it is like to be a hero? It provides a perfect impetus to pick up the pieces and start learning what is necessary to summon up the strength to protect the people who matter.
Its familiarity means it is also a good place for players in general to begin picking up KIngdom Hearts III and understanding what exactly lies ahead for Sora. While the Disney adaptation of Hercules might not have the same instant recognition as something like Aladdin, Frozen, The Lion King, or Toy Story, the myth of Hercules is fairly common knowledge. The character is mostly recognizable, even if someone isn’t aware of Kingdom Hearts or the Disney adaptation. Even if it is still new to someone, it relies on familiar and easily recognizable concepts of “good” versus “evil” and a struggle of ordinary people against gods. It makes it easy to rally behind Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Hercules.
This also works as a storytelling mechanic, since it provides a solid foundation. Sora is feeling lost and coming to terms with not being at the level of power he was in the past games. He encountered a major setback. But now, he has a familiar face that he trusts. This person is a bonafide hero who has been in a very similar position to the one he is in right now. The enemies in this area are very clear, but aren’t quite the same level of strength as the forces of darkness he will be facing later on. The big bad in the area is employing tactics that, while different and offering a new challenge, use some similar strategies as before. It is a comfortable space to grow and handle new variations of concepts Sora has seen before, gradually growing in power and finding his confidence again.
This section of the early game is littered with tutorials implemented in a way that shows Square Enix is trying hard to not hold your hand. Rather, it is giving people an excuse to learn about new things with a little bit of text, then immediately have an opportunity to use these skills. For some of these elements, how they work is obvious. People familiar with action-RPGs will quickly pick up how to use different attacks, take advantage of shotlocking, and handle attacks that involve teaming up with other party members.
Then, it gradually builds up to concepts that might be new to everyone. The Attraction Flows, which bring up Disney rides as interactive summons Sora can use to attack enemies, pop up liberally in Thebes and Olympus. It is a nonthreatening area where you can work out how to effectively use a Pirate Ship or ride the Mountain Coaster. The same can be said for airstepping, a mechanic that has a player using shotlocking to aim and perform a series of parkour moves with airborne and often-hovering platforms. That may take a bit more time to work out, but happens initially in an area where people don’t have to be afraid to fail and can work out logistics in a friendlier environment.
With Kingdom Hearts III, it seems like Square Enix is aware of how much time has passed and that some people might be entirely new to the series. It eases people in. We return to one of the most visited worlds in the series, providing a sense of comfort while seeing it from new angles. We watch as Sora comes to terms with what has happened and begins his comeback, so he can be in the right place to handle what has happened in the fight between the forces of light and darkness. Players get chances to learn by doing in an area that can still provide some interesting fights and mechanics, but won’t penalize them for starting to find their way. Then, once the foundation is set, it begins introducing Sora, Donald, and Goofy to their real mission, bringing in people from Kingdom Hearts II, 358/2 Days, and Birth by Sleep, and even takes them to an important Twilight Town location to help everyone remember who their enemy is and what he is capable of.
Kingdom Hearts III is available for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.