With the Kingdom Hearts series, visiting a world inspired by a Disney property can play out in different sorts of ways. More often than not, like with Aladdin, we might go through a storyline similar to the ones in the original stories, only with Sora involved in some way. Then, there are the affairs like Kingdom Hearts III‘s Toy Box world. This location is more about paying tribute to the characters, ideals, and plot points in those tales, rather than trying to take us through a cliff notes take on something we already know. In so doing, the creativity makes for one of the most magical worlds in the game and best situations.
Editor’s Note: There will be some spoilers for the Kingdom Hearts III Toy Story world.
From the very start, Kingdom Hearts III‘s Toy Story lends itself to the idea of heroes from a different world coming in to help save the day. The toys are familiar with characters coming in with a certain backstory in mind. Buzz Lightyear believed he was an actual Space Ranger for much of the original Toy Story. Suddenly seeing Sora, Donald, and Goofy appear, then having them insist that the bad guys are a group called The Organization that they have to fight is completely plausible for Woody, Buzz, and the rest of the group. They know even if it isn’t their personal truth, it could be for someone else, and it is one of the worlds where seeing everyone immediately accept the trio and agree to help feels incredibly genuine and plausible.
Square Enix also did an incredibly clever way of introducing the player to the Kingdom Hearts III Toy Story world. Like the game begins with Kingdom Hearts II.9 instead of showing is the Kingdom Hearts III title card, Toy Box begins with a trailer for an imaginary game known as Verum Rex. We see the hero and his two friends fighting a Gigas mech that is taking away a woman wearing a star necklace, before seeing the box art for the standard and limited editions of the game. Rex the dinosaur notes that he has been playing this game and mistakes Sora for Yozora, the hero of the game. He convinces the other toys that these three are the action figures from that series, and Verum Rex becomes a recurring theme thereafter. During a pivotal fight, Xehanort tosses and temporarily traps Sora in the Verum Rex game, forcing him to fight his way out and back to his friends. This provides an opportunity to take part in a different sort of gameplay, where people need to battle in a first-person perspective and take advantage of traps to ensure they are the last one standing in the arena. Making everyone mistake the crew for video game characters is incredibly appropriate, and it gives an excuse to make the video game section a stop when the group heads to Galaxy Toys.
Galaxy Toys itself is another opportunity. Square Enix is known for making lots of toys and properties, and there are some fun asides here. When I came across the Monstrous Monsters display, I wondered if it was a reference to Justice Monsters Five, from Final Fantasy XV. This is a world where Dissidia Final Fantasy NT is a big enough success to occupy major retail space with figures of iconic summons. When you solve a puzzle, you get to see a giant Cactuar formed in front of your eyes and use Sora’s parkour skills to scale it. By being creative and not following a standard story inspired by one of the Toy Story movies, things can be a little more playful.
It also solves the problem of trying to determine which Toy Story movie to draw from. There are three now, and a fourth will arrive in 2019. Woody and Buzz needed to be a major part, and having an identity crisis like the ones in the first two installments would force the focus off of the unity and bonds they share. Toy Story 3 might be a little too complex, due to the number of different toys and moving parts, taking the focus off of how Sora, Donald, and Goofy connect with the characters and helps this specific group. The original storyline lets the focus be on the friendship the toys have with one another and the love they have for Andy, their person.
The direction lets both the heroes and villains learn something about the nature of hearts and bonds. Toy Box is a world filled with artificial creations. Even so, they are strong and able to connect with one another. In a series where we have all sorts of supposed puppets appearing, seeing how characters in a world essentially filled with artificial creations react is educational. It proves the strength of light, but also provides Xehanort insight into puppet creation. The toys even learn that even though they might not be with their special person, they still have him in their hearts.
Everything about the Kingdom Hearts III Toy Story world feels fresh. We have familiar characters in a new situation, one where Sora’s help is key to saving the day. It solves the problem of choosing which storyline to focus on. It introduces lots of video game elements and references Square Enix games. It’s just fun and does some lovely things.
Kingdom Hearts III is available for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.